When I first moved to San Diego I felt compelled to learn to surf. I bought a battered nine foot board and a sexy chin to ankle wetsuit and hauled myself, half blind, offshore to embrace a few fleeting moment of verticality before plunging ass over tea kettle into the water below. Getting up onto the board was easier than I expected; getting out from the shore to open water was more physically exhausting than I'd realized. Once you're in deeper water it's fine, you simply paddle on the board; in shallow water, and carrying a nine foot long door it can be a bit more of a fight to get through the wave action. There are a variety of methods to do this, some easier than others but the most satisfying is hunkering down, baring your shoulder to the wave and at the last second pushing up to a loud 'smack', as you thunder Braveheart style to less strenuous times. Learning this technique turned out to be good practice for the Beijing subway, Line #1, at rush hour.
The subway in Beijing is actually pretty efficient and dirt cheap. $30 cents will take you across the
city in a hurry. The doors are a bit on the low side, however, and it's only now – two weeks later – that the indent in my forehead is starting to heal. On the train itself, it's always amusing to stare out over the tops of hundreds of dark haired heads, meeting eyes with no one till the next non-asian male or female three cars down. There's always a brief silent communication, a mini fist bump explosion if you will, as if to say “We're taller than 99% of the people here. Boo yeah”
Boo yeah, is conveniently also the Chinese term to tell hawkers of cheap wares to buzz off and stop bothering you. It worked so effectively that we weren't sure if we were telling people that we weren't interested or telling them to shove off and f*** a goat. Hint: It's the former.
Overall our activity list has been fairly extensive over the last week plus and I can't possibly update you on everything we've been up to. I also find a straight activity summary dull, as you've probably figured out already. Thus, I'll do a brief review and then wander into topics that
I find more stimulating because it's my blog and I get to do with it what I like. Wha ha ha.
We spent about five days in Beijing covering enough miles to make a compulsive jogger offer praise, many through temples, sacred gardens, more temples, an acrobatic show, the great wall, a temple or two, water slides and the 2008 Olympic facilities. We carried onto Jinan where the intention was to go to a robot hot pot restaurant which unfortunately turned out no longer to exist and followed up by going to the wrong city, Suzhou in the wrong province and then the right Suzhou in the right province, where our hostel unfortunately chose also not to exist, but more temples and sacred gardens did! Despite some recent difficulties, we're still having a great time and really appreciate most of what China has had to offer so far.
One barrier we've had some difficulty overcoming so far is the land speed barrier, but we keep finding taxi drivers eager to try. It's nearly as difficult as the language barrier. In Beijing we didn't have any trouble, everything went really well, and it allowed us to expand our vocabulary
without much pressure to deliver. Walking down the street we would recite our limited vocabulary, trying to memorize it and capture the correct pronunciation. It was likely quite humourous to the locals. I mean how often do you see a random foreigner walking around your city saying “rice, rice, rice, one, two, three” over and over to thin air? In Jinan, however, problems began. The first hotel wouldn't accept foreigners and no one knew english, written or verbal, to communicate that to us. So, despite our best attempts to say 'we have a reservation' in mandarin and wave our passports around like we owned the place, we didn't make any head way until they called someone who did know english and told us to go somewhere else. The fact of the matter is that sometimes, no matter what you do, there's just a lot of standing around looking awkwardly from side to side, opening and closing your mouth to no avail. Though a solid interpretive dance can sometimes convey that you'd like a Coke instead of the Sprite you've been provided, you quickly learn to accept life as it comes and drink the Sprite. Caffeine isn't good for you anyway.
We have also come to appreciate that there are a lot of Chinese tours about, all in matching hats with an accompanying leader who uses a loud speaker 15 volume settings higher than necessary. To a Chinese tourist we're as much an attraction as any sacred temple, pond or hello kitty doll and doubly so for Aimee as a blond and myself as a redhead. The two of us together looking like we were dipped in skin lightener baths since the day we were born. We have on six separate occasions been asked to star in other people's photographs. The first conversation went a little like this.
Smiling gracious Chinese woman: “Photo please?”
M : “Oh sure I can take a photo of you and your friends. Camera?”
No reaction by smiling chinese woman
M: “Uh camera? Photo?”
Woman: “Yes yes photo” at which point she plants herself solidly between Aimee and I and wraps her arms around our waists. I look up and around at this point to spot her friend with a camera aimed directly at us. I clue in.
M: “Ah you'd like to take a photo WITH us. Sure that's not a problem” Additional friends
swoop in from no where like koi on a half hazardly thrown piece of bread from a pants less child. Suddenly it's not Aimee and I and one friend, but Aimee and I and eight other friends, all fighting and jostling for proximity to the white folks. Rubbing shoulders with the nearest ghost who knows a thing or two about nothing they can communicate effectively is apparently highly desirable. The occasions are cute and harmless and we happily oblige. It's also sheer entertainment to see a pending request formulate. Tight groups of teens nervously gesturing at us, but no one with the courage to ask. One girl will eventually break free (always a girl) and hastily mumbles a request to which we will rapidly agree and unburden her of the sheer terror she's experiencing. The mood lightens immediately and it's all smiles after that. In China, we're celebrities.
We're in Shanghai at the moment, but were in Suzhou train station when I sat down to start this. The real Suzhou was something of a delight as it was an excellent blend of old river city and modern metropolis. I will say though that Suzhou'ers are no make civilized in
their spitting methodology (and volume) then any other Chinese we've met to date. You can't go more than about twenty minutes before someone (man, woman or child) horks out a loogie with impressive volume and velocity. The louder the better it seems. This is not isolated to outdoors as even now (then) I can (could) glance around at my fellow passengers to see small pools of spittle quietly drying between their feet (those piles are likely dry now... or topped up!) It's pretty gross and not something we have as yet gotten used to.
Anyway more stories to come. For more worthwhile information about what we're up to check out Aimee's blog. It'll be a far more productive read then the dribble I've force fed you, but that's what you get!
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