This is going to be a long story. I hope that no one who actually does read my blog gets sick of it partway through. I took notes for this trip, so I have a lot to throw down in the blog. I’ll try to keep it organized, but it will be thrown together chronologically, which isn’t always the best way to tell a story. Hopefully I won’t do too much damage in the process. Also, I’m doing this right before bedtime, so there may be errors.
First things first. As I said, I took notes so I wouldn’t forget anything. I’ve been thinking about this a lot: why did I take notes for China? Especially when I think about the fact that I haven’t even written an entry about Cambodia. Well, there are two good reasons for this. First, Woody and I did Cambodia at our own pace, which allowed for a lot of absorption. I’m not likely to forget details about Cambodia. For China, I was on a tour that whipped us through a million different sites in four days. Also, Cambodia feels like a more private experience to me. I wasn’t part of a big group, and travelling with Woody was great because we didn’t have to discuss everything that was going on – we allowed each other to experience the country on our own terms. Cambodia was also an emotional experience for me; I have never seen anything like it and I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it. I have shared what happened with people I’m close to, but I’m not quite ready to make it public domain yet. So, that’s that.
::Tuesday, October 3, 2006::
I love poor translations. And there was a LOT of that on this trip. I took a lot of pictures of funny signs, but even on the plane Brendan and I had some laughs about the "Chinglish" (as our tour guide called it).
Health Declaration Form
3. Please mark the symptoms and diseases you have:
– Snivel (I think they might have meant something else.)
– Psychosis (I refused to admit to this. I haven’t been professionally diagnosed yet.)
I am bringing into China’s Customs territory (having)
16. unaccompanied baggage (if you are bringing or having it, it isn’t exactly "unaccompanied", is it?)
On the "Articles Prohibited from Importation in accordance with the law of the People’s Republic of China" form they had a list of the things you shouldn’t bring with you to China. Most of the list was pretty normal and made sense, indicating items such as arms, counterfit shit, anything "detrimental to the political, economic, cultural and moral interests of China", drugs, organic matter, and things from "epidemic stricken areas". And, my personal favorite, #4: Deadly poison of all kinds.
Finally, on the entry card, you had to indicate your main reason for coming to China. One of options was "Settle Down". At this point, Brendan and I did need to settle down… you know that you didn’t get enough sleep when the damned airplane forms make you laugh your face off.
The first thing I see in Communist China? Starbucks and KFC.
Our tour guide’s name was Wendy. Like so many of the English-speaking Chinese, she first asked us if we could understand her. I think most of the people on the tour were teachers, which kind of makes us experts in understanding broken English. Wendy was pretty funny (when we could hear her) and slightly annoying (every sentence contained the word "yah"). I felt we were in good hands with her and our driver… who’s name I’m fairly sure was "Mr. Dung".
After eating lunch in a very opulant hotel, we got back on the bus and headed to the Temple of Heaven. Lunch was very typical of any Chinese food I have had before… except they served flipping french fries with lunch. Very strange. On the bus, Wendy threw us into teams so that she wouldn’t have to count all the way to 38 each time we regrouped. Brendan, Brittany, Stephanie and I shut out all the weiners and joined forces to create Team Six.
For me, the most interesting thing about the Temple of Heaven was to see how much the Chinese have influenced Korean architecture. However, I do have to disagree with the wanktastic moron on our tour that said "this is proof that Korea doesn’t have any history". Yes, meathead, the last 6000 years of Korean culture means nothing in light of this one Chinese temple you have seen. There were many similarities though, and not much to look at except the one big building from the outside. As well, the Temple was just repainted two months ago and reeks of history reconstructed. Each time it has been painted, have subtle changes been made to suit the newest foreman? And if you add up enough subtle changes over hundreds of years, at what point do they become major changes? And these changes, these reconstructions… what story do they now tell? Who’s story? And ultimately, who is telling it? Other than the questions raised (and the "Traditional Beijing Opera" playing Jingle Bells "for fun" on the temple grounds), I didn’t really get much out of this place. I think it may be because it does look a lot like the palaces in Korea. I’m worried that my temple-viewing capacity has become saturated. And I’m worried because that happened awfully fast.
Driving around Beijing was an experience in and of itself. Definitely, it was less chaotic than (number one for life-threatening) Cambodia, Thailand (also frightening), and Korea (I would rather chew glass than drive here… and I love to drive) but still busy. There were a lot of VWs, including the taxis. Brendan tried to tell me he expected all the taxis in China to be VWs because he got a question about that in the Canadian edition of Trivial Pursuit. Read this next bit in the most sarcastic mental voice you can conjure up: rrrriiiiiiiiggghhhht….. The city itself was also like the other major cities I have been in (except Phnom Penh, which was in a different class). I felt as though I could have been in Bangkok, Seoul, Vancouver, Seattle or LA. Just… you know… everything was in Chinese. Well, most of it was in Chinese. And the stuff that wasn’t was hilarious. Chinglish at its best, my friends. The one thing that was nice about Beijing is they have planted a lot of grass, flowers and trees. I’m surprised they could grow with all the pollution. One downer is how much construction is going on for the Olympics in 2008. I now understand why people are worried that they aren’t going to get it finished in time… they better get moving or they aren’t going to be ready! There is a lot of growth in the city, and we didn’t see very much poverty from the bus. All the cars in Beijing look really new, but a lot of the bicycles (something like 9 million bicycles and 13 million people) were really old. I don’t know what to make of that. The city’s buildings also looked very modern and western, although occasionally there would be an eastern touch – like gold-guilded temple-shaped roofs on a modern skyrise building.
~Side Note on Travelling with Waygooks~
I really am starting to hate other white people and their banal conversations. I didn’t realize how much I appreciate not being able to understand overheard converstation until this trip with 37 other English-speakers. Good Lord, people say stupid shit!
~End Side Note~
After the Temple of Heaven we were taken to a teahouse. I really enjoyed the demonstration and the various teas we were offered. After the demonstration, we were invited to go shopping (of course). I bought a few different teas, and since I have been back I have been enjoying them a lot… especially out of my spanky new teacup. How could one travel to China and not buy tea and… china?
The last attraction on our first day was an acrobat show. I have seen something like it on TV, but it was much different to see it in person. The theatre smelled old and musty, like the Vogue theatre back in Vancouver. It was cool to go and buy popcorn (microwave popcorn) and beer to consume while watching the show. The show was amazing and surreal. The music was even surreal, it sounded like something out of a movie or video game which compounded the feeling that the show wasn’t really happening. There were several different acts that would be impossible to explain. Let me leave it at this: contortionists scare me.
After the show we went for dinner where we got to try Peking Duck, which was very yummy. Oddly enough, at the end of dinner the waitresses came around the table and tried to get us to buy chopstick sets and knock-off Rolexes. Tummies full, we finally headed back to the hotel. One thing I noticed Wendy continuously did while we were in motion (other than say "yah" six hundred times) was to give us the direction we were heading in. The Chinese take their Feng Shui seriously, folks. The whole damned city of Beijing is based on those principles.
The hotel was lovely. It was a Best Western, and I nearly wept when I saw there were towels and a bathtub. I don’t even have a bathtub in my flipping apartment. Hell, I don’t even have a shower curtain. And proper beds… a television… complementary tea and toothbrushes… a wee fridge… a phone… no lizards… it was the grandest accomodations I have had in my travels yet! (Note: I have a place booked in Malaysia for Xmas – at $7 a night I bet there is no bathtub and a few lizards.) Once we were back at the hotel, I had a massage. BEST EVER!It was such a great idea and I slept like a baby.
::Wednesday, October 4, 2006::
We had to wake up early as our second day in Beijing was also packed with activities. Our first stop was breakfast in the hotel. YUMMERS! I support having bacon and dimsum (and decent coffee!) for breakfast everyday. I was very excited!
On our way to the Jade Factory we were able to learn some Chinese… xie-xie ("shea-shea") means "thank you" and "ni-how" means "Hello". Both came in handy. (As did a guidebook on our fourth day.) The Jade Factory was snooze-tastic. The tour guide was funny only because she referred to herself in the third person – always cracks me up ("Hello. Call me Susan. Susan would like to give you a tour of the factory.") The factory consisted of one small room and four bored workers. The rest of it was a store. Boo! Susan was trying to tell us what to look for in quality jade, but as I wasn’t really interested in buying a big jade boat, I stopped listening. As did the rest of Team Six. We mostly walked around and made fun of things. At one point, Brittany said, "I wonder if this one pees when you pour hot water on it?", a throw-back to something that happened at the teahouse. The coolest thing about the jade factory is that I bought a can of Coke and it had a pull-top on it! I don’t remember ever seeing one before.
The next stop was the Great Wall of Chiner. It was pretty great. It was also extremely busy. It could also be rightfully known as "The Great Staircase of Chiner". It was a good workout. It allowed for some pretty pathetic yet hilarious (to Team Six) jokes… ie: "let’s see that Mongol dog get in here now" and "Got Mongols? Get Brinks!" The hills (not mountains, Irish, hills) around the Wall reminded me a lot of the hills around Kamloops. In fact, if it hadn’t been for that big fuck-off Wall, it could have been Kamloops. After touring around the wall, avoiding Brittany’s boyfriend from Japan (HA!) we ended up in a small courtyard. There was a tree there in which hundreds of red prayer offerings had been tied. They looked like fruit hanging in that tree… waiting to be harvested… consumed… waiting to be of use… it was quite beautiful. In the courtyard was a place to buy t-shirts and beer. So we had some beers. The beer in China was really good (note: so is the beer from North Korea… I wonder if all communist beer tastes good?)
Most people seem most curious about the Great Wall of Chiner and what I thought of it. Well, there are two parts. First, the bad part. To be honest, I thought the Wall would be… bigger. Greater, if you will. I have to agree with Amelia here – I thought the hills would stop a Mongol invasion with or without the Wall on top of them. And after a couple of hours of climbing around on the Wall, it isn’t as exciting as you would think. However, that said, there was something inately cool about being on the Great Wall. I mean… you always hear about the Great Wall. You learn about it in school. In the Truman Show, they tell you that you can see it from space (you can’t actually). And I never, ever thought, in my entire life, that I would come to a place in my life where I would be standing on the Great Wall of China. Never. Never imagined or dreamed that such a thing could ever be a reality. It was rather unbelievable in that regard. And because of that – I recommend that you find the means to stand yourself on the Great Wall. It is like getting to stand on a monument of all the things you never dared to dream. And for that… the Great Wall of Chiner kicked serious ass.
After the Wall we stopped at a museum that made vases (yawn) and for lunch. Lunch was good (more french fries… bah?) and very filling. We also tried "Chinese white spirits". Holy flaming throat, Batman… and I thought Soju was bad? Brrrrr…. one shot was enough for me! BLEH! It was very spicy going down, and the afterglow was nice. However, I nearly gagged as I swallowed it. The only thing I can think of that I have drank that was worse: potato moonshine. Also gag-riffic.
After lunch we headed over to the Ming Tombs. At this point (or so my notes tell me), I was comparing my experience so far in China to my experience in Cambodia. I’m happy that Woody and I did Cambodia on our own, it gave us the opportunity to see so much more of the country and the history. I feel like we got the "good parts" tour of Beijing, and weren’t shown the underbelly. Not too worry, eventually we found some of the "other parts" on our own (Team Six vs. Day Four). Ming’s Tomb was for the third emperor of the Ming dynasty (same dude that built the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven). Wendy told us that they may open the tomb one day, but the Chinese are superstitious enough still that they don’t want to do that quite yet. The tombs are like underground palaces, they can take 20 to 30 years to build. The key word in that last sentence though was "underground"… there wasn’t really much there to look at. The grounds leading up to the tomb were nice and with the sun just starting to set the lighting was beautiful. However, the tomb itself was just a big mound of dirt with trees growing on it. Not much to look at. The two most memorable things about the Tomb had nothing to do with the monument itself. On the way in, I turned to Team Six and said, "What do you call a headache that starts right behind your eyeballs? I call mine ‘Brendan’." At which point another girl (Nicky) turned around and looked at Brendan and said, "Oh, you must be Brendan." HA HA HA! Brendan deserved it. I really should have noted down how many times that boy started singing (and put a star beside each time he did it, I swear, just to tick me off), but I wouldn’t have had the time to do anything else. Instead, I just mentally added them up and have decided to charge him a beer for each time. At last count, I will not have to buy my own beer for my natural-born life. Thanks for that, Brendan. The other memorable thing about the Tombs was the toilets. It was the first really bad one… it smelled like my squirrel cage. EW! It would not be the last bad one. It would not be the worst. It would be the first time I would miss the toilets in Korea. Serious business. OH! One last thing about the Ming Tombs! (Good thing I took notes!) There was a girl at the Tombs wearing suspenders that said "Button Fry" on them. And you thought the Chinglish jokes you heard were just that… jokes.
~Side Note about My Notes~
There is another note here about how much I can’t stand other people’s conversations. Yen would be happy to know that I’m ready to pay my dues for our People Haters Party again and run for freaking President.
~End Side Note~
::Thursday, October 5, 2006::
The first place we went was Tian’anmen Square. My notes say exactly this: "Not much to look @. Lots of flags." I thought that being there would have a similar effect as the Great Wall, knowing what had happened in Tian’anmen Square in 1989. The only thing that has changed for me is that I now know how to spell Tian’anmen Square. True story.
We walked through TS to get to the Forbidden City. Much like the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City is very beautiful but the architecture gets repetitive. Didn’t stop me from taking lots of pictures though. And the shear size of the place was very impressive. It is crazy that it is right in the downtown of Beijing. Unfortunately, there is a lot of restoration going on in the Forbidden City, so we were unable to see things such as the Gate of Harmony. Those Chinese… they are pretty excited about the Olympics coming.
Back to driving in the bus. I missed taking a picture of a very funny sign. There was an overpass and a sign warning "Do Not Exceed Height". In this case, there was nothing wrong with the English, but the picture was funny. There was a giraffe driving with his head poking out of the top of the car and a no-whatever circle around him. I wonder if they have had many accidents involving giraffes and overpasses?
The city of Beijing seems to be really well laid out with their main ring-roads. It was really hard to grasp how large the city was. In fact, I don’t think it seemed much bigger than Seoul, which surprised me. Seoul (11 million) and Beijing (13-14 million) have similar populations (sort of) which also surprises me when you consider the differences in population in South Korea (48,422,644) and China (1,306,313,812).
~Side Note on Populations~
Just for shits and giggles, here’s Canada’s population: 32, 653, 243. And just for you, Brendan, Northern Ireland is estimated to have 1,710,300.
~End Side Note~
I would have thought that China’s capital would be more heavily populated and a pantsload more crowded. But as I have been saying, China was a lot of things I wasn’t expecting.
After that, we went to a Freshwater Pearl factory (sigh) and had lunch. Then we headed to the Summer Palace, which has been made a World Heritage Site. It was beautiful… of what I noticed of it before Team Six had to go on safari looking for the rest of the tour group. Aurgh! Brendan decides he wants ice cream and Team Six is fucked. I still don’t know how we lost 34 annoying white people. How annoying? At one point at the summer palace, one of the girls actually said, "this is supposed to be a vacation, not a workout". You know what then, Fatty McLazy Ass? GO HOME. Seriously, that is about the seventh note I have about people who shouldn’t be allowed out of their own countries (and for the sake of the two Americans on Team Six, I edited the previous sentence from "allowed out of the US" to "their own countries". I try to not be biased, but it is hard sometimes.) We were lost for a good 30 minutes (during which time we ran into two girls that we know from Suji… how’s that for a small world?) until the group caught up with us at the marble boat. (Yup, marble boat.) Fortunately, all we missed was a stop in a (you guessed it!) store to do some shopping. Few! I’m sorry though that we had to spend most of our time at the Summer Palace looking for our wankeriffic tour group (we felt lost and vulnerable without the blue flag of conformity) as the grounds were very beautiful. There was even a huge man-made lake in the center.
We left the Summer Palace and headed to the Kung Fu show. On the way there, I saw fifteen kites. There were a lot of kites in China. I thought they were very relaxing… I probably should have bought one. Team Six split up at this point – the girls went back to the Hotel and Brendan and I stayed to watch the show. I’m really glad we saw it (thanks for the tip, Brooke!) as it was really a highlight of the trip. I thought it was going to just be a demonstration, but it was more like a play without dialogue. It was beautiful and exciting and extremely well done. After the show we went for a lovely dinner where Ohio had more stupid things to say. I do remember them, but don’t feel like typing them out. If you ever want to know more about it, give me a call and ask why Team Six was going to have Team shirts made with the slogan "Bomb Ohio" on the back. I’ll rant and fill you in.
Back at the hotel Team Six reconnected for drinks at the Nautical.
~Side Note on "The Nautical"~
The hotel’s bar was actually called "The Blue Sky Lounge". But on the first day I started calling it "The Nautical" (appropriate as it had blue everywhere and a definite fishy motif) and it sort of stuck. I should write the Best Western and suggest they change the name.
~End Side Note~
We were drinking "Gleckes Draft Beer", brewed right at the hotel (German recipe, Chinese water). There was an informational pamphlet about the beer on the table. It told us that "the beer is full of living yeast, vitamin B, vitamin E and various amino acids which are necissary for human health. It is good for health and beauty if drink frequently. It is filled with foams and elaborate; everyone will enjoy it for its purity and aroma." Like Brendan said, despite the fact that they made it sound like yoghurt, it was pretty tasty beer. And after enough of them, even the other people on the tour started to look more beautiful. Sad to say, we drank enough Gleckes that we thought going to the third floor to pop Stephanie’s nori-bang cherry was a good idea. Why does singing poorly always sound like a good idea after one has had too much to drink? Also, please note that giving Brendan a microphone turns him into a rock star. True story.
::Friday, October 6, 2006 ~or~ Team Six vs. The Free Day::
First, I would like to say that I woke up with no hangover. Must have been all the amino acids in the Gleckes. I went downstairs by myself and had a lovely breakfast alone with my book. I really do dig Team Six, but I’m so used to spending time alone that it was nice to catch a few minutes by myself.
~General Side Note~
A few weeks ago I had people over and we had a discussion about words we love and words we hate. Since then, I have been collecting words that I like. From this trip I can add "opulent" and "insidious". Feel free to leave a comment with words you love and hate.
~End Side Note~
After breakfast Team Six headed towards Tian’anmen Square and attempted to find the Underground City. This took a while. A long while. You see, they are busy destroying Beijing in order to build Beijing. I’m not going crazy, I’m serious here. They are tearing down big chunks of the city around Tian’anmen Square and building Chinatown. Or at least, how the foreigners are going to want to see Chinatown. They are Disney-fying Beijing. It is creepy. I’m really happy we got to explore the area before it was demolished completely. As it was, they had altered enough of it that our year-old guidebook had outdated maps. Getting lost was the coolest part of our tours in Beijing though – we were afforded the opportunity to see how the other half of the Chinese live. It was a little sad, but I’m grateful that I got to see it. The Underground City itself wasn’t very spectacular, but it was interesting. It was very wet and very cold. Approximately 300,000 people could have been housed there if Russia had bombed Beijing. It was hand carved over a course of 10 years. Our tour guide spoke English and was wearing a Canadian pin. I liked her. In the middle of the Underground City was a silk factory. Wish I was joking about that one!
After the Underground City we hit one of the markets (which was fun), had lunch (which was delicious) and then went to another market (which was balls). Then we headed back to the hotel for a nap. After the nap, Brendan and I (the rest of Team Six crapped out) headed back out to check the Silk Market. The cab driver tried unsuccessfully to rip us off (we thwarted him with our quick thinking) but the rest of the experience was great. We laughed the entire time we were in there. Although I did tire of being continuously heckled with "hello, hello" and "looky, looky my store, pretty lady", it was mostly fun. I started to get into the bargaining groove and that was good for some laughs too. I will never forget the young girl who I was bargaining for my bedding with calling Brendan "a cotton-rayon blend". It was good times. After we were market-ed-out, Brendan and I went off in search of another duck dinner (leading to Brendan saying "hello, hello, duck?" far too many times… and I laughed every time he did it). We didn’t find duck. The one restaurant in the area was serving Donkey Cutlets, but the meals were too pricey (especially since I had to pay for them both. Ahem.) So we headed back to the hotel (we didn’t want to explore anymore as it had gotten stormy) and had our last duck dinner there. We met up with Team Six at the Nautical and had a couple last communist beers. We had to be up very early the next morning.
::Saturday, October 7, 2006::
Early in the morning is not a good time to act like a retard around me. I could have punched some of the other white people, once again. Especially the girl who was so excited that she had found a "North American style mall" the day before. And then proceeded to discuss where one could buy a better Big Mac – in Korea or China. At that point I could have happily walked her out into the woods and put her down. Nevemind staying in her own country… even there she shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce. (Sorry, its getting late and thinking about her comments know is making me overly angry. Again.) Did I also mention that they had eaten at Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen the day before? I’m sorry… I’ll stop now.
The flight home was quiet (although Brendan threatened to disturb that quiet by yelling "Hello, hello, Korea" when the plane touched down… I’m glad he restrained himself.) and I was glad to crash in my own bed. Overall the trip was amazing and I had a lot of fun. I’m so happy Brendan "forced" me to go to China, and I’m glad he was there (show tunes and all). I’m also really glad that I got to meet Brittany and Stephanie and that we could form our Team Six alliance (PS: Happy Birthday, Stephanie! See you Saturday!). The trip was definitely more interesting because of Team Six.
Even with my notes, I know that there is a lot of detail that I haven’t added here. I’m sure I will think of things as time goes on. I will certainly never forget China, or that I was fortunate enough in my life to have been there. Some days, I can help but envy what other people have and the things they get to do. But when I sincerely stop and think about how fortunate I have been in my life – to see what I have seen, know what I know, and the friends I have made – I really don’t find it necissary to envy any other people.
Except those, of course, that don’t have to accompany a group of evil monkeys on a field trip tomorrow.
Also, if you would like to hear another version of the Chinese trip (or you don’t trust my note-taking), you can always check out Brendan’s blog. He’s not as witty or good-looking as I am, but what he wrote about China is interesting to read.