A Travellerspoint blog

The Last Days...in China that is.

Exploring Chengdu and Emei Shan

The Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center has almost 90 pandas. That's enough to satisfy some people's panda lifetime quota. It probably fulfilled mine. You can see the adults, the youngin's and they even have the tiny babies in a nursery that you can walk by and see through the glass. They sleep in a giant crib. Precious! I went through a tour so that I could get there earlier than the public bus runs. The earlier the better so you can see the pandas doing what they do best: eating bamboo. Yeah, they basically just lie around eating bamboo the whole time you're there, but they're just so cute when they do it. Some of them like the attention and sit right in front and stare right back at you. This video at the center explains the complications of getting pandas to procreate in the wild - they're too concerned with saving energy because they get like zero nutritional value from all that bamboo. Researchers have stepped in and if pandas don't hit it off naturally, they artifically inseminate them. Sadly, after some of the artifically inseminated moms give birth, they have no idea what these newborns are all about and some of them even swat at the babies. The breeders then have to take over nursing the babies.
such a hard life.

such a hard life.


priceless<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

priceless:)


oh, hello.

oh, hello.


nom nom

nom nom

I met a boy from New Zealand named Daniel on the panda tour who was also staying at my hostel. We decided to take off for some lunch after the tour. We were able to order our meals from the menu which was only in Chinese by using a food guide our hostel had given us on the maps they provided. It had a list of the most popular Sichuan dishes. So we ended up with some sweet and sour pork filets, some shredded potatoes with green peppers and rice. Not too spicy and it was yummy!

Daniel and I then walked around the Tibetan Quarter which is touristy, but interesting to see some of the Tibetan stuff. Some restaurants there even serve yak butter tea. We were really wanting to try some, but couldn't find any. But we met some others later who were successful and said it was pretty nasty, saying it tasted surprisingly like butter;) We headed to People's Park, and had some tea at one of the tea houses there. A man offered to stick some metal wires with furry ends into our ears to clean them. Cleaning one's ears seems an individual activity so I didn't partake in his offer, even though he claimed it was "very comfortable." Uh huh. We met 2 girls and a guy from Hong Kong who were in town for the weekend. They were heading to Tianfu Square to see some fountain light show so we tagged along. Unfortunately, we discovered once we got there that they don't do the show in the rain. Daniel and I headed back to our hostel for some downtime, then ventured out looking for spicy food later. We couldn't find exactly what we wanted, but settled on one place and he ordered from our map menu (aka our bible) and I tried some Sichuan spicy noodles.
ah, the fresh air of Chengdu...I thought it'd be better than Xi'an, but alas, not so.

ah, the fresh air of Chengdu...I thought it'd be better than Xi'an, but alas, not so.


Tibetan Quarter

Tibetan Quarter


Chrysanthemum tea at People's Park

Chrysanthemum tea at People's Park


Tianfu Square subway

Tianfu Square subway

After spending the next morning debating and researching getting to Mount Emei, aka Emei Shan, a 2.5 hour bus ride away, Daniel and I decided to do an overnight up on the mountain and try to wake up to see the sunrise. Figuring out the best way to do this was a lot more complicated than when Zin and I did Hua Shan. First off, Emei Shan is bigger, so there are several possible routes involving up to 2 cable cars, a series of buses and/or hiking. It was already kinda late in the day, so we bused to the base of Emei Shan, then bused as far up as you can. We were hoping to hike up another hour or so from there to a monastery near the summit to sleep for the night. However, due to bus schedules and our quasi-poor planning, we ended up having to stay right where the bus dropped us off at some hotel. The fog was extremely thick and it was already pretty dark and we couldn't communicate with anyone well enough to get a full understanding of how far the monastery actually was. So we got a little room with 2 beds, a tv and electric blankets (yes!) cause it was pretty freezing. We had bought some noodles at the base and enjoyed our wonderful freeze dried meal whilst watching some crazy Chinese war reenactment show. I fell asleep super early. We were aiming to wake up around 5:45 am to get hiking. But when we did, the weather was still super foggy, dark and rainy. We thought the sunrise would not be worth it, so we slept another hour and then headed up. After 2 hours of hiking up stairs (we were too cheap to pay for the cable car), we made it to the summit. Some hikers heading down told us they had seen the sunrise, but that the sun was only there for about 5 minutes before the clouds took over. But supposedly the summit was still worth it, so we mushed on. After making our way through multiple Chinese tour groups following their leaders with flags and loud speakers, we were able to enjoy the summit. And it was more spectacular than I had imagined. A giant gold steeple with buddhas and elephants on it sitting atop this mountain which is so high up you could make out the cloud line on the horizon. If the sky had been more blue, it would have been an amazing contrast. But still impressive. We explored around for an hour or so just taking photos. There was one cliff off the side with mist and clouds crawling up it that looked like something from Dracula. The sunrise would have been awesome, but I still felt like the summit was quite breathtaking.
into the fog we marched, up a gazillion steps

into the fog we marched, up a gazillion steps


the monastery altar on Emei Shan

the monastery altar on Emei Shan


at the summit

at the summit


see the cloud line?

see the cloud line?


summit from another viewpoint

summit from another viewpoint


eerily cool

eerily cool

While hiking down we encountered some monkeys which are rampant on this mountain and known for being aggressive. We saw one monkey grab someone's water bottle, puncture a hole in the bottom and start drinking. Another one grabbed at some woman's bag while she was taking photos. A baby monkey swooped down all ninja-like and grabbed someone's food. And yet another monkey grabbed for some guy's bag of food. The man dropped it and ran for his life. Then Daniel and I witnessed a dirty deed between two monkeys that was a true Discovery Channel moment. I won't go into detail cause it's most graphic, but suffice it to say that monkeys are nasty.
monkey drinking his stolen booty. quite clever.

monkey drinking his stolen booty. quite clever.

Daniel decided to stay on the mountain at the monastery which we finally found near the summit so he could see the sunrise again. I took the bus back the Chengdu and had a productive night of laundry and emails. The next day I did my final tour of the city as it was my last day in Chengdu and China. I explored Wenshu Temple/Monastery which I really loved. It was raining, so there were fewer tourists. It was very peaceful, had pretty gardens and you could read interesting tales and the basic tenets of Buddhism on some posters. It's one of the first temples I've been to in Asia that felt actually spiritual. It wasn't starkly different than many of the temples I've been to, it just had a different feeling to it.
Wenshu Temple

Wenshu Temple


incense

incense

I stumbled upon some little restaurant on Cuisine Street nearby and haphazardly ordered some steamed beef, and pork spicy noodles. I also sampled a couple random things on skewers. One, I was told, was spicy and one was not. I couldn't quite figure out what type of meat or non-meat they were. With my luck it was probably something like monkey ass flesh. I enjoyed more chrysanthemum tea in People's Park, oh so relaxing.
Look it's Neo from the Matrix painting calligraphy in People's Park!

Look it's Neo from the Matrix painting calligraphy in People's Park!


awkward public ear cleaning session

awkward public ear cleaning session

I found this little street called Big & Small Alley which is a taste of old Chengdu with older wooden buildings now housing expensive restaurants and such. They had some photo exhibits up on easels throughout the area, and one was all of Hua Shan which was cool since I had just been there. A man in the alley was playing this recorder that had a beautiful echo to it. Or maybe it was just the acoustics in the alley. Either way, it was lovely accompaniment to my semi-spiritual day:)
a taste of old Chengdu in Big &#38; Small Alley

a taste of old Chengdu in Big &#38; Small Alley

Next I walked down Quintai Rd., also known as Jewelry St. which is full of temple style jewelry shops as well as the famous Sichuan Opera Tea House. At the end of the street is Baihuatan Park, which was surprisingly lush. It sits right along the river, and it has a couple small ponds inside where you can relax by or rent boats on, a bamboo forest and bonsai garden. It was yet another peaceful escape in Chengdu for me. I haven't seen this much greenery in China at all until Chengdu.
Quintai Rd. leading into Baihuatan Park

Quintai Rd. leading into Baihuatan Park

Now, I couldn't leave China and especially Chengdu without trying the traditional spicy hot pot. So Valence took Daniel and I to a place near our hostel. You get one pot of spicy, and one pot of non-spicy. Valence ordered for us and surprised us with some type of "rare" catfish (with its skin still on it), dried duck blood (!!!) and then a bunch of veggies including potato, lotus root, bitter melon, sea weed and some potato noodles . The spicy hot pot is really greasy (they actually put animal fat in huge chunks in it that melt down mmmm) and spicier than I envisioned. When I took the ladle and scooped up from the bottom of the pot, it was chock full of peppercorns and chilies. Yep, that should sufficiently numb my innards! I tried potato, lotus root, melon, the weird fish and yes, even the dried duck blood (the consistency of tofu, but turns from bright red to brown when cooked) in the spicy pot. Thank goodness for the non-spicy pot to alleviate my tongue. I'm proud of myself for trying they spicy version, but it is no easy task. I can't imagine eating it often. Once may have been enough for me. If I'm going to cook my own food in a vat of boiling liquid, I'll stick to fondue and the Melting Pot back home:)
Watching the delicious handfuls of lard boil down into our spicy hot pot. Thankfully some non-spicy hot pot in the center.

Watching the delicious handfuls of lard boil down into our spicy hot pot. Thankfully some non-spicy hot pot in the center.


"Would you like something to go with your peppers, peppercorns and animal fat?"

"Would you like something to go with your peppers, peppercorns and animal fat?"

Posted by shlee 01:21 Archived in China Comments (0)

Tea Town and Foods that Melt Your Face Off

It's all in Chengdu!

My first introduction to Chengdu involved tea, appropriately so, since the city is famous for its tea houses, tea shops and tea drinking relaxed culture. One of my roommates was a man from Taiwan named Valence who was staying in Chengdu for 5 months selling Oolong tea. Within a few mintues, I was sampling some of his tea (he had an electric kettle and several cups in the room) and he was telling me about how Taiwanese Oolong tea is superior to all other green teas. The tea was good, but I'm no connoisseur. He also had this special coal-infused bamboo "magic" cup as he called it which does something to the tea chemically to make it feel smoother when you drink it. And that it did.

He also told me about a procedure in Chinese traditional medicine called cupping. From what I gather, the belief is that if you have certain bad health symptoms or even things like acne (which is how this conversation started when he commented on the fact that I had some zits. Nice to meet you too, sheesh) they are caused by having what they call too much "fire" inside you. Cupping means placing small plastic suction cups on your skin, pumping an attached vacuum until the skin bubbles up inside the cup. You let the cups stay on your skin like that for 15 minutes yikes. He said with some people there will be "mist" inside the cup. The mist is the fire escaping your body. He has his own pump with suction cup that he uses multiple times a week on himself to remove the "fire" inside of him. He demonstrated, and it looks painful to me, though he says not and I was anti trying it on my skin - the thought of all those burst blood vessels makes me cringe.

Valence then took me to lunch nearby for some traditional spicy Sichuan food. Chengdu is part of the Sichuan province of China and is known for its tongue-numbing foods. He ordered us 3 typical dishes: pork with green peppers, kung pao chicken (though different than the kind they serve back home) and spicy tofu. I started with the pork, which wasn't too spicy (also they don't eat a lot of meat here, but when they do it's often very fatty so wasn't so keen on this). The kung pao chicken was good and also not overly spicy. They had some diced green bits in it (bitter melon i think?) that are in a lot of dishes here that were pretty yummy. Then there was the tofu. Seemed harmless. I thought I cold handle spicy food since I love Mexican, Indian and Thai food. But the spicy peppercorn powder they put on that tofu here is on a whole other level of spiciness that I've never experienced before. It numbs your tongue, lips and anything that contacts it for a few minutes. You feel your lips tingling, nay throbbing even. It leaves a strong aftertaste too making anything else you eat taste of fire. I actually felt my stomach lining burning after lunch. And then later I had to hit the toilet...it was that bad. Welcome to Sichuan!

We rounded off that spice fest with more tea. Valence took me to a tea shop where a woman and her family make clay teapots and cups by hand - they only shop in Chengdu, or maybe even Sichuan, where they still make everything by hand. We sat at a big wooden tree stump table with stump stools while the tea master girl poured us tea cup after tea cup after tea cup. There is a platter on the table where the teapots are that catches the water. They use a brush, like a paintbrush, to sweep the water off this platter and down a little drain in the table which is connected to a tube that runs into a bucket under the table.
Hanging out in the tea shop

Hanging out in the tea shop


teapots made by hand. she works on one at a time and it takes her about 35 days!

teapots made by hand. she works on one at a time and it takes her about 35 days!

We drank their Chinese green tea. Then we drank Valence's Oolong tea. The tea master washes your tea cup with the hot water first, dries it, then hands you the cup with some wooden tongs. They first rinse the tea leaves. Then they pour the tea in one pot into an empty pot through a fine strainer, to weed out any excess tea particles, before filling your cups.
The tea platter, as I call it

The tea platter, as I call it

We stayed for over an hour I think. I bought a couple handmade tea cups as souvenirs. The teapots were beautiful, but too expensive for me and too delicate to carry around backpacking. I thought I was all tea-ed out, but Valence took me to another shop owned by a Taiwanese man. There we continued the same kind of process for another hour plus. I have never drunk so much tea in my life. I thought my head would explode from all the caffeine. But it was very mellow and enjoyable, even if I didn't understand what people were saying most of the time. Valence would translate a few times for me thankfully. Final stop on my tea tour was this famous tea house where they have several different style private tea drinking rooms. Valence knows the girls that work there and they weren't too busy, so they showed me several of the rooms and let me take photos.
Hanging out in another tea shop in Chengdu

Hanging out in another tea shop in Chengdu


One of the special rooms in the tea house. Most comfy chairs possible.

One of the special rooms in the tea house. Most comfy chairs possible.

If I were to live in China, it would definitely be in Chengdu: the tea drinking, mellow pace of life, people actually talk softer here, there is much more greenery in this city than any of the other ones I've seen in China, and I think it's even cleaner:)
Chengdu at night

Chengdu at night

Posted by shlee 02:16 Archived in China Comments (0)

yangshuo

clever subtitle goes here

Everyone raves about Yangshuo. Yes, it's touristy they say, but still it's so beautiful, it's worth it. I will agree on all those points. Prepare for some stunning scenery. But be warned about the crowds (I was almost trampled in a stampede by a sea of tourists arriving off the Li River boats).
hello, bamboo!

hello, bamboo!

The happening part of Yangshuo is West St. and a few off shoot alleys and canal streets. It's nestled along a couple rivers that are lined by big pointy green, rocky mountain peaks called karsts that are actually limestone. It's similar to the scenery I saw in Vang Vieng, Laos and also around Halong Bay, Vietnam. But there are HUNDREDS more karsts in Yangshuo. It's really amazing. It was slightly rainy and foggy most of my time there, but that gave it an ethereal feel.
not too shabby

not too shabby

The best part of Yangshuo was not the "downtown" tourist zone, which is fun for street food and nightlife, but rather the countryside. I rented a bike from the hostel one day and rode along a commonly biked route in and around villages, farms, water buffalo, cows, horses, chickens, fisherman, and people bamboo rafting down the river. I got off the beaten track for a bit which was even more authentic, though when I asked a farmer where I was on my map and he pointed way off my trajectory, I decided I should probably retrace my steps. Some younger Chinese people were all heading past me, into a really remote area. Turns out they were going to rock climb and wanted me to join, but since I generally try to adhere to things like "safety" when it comes to letting my whole body weight be born by a little metal hook in a rock and a rope being controlled by only one other human being...I moved on.
me and my sweet pink ride

me and my sweet pink ride


it really looks like this!

it really looks like this!


lost in some village...

lost in some village...


"honey, can you please walk the water buffalo??"

"honey, can you please walk the water buffalo??"


in the countryside

in the countryside

I also biked to a crescent-shaped formation at the top of one of the mountains called "Moon Hill" and got some great views of the surrounds. I met the nicest Australian couples along the way here. The two couples are from Adelaide and after meeting them on Moon Hill, I kept running into them over and over in Yangshuo proper (it's not very big) so we ended up hanging out for the night. They sold me on coming to visit them in Adelaide and getting the grand tour of some great wineries and festivals they have coming up.
Moon Hill

Moon Hill

My first night, I attended a less-than-spectacular light show out on the water that is choreographed by the guy who did the opening scenes for the beijing olympics. the show had potential in parts where people had flashy lights on their costumes that flickered in strobe patterns, and when they did some cool stuff with big red banners. But then at one point a boat crossed the "stage" in the river for about 3 minutes with no music or anything else in the show to accompany it, so we just watched the boat. For 3 whole minutes. So yeah, some room for improvement there...But craziness of all crazy, at the show whilst waiting in my cattle corral to be herded into the show, I ran into Owen, my tour leader from part of my tour in SE Asia earlier this year. He is done touring in SE Asia and now exploring other parts of Asia, i.e. China. We caught up for a few, then met up later back in town with his friend/tour leader from the group he's tagging along with. Small world!
it's a bird, it's a...banana? oh right. it's the moon...

it's a bird, it's a...banana? oh right. it's the moon...

One of my days in Yangshuo, I booked a tour bus up 3 hours away to the Longji rice terraces. The aussies I met said they went earlier and it was beautiful. Sadly the day I went was pure fog so that we couldn't even see the terraces. We were just sitting in a big cloud and couldn't see anything. Blerrrg. But I met some cool British artist guys on sabbatical in China who introduced me to the new planking, which they have dubbed "wonking" and entails standing on a tilt when posing in front of something and then also turning the camera so the person is straight so that when the shot comes through, it looks like the background is all wonky. The other highlight was eating sticky rice stuff that is steamed inside sticks of bamboo.
supposedly there are rice terraces out there...

supposedly there are rice terraces out there...


before heading up to the fog, i mean rice terraces. i love the color of the water and just this guy.

before heading up to the fog, i mean rice terraces. i love the color of the water and just this guy.

On my last day, after catching a bus from yangshuo about an hour up north to Yangdi, I caught a bamboo raft (well it had some pvc piping as well as bamboo and a motor so not so much raft as boat) and sailed down to Xing Ping through some of the most scenic parts of the river. Right near Xing Ping is the snapshot of the karsts that is used on the back of the Chinese 20 yuan note. The boat ride was wonderfully quiet and oh so beautiful. I felt rather surreal. In Xing Ping, got a brief look around (not much going on in this town) and stumbled upon the local hostel. I popped in to find a map and grab a drink and ended up staying a bit cause they were watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall on a big projector screen in the lobby so I stayed and watched. It was nice to just relax and hear spoken english:) Then I caught a bus back to Yangshuo and then onto Guilin for the night so I could catch my flight to Chengdu the next morning. I didn't get to see much of Guilin, except some dude walking behind me attempted to slash my bag as I was walking to my hostel. He only slashed about 1.5 inches in my purse and then sliced the cinching cord on my backpack, which is just annoying. So I left Guilin with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. But one step closer to the pandas and the tea houses of Chengdu!
Sailing down the Li River

Sailing down the Li River


near xing ping

near xing ping

Posted by shlee 07:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

bowing down to mt. hua

Hua Shan (hoo ahh shan)

my best memories of xian are of my trip to this mountain called hua shan. it's one of the 5 sacred taoist peaks in china. zin and i decided to do an overnight hike, which is common for hua shan. we bought some provisions first (read: ponchos, flashlights, ramen noodles, milk tea, and snacks since food on the mountain was going to be overpriced) it was raining the next morning when we wanted to leave, so we kinda sat on the idea of going or not for a bit. but then we decided to just do it. unfortunately, we had to wait at the train station for the hua shan bus for 2 hours for it to fill up i guess? so good thing we were planning on staying overnight cause we didn't arrive until 3 pm. upon arrival, we started walking. up, and up and up we went. first part was a paved or stone-covered incline. then it progressed into stairs. and stairs it stayed the entire 4+ hour hike up to the top, part of it being in the dark too.sometimes the stairs became very steep, uneven and slippery and narrow. our flashlights did come in handy, but also they had some handy lamps lighting the path along the way and strings of lights in white and purple no less along the walls. one of the lights came on just as we entered this creepy dark and steep stairway alley, which was pretty magical. the views on hua shan were quite stunning. the further up we went, the more it started to resemble one of those old chinese calligraphy paintings of a pointy mountain with mist around it and funky trees coming off it.
starts out easy...

starts out easy...


then the stairs begin...

then the stairs begin...


may as well read "no fun!"

may as well read "no fun!"

we took our time getting up, and it progressively got darker and colder. once we got to the first peak, north peak, we had to put our jackets, gloves, and hats on. this was zin's first time being cold as he's from a pretty tropical climate in australia. he was really excited for the cold and to wear gloves for the first time; i wish i could have been excited for the cold, but alas the novelty has worn off a bit ha. we climbed along this ridge between north peak and east peak and finally came to the hotel and our final destination for the night. we were going to book a private room with two beds, thinking the price was 310 yuan total. turns out it was 310 each - no dice! so we ended up in a twenty bed dorm room with dingy white sheets/comforters, one thermos of hot water they provided, no heat whatsoever, several chinsese roommates, a couple american roommates, and a bed full of mysterious bags next to us all for the price of 85 yuan each! (in case you are unfamiliar, a dorm room at a hostel is normally like 30-40 yuan a night, so 85 is rather outrageous considering the stark conditions.) actually, we only had to pay 65 yuan each cause we found two 20 yuan notes on the path on our way up. this really is a magical place!
the magical lights that came on as it got dark. love the reflection on the chain too.

the magical lights that came on as it got dark. love the reflection on the chain too.


should i take the steep stairs, or the steep stairs? hmm...

should i take the steep stairs, or the steep stairs? hmm...

we ended up sharing a tiny, hard twin bed with all our clothes and 3 comforters for warmth. it was super freezing when we went to bed, but a few hours later i woke up and was hot, so it evened out a bit. we enjoyed a delicious meal of ramen noodles and some other snacks outside on this patio of freezing cold death. we were planning to wake up for the sunrise on east peak, another hour hike away, not to mention we were pretty exhausted from all the stair climbing we'd just done. so we were sufficiently tired at 8:30 pm haha.

we were feeling a bit ambitious and woke up around 4:30 am, downed some milk tea with the remnants of our now semi-hot water, and began hiking again...in the dark and freezing cold. we got to east peak sooner than we anticipated, so had a while to sit around and freeze and shiver in the dark. slowly more and more tourists started showing up. at some point we realized, "oh, i guess this is the sunrise" as the sky became a lighter shade of grey. not too exciting...but still we're such champs for doing it.
zin and i freezing at the "sun"rise on east peak

zin and i freezing at the "sun"rise on east peak


freezing cold fun<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

freezing cold fun:)

we hiked around a bit to another nearby peak, central peak, and to a temple through some nice flat terrain and pretty fauna. but otherwise, our plan was to just hike back down to north peak and hop on the cable car back to the bottom. no more stairs for us! the mountain demands respect. we were happy to submit, and not have to hike all the way back down.

this was by far my best adventure in xian. there are horror stories on the internet written about the dangers of hua shan. but really it's only one path that is dangerous, called soldier's path, which is practically vertical. but you have the alternate option of either taking the cable car up, or hiking up the path that we did which is just full of stairs and which is pretty safe (there are railings to hold onto the whole way). there were lots of wild cats along the path that kinda freaked me out in the dark, but other than that i felt very safe. zin was a very entertaining hiking companion and he really should come with subtitles cause every third word he said he'd have to explain to me since he speaks in tongues, aka aussie speak (afternoon is "avo" and flashlights are torches.) he even picked up trash off the path along the way. such a good boy scout. there is a tradition of people placing gold padlocks with inscriptions on them onto the chains along the mountain path for good luck. zin brought one he placed on. i only had one padlock, with a number lock on it, so i didn't end up using mine. we got home pretty early and were able to just relax and watch a movie at the apartment and had a nice meal out with one of the texan girls at "the local." perfect ending to my stay in xian:)
padlocks on the mountain for good luck

padlocks on the mountain for good luck


just like those old chinese paintings

just like those old chinese paintings


lots of good luck to guide us down the stairs and into the unknown mist

lots of good luck to guide us down the stairs and into the unknown mist


oooh spoooky

oooh spoooky

i booked a flight to yangshuo the next morning, early. i decided not to stay the rest of the second week to volunteer since the volunteering wasn't quite as i expected. but, i met some wonderful people during my week long stay in xian, and i learned a bit about chinese culture in that span as well. so it was still a great experience:)

Posted by shlee 07:36 Archived in China Comments (0)

hello, bamboo! hello, money! hello, taxi!

surviving in china

many touts and hawkers will approach you with the little english they know: "hello" and then whatever they're trying to sell you. so in yangshuo, it is "hello, bamboo!" and all over i am, "hello, money!" when it is time to pay and in the cities it's "hello, taxi!" i have so many new names in china. but really, you can just call me ashley.

being in china for about 3.5 weeks now, i've learned the best response to surviving in china.

exhibit a:

when you ask the hostel reception if there is a spoon available to eat your grapefruit and they respond: "no, no spoon." and then you ask, "is there somewhere i can get a spoon?" and they say, "no," (with a smile no less as they turn their attention back to their movie watching)...

when you see a man peeing in a hutong (alley) in the morning...

when you see a mom helping her toddler pooh in a little patch of dirt on the sidewalk outside tiannanmen square through the kid's special crotchless pants, with no effort to clean it up...

when you frequently see passengers in a yelling or even physical fight on a bus...

when you wait 2 hours on a bus in a parking lot to go to a place that is another 2 hours away simply to wait for the bus to fill up...

when you book a tour to see the longji terraced rice fields, a mere 3 hour bus trip away, no one bothers to warn you that the weather might be too foggy to see anything at all making the trip a rather futile one, and they make you switch to a "local bus" asking for an additional
charge, and have you eat lunch at a pre-arranged restaurant without including lunch in your fee...

when you receive your meal on a plane and it consists of a dry roll, accompanied by a packet of pickled cabbage and a tiny orange...

when you see a picture of a donkey on a restaurant menu and you see a donkey standing outside the restaurant (hey, at lest you know it's fresh!)...

when your taxi driver hocks loogies outside the car no less than 6 times in a 35 minute journey...

when you narrowly miss being hit by a car because pedestrians do NOT have the right of way here...

when you narrowly miss being hit by someone's snot rocket they decide to shoot off on the sidewalk within a couple feet of you...

when you are boarding the subway/plane/train/bus and you get pushed into the people in front of you by the people behind you...

when you are standing in line in the bathroom or anywhere really, and everyone cuts in front of you...

when you are walking to your hostel, and someone slashes the cinching cord on your backpack from behind (so not cool, man, now i just have a broken cord on my backpack)...

when the general level of speaking is at least 7 decibels higher than anyone back home...

...you just have to shrug your shoulders and say, "ohhh, china..."

but, aside from the negatives (many of which are commonly forewarned to you by previous travelers to china) which often do exist, there are still many good things that make china a worthwhile experience, i promise.

there's the people who come up to you because they want to practice their english which is fun cause they are so excited to practice it. the people that want to take photos with you (you're like a celebrity). the food is completely, utterly, and totally different than chinese food back home...and much better actually:) the people are actually really friendly, especially if you learn some chinese words and try to speak in chinese to order things. the girls that giggle when you agree to join them at their university's english corner one night. the people that see you struggling with a map or trying to communicate at a restaurant and step in to translate for you or even walk you a block or two to your destination. the teachers who after only knowing you for a day, invite you to play badminton with them and find you a chinese boyfriend (ha). for the most part, chinese people have been extremely accommodating, welcoming and really reach out to help you as a foreigner. it really puts things into perspective for me, because back home in d.c. we get plenty of tourists, and rarely do i or many of us locals really step in to help them out when we see them struggling with a map, or simply just start up a conversation with them.

also, in talking to a chinese guy in yangshuo, he told me that he saved up 2 months salary just to fly to yangshuo and stay for 3 days from a neighboring province. he works at the bank of china, which is a decent job i imagine. he said for him to come to the u.s. he'd have to save for years:( it's true that most chinese people don't really even get to travel much within their own country due to insufficient wages/funds, let alone abroad. so that was very humbling. in a place where all you hear about is the booming economy and the rising middle class, which is true, there is still a huge proportion of people (and that is a huge proportion in a country of 1.4 billion) who are still just poor and even very poor. it makes the annoying touts and hawkers seem less annoying cause really they are just trying to make some money, which for me may be pennies or a couple bucks, but for them is like a day's wages:(

Posted by shlee 05:31 Archived in China Comments (0)

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