Posts tagged ‘China’
A very long journey awaited me. I had enough for a bus ticket to Kunming after changing what was left of my Baht. The bus was a sleeper (with beds) and left Lijiang at 8:30pm. I was in Kunming’s bus station before sunset, where the bus had stopped and let the sleeping passengers doze until 6am. From 6 to 8 I slept on the chairs in the bus station, amidst lots and lots of unventilated cigarette smoke. I then went to eat breakfast at this place near the station that serves a thali set of Chinese food for 6 Yuan. By 8:45 I was on the bus on my way to Rachel’s workplace to collect my card.
At her office I distracted her a bit as I tried to activate my new card. I couldn’t do it because I didn’t know the account # but my cousin was finally able to do it for me in New York. I walked away very cheerful and almost applauded the machine when it presented me with all those Yuan!
Afterwards I went to the train station, intending to buy a ticket for later in the afternoon for the 24+ hour journey to Guangzhou (the city I originally flew in to from Bangkok). I had been trying to buy an air ticket instead but without success. The prices when I first started looking were less than twice of the price of the train ticket which was very good and reasonable, but the site ELONG.net requires immense verification for foreign credit card purchases, so despite sending them copies of my passport, credit card (from & back) and signature I didn’t make the cut and they cancelled my tickets. What I couldn’t provide them was my signature on the document they wanted me to sign because I didn’t know where to print it out and re-scan or fax it. It was all too much hassle, especially with the time constraints because it was evening already when I was trying to book these tickets and was leaving to the Gorge the next morning. And since they don’t guarantee prices until confirmed it made less economic sense to buy later.
Tiger Leaping Gorge and a poor attempt to express my views on interaction between travelers and locals.
One of the most famous canyons in the world is located in China’s Yunnan province. At sixteen kilometers long, the Tiger Leaping Gorge runs along the Yangtze River, the third longest in the world. My hike through the gorge began in the village Qiaotou, where the pansexual proprietor of Jane’s guesthouse took in backpacks of those travelers who planned to continue further north after the hike. After insisting we photograph the large map with routes and her phone number on the wall she wished us good luck and we set off.
The entrance fee to the gorge is 50 Yuan, but a 50% discount is available to anyone with a (self-made or authentic) student ID card. The gorge takes its name after a tiger who supposedly leaped 25 meters across the river as he ran from the hunters pursuing him.
Our group of 9 met at Mama Naxi’s guesthouse in Lijiang. Every day travelers meet at this amiable guest house, become friends over the communal dinner at 6 o’clock and make plans to hike the length of the gorge together.
The hike lasted two days. As we climbed we met an old Naxi woman. She had a loaded basket strapped to her shoulders and seemed many times more at ease than us on the rocky path. Desiring to capture and remember this eccentric and charming woman, I took out my camera. “Three Yuan” she said in Mandarin.
I arrived in Lijiang from Dali a few days ago planning to stay with a host from CS. Otherwise i would have gone to Shangra-La, the beginning of Tibet because that was the city i really wanted to visit. My first day in Lijiang was uneventful. I walked around the old city, lit up and noisy, amidst hundreds of Chinese tourists. I treated myself to dessert, an 18 Yuan cheesecake at the restaurant where my host worked.
Later at night, my host nonchalantly told me that he had guests coming and that i had to leave the next day. Of all the CS experiences i’ve had this was probably the worst, despite all the hosting experience and positive references he had. To agree to host me for several days and then tell me to leave was ugly and i think it’s because he hosts so often that he’s stopped caring for his cs-ers. Ironically, he had so many of the qualities i seek in people: well read, interested in simple living, even a vegetarian. And yet, he was cold and not a question or word came without my prodding.
In any case, it was a blow.
But it turned out well. I found a bed at the quaintest place… Mama Naxi guesthouse. Run by a middle aged Naxi woman who speaks of herself in third person and treats her guests with the familiar way of an aunt. The guesthouse is always full of travelers, mostly from Israel, western Europe and America and nights here are full of chatter and laughter.
Since Kunming i’ve spent about $50 on the train to Dali, food, guesthouses, bicycle, bus to Lijiang, and the gorge entrance fee. Lijiang is even less expensive than Thailand and yet nothing seems cheap enough. I hate counting every Yuan. On Monday i’ll be back in Kunming =)
I arrived in Kunming early enough, although what time it was exactly I didn’t know because my watch broke 4 months ago. I had thorough instructions in my notebook on how to get to my host’s house and I was looking forward to an easy 20 minute journey.
But no one could tell me where to find the bus or the street I needed. Stopping pedestrians, policemen and bus station employees and pointing at my map got me no where. For the first time in my travels I felt the absurdity of being a foreigner who cannot speak the language. Which way was I to go when the individuals trying to help me told me to go one way and (15 seconds later when I pointed to my map again to confirm) told me to go in the opposite direction with the same confident enthusiasm?
The easiest thing would have been to take a taxi of course, but I hardly had any Yuan and no idea when I’d have more. After an hour of bus chasing I finally did take a taxi, only to have the charlatan take me back to where my predicament had begun.
There are two train stations in Kunming. I had arrived somewhere close to the southern one and my host lives near the northern one. I had shown my map to the driver and pointed to the word “north” — but no matter, he still drove me south.
A bull statue in the southern train station. Notice his penis?
One of my first impressions in China was surprise at how unlittered it is compared to the other Asian countries I’ve been to. Not only do they have city cleaners who walk the streets sweeping but there are numerous garbage cans with a RECYCLING compartment. Every 10 meters there is a garbage can!
Just a few km outside Yangshuo are villages and farm fields. The houses in these villages are made of cement and have a modern style to them, very unlike the simple bamboo huts I’ve become accustomed to seeing in Cambodian rural villages.
I recall an interesting passage in Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. The character, Bibi, wants to be a writer.
“I have the feeling my whole body is bursting with a desire to express itself. To speak. To say something. Sometimes I think I’ll go off my rocker and explode I get so keyed up…But sit me down in front of a piece of paper and I lose all my ideas. So I figure it must be a problem of technique…”
My first hours in Yangshuo produced a medley of emotions and thoughts and I wanted to record them all and share some… But as soon as I’d open my laptop all thoughts about Yangshuo would be replaced by emails, facebook, and all the links these connections generated.
I just updated my status on facebook: …IS DIGGING YANGSHUO!!!
Those are crazy Dean’s words and I use them with all my heart. It’s a great town. Its core reminds me of Khousan Rd in Thailand. Full of shops, noise, people (foreign and Chinese travelers), guest houses, restaurants, bicycles for rent, bars, discos. Unlike Khousan it’s clad in the most awesome scenery… peaky hills and mountains everywhere. There is a horde of opportunities to explore the countryside, go bamboo rafting and mountain climbing. Bangkok’s stifling heat is replaced by a comfortable cool. The only drawback is the foggy weather. At night all the streets in the area glow as everything is lit up and tourists file into the streets and cafes and one can hear new music every 10 meters.
I have a friend here who I met for the first time in Thailand almost 9 months ago. I met him again in Vietnam 6 months ago. He’s in Yangshuo preparing to be an English teacher.
Yangshuo is full of English schools. The best one may be Zhuoyue English College. They have a couchsurfing profile asking for visitors to Yangshuo to volunteer at their college in exchange for lodging and food. I expected this school to be an informal affair but it’s not. The students are in their early 20s and come from all over China. They stay in the school dormitories while they study for 2 weeks – 6 months. But it goes beyond teaching English. Students form a community with each other and their foreign teachers. In a small town like Yangshuo – it’s possible.
The role of the volunteers is simply to provide conversation for 2 hours in the evening. I attended twice and had a very good time, discussing breasts, sub-health, linguistics… and drinking sweet ginger tea.
Guilin is a cute little city with a population of under a million, replete with parks, lakes, ponds, hills, mountains, fashion boutiques, chick eateries, and department stores. There are over a dozen bridges linking the islands as well as a good local bus system. In the center of the city, there is a huge tree-lined boulevard and every night there is a night market until midnight. The city possesses the same air of sophistication of Guangzhou but minus the traffic and heavy pollution. And the people here seem more friendly, chatty and willing to help.
I visited a few sites, one of which, Solitary Beauty Peak, involved a climb of 152 meters from which I could see the whole city.
I visited Seven Star Park, a splendid landscape of greenery. The only thing I didn’t like about the park was its zoo. The site of the bears was the most gruesome. There were four in total in three separate cages. All trotted back and force in their empty cages, the floors of which were covered in shit. I remembered a cartoon I’d once seen, in it a little boy and his mother are visiting the zoo when the youngster points at an animal in a cage and asks “What did he do?”
The panda had a better deal, although he too was alone in his cell. But he had toys and a backyard full of grass!
Spent 5 days in Guangzhou, a metropolis with a population of over 8 million and the 3rd most populous city in China. I visited Qing Ping market, famous for its sale of live animals (although contrary to what Lonely Planet claims they are not for consumption).
Though their handlers don’t seem to mistreat them, I still worry about these animals because they are too young to be separated from their mothers and there are too many of them for sale. Every seller has a dozen different breeds, beautiful gentle little creatures. But there were hardly any animals older than two months which makes one wonder what happens to them when no one buys them. Probably their fate is in one of China’s kitchens (this part of China is famous for its cat and dog meat dishes, afterall).
I visited Shamian island, which looks more European than the rest of the city. But it was raining when I went there so I didn’t see very much. I took a walk in Yuexi park, Guangzhou’s version of central park, it was clean and full of trees but too sterile and planned for my taste. And on Friday I attended a scrumptious dinner party hosted by an Italian expat who’s been living in Guangzhou for 8 years!