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Transit and Respite

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Many days of a trip are often lost to the act of traveling itself and the day we left Shangri La was one of those.  We were scheduled to leave the Lijiang airport that evening at twenty minutes after midnight.  We took a bus out of Shangri La, squeezing in next to a man with exceptionally long legs squashed up against the seat in front of him.  We motioned to him to see if he would let us switch with him and sit by the window and he nodded in agreement (a mutually beneficial switch, but still left Megan and I rubbing our hands together like minor Dickensian villains).  He turned out to be the lone man in a pack full of women who had brought a full picnic onto the bus including a container of pepper-pickled chicken feet.  When one of the other women’s noses crinkled in disgust at the snack choice, they dangled it dripping in front of her with their chopsticks and laughed.  Megan and I read our books until the twisting roads became too much for maintaining equilibrium.

When we got to Lijiang we hit a curb.  We knew the airport was far out of town, had seen it on the bus from Dali, had waited for several minutes afterward in a tremendous downpour as the bus arrived at the station in the city.  Lonely Planet told us that there was a shuttle to the airport, we just didn’t know where.

When we arrived at the bus station, the two of us walked to a counter.  I stood, trying not to gesticulate, and said…”fei ji che” which actually just means airplane and the measure word for vehicle (but not airplane).  She looked at me in puzzlement, as we’d become frustratingly accustomed to.  I regathered my wits and am confident that I asked if we could buy airport shuttle tickets.  She only shrugged and shook her head.  We sighed…time to do what we’d been planning anyway.  Go into the city and wait there until it was time to go out to catch our midnight flight.

Around now, the afternoon was still awash with steamy heat of direct sunlight on concrete that had been soaking up exorbitant amounts of rain.  We had been here before, however, and knew how to get into town–in Dali they had told us Bus 8 would take us to the old city and all we’d have to do was walk to our hostel on the other side.  The rain had been slick on the old city cobble stones, and I’d weaved my way with high-knees and tractionless flip-flops through the crowds of Chinese tourists elbowing one another to take pictures off of the arched bridges.  This time I wasn’t slipping, but the driver of Bus 11 did the infuriating thing that we were beginning to see more and more: the arm waving, head-shaking NO and assumption that he knew our plan.  He pointed us across the street to a double decker bus that was waiting to take off.

I vibrated in anger as the two of us climbed to the empty second deck.  Tourist videos and Pepsi commercials smiled from the telescreens in the front of the bus.

This bus took a route to the old city that was only 5 minutes in length, as opposed to the 20 minute ride of a few days before, complete with smoking old men and school children that surrounded me until their heads were practically in my armpits.  One of the most frustrating things about my aversion to Chinese strangers telling me what to do lines up perfectly with my aversion to my mother telling me what to do: usually they’re totally right.

Once there, though, we encountered far less helpful people: a building that stood at the entrance of the Lijiang old city, with familiar girls rushing forward to offer the addresses of guesthouses and people posing next to a Disneyland-scaped mountain covered in pansies and water-wheels, was constructed almost like an American parody of ancient China.  It advertised help for tourists, but when we got there, the attendant had no idea where to send us for bus tickets.  He pointed to the right, vaguely, saying, “I think it’s that way.”

 

At this point, our backpacks were weighing heavily.  There’s a temptation, when one is traveling, to consider transit days as days of rest and only consider sight-seeing as an activity that counts as “something.”  This effect is a complete mental-trick, untrue to the degree of being the complete opposite of accurate.  We were hot, lugging big backpacks on our backs and our hiking day-packs on front.  We walked past the old city, past KFC and its imitators, cheap clothing shops, and walked into a hotel with a character I recognized.  We’d been told that the bus stop was near the “Blue Sky” hotel and to the left, a block down through tree-lined streets.

Nothing seemed familiar though.  The attendant at the “Blue Sky Hotel” gave us nothing but a strident “I don’t know.”

Then we found the airport booking office.  Saved.

Now, at the risk of sounding ageist, I would like to say that with some exceptions, twenty-something women were by far the friendliest and most helpful people on this trip.  They treated Megan and I like equals, but also like people to be impressed–like the cool girls in junior high that you hope notice your awesome haircut or new shoes.  For this reason, I am not completely disgusted that shows like Gossip Girl exist and are played all over the world.

Two such young ladies helped us, writing the address of the bus stop on a piece of paper in characters and admonishing us not to pay more than 7 RMB for a taxi.  Then they waved us away, pleased with our mastery of “good bye” and “thank you” (“You say thank you’ very well,” an older man had laughed at us as we struggled to make ourselves understood), and attempting a few English phrases of our own.  We left happily, and spent the next few hours before the journey camping out in KFC and taking turns shopping for souvenirs.  We left Lijiang at about 10pm from a tiny back lot that we never…neeeever would’ve found alone.

 

Categories: Transit

Mian Bao Che to Shangri-La, part 1

August 11, 2010 Leave a comment

When we got to the end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail, we were half an hour away from a purported final bus to Shangri-La, about a two hour drive and about 1000 feet higher.

“I don’t know, when we were waiting to go to the Jade mountain they told us the last bus was at six and we waited from 5:30, and then around 6:30 we were like…ummm….” Kay said.  We decided the best way to avoid standing on a dirt road in the dark for several hours (and to avoid having to stay at the Skippy peanut butter hostel), was to use Kay’s excellent Chinese skills and girlish charms to get a Mian Bao Che for the drive.

The man who was driving us over the construction zone, past the newly constructed staircase entrance to what will be the national park, agreed to drive us to Shangri La.  As we emerged from the hostel after retrieving our bags, he was having the inside of his car hosed out by the most buxom 12 year old Chinese girl I’d ever seen that had a t-shirt on that said “Bootylicious”.  It felt a lot like home.  We stopped for ice cream on the way out, and I knew immediately that this driver was awesome, even though all we were doing was rummaging through an ice chest at the front of someones shop.  The family who owned the store stood around the cash register, heads turned toward the TV that rested on a plastic crate, watching the same Japanese horror movie that Megan K. and I had been obsessed with at the beginning of our year in China.

We dozed on and off as the ride continued past a tributary that bubbled into the river, winding up greener and greener mountains, finally breaking through to rolling green mounds that Megan C. could only compare to the foothills of the Alps in Switzerland.  Kay, as she sat in the front passenger seat, continued to chat with our driver, short, kindly, middle aged, as he whipped around the curvy hills. She would intermittently turn around to translate different things the driver was saying about himself, the relatives he had in Shangri La, the names of the different things we were seeing by the side of the road.  At one point, she giggled and turned around to translate.

“I said, ‘oh this is so beautiful’, and he said, ‘not as beautiful as you!'”  She grinned.  We all burst out laughing and we felt our van accelerate hard into a curve.  We all stopped laughing immediately.

The road into Shangri La.

Driving into Shangri La was impressive because of the green of the hills, because of the looming clouds that brought in night and seemed so much closer than any other time besides when we’d been inside airplanes.  Yaks stood clustered around each other, the remnants of their tails hung from shop windows that grew in frequency as we neared our destination.  Women walked by the side of the road in blue and pink hats and skirts–the way that those Tibetan people on the news and in the documentaries dress, even.  A tractor toting a wagon full of children and workers putted by going the opposite direction as us, and we watched little boys tearing after them, ready to jump aboard.

In Shangri La we said goodbye to our driver and I waited in paranoia, through negotiating a room in a Chinese-speaking-only guesthouse (one of the panes of glass was broken–completely punched out–in the bathroom but the proprietor convinced us that this was just to keep it ventilated), to get altitude sickness.  Aluminum cans of oxygen sat outside a number of shops and in the window of our own guest house.  Jessica had gotten it when she had come here.  We walked slowly down the cobblestone street in search of yak steaks.

What we got were burgers, salty, juicy and spongier than the beef we’re used to.  When we’d finished, we walked past a barking dog chained in the parking lot to watch the Brazil vs. Portugal world cup game, cheersing to a good two days of hiking and to several days of hiking still to come in some of the prettiest mountains this side of Nepal.

A yak burger...one of several that I ate in Central China.

Categories: Transit

Xin Nian Kuai le!

January 3, 2010 1 comment

Hey Everybody!

Xin nian kuaile means happy new year! Though here, that “New Year” is all but only Western, and the party in Zhuhai was, in a word, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzed….

In order to properly introduce the Chinese experience, rather than be selfish and focus on the stories of my own daily life, I would like to inject some more focused cultural studies to my weekly(ish) e-mail. I wrote this handbook on the bus, while smashed like a bookend between a middle-aged Chinese man, and a young female students, both asleep. One on my shoulder.

This is a guide to driving and traffic related rules in Southern China:

  1. The instant the light turns green, lean on your horn.
  2. If a giant tour bus crosses three lanes of heavy traffic, it’s your own fault if you run into it
  3. If in crossing three lanes, as said bus driver, you discover your lane ends abruptly or unexpectedly veers to the right, stop driving and lean on your horn. No one, but no one, will honor a turn signal.
  4. It is your duty as a citizen of the harmonious society to honor any and all honks. Unless you don’t want to.
  5. Speed limits in the left two lanes are higher than those in the right. Therefore, all drivers in the right lane are permitted to stop as quickly and as many times as they desire.
  6. The more expensive your vehicle, the faster you are permitted to drive (true in every culture).
  7. Bike lanes are for bicycles, motorbikes, pedestrians, fruit carts, acrobatic street children, men with big-balled gibbons on leashes, parents kicking their children, defecating, piles of rubble, and taxi cabs driving against traffic (etc) ONLY.
  8. If someone in one vehicle hits your vehicle, do NOT pull to the side of the road. Leave your vehicle, make sure your entire family leaves your vehicle, and argue in the middle of the road about which drivers’ fault it was. In order to save face, the bigger the crowd of indifferent bystanders, the louder you must shout and the more widely you must gesticulate.
  9. If you, as a fruit or knick-knack vendor, see a crowd gathered in the center of the street, you may cross in front of any and all oncoming vehicles to take entrepreneurial advantage.
  10. Traffic should drive in the allotted lanes on the right side of the road—that is unless someone cuts you off. In this case, you may drive in the oncoming traffic lane in order to reach the left turn signal before them and teach them a lesson.
  11. Red means drive slowly through the busy crosswalk.

That’s all for now, folks. If you want to check out pictures of Christmas, look at http://www.flickr.com/photos/41955516@N04/ and if you want to read some old blogs (especially those of you who are newbies—hiiii!!!) check out https://oolalang.wordpress.com.

I promise you’ll like it.

Love you all and happy new year all over again!

Emily

Categories: Transit, Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Not going to miss the lactose

August 17, 2009 1 comment
It only looks like I’m prepared. Wait, it doesn’t even.

It was one of those mornings where I wasn’t sure if I had actually been awake before my phone busted out it’s 80’s new wave alarm tone.  I opened my eyes to the red monster-suitcase and its new best friend the disappointingly uncapacious backpacking backpack.

“If it can’t fit anything, then just don’t bring it with you,” my mom said.  She encouraged me to use the red-monster’s younger cousin.  I, having just sacrificed my sleeping pad, refused to let my backpack be shunted from the very situation for which I purchased it six months ago.

The backpack had really been a consolation present to myself, a promise, that is, that since I had been very very unlucky in love that December, I would yank myself out of loneliness and disappointment and throw myself into some other kind of mess–I mean adventure.  Adventure.  No exact adventure was in my mind, but I knew I wanted to be ready to seek them.  I had, however, been awakened the idea of what that adventure was several months before in this way:

Emily sits in front of her computer on a Danish February after working a night shift, clicking through her UCSB e-mail account.  Reads: stipend, plus plane tickets, plus housing, plus language oriented job to which Emily finds herself rather oriented located in Zhuhai, China.

Emily:  I wanna go!  I wanna go!  Wait…not graduating yet…also boyfriend…sigh…

Deletes.

But then!  Graduated!  No boyfriend!  New backpack!  Application letters, phone interviews, almost indecipherable health clearances, warranting groans from the Student Health nurses who couldn’t figure out how to inspect the health of my “nest.”  My Taiwanese friend Naomi read “neck”, which was a relief.  I was concerned about getting my ovaries pawed, as I prefer to only submit to such treatment once a year.  The summer, chasing parachutes, analogue editing, wondering why people don’t visit their Spanish tutor, getting stood up by former acquaintances (tear), narrowly dodging romantic drama, and broadly dodging a concentrated study of Mandarin, passed with surreal pasty-hometown chromatics. There were so many friends from which I reluctantly untangled myself that I only slept alone twice in the last week and a half.

Now I’m in San Fransisco.  When I had my eyes opened long enough, I opened the computer, then opened the phone and called Steve.  He had just gotten off the train, and so I picked 49B and 49C for the two of us to share our hometown temp life stories for 17+ hours in the sky, in the dark.  Tomorrow night, 1am, we’ll be there.

Categories: Transit