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Published: March 31st 2008
I arrived in Changsha after about 7 hours on the bus. Unfortunately we pulled into a remote bus station and so I had to catch a cab into the center. Once I got to the train station I called Dan and arranged to meet up with him in about an hour. In the meantime, I headed over to Micky D's to get some food and find some peace amid the chaos of big-city China.
Well, I got food, but peace was not forthcoming inside the packed McDonalds. It seems that McDonalds is big in China, very big. I did managed to find a table, where I dumped my stuff and sat down to read the trusty lonely planet. It took no more than two minutes before a trio of little kids was hovering around me. At first I was amused, they were young and seemed friendly enough, but it didn't take long before I realized that the eldest (maybe 6 years old) was a little punk. He kept going on and on in Chinese at me. He would wait for a response and I would ignore him or shrug and then he'd laugh. Then he'd move around to the other
side of me and try again. One of them kept playing with my backpack too, until I physically removed his hand from the patch he was determined to pull off. I finally dug out the phrasebook and told them that I didn't understand. It took a couple times, but eventually they wandered off.
They disappeared for about five minutes before returning with a vengeance. Straight back into Chinese, and this time the eldest one kept trying to climb up my arm. Of course the parents were nowhere to be found, and the Chinese people sitting at the next table wanted nothing to do with this. I was getting ready to call the little kids some very foul things when the parents finally showed up and they left. Of course there was no apology -- they didn't even look at me. I'm starting to get sick of being an exhibit in a zoo.
I headed back to the train station and met up with Dan. We briefly went to a dvd shop before catching a car to Liuyang, where he works as an english teacher. We got to Liuyang after dark and we got dropped off at a restaurant
Yes, it's true, I'm in the Chinese army now.
where we had a nice dinner before catching a cab to the school, which is outside of the city proper. Dan has his own apartment in a building that is occupied by teachers and their families. When we got there I met Matt, his fellow english teacher and we hung out for a while before heading off to bed.
The next day I slept in and met up with Dan and Matt for lunch at the cafeteria, which was surprisingly good. After lunch they took me to their combined class where we decided to have some fun with the students. Dan and I met Matt in the classroom, and with all the students standing at attention, I informed them that Dan had been fired and he had to leave. As he walked out of the classroom the students started yelling "no!" and I think one of the girls in the front row even burst into tears. Dan came back to thunderous applause and they got their lesson underway. I sat at a student's desk for a bit, which seemed to be a great source of pride for the guy I was sitting next to, but when it came time
to do the first assignment I had to give up the desk because I was in no mood to do english writing! It was really enjoyable seeing the class, and the students seemed genuinely interested in learning. Dan and Matt also seem to be doing a great job with their teaching. Maybe I'll do some volunteer teaching before this trip is over?
That evening, we headed into town to get some food. After eating we went to another restaurant and bought a box of beer. Before anyone comments, the beer was something like 2.8% so you need a box just to have a chance of getting a buzz! We ended up playing a chinese card game that had the losers paying the winner based on how many cards were left in their hand when the winner went out.
While we were playing, a group of twenty-something Chinese men sat down at a nearby table. They proceeded to get drunk in record time off some sort of local spirit. Their drunkenness was so extreme that they were attempting (they weren't often successful) to smash empty bottles on the ground. They were also screaming at each other an awful lot.
A few of the guys were hocking up stuff all over the ground and I commented on it to Dan, to which he replied "at least they're not vomiting." Well, about five minutes later one of them did vomit. All over the floor. During the whole ordeal one of the girls that was with them sat at a nearby table looking absolutely mortified. We felt really bad for her, but there wasn't much we could do. Eventually, and I'm surprised it took so long, a couple of the guys came over to our table and forced us to drink a shot with them. The stuff was vile, but we smiled and accepted his drunken offer of cigarettes (Dan and I just gave them to Matt). Soon after, the owner finally arrived and started settling things down. Mr. vomit was taken into the bathroom where he was literally hosed down with the butt-washer for about 10 minutes while he continued to chuck up.
Finally they left and the employees spent quite a while cleaning up the horrendous mess the guys had made. I still don't understand how they got so drunk so quickly. I am starting to get a better understanding of the young Chinese male, though. We headed back around 12 and called it a night.
The next day we headed in to town in the afternoon and took care of some errands before going to get a massage. The massage was great, even if the Chinese girl thought that I was a german. She said Dan looked American (how do you look American?), Matt looked English (correct), and I looked German (go figure). It's ok, later on a guy said I looked like David Beckham, but without hair and with a beard.
We got some food after the massage and then headed to a coffee shop which was wonderful because of something we all take for granted at home -- central heat! Central heat is pretty rare in southern china, apparently it's deemed unnecessary. I'm not sure how that conclusion was reached when temperatures in March
were in the 40's at night. I can't imagine how January must be. We stayed at the coffee shop until 11 or so and then headed back.
The next day, Sunday, we had lunch at a farmhouse restaurant. The food was outstanding and the fried pumpkin was to die for. After stuffing ourselves we headed into town to play some soccer with a bunch of locals. We actually played inside the stadium and we all had a great time. After soccer we did some shopping and tried to get a train ticket for me to go to Shanghai, but the woman told us we had to come back the next day. We had dinner and then headed back to the school.
I spent most of the next day hanging out while Matt and Dan were at class. In the afternoon we went into town again and tried to buy the train ticket. This time, the woman told us the train was full and would remain so for the next 6(!) days. We started looking at other options and eventually I just decided to fly to Shanghai for twice the price of the train. All in all, not a bad deal, but I'm starting to wonder about how anyone travels by train in this country.
After sorting out the ticket we went over to an army shop and I tried on a couple of heavy coats. Both fit quite well, but I just couldn't justify lugging the thing with me all the way to Lhasa. If I need something I'll get it there. We had dinner and then ended up at another coffee shop where we hung out for an hour or so before heading back to the school.
The next day Dan fried up some potatoes that he bought the day before and it was a delicious meal spent watching the Office (british version) on dvd. For dinner we went to a nearby restaurant that, once again, made amazing food. Having lived in Liuyang for more than 1.5 years Dan has managed to sort out all the good restaurants, which was nice for me. Too bad I can't order any of the food myself! When we got back I packed up my bag and went to bed around 12.
The next day Dan took me into town and put me in a car to the airport after saying our goodbyes. It was really nice seeing a friend from home and it definitely gave me another perspective on China. I think a lot of doors open to you once you speak some of the language. Otherwise a lot of things are pretty tightly closed.
That's it for Liuyang, stay tuned for Shanghai.
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