Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Back to the mainland

So, I have joined up with the Intrepid group and I am back on the mainland, and back in Yangshuo.

Here are a few thoughts, as I quickly jot them down in the lobby of a hotel.

BTW, I was drooling over those new little small computers they have now, the Fujitsu M1010, the HP mini, the Acer something... I would love to have a) constant internet access, as there are many places with free wifi but not so many places with a free computer, much less a computer that has Skype! b) a place to store my files and bookmarks, c) a place to write whenever I want- I type so much faster than I write, I'm just spoiled I guess. I could just carry the old analog journal with me :-P

Introspection-
Hong Kong was great. It was so nice to have a place where I could recoup and recover from the culture shock of mainland China- which I didn't believe would affect me as much as it did. Even now, back in mainland, I feel it. I'm glad I've had the experience already, so that I can take a theoretical step back and talk myself out of the sort of dejection and weariness I feel at not being understood, nor being able to understand, either my language or theirs... Including being taken for a whimiscal trustee of tons of money that I just don't mind spending at the slightest provocation or accident. Perhaps some of that comes from being in Yangshuo, which has been so overrun by foreign tourists that reality is a little twisted. Since the Chinese people don't understand (nor how could they be expected to) much of the random mix of foreign culture that ends up here, they interpret foreign behavior to their advantage. So unscrupulous vendors end up with this smiling, confident attitude- have you heard of the adage "Act as if"? For example- act as if you will win this race, act as if you already have the job, etc, when you are entering a stressful situation. So these shop vendors act as if you will be buying their product, as if you will be buying loads of their product, and at ridiculously high prices, and not even noticing that there is a rip in the seam, and the pieces are not all intact. The fruit may be bruised, and how did he manage to weigh the laundry without putting it on the scale? Anyways, I am not complaining. I just told him to put it on the scale! This has happened to me everywhere there are buyers and sellers. Fortunately, every so often there is someone who understands the value of their work, who does not try to rip you off, and shopping becomes a very pleasant exchange of money for an object of worth.
In those other situations however, I have found myself a bit buggered. (I learned a new word from my Australian roomie.) Tensions may run a little high, and I notice that I am mounting a defense between myself and an unfamiliar "other". It's happened when I was traveling alone, and with friends, and even now. It's happened when I'm with all Chinese people, and also when I'm the only American amongst a bunch of westerners of other types. It's even happened when I'm with a bunch of Americans. The issue is not always buying and selling. I've developed the following way to deal with it- it's to notice the defense, then intentionally drop it. I use my words and actions to demonstrate that I do not mean a defense, that I intend to extend my humanity towards understanding the "other". And usually, it works. This, folks, must be what they call civilization! Being civil towards one another during moments of misunderstanding.

Anyways, what helped was the glittering glitz and glamour on the streets of Hong Kong. The familiar hustle and bustle of many people of many cultures walking about under neon lights, dodging cabs, in front of glamorous storefront displays. Tiffany's, Louis Vitton, Giorgio Armani. It reminded me of New York. There was still quite a Chinese presence in Hong Kong, there were still many Chinese stores and Chinese babies, old men on bicycles and storefronts filled with hanging meats and roots and herbs. But this all seemed quite normal to me, and I felt very at home. I could speak English to just about anybody, including bus drivers and servers at restaurants. The best part was staying with a friend of a friend, who became a friend. She had a lot of insight into many areas of life and the world in general that I am interested in, and we talked nonstop for the entire time. One of the best parts of traveling are the people you meet along the way.

I also had a nice time visiting the Capoeira Brasil Hong Kong group. Professor Chumbinho and his students welcomed me- we had a roda in his beautiful new studio in Kowloon.

I could have stayed longer, however, I was due to meet with the Intrepid Travels group on Sunday evening. The hotel was very nice, much nicer than any hotels I had chosen for myself along the way. I was really getting used to roughing it. This hotel, in Hong Kong, had toothbrushes and cups in the bathroom, a TV and disposable slippers. And hence began the trip...

With the change in travel arrangements- that is, I don't make any travel arrangements because they are all taken care of by our fearless leader Sunny- I finally can feel that the trip is coming to an end, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! I have about 5 weeks left of the entire trip! 2 1/2 weeks left of this tour, 1 more week in Beijing, and 13 days in Japan. The only caveat is if I like Japan so much I decide to stay a week or so longer. And provided I find lodging that is affordable... We will see, we will see. I would like to see the Cherry Blossom Festival- it all depends on the weather. And if global warming continues as it has been, I may be able to see it with no change to the itinerary. But since I'm all the way out here already... I'm really looking forward to Japan. But that's a side note.

What makes the mainland so different from Hong Kong? There is a subtle change- maybe not so subtle at the same time- I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it's the they look at you when you enter a store, when you walk down the street. You feel slightly off, like you are not doing something quite right, even though you are doing it the same way you always do. Things look normal, but on closer examination, things are quite different. Supermarkets look similar, with rows of items for sale, etc, but once you are in line, people cut to the front of the line, and nobody blinks an eye. Sometimes there are store monitors in place to keep the order, but not always. This happens in bathrooms, on airplanes, anywhere people queue up. Mothers squat their children on the sidewalk to do their business, in broad daylight and in front of passing traffic. People burp, spit, cough, and hack up a lung, right out in front of everyone. Then they stare at YOU! But the staring here is really nothing compared to India. I should feel used to it now, right? But no... Motor scooters motor by with two to three, sometimes four passengers- they could be families, or two businessmen in suits. There was even a guy out working the fields in his suit. Talk about another day at the office. A guy on a bike rode by with a dog strapped to the back. Not a live dog. Yeah so, it's different here...! And that's what traveling is all about!

Yangshuo is still a really fun place to rock climb. I did the same routes I did the first time, and this time got some better pics! And definitely felt stronger. Met a girl who climbs in Beijing, we made plans to meet up and climb in a few weeks.
We did a bike ride around the surrounding countryside today, into some backwoodsy trails and bumpy roads. Very picturesque and a fun workout as well.
We hiked 800 steps up Moon Hill, with some great views. Love to sweat it out and beat everyone else to the top!
Dinner tonight was uninspiring. It can be hard to order food when trying to satisfy several different appetites. Chinese food can really be delicious when you get over the fear factor theme...

The town has several night clubs, and they all blast their music out the front doors, I suppose in advertisement of good times to be had inside. Walking by, you can see black lights and disco balls, illumnating... empty dance floors, save for one or two Chinese dudes with spiky hairdos, bopping their heads. Sometimes they bop their heads outside in front and try to get you to go inside. Each club is so loud that walking down the street is a cacophony. It's usually either Chinese pop or Snoop from a few years back. This town is dead though- a dearth of travelers due to poor economy, I suppose, in combination with winter season here. It doesn't stop foreign tourists from drinking heavily in some bars though- a few members of our group were up 'til 4am last night...

So our crew is made up of some English folk, a couple of Australians, two Swedish girls, Sunny, our tour leader who is Chinese from Harbin (north of Beijing), and me, the sole American representative. So far so good. We all get along, and it's nice not having to do all the planning.

Language- getting easier. It felt impossible to remember at the beginning, but now I find that I actually do know some stuff... I feel that I am getting into the swing of the country, understanding it more. It's a big place, and I felt a little lost at first. I still miss India, but I appreciate being here- being here for so long is forcing me to face the many different facets of China. What a great experience. I am looking forward to going north. Tomorrow we fly to the east coast, to a city called Xiamen in the Fujian province.
Looking forward to writing more, looking forward to Japan, looking forward to LIFE!

Zai jian - Bye bye!

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