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Published: October 10th 2008
...And we're back!!
My hand still hurts a bit, but the (ridiculously) warm weather seems to help, so I'm thinking it's got to be muscular and nothing more serious. So that's good. I'm really not up for a trip to the Chinese doctor.
So this will be somewhat brief.
I"ll give you a brief update as to what I've done this week and a sampling of vacation highlights, including lots of photos. With more photos to come later.
This week I've taught classes, explored my neighborhood with plans to explore more next monday (including the other bus routes), found Book City (the 5 story bookstore) and discovered their English section including Dr Seuss, The Wind in the Willows, and my childhood favorite, The Berenstain Bears. I bought my childhood favorite, The Berenstain Bears go to School. (remember that one, mom?) I also got a book of 100 Ancient Chinese Poems, complete with CD, and a book called "Auspicious Designs of China." It's got pictures and descriptions and histories of many symbols seen in everything from tattoos to wall hangings.
I've been to IKEA again, this time buying a few things like cooking utensils and a reading lamp that
I can clamp onto my headboard. I went with Stacy who is in the process of redoing her entire apt. I can't imagine putting that much money into a place I only plan to live in for a few years and then leave. Maybe it's because I already have an entire apt back in the states and have already done my "home shopping." She had damage, though, after the last typhoon (when we were on vacation last week), and had to replace some things too.
I was supposed to go to a friend's tonight, but that got cancelled at the last minute, so here I am. Tomorrow I'm heading over there instead and supposedly I'm going to a party here in Nanshan down in Shekou tomorrow night. And tonight for dinner I went to Jusco, purchasing sushi and a steamed bun. I was able to talk to the ladies and get one without meat in it, so I'm feeling rather proud.
Jusco costs more than Carrefour, but the quality and selection are a bit better and the store is just nicer. Normally, I won't spend more on items than I have to, but for a few mao (the Chinese equivalent
On the bike ride...
Yep, that's the farmer!
of a dime) per item, I just don't care.
Day one: We took the coach (not sleeper) bus Sunday night for too many hours and after a few stops for construction, driver smoke/peeing on the side of the road breaks (we only got one for 10 hours), looking at a broken down car at 3am, roads so bumpy you are nearly bounced into the aisle, small towns taht look like they should be deserted but then you realize that people do in fact live in them (yep, REAL China), etc, we arrived in Yangshuo Monday morning. I was awake in the pre-dawn hours and it was amazing. The mountains were rising up, black against deep blue and purple, thick mist surrounding them. And then I finally fell asleep.
We all settled into our hostel, Lisa's, which was hotel-nice. I had been promised no towels and nasty showers. I got towels and washclothes, a shower cleaner than mine, and the softest bed and sheets I've had since leaving Minneapolis. Oh, and the view outside was of the mountains.
We (11 of us) headed out and rented bikes. I have not ridden a bike in 15 years. And I discovered
this was not the leisurely ride I was used to. Oh, no, paved roads are not included. Hold on tight, bruise your hands in the process, avoid the crazy Chinese drivers, and ride through rice paddies, mountains, over rivers, avoid water buffalo tails to the face (yep, that was almost me!), explore a cave and a farm (accidently meeting the farmers...), and at some point, just when you think you're going to die, and are ready to fall off your bike rather than be thrown from it, landing in a gravel road the width of my butt, you'll be told now we are going to turn around and go back the way we came. This isn't a looped bike trip. And we have to go fast to make it back before dark. My ass hurt in ways I didn't think were possible and clapping or grabbing were suddenly painful experiences to be avoided.
Yeah, I slept well that night.
Day 2: Tuesday. We opted for the "easy" day (pushing off the 24 km hike) and headed to the Buddha Water Cave. We donned our swimsuits, clothes we didn't care if we ruined (me and my roommate went out and
bought Olympic t-shirts that they still think they can get full price for), rented bikes again, and pedaled away.
We hired a lovely Chinese woman to help us negotiate a better price (from Y150 a person down to Y50 a person) and then she watched our bikes.
Now, remember, this is the EASY day. From the pictures, it seemed like we'd look at a cave and then play in mud. First we spulunk until our cheap shower shoes can withstand no more mud, we slip, we slide, I banged my knee, we climbed, we twisted and turned, ducked, crawled, prayed and leapt (this must have been designed by a 5 ft Chinese person), and finally, just when you think you can hurt no more (remember, our legs are still sore from the previous day's bike ride) they tell you that you now get to wiggle through a space as thin as 2 of me by 2 of me. Excuse me? So I wiggled, I had my helmet fall in my face over and over, I thought for sure I was stuck and they would be bringing me food, the stupid photographer kept taking flash pictures (you know, in case you
want to buy one), but with the help of my cheerleaders (aka the people in my group who had made it through) I made it with only a few bruised ribs and gravel in my knees. Whee. Oh, boy, let's climb some more!
Then we got to the mud pit. My childhood dream come true. A few of you know my mother. And father. You know I didn't get to play in mud. This mud was so deep and thick, when I walked in it, it came up to my knees and formed like cement around my feet with every step. The longer I took, the more difficult it was. Then the mud slinging began. First at the walls for that oh-so-satisfying SPLAT! Then at each other. Then we build mudmen (like snowmen) and one guy even pretended he was an alligator and crawled through it, scaring us to death. Then, we were exiled from our heavenly playground and sent to climb some more. And take ice cold showers.
Then we biked, ate, some went swimming, others of us got lost on the way back, and my legs demanded I avoid stairs. Good luck in this country!
Ahhh, yes, the infamous day 3. I already knew I was out for the hike. My knees would rather sacrifice me to the gods of bad rhyming poetry, cheap generic Q-tips, and Kenny G than attempt it.
A few of us went to rent scooters, or as I call them, Chinese Vespas. One guy in our group had gone the day before and had told us all about everything he had seen and how far he had ridden. Knee injury free. Ahhhh, count me in!
Now, mind you, one of my goals for this past summer was to take a motorcycle safety course. Which I ran out of time to do. So when previously mentioned guy tells me at 8am (pre-coffee) that it's just like riding a motorcycle and then gives me a 15 second description of how the brake is on the floor, and turn the handle like this to speed up....
I started out fine. Then someone cut in front of me and I swerved. Still moving along. Then a mob of tourists appeared. More swerving. Then someone wearing the ugliest striped shirt imaginable jumped in front of me. All I remember is my screaming, swerving really hard,
On the bike ride...
Looking out from within the cave
tipping, and sliding...
When I came to, 2 Chinese men were helping me up as my friends came running over. I, relieved to find I was still in one piece (thanks in part to my helmet), immediately looked for the asshole. Who was standing off to the side, looking fine. Seeing that I wasn't dead or in need of hospitalization, he took off. My roommate, Sandra, helped to the upstairs of some restuarant, where we cleaned me up as best we could with toilet tissue and soap. I was bleeding below my eye, on my chin, the middle of my forehead (where the goose egg would later appear), as well as my shoulder, knee, and both hands. But everything still worked. And my Chinese REI clothing is undamaged. I am impressed. Who knows how scraped up I would have been otherwise. At this point we can safely say I am ready for a vacation from vacation. Really, could anything else happen?
So I limp downstairs and out into the street. My muscle strains from the previous days plus this latest batch are making me look like a villain from the new Batman.
The asshole who jumped
in front of me is now in the travel office where we rented the bikes insisting that I hurt him (his arm hurts, mind you, while he gestures emphatically and manages to text message and call all of his friends). Oh, he wants money. This is not a new scam. It happens. Lucky me.
By now, the bump on the head is taking over... we've sent my other roommate to buy baijou (Chinese version of silver wolf vodka minus 10) and some bandaids. I'm getting sympathy looks from the travel lady, an old woman, and everyone else. We've been advised by our fearless leader to offer him Y200 (which would more than cover any hospital expenses if he were actually injured). He's asking for 1000.
In short, it was a stalemate. Only one of us spoke Chinese, and it was choppy Chinese. I was a mess. I left, aided by a friend, and went to the hostel to tend to my wounds. Luckily, the sore legs upped my hobble sympathies, making me look like an 85 year old missing her walker.
After much yelling in the lobby as my friend, Caitlin, dabbed my wounds, we went upstairs where I took
a washrag to my face to clean off the dirt. I had her distract me by telling me about New York, her homestate. "Oh, really, Albany.. GAAAAAA, THAT REALLY F-ING HURTS!!...no, keep going, I'm interested..." We also slathered on Neosporin.
I am later informed that in order to get the guy to go away before my friends offered him more money (see, even though we're teachers getting paid in Chinese money, we're still rich Americans) ... and the final pay off was Y500, or $70. Super. But at least we didn't lose the deposit or have to pay more. And we'll never hear from him again.
So, now it's 10am, I'm out Y500 for the asshole, Y150 for my scooter rental, and have nothing to do all day. Whopee. We all meet at the Flying Dutchman. The Dutchman is a little cafe down the street, run by... a Dutchman. And they have western breakfasts to kill for. Fresh squeezed orange juice, REAL coffee, omlets, yougurt with musili, actual bacon, pancakes.... all for a really reasonable price! We ate there every day. I, at this point, am drained and want a nap. My roommate informs me that I have a huge
bump on my head and I'd better not sleep for a few hours, 3 at least. I had no idea it was even there.
So I wander back to the hostel and run into Tyler. Tyler was with CTLC last year, but now teaches at an international school in Shenzhen that's not affiliated with the program. He took one look at me. "What the hell happened to you?!" I explain.
We wander for the rest of the day around the town as fast as my legs can't go. We eat, take pictures, window shop (he tells me most of the things for sale at tourist prices that can't be haggled down far enough are all in Dongman here in Shenzhen for a fraction of the price and haggleable. But here, the tourists pay it, so my friends and I were dismissed a lot.)
We go to a bar, Monkey Jane's, that has been written up in Lonely Planet and recommended by our fearless leader (yes, the one who decided to take a 24 km hike). It's a rooftop bar on top of a hostel. YOu can see for miles. And they have good beer. I needed beer. Ahhh.
night, we all ended up there again. I was in better spirits (no pun intended) and we ended up meeting a bunch of tourists from Australia, Norway, Britain, Israel... we all played silly drinking games (ok, I was cheerleader, I didn't want to drink) pitted each other into teams and stayed out too late.
Thursday I'm no longer bleeding and I can take the bandaids off my face. I head to a park in town, since kayaking is not quite my cup of tea. It's huge. It's beautiful. It has mountains to climb. And musicians. Adn trees and bamboo and waterways. And old people playing majong and cards. It was like walking in a picture book.
I went back to the hostel and Tyler and I headed out to a used book store. I found Bill Bryson's "Made in America." In China. And it was originally sold in the UK. Insert "Small World" theme song here.
And yes, we all went to Monkey Jane's that night for the sunset. And then some.
The group headed out to "white water raft," which I predicted would be as fake and tourist trappy as the kayaking. Turns
out I was right.
So I went back to the park, since I had misread my watch the day prior and left earlier than I would have liked. I just relaxed and people watched. It was nice. I hit up Monkey Jane's for an even better sunset and that night we took the sleeper bus back to Shenzhen. Leave it to me to get the top bunk. In the middle row. Under the TV set. So not only do I get to fear that I'll end up falling down 5 feet into the aisle, but I also will get to smack into a TV set in the process. All while being bumped up and down again (seriously, I cleared some major air a few times).
At the border back into Shenzhen SEZ they made us all get off the bus since they heard we had foreigners onboard. We had to all walk through security and show ID proving we were allowed to be there. At 8am.
I got pancakes at McDonalds for breakfast with real coffee. My fearless leader helped me buy Chinese Neosporin since I had to return Caitlin's to her.
My scabs all managed to fall
off my face and hands in time for school. A black eye emerged, but most people didn't notice. I prefer it that way. It's sweet, though, when my students look concerned. I just tell them I fell on vacation but I'm fine now. Because I am. And they look relieved.
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