Would it be useful/helpful for you to know the most recent post I've updated?
Since I'm mostly backposting anyway, I'd hate for you to have to go searching to check... I dunno. Just a thought. If so, leave me a comment and let me know.
"Oh NO," you say, "then I will have to search for the posts I have not read!"
Never fear, fearless adventurers... I've come up with an excessively complex and wonderful organizational system to keep things clear, if not actually convenient.
Entries marked with a single asterisk (*) are new, or edited significantly enough that they ought to count as new. Entries marked with double asterisks (**) are old, but have been updated with active links to photos, for your viewing pleasure.
The photos are actually more likely to go up before I get around to finishing the posts, so if you have a craving to just see some photos with only minimal storytelling to go with, feel free to browse over @ my flickr account. This is the best place to start, if you're interested, as it serves as a Table of Contents to my trip photos, and links to all my other photos as I get them up.
Hope you enjoy - I certainly enjoyed the trip, and it seems to have my usual rosy touch in the retelling, give or take a rant or two for added colour, of course. Cheerio, my dears.
PS. It amuses me that 'readership' reminds me of the word 'mothership'. Thought I'd mention.
I have a very long to-do-list and very little time to do it in.
And I spent all of today either sleeping or talking to my mom. It was good times. But tomorrow... tomorrow, the old nose-to-grindstone thing starts up. I promise I'll finish this eventually, and the photos will come soon (there will be a LOT of 'making with the Flickr', trust me). But sleep, sweet sleep, calls first. G'nite dear kittens, it's been a beautiful adventure, and no matter my rants along the way, I say only one thing, for now:
I want to go back. :)
(1) today, I bought a hanging painting/wall scroll... from a man hooked up to an IV drip at
(2) yesterday, during lunch, I played translator, as usual, but this time not for Garrett.
A good day, one of many recent such experiences, rewarding and new.
The Adventures of Complexion Boy and Language Girl are in hiatus, as Garrett and I part ways for the rest of the trip, at least in principle (there being only one hostel in Suzhou means we will likely run into each other in a few days anyway, but, 'in principle...'). Garrett left for Ningbo (����) today, enroute to Putuoshan (����ɽ), while I stick around in Hangzhou (����) for a few days longer, tying up loose ends and seeing a few more things.
In much the same way I got nervous butterflies before G and I first left the city on our own (for adventures around Guilin (����) and area), I left the hostel this morning a bit a jitters. I'd fallen asleep last night unsure of my plans today - out of town daytrip or musical instrument shopping being the options - and only settled on my final decision as I walked out the door. Really, what settled it was that no one at the hostel knew where else I could look for the erhu (����), the two stringed gorgeous piece of chinese musical instrument, that I wanted, as I'd already ruled out the fancy-looking, but snake-skin and ugly and tourist-oriented, ones I'd previously found in the area.
So, off to Anji (����), to find me some bamboo. It's funny; I wouldn't say I was nervous about getting lost or anything -- that fear seems to have dissipated with the sheer number of out of town trips ("adventures", often) that G and I have been on. After all, our trip together didn't faze me at all, despite my saying to G in the morning, and I quote, "so, just so you know, after we get off the bus in Pingyao (ƿҤ), I have absolutely no idea where or how we go next."
It's just that, despite being the one with all the research in my head for this trip, and despite being the one with the awesome language powers of awesomeness ("uhm, what do you mean by that?"), there's something more nervewracking about the idea of being dropped off by a bus at the side of the road, at a highway onramp and told to hail another random passing bus, WHEN TRAVELLING SOLO (oh, I suppose I haven't told you folk about those adventures yet, but suffice it to say that it took us FIVE different buses to get to our destination yesterday, and FOUR coming back... NOT even the same 4. sigh).
So, I was a little nervous going into another out-of-town trip that I basically had the first stop on my route planned out, and absolutely no information other than "I'm looking for some sort of large bamboo forest... Could you help me out?"
HOWEVER, that being said, it worked out beautifully, all told, and makes for an unbelievably and almost stupidly self-satisfied me.
So, I take off reasonably early (only around 8:30-9) for the north bus station, and take a long-distance express bus (���) to Anji (more about Zhejiang (�㽭) province's buses later -- a big contrast to everything else we've seen). Get there around 11, have a little lunch at the bus station for super cheap (bonus seaweed soup of goodness), and then ask the restaurant folk how to see some bamboo.
Literally, that's about what I asked. "I'd like to see some bamboo. A forest, maybe?" You see, I knew that somewhere near Anji was the largest bamboo forest preserve in China (apparently where they'd also filmed some of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, if you're into that sort of thing - not a movie high on my list, rant rant), but that was basically it. No name, no town, no anything.
They direct me somewheres out front of the bus station, and I steer clear of all the cabs and pedicabs, and find myself at a loss. I ask at another restaurant, and she says I have to take a "medium" bus to get there (�а�). Still confused, I ask at the bus station, and the ticket lady is singularly unhelpful, but directs me to the bathroom (which, ps., was definitely in need of better plumbing). I notice in my wandering a tourist/tour booking building, and wander in. It seems no one is in. At all. So, I leaf freely through their selection of pamphlets and pick, nearly at random, a destination: The Big Bamboo Sea (����), thinking that 'big' seems like a good way to see a pretty awesome bamboo spot.
I finally find someone, travel-agent-esque, and ask, through multiple questions, how to get to this sea of bamboo -- apparently I take this bus from inside the bus station, but buy a ticket ON the bus, not at the ticket window (hence why the ticket lady was shooing me off). I wander inside again, back through the area that's supposed to normally be 'tickets only', and find a big orange public-transit looking bus (#205, if you were wondering) that has my destination on it -- I ask again, and yay, hurrah, after some waiting, we're off (and for only Y4, no less!)
The conductor-lady is wonderfully helpful, and tells me to get off the bus at the last stop, where I have to change buses, but, wonderfully enough, don't have to pay again (this is very NEW to me). Getting off the bus, I'm a little sketched out by the empty white minibus I'm supposed to get into, and definitely pointed at it and asked her again, "you mean, this one?" - thankfully, the conductor of that one, a sweet and very skinny old chinese man came over, and all problems were solved. Again, some small amount of waiting, and we're off! I figure out where and when the last bus leaves to go home, having learned an important lesson from the TWO last buses G and I missed, and I wander into the bamboo sea.
More accurately, I scramble through the chinese tour group sea, and finally get to some paths through the bamboo. Gorgeous stuff, as always, and going backwards through the paths, I find that I manage to avoid more of the tourist hordes... Lots of pretty to be seen.
Only two troubles.
One, it is afternoon now. It is 37 degrees out. It is sunny. I am sweating BUCKETS. Like dripping freaking sweating, bandana now being used as facecloth/sweat-absorber kind of sweating.
So, why not flee to the gorgeous shade of the bamboo woods, you ask?
This brings me to, Two, freaking mosquitoes. HORDES OF FREAKING MOSQUITOES. As I tend to be a tasty enough individual that I seem be the only one to get eaten alive even when there's only one moustique and 6 other people in a room, HORDES = BAD.
Hordes = killing lots of mosquitoes, splattering my blood and probably others in little star-patterns all over my legs, and itching like there's no tomorrow. Wishing I'd been smart enough to bring bug spray to the WOODS. I somehow forgot that bamboo FOREST still means FOREST still means BUGS.
Anyway, so, I didn't really get to enjoy the woods so much, between the heat in the sun, and the "OMG I can't stop moving for even a second or I'll be eaten alive" in the shade (I'm not even exaggerating one bit. I swear), but it was pretty while it lasted, and mostly just very rewarding, the getting-there-all-on-my-own.
Anyway, to top off my wonderful day, I had dinner at an old fave, a noodle place in the neighbourhood that does GREAT soup, and then saw a SPECTACULAR sunset reflecting off the West Lake waters.
And, as an unexpected bonus, I even got my long-awaited scooter-ride, though the scooters in this city are all not only electric, but have bike-pedals, being sort of a bike-scooter hybrid. Scooter in appearance/design, electric bike in practice. I didn't get to drive, though, which is sad, and I did have to fend off the somewhat over-enthusiastic "oh you speak english, and understand when I say things in chinese! what are you doing tomorrow? can we hang out? I'm free. I'll walk you home." reaction of the guy I met on the bridge at West Lake to get it. :P But, that's the price I seem to pay for scootering. So be it.
Indie me begins here, I say. AVAST. YARRRRRRRR. =)
Funny, this is the first time in a while that I've really had a craving to blog, despite the fact that the past few days haven't been especially eventful in any touristy sense.
However, feed the craving, I say...
I'm in Hangzhou now, and it's a lovely place -- in fact, despite the rain, I've been loving the weather, as it's been relatively cool, which makes 6hours of walking bearable, nay, wonderful, along the shores of a willow-lined lake, lotus-blossoms everywhere. Worlds of pretty, indeed, though I admit, I wish the mugginess would lift just enough that I could see the opposite shore now and again, hm...
One of the campuses for Zhejiang University is right nearby, and I think, for the first time, I may just have found a uni campus that can compete with UBC in terms of gorgeousness. I hear SFU has a joint compsci degree with said uni, and am admittedly tempted by the possibility, despite having no interest in a compsci degree (sorry my sweet wonderful compsci friends -- just not my kettle of fish, at all).
Anyway, spent the whole day at the lakeside today, and loved every minute -- well, okay, exaggeration perhaps. Some less perfect moments included:
- lunch, where we were first told that they were out of the pumpkin biscuit things I wanted to try (fine, whatever), then told in 10 minutes that they were out of the two kinds of noodles we'd ordered (though ALMOST everything else was still available... we do pick well, I know), and then told in another 10 min that they were out of noodles ALTOGETHER. At this point, we left, and found another place to eat, where we got freshly made noodles in about 5 minutes or so. Much better. At least the folk at the first place were apologetic enough, though, and our waiter even sent someone else back to our table to tell us the bad news the third time around -- I think he was a bit worried about our reaction (and rightly so). This was still a vast improvement over the place in Yangshuo, who waited 40 minutes to tell us that we weren't going to get the main dish we'd ordered, though we could still have the veggies, 40 minutes after the fact, and NOT A SINGLE APOLOGY for this snafu. Fools. We were thoroughly unimpressed with that place.
- the guy who asked me for change - now, I should note, this is a very common occurence in China, and I've yet to fully piece together my opinions on the matter (that post is coming, eventually, I promise), but this one was more 'interesting' than the usual, from a moral dilemna/philosophical debate perspective. The guy began by telling his story, unusual, certainly, and more so, because his story, apparently, is that he stole someone's bag at some point (stole all of Y5, he says), got caught by the police, and ended up in jail for 6 months. He apparently was just released yesterday, and has since then, only had two buns to eat. Hence, the asking for change for food. Now, first, you might notice that I say 'apparently' a lot, since I'm rather cynical of most stories I get (unfortunate, really - I don't like things that make me cynical). But more than that, it brought up an interesting idea, morally speaking, of who is more 'deserving' of assistance, shall we say bluntly.... While I like the idea of forgiveness, of second chances, in principle, I am still less inclined to be sympathetic to situations brought on by oneself - nevermind the able-bodied vs. elderly or crippled debate, which needn't even enter the picture here. I don't know - I find it hard to put into words, and I wonder whether it is more valuable to help someone 'able', in the hopes that they will return to being a fully-contributing member of society, or someone less-so, who has no options available to them, but also will never be able to give back in quite the same manner. Evolutionary survival of the fittest, or a society that can care for the weak, one that can keep the monsters out, as someone once said.
I don't really have an answer yet, but I'm working on it. Not on an answer, per se, but simply on piecing together where I stand, or at least where I wobble. =) You know, what'll break principle and where the grey lines are. Important things to think about.
Anyway, I should get going, get some sleep, as tomorrow I think I want to do a little day trip out of town, which means up early early, methinks. However, I leave you with my incomplete stories to ponder, as always, including this tidbit: Someone said to me this morning, "I won't leave without saying goodbye", and true to dramatic movie form, that's of course the only time it doesn't happen. Boo. I wouldn't even have minded in the least, I think, as dinner and Little Mermaid lyrics late at night were quite enough for me, but with a cheesy statement like that, kitten, one ought to follow through. Silly of me, I know, especially with a youngling like that, but... You know. Me. Cheesy. Goodness me. =P =)
The wheels on the bus go round and round...
We bought our bus tickets to Sanjiang the day before leaving, and man, was I ever happy to be able to see a written schedule that I could refer to prior to purchasing - even though I still don't know what all the different columns meant, and why they have variable pricing on them. Maybe some are non-stop? Who knows. There certainly aren't classes of ticket the way there are for trains. Anyway Y27 to Sanjiang, plus Y2 of insurance I accidentally bought (this be when language snags tend to bugger you up), made for cheap tickets on what was supposedly ("but the Lonely Planet guidebook said...") about 5h by bus. We had seats 5+6 on the 7:10AM bus, as the later (last one in the morning), more preferrable 7:40am bus was already sold out.
We get on a small-ish greyhound-sized beast in the morning to find ourselves separated by the aisle, and, fools that we are, sit dutifully in our assigned seats. G's big bag fit above the seat, and our two daypacks underneath, but there ain't much in the way of what you might call "leg room", so even when we pulled out of the station mostly empty, G stayed put in the aisle seat, next to a random chinese man (a furious smoker, unfortunately... despite the no smoking sign, which NO one, anywhere in China, ever seems to listen to). We pull up for gas bfr leaving the stn, and our ticket/money/conductor guy hops onboard. We have our numbers counted as we pull out of the stations, presumably to ensure that the bus doesn't claim more $ from the station than the stn collected for them, and we're OFF.
The driver of the bus yells 'move on back'...
Or so we thought. IMMEDIATELY after leaving the station -- no, no, literally, not even 5m from the parking lot -- we stop, and about 5 more people get on . This process repeats until we leave Guilin, pulling up at random non-bus-stops to pick up passengers, shouting out the window as we roll past city bus stops "Longsheng! Sanjiang!" and stopping for ANYONE who'll flag us down -- us = a BIG ol' long distance bus, NOT a taxicab, people! We even had a guy and his friend on a motorbike hail us, and had the ticket lady (a new one, now, who we'd picked up on the way) shout out as we drove past "meet us at the next intersection!", at which point we stopped, the man on his bike hopped off, unloaded his boxes and crates of baggage and got onboard.
'move on back'...
Did I mention that since these buses tend to stop in a lot of smaller towns and villages, people tend to bring a LOT of VERY large baggage? Did I also mention that we picked up enough ppl that the aisle was filled with people sitting on small wooden stools, or occasionally on barrels or cooking oil drums, just for kicks. I don't quite understand why ppl don't just GO TO THE BUS STATION, but hey, the chinese don't queue (except for Mao), so who says they should get on a bus BEFORE it starts moving. At least the chickens didn't get on the bus (at least not on THIS bus) -- a woman we picked up had a large rice bag, with holes in it, with her -- just wear and tear, I figure. Then the bag moved. Then, I realized it was "chickens in a bag", which I've since come to realize is the best way to transport small livestock in China, apparently. The only more entertaining alternatives I've seen are, (1) chicken in a small plastic (LDPE) grocery bag, with head and feet poking out either side. However, this is only effective for shorter, non-bus distances, I suspect, and (2) just strap 'em onto the back of your bicycle and go. I saw a man cycle past with 2 in the basket on the front of the bike, and I suspect at aleast 5 strapped to the back -- no, no, not in a box, or crate or anything. No, no, just plain tied to the back rack of the man's bike, and cluckin' and movin' about. If you thought strapping milk crates to the back of a scooter was a challenge, you ain't seen no chicken bike.
Anyway, this woman's chickens wind up in the side compartment of el autobus, she sits on the baggage at the front of the bus, just behind the driver, and we're off again. Pit stop for food and bathroom about 1h out of Guilin, which we probably hadn't actually left until 8am at the earliest. Lots of smoking (thankfully sitting next to the window made it much more bearable). Lots of spitting out the window at high velocity. Especially the bus driver. Man, that guy must've spat at least once every 15 minutes, on average, and I don't evne think I'm exaggerating. He must've drank some of the green stuff by accident (MI2 reference, kids. And that's monkey island, NOT mission impossible. ew). Get to Longsheng around 10:30am, and the bus mostly empties, though not for too long, as we continue to pickup at middle-of-nowhere village/highway "stops", more akin to hitchhiking that bussing. Variable fares are paid to the conductor once you've sat down, which, admittedly, is mostly impressive because, as I mentioned before, the aisle is FULL of people, so the ticket guy getting to you to take your money is sort of an 'adventure'.
The people on the bus go up and down...
HOWEVER, here's the real kicker about this bus ride... about 10 min out of longsheng, the road turns into absolute crap -- ABSOLUTE worst "road" I've ever been on. This is why the short distance between Longsheng and Sanjiang takes THREE very painful hours, and we arrive at 1:30pm, about 6.5h after leaving the bus station in Guilin. This road is more mud, dirt and rocks, and LANDSLIDES, than actual road, and is approx. 1 lane wide the whole way, along a cliff's edge, which makes for some very scary bus passings, esp. when what you're passing is a fuel tanker. There was definitely more than one occasion where I was seriously scared that the bus would get totally stuck in the mud/puddle/ditch (like Lola, but bigger, and bus-ier), and we'd be stuck in literally the middle of butt-nowheres.
Speaking of butt-nowheres, some of the people we picked up/dropped off... I have NO idea where they were going -- sometimes, you'd spot a village on the other side of the river, but other times, it really made me wonder... "why are you HERE?"
up and down...
Anyway, point being, this was the worst EVER "road" and, thus, the slowest, most painfully bumpy THREE hour bus ride EVER -- at least until the ride back, but I'll get to that soon enough. For now, suffice it to say, we were tossed about like so many rag dolls and we were lucky enough to be sitting near the front of the bus -- reminded me of the old school bus days, when we'd race to get the back seats s.t. we'd be flung well and up in the air when we hit the inevitable post-winter-in-Ottawa pothole -- yeah, THIS was not at all one of the times where that would've been a "fun" idea.
This also made me extremely glad that I don't get motion sickness quite the way I used to as a kid -- else it'd have been me throwing up out of the bus window, instead of just chinese men spitting.
The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish...
Finally, we get to Sanjiang, ask about the bus to Chengyang. Apparently, they get this one from foreign tourists often, so they throw a slip of paper out @ us that reads, "for buses to Chengyang, go to the other bus station" -- I ask for directions, and we grab lunch at a nice enough little place next to the bus stn bfr heading out: "take the main road, turn right, walk across the bridge, it's right there" which we also reconfirm with our friendly noodle restauranteur, and off we go. AVAST. Have to ask again once we've crossed the bridge, as the bus stn is tiny and hard to pick out in a crowd. Buy tickets @ Y3.5 each, and hit the bus to Linxi, leaving in 0.5h, which will drop us off on the way. Again, we appear to be in the minority, getting on at the ACTUAL bus stn, as we fill up IMMEDIATELY outside the bus station. Again, I fail to understand why people wait literally two steps from the station to get on -- I wonder a bit about issues of legality and the like, but, honestly, it makes me happier that buses always leave the city FILLED (to the brim, as it were) -- better for both owner and earth.
Am thankful, truly, for the paved road. Narrow, single-lane, cliff's edge, sharp blind corners which we take at full speed -- the sonar method, as it were: we honk loudly as we speed around the bend, listening for a response, but never once slowing down. Still, it's paved, and I love it. Dropped of at Chengyang in the pouring rain and the adventure begins.
The wheels on the bus go round and round...
On the way back, we stand poised in the bend of the road, in front of the tourist sales stalls, and the bus comes whipping around the corner, early -- I wave it down, and am admittedly quite pleased with myself for doing so. I actually quite enjoy this whole flagging-down-passing-vehicles business.
Standing room only, not unexpected. I'm standing next to the front stash of baggage, clinging 1-armed to the top luggage rack, not ideal to grip, as we whip around curves at ~60kph (though, I suppose I can't be certain of our speed, what with the broken spedometer and all). We paid Y4 a piece, it seems that buses are ALWAYS more expensive on the way back -- because you have no options, buggers.
Standing on this bus, I was reminded of Brian's comment and think to myself, thankfully I have a lower centre of gravity (woo, physics!) - Brian would've fallen over for sure -- maybe I'd make a decent snowboarder.
Never again will I complain (not that I ever really did) about standing in public transit in Canada -- it's easy to stay standing in city buses, and cdn. buses could never be this crowded. Anywho... with the occasional bit of building up that right arm muscle when we rounded a corner especially quick, we were back in Sanjiang in a record 25min.
Skitter to the other bus stn to find out when the bus to Longsheng leaves -- in 10 min, the bus girl says, buy your tickets on the bus. It was lunchtime, but since the the girl says it's unknown when (if) the next bust leaves, I con G into just buying snack food, and hopping on the bus just as the driver revs his engine to go.
The people on the bus go up and down...
I didn't think it possible, but the bus ride back to longsheng was definitely worse -- bumpier, way more $ (Y20 ea), and, though the bus was half-empty for much of the ride, all I could think was, can we PLEASE get there already?!?
In longsheng (AT LAST), we hit some lunch bfr finding out 5pm bus to Ping'an -- glad we didn't wait for another bus in Sanjiang, or we'd never have made it to this, the last bus out to Ping'An of the day. The Ping'an bus is fully tourist decked out - English maps, English service - even though we're the only tourists on the max.16-person capacity minibus. We leave the station and... can you guess what happens next?
The driver of the bus yells 'move on back'...
Yes, kids, that's right, right outside the stn, EVERYONE (and their kitchen sink, or at least enough baggage to legitimately qualify) awaits. We load up (at least no cat-in-a-bag, as was bumped about on the last bus we were on), and G and I help a woman protect her poor breakable boxes of stuff (glass, methinks) from being sat on multiple times. Wow. I think after all the pit stops, we fit 45-50 people on that bus -- granted, about 7 of those were kids, and therefore, take up less space, but let's not forget the boxes, the baskets, the veggies, the glassware, the chicken-in-a-bag, and best of all, the stop where we pull up by the river and wait for the 3 people wading and fishing in the water to climb onboard -- as G put it, "just what we need" -- wet chinese men and 2 buckets/baskets of fish to leak all over the floor of the bus.
Actually, though, I really loved it. Everyone was laughing, smiling, chatting, taking care of someone else's kid on their lap, eating, whatever. Everyone knew everyone, or at least acted as if they did. And though I couldn't understand much of it (dialects! I shake my fist at you!), every so often I pick up a phrase or word -- half cantonese, half mandarin. Never thought it'd be so helpful to know both -- though it messed with my head a lot to know both, since sometimes I get confused hearing things that I understand, but being unable to figure out what dialect it resembles, and why I understand it.
That bus ride (Y6.5, 2h) was absolutely one of the highlights of my whole trip to China. Especially the fish. Awesome. It was the first time I'd actually seen a bus driver be picky about where you put your baggage ... fish water is not so easy to clean out of carpet, hm.
... all the way to town....
The way back was less of an adventure, less new, fewer entertaining people, but I mention it briefly for different reasons. We hopped the bus from Ping'an, the only folk on it a couple of locals and 3 canto speaking tourists, our age-ish, who I laughed at for doing a full analysis of which direction the sun was going to be coming from on the way back -- the beauty, though, being that I understood cantonese, so caught that they were off to Guilin, same as us, but were planning to hitch at the intersection of the highway, instead of travelling all the way back to Longsheng. So, I decided to get off with them, and again, hail a passing bus into Guilin -- saves time and $ (30 min, Y5 + 1.5h, Y15) -- plus, I got to hitch a bus from the highwayside. Awesomecross. Truly.
Perspiration. Freaking perspiration.
Forget that. Freaking weather. Remind me not to travel in China in the summer again, if I have any choice about it.... I really hope I can come back next time in the fall or something. C'mon PhD to postdoc transition.... Let's see you work some magical timing skills there.
Anyway, though I may have made some unpromises to folk in the past to never complain about the weather, I rescind this temporarily as I'm not in the gorgeous 19degree Vancouver climate.
So, I don't want to hear any of this "hah, your complaining it's cold in Vancouver was so funny -thanks, the laughing helped me defrost my frostbitten face" out of you. Especially as you're in Vancouver, and I'm in 32C PLUS humidity Yangshuo county.
So, 32C, not actually so bad, but as all my fun friends and family in Ottawa know full well, it's the humidity that makes it OHSOFREAKINGBRUTAL. And the humidity is worse here, my friends.
Allow me to demonstrate, with a short series of bullet points:
1. When washing clothing here, the water comes out brown. This is not only from the dust. This is also a wonderful mixture of dust and sweat.
2. This is 'apply deodorant at least two to three times per day' weather.
3. Immediately after showering, approximately 5-10 minutes of sitting in a non-A/C room, with a fan, results in enough sweating that you feel obviously sticky and gross, to the extent that I would choose to avoid vinyl furniture at all costs.
4. It only rains in short, thunderstorm-esque POURING bursts. This breaks the humidity. For about an hour.
5. When going out walking, very slowly, in the shade, along the riverbank, at 8:30AM... one can sweat through the back of one's shirt in under an hour. We're talking about "I can wring the sweat out of this garment because it is dripping" kind of sweat. Enough to soak my bag as well, if carried on my back. Enough to give shorts stains. Enough that you can tell on my front where exactly my bag was sitting, because there's a shoulder bag strap SWEAT stain. Enough to be DRIPPING with sweat. From walking. In the EARLY MORNING.
6. When eating dinner, outside, at 7pm, 10 minutes of sitting may produce a significant amount of sweating. Dripping, sweating.
It feels sometimes like all I do here is sweat. I lose count of how many litres of water I drink in a day. It is absolutely disgusting, and as ABSOLUTELY gorgeous as this place is (the scenery, AB-SO-LUTE-LY GORGEOUS), I wouldn't live here if you paid me.
And, oh look, we leave on Tuesday to go to Hainan Island (mostly for some Monkey business), where it is supposedly EVEN HOTTER.
Anyway, I have to go drop an obscene amount of money on a plane ticket now, as I did not plan ahead quite enough to know when we were leaving... So, I bid you adieu, until we meet again.
As you might be inclined to say, "smell you later". =P
This is the part of the trip where I learned that (a) being cheap is definitely not always worth it, and (b) if I ever ever ever pick anything ever again based on the fact that it has character I must immediately rethink this decision. (granted, this is part of how I picked my apartment for May. Oooh. We'll see how this goes, no?)
When we first arrived at Lisa's, we were shown a standard four-person room, with shared bathroom and A/C, but when I asked if there was anything cheaper, the girl showing us around said, essentially, there was, but... uhm... I should warn you, the ceilings are quite low... (translated, of course)
she wasn't kidding - this was the scalene triangle, where except at the immediate entrance, there wasn't enough ceiling room to stand up straight, or really, to stand up at all. Actually, come to think of it, at the narrow end, you couldn't possibly have done anything but lie down... Plus, the classy hanging ceiling lamp, which, of course, was hung almost at knee height. Instead of A/C, we had a fan that didn't rotate. Oh, but it gets better...
The ceiling, being nothing more than the underside of the roof itself, shed random crap on the mattresses everytime it rained. The walls were a fantastic display of electrical wiring (even in the bathroom!), which, of course, led G and I to a hilarious, and completely not serious, discussion: "what? how's hanging wet clothes to dry on electrical taped wires a BAD idea? but look, they've thoughtfully given us hangers!"
In the bathroom, where the ceiling was, in fact, high enough to allow us to stand while showering, though not wide enough that you could stand anywhere but directly next to the toilet as you showered. The hot water took forever to heat up (not so much a problem in Yangshuo's sweltering heat, mind you), nevermind having an actual handle on the tap. A toilet that once again made me appreciate squat toilets where you never actually have to deal with the sketchy seats. And plus, who doesn't appreciate cobwebs and bare concrete?
Oh, but, look, what a nice view it has, of the touristy West Street. Oh, this view? Through the window? With its two panes of unfinished glass? Which, we found out the hard way, weren't ACTUALLY large enough to cover the full area of the window, that is, if you don't break it or accidentally slit your wrists attempting to close it. The drape (read: towel) did an even more fantastic job, covering about 50-60% of the window area, with a wide gap at both the top and side.
The best part was meeting other tourists who were being shown the (and I'm not kidding) "special room" or the "Mao room" as they also called it. I appreciated at least that the girl who showed us the room didn't try to dress it up as anything - she warned us fair and square. There wasn't any spin, like for the others' being shown the place, and being told, oh, that's no problem, we can fit THREE more people in a room that isn't even big enough to stand in. Surprisingly enough, no one else decided to take the room and join us for the evening. In fact, one girl turned it down rather brutally, and then, realizing we were there unpacking ourselves, turned to us and politely joked, "sorry to dis your room" - I laughed about that.
Because, when it came down to it, as horrifying as all that was, I could've lived with all that. It was, to me, anyway, more hilarious than anything else, and, hey, you really couldn't argue that the place didn't have character. ahahahahah. Yeah, I'm a risk to myself and others sometimes, I know.
BUT, what made the place ACTUALLY unliveable after the first night... So, that beautiful view of West Street? Yeah, did I neglect to mention that West Street is not only a tourist street, filled with shops and bustle during the day, but a BAR and CLUB street at night? OH MY. As G said, "I feel like a carnie" - even with earplugs, it was like living INSIDE the speakers of some horrifying street disco dance party, nevermind the really bad karaoke. Feel the music? Oh, yes, we FELT the music.
That, more than any of the other stuff, made us move house after one night. Yangshuo really wasn't our cup of tea as far as housing went. When we told Lisa we were going to move because of the noise, and told her we'd found a cheap place that was quiet, she counteroffered, and moved us into a two-person room, which was actually decent. The fan was fine, the bathroom reasonably sized, and the ceilings at sane heights. I'm pretty convinced that smell, though, was mold, and the lizard in the bathroom wasn't really the keenest thing, so after three nights there, we moved again, this time to the backstreet HI, which was FABULOUS, as far as cleanliness went. Trouble was, though, we hadn't reserved a second night there, and so they asked us to swap rooms for the second night, to accomodate a group of four coming the next day. That's cool, said we, only to find that we were expected to move into the now flooded upstairs room, which, oh, did we not mention, is connected to the open hallway balcony that floods everytime it rains. Oh, did I not mention that it was raining now non-stop, such that even the Li river itself was flooding it's banks (cancelling our opportunity to go see this on-the-water-light-show and dance extravaganza directed/made in some way by Zhang Yimou), so this meant guaranteed room flooding? Not cool.
So, once again we were nomads, woo, wandering (feverishly, as a bonus, as I got sick the same day we got booted out of the HI) in the rain to find new digs. We tried the West Street HI, which not only was likely to be noisy, as it was on West Street, again, and above a restaurant/bar, but offered us a nine-person, one-bathroom dorm room, in drastic contrast to the quiet 4-person dorms we'd loved at the backstreet HI (which, by the by, I do actually recommend if you stay in Yangshuo. Just make reservations, and the place is actually wonderful). I think somewhere around this time, G compared us to Mary and Joseph seeking any sort of shelter for the night. We finally ended up back at Lisa's, at higher prices than we left (understandably so), where I got right and proper ill. But that's another story entirely. :P
Life in Incomplete Thoughts and Phrases:
Spent the past two nights in one of the most gorgeous places on earth. Said 'wow' a whole lot. A WHOLE lot. Saw a LOT of rice. Will write about it later.
Think I'd make a good peasant. Yeah.
Had a LOT of bus-related adventures, some involving livestock and VERY bad roads. VERY freaking bad roads. Also, some hailing a bus from the side of the highway (quasi-hitching, yes?).
Am beginning to lose the distinction between canto and mandarin. Messing with my brain. Dialects cause great trouble for me. Can't understand a bloody thing. Glad just about everyone speaks mandarin, or close to it. Though it's a mixed bag. Love it and hate it.
Only one complaint to speak of... Managed to freaking break out in hives while I was there. Who knows what I'm allergic to, but I'm itching like crazy, and look like I've got a terrible pox. It's fun, really. More fun stories soon, promise, even if soon means when I get home.
Halfway there, and not really wanting it to be so. Happy to be here. My adventure.
Well, we leave the city for real for the first time tomorrow, venture small towns and village like places for a few days. It should be about 4 million sorts of absolutely beautiful, but there's a part of me that's absolutely nervous-like-twitters about it.
My city girl stripes be showing.
Still, we leave tomorrow, bus out of town @ 7am, and don't quite know the exact details of where we'll end up. Adventure, neh? After all, if you don't do a few things every now and again that scare you, how will you know any better?
Xi'an has been absolutely amazing, and I can hardly begin to describe in this little box. But I will start with today, and wait til I get back to write about the rest -- I wouldn't want to waste the day, with this working internet, and my returning ability to compose reasonable English sentences.
I spoke a lot of mandarin yesterday, along with a little cantonese when need arose, in real conversation -- not mere directions or food ordering or purchasing -- and it was thoroughly wonderful and mentally exhausting. So, today, I didn't speak much at all. If you asked me to sum up my last day in Xi'an, in a minimum number of words, if you asked me "What did you do on your last day there?", I think I would respond:
I doubt my sandals will last much longer than just this trip -- but they were more comfortable (by leaps and bounds) than any of the more expensive varieties, so I can live with the short lifespan if it means I don't break myself. =) But seriously, I think I walk about 5-6 hours a day, so maybe three times what I would on a normal day, nevermind such activities as hiking the Great Wall. So, if my shoes last only for the duration, it won't be that much shorter than my standard shoe lifespan. Did I ever mention that I wear out shoes in crazy short time? :P
Anyway, I awoke early, and headed out for breakfast buns (one red bean paste, one mushroom) just a block or two away. Forgot my watch, but thankfully, not as dependent on it as I once was. Weaned, am I. So, don't quite know when I finally reached the city wall, about the middle of the East side, and headed up for a walk. Xi'an is one of the few cities where the city wall, around the old city, was still mostly intact, and has since been restored, so you can now walk or bike an ancient wall around a once ancient city, about 20m off the ground. In the 35C + humidity heat. The breeze was nice, thankfully. But, despite the weather making me feel like I could stick to furniture VERY easily, it's a lot of fun. I walked the wall, backwards, apparently, since EVERYONE I saw was walking or biking in the opposite direction, including the mini golf-cart style electric cars for tours and the like. The first person I ran into at about Heping Lu gate entrance, who told me it was 9:10am. Don't know how long I'd been walking, but I just kept going. Meandering along. I love walking. I think biking would have been fun too, but I'm not quite totally comfortable with biking yet, having been out bike-riding all of once (thank you Kaili! teacher extraordinaire), so my feet still serve as my preferred mode of transit (love of public transit inclusive, even).
Anyway, as you walk along, there are periodic signs near each major gate that say things like "Nan Men" (South Gate) 1050m, telling you the distance to the two gates on either side of you. These distances ranged from about 1000 m to 2600m or so. Oh, did I not mention that the old city walls form a rectangle of about 3 km by 6km? So, about 14 km around the perimeter. And I walked it. Okay, not entirely true. I walked all the way to the North Gate (about 3/4 of the way), when I decided to leave the wall to walk in the city. Mostly because the popsicle of fun I wanted to buy cost 5 yuan on the wall. And when I left it, the first corner store / stall sold a better one for 0.50 yuan. That's worse than beach prices, even, and there are fewer stairs here, though the price of admission to the wall constitutes incentive enough, I suppose. I even ran into Garrett before leaving the wall, as he was biking along, and was shocked that I'd walked nearly the whole beast. What? I said I liked walking. I could walk nearly forever, and often do, even at home, to clear my head, or just because. =) In the end, though, I wasn't quite stubborn enough to walk the whole perimeter, though, in distance, including the walking in city, I did probably much more than 14K. Unsurprising, really.
Went back to the Muslim quarter's infamous snack street for lunch, for another rou jia mo (meat in a hard bread biscuit thing -- fabulous, and cheap), and tried something sweet as well -- I think it was some dough made of rice flour (like those sticky rice balls mmm.), with a filling that looked like dates from a distance, but when I asked, the only part of her explanation I understood was "black sesame" -- gotta increase my food vocabulary in chinese, I know. I asked only if it was sweet before buying a small portion, to which she added more sesame, black sesame paste, some sweet plant material (unidentifiable), and a big scoop of honey. WAaaaaaaay too sweet, but interesting to try. Totally couldn't finish it, but was carrying it around for a bit... Then when this old woman came up asking for money, I gave the rest to her. I figured at least it wouldn't be going to waste. Plus, it made me feel a little better overall (more on this near the end of the trip -- still mulling, as I am wont to do).
Bought a donkey, which I didn't really want to carry all the rest of the way, but really wanted to have. No, no, not that kind... This one. Wandered a lot, saw a lot of interesting food, found overpriced souvenirs to not buy, and generally really enjoyed myself. Xi'an's been really good for new food -- both interesting to taste local dishes, as well as for the way things are served. Lots of takeout, like noodles, made fresh and mixed up in stalls on the street, are mixed in a bowl lined with a plastic bag, along with sauce and seasoning. Then they just pull up the plastic bag, tie it up, and hand it to you. So, you're likely to see lots of people in the neighbourhood with bags of loose, cooked food, a meal in a bag, hanging off their handlebars. It's hilarious, and awesome, considering that takeout, back home, tends to get packed then bagged. Anyway... I've more to say about food, as I've tried more interesting things here than anywhere previous, but I think it will wait til another day. Just thought I'd give you a taste of it... aHAHAHAHAH. That was an excellent quibble. Not a pun. =)
Just a few thoughts -- less of a tourist blog than my usual fare, but I hope you won't mind.
It's funny how I expected this trip to be a huge eye-opening experience, to show me new things about the world -- and it certainly continues to -- but it actually turned out to call out more strongly to things already a part of me.
A call to bring bits of my cultural heritage to bear. I don't know why I didn't see that coming -- I should've, really -- but between language and childhood memories and little pieces of family tradition coming into play, this trip is hitting parts of my brain in unexpectedly powerful ways. We shall see what comes of this, hm?
I don't know that I'll blog much from here on in... Not that I haven't much to say, but I've been writing a lot, by hand, of late, and somehow, it feels more right. More myself. Also, it tends to prevent me from becoming oh-so-easily distracted by unexpected things from home -- I got two emails that hit odd nerves when I got to Xi'an, and haven't shaken it off yet (never mind that it's deathly humid and gross here too... Ick. Just glad it's not the 43C it was last week. I think we'd just have collapsed at that) -- one that asked for my shoe photos to join a real-live-honest-to-goodness exhibition (ohmygoodness) and one that said, in more words, an 'I miss you' that I hadn't expected to hear.
Distractions. Off to play with the hostel's kittens instead of you folk, methinks. Avast, from a VERY old town.
Well, I thought that since we leave Beijing tomorrow morning, it would be a good time to wrap this city up with a little ode to the transit here. I should first mention, though, that we did finally get train tickets to Datong today (woot. Apparently, FIFTH time's the charm), so that's where we're headed for the next couple of days. Though I'm sure there's readily available internet somewhere nearby in town, I probably won't go looking for it, so you're likely not going to hear a peep out of me til we hit Xian by O/N train.
It hasn't been quite long enough here to really feel settled in, but it's been wonderful. Any longer and I think I'd want to be living here proper instead of living quasi-tourist-like in the hostel.
Oh, and before I begin, I should also add a disclaimer... This is probably going to be an almost stupidly detailed post, so if you have no interest in things like buses and transit and traffic and the like, you might just want to stop here. For those of you with keener bus-love like me, and enjoy detailed description (ie. this is for you, Lap Kei, you with your "and then the door opened, and there were two steps, and I walked in, and the door closed with a whooshing sound"), then... hoorah. It begins:
So, much of my time in Beijing has been spent as a pedestrian, and having lived in Vancouver and complained heartily about the silly non-jaywalking that goes on there (being a proper skittering sort of Ontario pedestrian myself, and not assuming that traffic will stop at unmarked non-intersections for me), Beijing has been quite the experience.
You know how I've complained about the disorderly non-queueing that exists here? Crossing the street feels a little like that. Although vehicles do follow traffic signals, that's about the only actual rule that seems to exist. That is, NO ONE has the right-of-way. So, when crossing an 8 lane street, it's up to you and a veritable sea of other pedestrians to negotiate with the right-turning AND left-turning bikes, pedicabs, taxis, and buses to cross. You see that green "walk" signal ahead of you? All that means is that orthogonal traffic is stopped. It does NOT in any way mean that there is no traffic. In fact, sometimes, it's easier to cross when it's a red/don't cross signal.
Being used to reasonably strict right-of-way rules myself, I wondered when I first got here how no one seems to die while crossing the road. Or at least why no one has yet lost any toes.... But somehow, with a large amount of honking from the motor vehicles and hearty bell-dinging from the cyclists, everyone manages to get across the road. In one piece. You just start walking until honked at (translation: "I am about to run you over if you do not halt so I can turn in front of you"), then slow down or stop briefly, and then continue to swim through traffic. It's not unusual at all to see a veritable SEA of taxis, bicycles and pedestrians just stopped in the middle of an intersection as everyone negotiates who's turn it is to pass. After two weeks here, I think I'm actually quite comfortable with it, and have found myself in the sea, alone, even, from time to time. Back home, I'd never consider crossing the street with a bus turning 6 inches away from me (you think I exaggerate? No, no. It's actually close enough that I would probably have my foot run over if I put one of my feet in front of the other.), but here, it's completely normal. Sort of a weird feeling actually, having a moving bus half a foot from your face, knowing you can't move backward because there's another bus or cab turning behind you.
The streets themselves have quite a neat design, at least the major ones do -- The middle lanes are through lanes, but then there's a small median or divider, and then the two curbside lanes are for right-turning vehicles and cyclists (cyclists being the curbside lane). There are usually, on the very large streets, underground pedestrian crossings (lit generally only at night, which is occasionally a little eerie) or bridges as well, which may also be another reason why pedestrians seem to survive against all odds. There are also traffic guys at some of these big intersections, who wave red flags and have whistles to blow. But people don't seem to pay them much attention, unless very specifically being yelled at (as in the case of the cycling woman I saw going diagonally across the 8 lane 4-way intersection), and they don't seem to be consistently stationed at given intersections, so I haven't entirely figured out their purpose in life.
The sidewalks are wide and wonderful and treed on most main streets, with a few detours where the sidewalk mysteriously ends, and the alleyways are always nifty to wander through as a detour. But, Beijing being the huge city it is, walking will really only get you so far... Which brings me to...
Currently consisting of 3 different subway lines (Y3 for line 1 and 2, which go east-west and in a big loop, respectively, and Y5 to transfer to line 13, which goes in a big loop up to the north of Beijing -- suburbs-ish), the subways are fabulous. They announce every stop, go speedily everywhere, fit tons of people, and ... well, they're subways. I love them almost inherently. The only real 'adventure' involved herein is (a) getting on or off at a transfer station is always a fight to get through a CROWD of people shoving their way in/out at the door, and (b) figuring out which exit (of 4) to get out at is sometimes more of a challenge than expected, as each exit lists major roads and landmarks, as well as a couple of bus routes found there, but as the exits aren't always at the readily predictable 4 corners of a main road, sometimes, poking your head out of the subway is super-disorienting. I've spent a reasonable amount of time after each subway ride asking the random folk around where the bus stop I'm looking for is. Because it's never RIGHT there.
Mostly single-decker (only the #5 seems to have a double-decker consistently), but of really nifty design. There are some trolleys as well, but sort-of hybrid trolleys, which run on wires where they exist, and detach and run independently everywhere else. I've yet to see one reattach itself (though I did spend a good amount of time walking up and down a particular block trying to witness this event, since I saw detached buses at one end of the street, and attached ones later on, so they must have some transition!), so I'm unsure if this is a conductor-assisted task, or if the buses can do it themselves. This would be something the Translink buses might love, considering the number of times I've been on a Van bus that's fallen off the wires during a turn, forcing the driver to exit and reattach the poor de-electrified trolley.
For most buses you get on at the front, and off at the rear, just like in Canada -- but with the expanded accordion buses (you know, like the 98 or 99 B-lines in Van or the 95 or 97 in Ottawa or whatever equivalent you choose), there are three doors, none of which is immediately next to the driver. The middle of these is where you exit, while the other two are both entry doors, and both have a corresponding conductor associated with it.
So, that's another thing about Beijing buses. Every bus has a driver, who drives as well as opens and closes the front and rear doors, as well as one or two conductors, who collect fares, call out stops (on buses that don't do it automatically, or for smaller stops in between), and mostly keep track of the passengers. The conductor has got his or her (usually a her -- I'd say 90% of the time, if not more) own little seat, as well as a small walled-off (with metal poles, like the kind you hold onto when standing, but horizontal) area that they can walk back and forth in to take fares and call out things. When the bus isn't packed (which is rare on the main routes, especially during rush hour -- if anyone complains about how packed a given 99 or something is back home, I invite them to take Beijing transit sometime.), they sometimes come out of this little cubby hole and walk to the back of the bus as well, allowing you to sit down before you pay. Fares are variable, depending on the bus, but most are Y1 or Y1.50, and some actually vary depending on how far you travel on a given bus, so you have to tell the conductor what stop you'll be getting off at.
I only actually figured out this variable fare thing because we took one bus that we had to pay Y1.50 for to the Summer Palace... But the neat thing about that was that I then learned that their bus/transit passcards must also be some sort of declining balance system, instead of an unlimited monthly pass. They have to scan their card when they get on the bus, or enter the subway station, but on variable fare buses, they also have to scan again when they exit, thus tracking how far they went, and subtracting the appropriate amount from their card.
The conductors also tend to lean out the window as the bus pulls up to stops, shouting out where the bus is going, answering questions before folk actually get on. No one actually talks to the driver. They also shout out once everyone's on, or once everyone's off at the back doors, telling the driver to close the doors and leave. It's funny hearing the differences between different people doing this, as some just shout out "men" (literally, "door" -- though with the Beijing accent, it comes out sounding somewhat more aking to "mehr"), and others say "zou le" (as in "go"). There are no bells to ring for passengers to say when they want to get off. You just sort of get up when you're near your stop, and the conductor tells the driver to stop to let you off. Or sometimes the conductor will shout (or in a normal, quiet speaking voice) about what stop is next, and ask everyone if anyone wants off... If no one answers, we drive past without stopping.
The buses, at least the single ones, are designed to fit almost entirely standing passengers, with room for about 12 seats in the back (back row, plus two rows with a double and single), and then a row of front-facing singles up the side, and then two sideways facing benches of three at the front. This leaves enormous amounts of aisle room compared to canadian transit, and the poles are well spaced for holding on. There's also a horizontal bar across the windows at about chest height, which is designed to allow one set of people to hold on very close to the seated passengers, while a second layer piles in behind and holds onto the higher ceiling bars (like those in Canada). Granted, all this design is somewhat moot in rush hour, when there are enough people in the bus that you wouldn't be able to fall over even if you wanted to. Personal space is not an option.
Because buses are so packed, conductors tend to announce the next stop immediately after leaving a given stop, to give people lots of time to get to the back doors to exit. Some buses also announce this automatically, as well as saying "move on back" and "if you don't have a card, buy your ticket", over and over again. During rush hour, the major stops also have conductor-type ground-crew at stop, that flag down buses, and wave them to leave once everyone's on board. I suppose that the conductors are otherwise occupied at the time.
Finally, the last highlight, which is a big one for me, having ranted about this in Vancouver for some time now... The bus stops are WONDERFUL. Unlike Vancouver stops, which frequently give no information other than "BUS STOP", leaving you no idea of what bus is coming, when, or where it will take you, or even unlike Ottawa stops, which occasionally list an out of date schedule in addition to route numbers.... Beijing bus stops (I mean ALL bus stops), have separate signs for every bus that stops there. The sign states the route number, the fare (and whether it varies, and what distance or stop the rate increase occurs), the first and last bus (although no frequency info... they seem to all run exceedingly often though), AND, best of all, EVERY SINGLE stop that the bus makes. There might be a few along the same road that aren't listed explicitly, but essentially, you can look at a bus sign and decide if it'll take you where you want to go. Very cool.
So, that's pretty much all I've taken. There are also SEALOADS of taxis, pedicabs (motorized three-wheeled bike-like things with a single backward facing seat on the back of it, which will fit one, or occasionally two people), bike-rickshaws, scooters (Brook, I even saw a guy in a tux scootering through the city... Not perhaps a traditional 007 mode-of-transit, but I can see it happening. ;) ), and bikes. Lots of bikes, mostly with baskets in front. Actually, I saw an excellent sight this morning -- a middle-aged man, cycling past on a yellow and pretty pink bicycle, wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt and aviators while talking on his cell-phone and smoking. Except for the smoking bit, I thought it was pretty cool. Actually, come to think of it, I think the cell-phone was a bit stupid too, but somehow, it (and the cigarette, I suppose), made the image that much more brilliant. I never thought of pink bikes and the grateful dead as much of a pair.
Anyway... that's getting around Beijing for you. =) It gives me much glee. Now off to much smaller cities than this (basically everywhere until I finally hit Shanghai at the end of the trip) -- I'll let you know how it turns out. Cheers, m'dears.
Funny, I haven't felt much like blogging of late... Except possibly when I've been on the bus to and from places, when I've been planning out all the important details that I mustn't leave out when I finally get around to discussing transit in Beijing (ooh, excitement!)... I've been writing a lot, still, but somehow, when I've sat myself down at the computer, to check up on email and look into hostels, and all that jazz...
I just find that I don't want to write. I don't know if the backlog of things to say is beginning to get to me, that it's appearing much too daunting... I dunno.
I'd like to think that it's more that I haven't been feeling especially talkative and sociable of late, and, as blogging tends towards that end of my spectrum (especially travel blogging), I don't feel much like sharing. I promise that it's not for lack of things to say.
Either way, hopefully this shall pass soon enough. For those of you keeping track, I leave Beijing on Tuesday (train tickets pending, so I suppose that's not yet entirely certain) for Datong for a couple of days (don't know if I'll bother looking for internet while I'm there), then *hopefully* managing to hitch a hard sleeper bunk on the train (17h) to Xi'an from there on Thursday night. As I've mentioned, I don't quite know the train ticketing system yet, so I don't know how lucky we'll be in getting sleeper tickets (I really really hope so), and I have a suspicion that the one train we have to take overnight has no A/C. Oh good. At least it's night, so it won't be too bad.
Unlike today, where I walked up a mountain in 37C heat with minimal shade. Largely stubborness and idiocy on my part, but still... I don't think I've ever sweated quite so much in my life. Like, you know that feeling you get in the dead humid heat of an Ottawa August? When you stick to plastic furniture, and have to peel yourself off? Imagine, instead, that you don't stick to anything, because you leave pools of sweat behind. That's more like how it felt on the bus ride back. Ick.
Anyway, tonight Garrett and I are finally going out for the ever-famous Beijing ("Peking") duck, which should be lovely. I'll let you know how it is, but we expect to spend a fair while in line to get into the restaurant, so hopefully, it'll be worth it.
PS. Transit post coming soon, I promise. Hopefully "soon" will not mean "once YY gets back to Ottawa and regains sanity and has time to spare", but we'll see about that.
PPS. I hate internet explorer. Crash. Crash. Bleah.
I'd never really had any concept of what that meant. Functionally illiterate. But how can one be functional if you can't read, I thought, what with all these words and signs and papers around us?
Well, I'm finding out. And it's not nearly as hard as I suspected. My spoken mandarin may be broken, but my written mandarin is far worse. I'm getting far better at menus these days, and signs, but really not much else. Even sometimes, I know what the words are, what they mean, but can't figure out how to say them, and try to go with some butchered cantonese -- which usually seems to work. That, and some degree of pointing.
The question "what is that?" or "what's in that dish?" has been my friend, oh yes it has... I don't always understand the answers, but I can usually pick out enough words to decide if I want to eat a particular dish.
On that note, I've found my new absolute favourite eatery in Beijing. It's right across the street, and while it has the appearance of a fast food joint, it has all (well, almost all) my chinese comfort foods. It's got congee, it's got those sticky rice lotus leaf things, it's got soymilk (mmm), it's got bbq pork buns, other buns, and lots of simple dinners of rice/noodles and stuff. It's called Fieldhome (I can only read the first character of three, which does, indeed, translate as field... the rest, I can't tell. Like I said, functionally illiterate). It's not really special in any grand way, but it's great low-risk easy breakfast/brunch or late dinner after a long day. AND IT'S NON-SMOKING!!!!! This is most unheard of in China, and makes me so happy I could cry. Except not really. Since my eyes water enough with the smoke. Anyway, it's great Anytime that easy is preferable to new (not that I'm squeamish when it comes to food. More cautious. I've had food poisoning enough times from things that ought to have been easy peasy and safe in Canada, that I daren't risk things like scorpions or starfish, though both look quite exciting. But that's something I'll talk about another day... As it was a while ago... Back on track...). Plus, I've never been a big fan of eating out lots (unless eating out means picnic, for I am a large picnic girl) -- not just for price, mind, since it's super cheap to eat out here... More... I just get sick of it really quickly. I'm a big fan of plain food, ordinary food, simple food. With highlights of other fun things every now and then.
Picnic skills, however, came in handy today, as Garrett and I spent the day @ the Palace Museum (more commonly known in English as the Forbidden City), and, as my mom (who, PS, is the coolest person ever) warned me, the best you're going to do for food there is ice cream and instant noodles. Lots of instant noodles. But I'd brought lunch. So, no need to eat either yellow salt flavour or brown salt flavoured noodles. Though Garrett did say they weren't too bad. The rehydrated vegetables were not nearly so unimpressive as one might expect.
The day itself... well.... I walked around that place for... a good 5.5 h, and I didn't even see everything. Garrett stuck it out and chipped in the extra Y10-20 to go in the extra section(s), and so stayed about another 2.5 h after I left to pick up some plane tickets (from a lovely travel agent who wishes she could travel to Xian with us -- her hometown, which she very much misses. I love being able to semi-communicate in mandarin. It makes me happy. As did booking these tickets. Being able to sort out this, with the only English words having been used in the 3 times I've gone to pester her about times and prices and available flights being "passport" and "email" -- I'm pretty damn proud of that, actually. I still have to go back and ask her one more thing or two, but... I dunno. Something about that exchange today - tickets, conversation, and all - made me infinitely happy inside, so much so that I was nearly torn between glee and a tear or two as I walked down the street to my hostel. Right.).
I have very few things to say about it, and fairly few pictures (though, Karim, m'dear, I may actually give you a run for your money... I didn't think it was possible. I've taken nearly 400 photos in 7 days, and I haven't even hit the gorgeous scenery that I've been waiting my whole life to see. Admittedly, some of these will get deleted as soon as I put them on a computer and figure out which of the 3 shots is actually properly exposed, and has just the right DoF that I want -- I've been doing some serious exposure bracketing, since I don't trust me not to underexpose, and I've had a lot of weird lighting, and a LOT of backlighting. Blah blah blah *geeking out about camera*), but that's mostly because nothing I could possibly say, nor any photo I could possibly take, no matter how postcard perfect I might be able to get it (difficult to get postcard perfect photos because of (1) smog today, (2) construction aka. restoration work on portions of the palace, and (3), most importantly, TOURIST HORDES. It takes almost infinite patience to acquire people-free photos, and sometimes is legitmately impossible to do. Especially once the tour groups really pack in. Oh chinese tour groups, with your crazy matching hats and vests. If I join one of these things, where we all match like sheep, or more like lemmings, bright red vested lemmings, you have my formal permission to have me committed.), nothing I can do can possibly convey what this place is like.
The sheer scale cannot fit in a paragraph. Cannot be squashed into a photograph. Now I really know what the word palace means. It was imposing and gorgeous... and IMPOSING in its grandeur, but more so in sheer size. Its bigosity, as Jon Lam might put it. It makes you feel very ant next to giant ant hill, except that the ant hill is incredibly ornate, hundreds of years old (at least -- even the most recent stuff is Qing dynasty, which is mid-1600s), and filled with museum exhibitions. AND IS HUGE. Did I mention I walked around for 6 hours? And that wasn't covering all that was open to the public, not to mention the HUGE sections that aren't public access?
Emperor = Excess. Enough said. I feel very... grain of sand by the sea. And I'm happy.