Remember the 11-day traffic jam in China 2 years ago? I wasn’t there — thank goodness — but I felt an ounce of fear last night that something similar would happen to me on my way from the airport in Guiyang to Huangping, where I am comfortably air-conditioned now. After 2 hours of racing (I’m talkin’ The Fast and the Furious) through the windy mountainous roads, we came to a halt. For the next 2 hours. By the time we were rolling again, it was already 8:30 pm and would be another 2 hours before dinner. Oh, what’s a 4-hour delay??
(Indiscreetly peeing roadside.)
We were dropped off at the side of a highway (the first time was at a fork in the road), walked through a toll booth with our luggage, only to be picked up by another manic driver who would fly us to dinner, and eventually to our hotel. We were going 60 on roads that would’ve been marked 20 in the US.
I am safe and sound in Huangping county now, where it’s humid and grey and surrounded by green hills. The majority of the population here are Miao, people from one of the largest ethnic minorities of China.
The locals are very friendly and don’t stare rudely (as they do in Beijing) at the American teacher in our group, a 70-something lady from Jersey who has been teaching English in various countries for over 32 years. But she happens to love Guizhou–its terrain, the Miao and Dong people–so here she is again to train local/rural English teachers on developing their own teaching methods, and I am here to assist.
Nothing spectacular has happened yet, but getting here was certainly half the fun–if you’re into adrenaline rushes from near-death fright.
**If you want to see beautiful photography of Guizhou, check out John Fanai’s site.**
These past few weeks with Lucia have been some of the best since I began my new life in China. For one, it’s always great to have close friends around. And second, I haven’t laughed so much in months! Too bad the expression “time flies when you’re having fun” is true because she’s gone now.
Between our time in Beijing, we spent 9 days in 3 other cities — Hong Kong, Yangshuo and Guilin. For budgeting purposes, we took trains, buses, and a boat between cities, totaling 66 hours of travel time. It was definitely not a trip you take with a difficult person or a person without a sense of humor. Lucky for Lucia, there wasn’t a moment that I wanted to kill her, except when she ate all the Ferrero Rochers.
One thing I love about traveling is eating as much as I want without worrying about weight gain. In Hong Kong where my mom has excellent connections (the kind with $$), Lucia and I were treated like princesses. We had our own driver, Willie, and we ate like Greek gods. Buffet-ing, dim-summing, seafooding…I literally could not have asked for more or I would’ve keeled over and died from overeating. In Yangshuo and Guilin, no longer royal, we gorged on street food and noodles while avoiding horse and dog meat. The ramen, chocolates, cookies, tea eggs, chips and McDonald’s we ate on train/bus/boat rides were just food for survival.
How did all this food digest you might ask? Well, the 5.5 hour-long bike ride through the countryside of Yangshuo certainly helped (the most exercise either one of us has had in light years). Racing through Ocean Park in Hong Kong and aimlessly wandering around rainy Guilin also made a difference to my digestive track.
Instead of boring you with all the nitty-gritty details of my trip, I’ll just tell you the highlights of each city. You’re welcome.
Far beyond my expectations, this city is just perfect. From the movies (like Rush Hour 2) I thought Hong Kong was just another city. But OH MY WORD the views were incredible!
The jade-colored water between the green hills and the wild monkeys with pink butts and nipples and mansions on hilltops and flowing traffic and random temples spotted throughout the city and beaches, all in one small place. It is a perfect balance of nature and city, traditional and contemporary. Though Hong Kong is known to the Chinese as shopping-haven, Lucia and I preferred the spectacular views and roller coasters. I must admit the most memorable part of Hong Kong, besides the food, was Ocean Park, an amusement park on a hill. We had so. much. fun.
Next up, we took this pimped out sleeper bus which blared house music 8 hours to Yangshuo:
This was my favorite part of the trip. When we stepped out of the bus, half-asleep and worried we’d left something behind after scrambling out of there at 5:30 in the morning, we looked up to find that we were surrounded by pointy hills (karst peaks).
And that’s the center of town! Can you imagine what the countryside looks like?! Well you don’t have to. Just look below!
Those hills plus the Li River equals stunning scenery that is rural China.
Because it was early March when the rains and fog are amidst, there were far less tourists than normal, much to our advantage. Lucia and I could ride our bikes for miles and miles without having to share the road with other tourists. We didn’t take “the road less traveled” — we followed a Lonely Planet route — but it was still the best ride of my life.
As Lucia and I were biking through one of many farm villages, Lucia’s impossible shoelaces got stuck in the gears. It was a heaven-sent pause because out came three little girls running towards us and plopped down with books and pencils in hand. Knowing me, a teacher, kid-lover, and Ms. Emotional-to-anything-slightly-moving, Lucia had to tell me not to cry at the sight of this absurd cuteness. The girl in the middle was reading her English alphabet picture book upside down!
We were also greeted by other kids yelling “HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!” most likely at Lucia, who’s white, but I yelled back too. At one point we took the wrong road and geared off to find a pretty elderly lady with two long grey braids sitting on a bamboo raft by the river as her cows grazed the field nearby. I asked her for directions but it was difficult to understand the local dialect so she walked us to the correct path. She was a beautiful lady, inside and out!
We spent the rest of the time in Yangshuo strolling around and taking in the surrounding beauty. Two days later we were off to Guilin in a boat carrying Chinese and foreign tourists up against the currents of Li River. Along the way, we passed picturesque and widely photographed landscapes. While Lucia spent most of the ride with her nose in Jane Austen with throbbing heartaches for Mr. Darcy, I got wet taking a million photos of the passing views.
Four hours and two bus rides later we were in Guilin.
Well, because Lucia and I were all boated-out, we decided to stay away from the highly regarded boat tours. Instead, we spent most of our time eating and wandering the city center, but our day and a half in Guilin dragged on because of the bad weather. This was the least exciting part of the trip because, surprisingly and much to my disappointment, it was just another city with not much to see except the Sun and Moon Pagodas.
Lucky for me and Lucia, we only had to share our cabin for half the ride back to Beijing, except we arrived 2 hours late in the middle of the night to freezing cold and sleet.
That was my trip in a nutshell. I have much more to tell and show you, but I’ll save it for another time.
Overall, Lucia and I had a fabulous time and I’m sad she’s gone. But I have many good memories and photographs to prove it. I will definitely return to Hong Kong and Yanshuo in the future, but I’ll wait till the weather is nicer. And for you to get here. Anyone up for a 28 hour train ride?
Another highlight of my trip to Chongqing a couple of weeks ago was the boat ride along the cityscape. The port at which the boats are anchored is where two great rivers of China–Yangtze and Jialing–intersect.
The boats are quite extravagant, and so is the lady who runs the boat above.
My parents and I were tricked into paying more money for a fancier boat (should it be called something else? Yacht? Ship? Chitanic?). The smaller one docked next to ours looked far more exciting.
My family is Chinese, but we’re a gullible bunch and fall for tourist traps all the time. Oh well, so our boat had chandeliers and spiral staircases and 80 yuan kettles of tea, at least it was a peaceful cruise.
Irony, or perhaps I should use the term disparity, runs this country. Here’s just one example:
Can you guess which boat I was on?
I’ll give you a clue, I was not on the same boat as this lady who was cooking up a small storm. Though I would’ve gladly given her a hand if I got something delicious to eat in return. I’d do anything for food, except light the stove with a match–I’m afraid of fire.
Anyhow, it was a short ride up and down upstream Yangtze, but I had a pleasant journey.
My trips are never complete without a passport mishap. This past trip to Chongqing, which I just returned from a few hours ago, was no different.
I was standing in the check-in line with my dad when he asked me to take my passport out. That was the first time a passport even crossed my mind! Obviously I didn’t have it; it was tucked away safely at home. How is that possible for someone who has traveled pretty far and wide? Anyway, my mom had to rush it over via a 150 yuan ride so that my dad and I could change our flight to an hour later for another 302 yuan each. Oops.
The first time I left my passport behind was when I was going to Guatemala. I was on the west coast with my ex-boyfriend, from where I was going to fly directly to Guatemala. But of course, my passport was in Brooklyn, on the east coast. My roommate had to express mail it.
The second mishap was in August, on my way here to Beijing. I was sleeping soundly, with my bags all packed and everything I was leaving behind stored away at Moishe’s Self Storage, when I got a call from my mom the morning I was to fly asking me if I had my passport ready. Yes, yes, yes, obviously. I was half asleep when I said that; I had absolutely no idea where it was. Well, after a whole morning of freaking out and driving back and forth from Moishe’s searching like a mad-woman for that darned little paper booklet, I found it in my dresser at home.
Whatever. Every trip needs a little adventure. Mine jut start before my trips even happen. I guess you could say I like to live my life on the edge, though quite inconveniently. Anyway, the important thing is things always work out. I believe that’s true for everything, at least thus far.
I never quite knew how I felt about children working/begging for money, but playing the violin is definitely better than having limbs cut off and dirt on your face begging for just an ounce of food or money to go to school. I wonder where those children have gone…
Driving along the billion other cars on the road you could imagine my shock and dire need to capture this moment before it was gone forever.
A horse-drawn wagon.
In Beijing. In 2011, a day and age where car advertisements are literally printed on every single page in the Chinese newspaper.
I’m sure they were just passing through from a nearby farm on the outskirts of the city, but still, horse-drawn anythings are hard to come by these days (unless you’re at Central Park in New York). It must be quite a hassle getting through traffic with that grandeur size!
Bad Thing #1:
From the train station, I decided to take a motorized tricycle home–it’s faster. Just as our ride began, we got stuck between a large rock and a stubborn moped who just would not budge. Unable to move in any direction, my tricycle driver began yelling at the large man on the moped, who of course, yelled back. The swearing went on for quite a while before the large man finally moved. We got through the huge intersection before I noticed that man had followed us, still yelling at my tricycle lady.
When he caught up to us, HE PUNCHED MY TRICYCLE DRIVER IN THE FACE and kicked a hole in the side of the compartment attached to the bike! I was furious, and I mean FURIOUS!
I got out of the compartment and started yelling at the man myself, screaming, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? WHAT KIND OF MAN ARE YOU? ARE YOU EVEN HUMAN?!?!!?” (This was all in Chinese of course) in front of a small crowd. Out of pure rage, I even called him a dirty name. HE SWUNG HIS GIGANTIC FIST AT THE WOMAN’S FACE!
Then, the man got off his moped and knocked the tricycle over into the street. Tempted to run over and knock his moped over, I held myself back because I was afraid he would hit me, too. You hit a lady once, you can do it again.
I asked the man, “Why did you have to hit her?!” His response was, “She yelled at me!” and drove away. Wow, I was totally aghast and almost laughed out loud at the sheer ridiculousness.
In America, we call that assault. In China, we call it the norm. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it and it sucked.
Bad Thing #2:
My mom told me this evening, after the infuriating situation above, that my downstairs neighbor died from breast cancer a few days ago.
The other day when I was coming home, I noticed a young family formally dressed dashing into my apartment complex carrying a bouquet of pink flowers. Two things came to my mind already knowing that my neighbor was sick: one, my neighbor passed away and her family was coming to visit their father, the husband of my neighbor, or two, she was well again and they came to give her flowers.
Unfortunately my negative vibes were correct and my neighbor, who my family considers a saving grace because she spared my mom from a similar fate, had passed away. Early last year, my mom bumped into this neighbor (who, by the way, I have never met) on her way home from a chemo session. She warned my mom that women her age should check for lumps in their breasts. So, my mom, superstitious as she is, checked herself as soon as she got upstairs and discovered that she indeed had lumps. Luckily, my mom’s cancer was discovered in its earliest stages, but it was too late for my neighbor. She is someone my family will never forget.
Wherever you are now, neighbor, thank you.
Bad Thing #3:
I don’t think there is actually a third bad thing, except this one tiny mishap that happened this morning, but compared to the tragedies of Bad Things #1 & #2, I’m too embarrassed to even mention it, so I won’t.
The morning commute is one rough adventure. Just like the saying goes, we are packed together like sardines. My fellow sardines and I are rubbed up against one another, non-erotically, of course. And when it’s time to exit, it’s literally like–I hate to say–pushing your way out of the womb. You would miss your stop if you didn’t shove your way through the crowd.
Even if you’re the last person to squeeze onto the train right before the door chops off the tip of your nose, another round of people is guaranteed to shove their way in at the next station.
Everyone, including myself, is already cranky in the morning. The early morning hustle doesn’t help. And the worst is when somebody cuts the cheese…oh, it’s happened (it wasn’t me).
I wonder if that comes in living room size…
In more exciting recent news, I had friends visit last week! My new friend Zach, to whom I was introduced in Brooklyn by the lovely Kelly, and his girlfriend Anastasia took a week-long trip to Beijing. This is us with Dingding at the DJ Shadow show:
I hope they don’t mind I posted this picture…. eeks! Dingding will never know.
A few days later Zach and I went to see Carsick Cars, a Beijing-based rock/pop band at The Old What? Bar located at the west gate of The Forbidden City. The bar was cozy with a nice balance of foreigners and local youth, with regular New York prices. Below are some blurry photos of that sweaty experience.
An usual location for a bar, especially when the policemen at the end of the long street told me there were no bars here. That must explain why when the show ended, a ferocious employee shooed us all outta there and insisted that we knew nothing (nothing about what?!). Maybe I wasn’t supposed to write that, or post the pictures of what I saw. Oops!
I didn’t capture any foreigners in this photo because they were all standing in the back or on the sides. Carsick Cars were obviously a local favorite. Must say though, it felt like home being around so many foreigners. It also felt good to be able to converse in English, however, I think after a month of purely speaking Chinese, my English is already dwindling. What kind of English teacher am I?! I should teach Chinglish instead. I’m an expert.
The best part of the night was while Zach and I were getting fresh air and noting how life-threateningly fast the accordion buses were whizzing down the narrow road, we saw this fella across the street practicing martial arts Mr. Miyagi style.
Just like Karate Kid.
On my way home, oh wait. None of the cabs would drive me home because I live so far from the center of the city. I had to hop in Zach’s cab and drop him off first before the cabbie would drive me. And during that ride, burning my heart and soul, he had the nerve to make fun of my Chinese! Gosh, my English is dwindling and my Chinese is barely improving. I guess I should start writing a Chinglish dictionary.