The lack of sleep may be playing a part in it, or it could be the jet-lag. Either way, I’m back in my hometown and I feel a bit like Frodo after he returned to the Shire: bored, homesick for a home that no longer exists, and ready for something to happen.
The drive through the place that was home not so long ago felt vacant of meaning and alien as we cruised through empty streets at two am. Suburbs in NE Ohio are truly suburbs. Except for the shopping areas, neighborhoods and communities seemed almost too spaced out—a yard for everyone and plenty of room between the roads and the front doors.
For the last two and a half years I’ve been living in a culture that doesn’t really comprehend the idea of a suburban, or urban for that matter, area that has room enough for all its inhabitants. Parking lots are afterthoughts for building designers, and most cities are filled with residential complexes instead of individual homes. Unlike Japan, where the overcrowding has given rise to a very polite society, Chinese public interaction customs have evolved to exclude the words “excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” and even, “thank you,” in all but the most direct of situations.
That guy who stepped on your foot and hawked a loogie on the bus floor right next to you? Yeah, he ain’t wasting his breath apologizin’ for nothin’.
In stark contrast to the crowds I’ve gotten used to, we traveled back to my parents’ home without seeing barely a soul on the road for more than an hour. True, it was late, but even when places are closed down in Dalian, there are always people around. I honestly hadn’t realized that I liked that. It’s amazing what you can get used to.
Time is a tricky son of a gun. It’s not so Frostian as nothing gold sticking around for long, it’s just that there’s so much gold out there that once you see a hint of it you want to see more.
Going home is important. Two Christmases away called for a return home, but there is that part of me that just won’t go away. It’s what got me out of Ohio and what is digging at me now to keep moving. Someone once called me a wanderer, but I don’t think it’s as poetic as that. Nor is it as simple as being restless. I think I just can’t sit my ass down in one place for too long.
Christmas and this time of year, as it tends to do for others, puts me in a reflective mood, and I suppose that’s why I’m rambling now. I feel supremely blessed to be living the life that I want, and to have a family that supports that chosen life. It’s not every parent that would tolerate their oldest living on the other side of the globe for long periods at a time.
I’ve still got a lot of folks to see, so I better stop wasting time on here and get moving.
Culture shock’s got four stages that expats can pinball back and forth through, the experts say. That honeymoon period gives way to frustrations and annoyances faster for some and a bit slower for others. The irritations of the next stage can seem like interesting eccentricities of the culture once you’ve endured them and come to some sort of adjustment. And then, right when you think you’re about to assimilate, one of those quaint quarks sends you over the edge and you’re snuggly back in the frustration stage.
It takes years for most to get to the upper levels of the “adjustment” part, and most never actually assimilate, even if they’ve embraced the new culture.
All that is culture shock for ya, but there is a flip side: reverse culture shock.
I’m going home at the end of the week for the first time in two and a half years. My mother cried when I told her a few months ago about my decision to visit for the holidays, and friends have talked about meeting up whenever my schedule will allow it, but the trip is not all leisure.
When I got my wallet stolen more than a year ago, I didn’t replace my driver’s license, and then I just simply let it expire. Now I have to retake the written and driving test to get it back. I’ve also got a handful of other assorted official To-Dos while back.
All that aside, the thoughts taking up the most cognitive square-footage seem to be about simply being back. In general, I haven’t really wanted to go back home since I got here. This admission invariably invites reproach from Chinese friends, and most of them follow up their scowls with, “Don’t you miss your mother and father?” I try to explain that in our culture when the kids grow up it’s normal for them to branch out and make their way in the world without needing to tether themselves to mom and dad for support. Some respond by shaking their head and others just call me a bad son.
Now that my return is eminent, I’m just wondering what it’s going to be like. The North-East area of China, old Manchuria, has a lot of “Chinese” qualities, but Dalian also has an abundance of western perks. It’s not that I think I’m going to stick out when I walk through Wal-Mart, or that I’ll somehow forget how to order a Little Caesar’s Five dollar pizza—no, it’s actually the opposite. I’m worried that, after the rush of seeing family and friends those first few days, when they have to go back to work and I’m hanging around with no car, bus or Qinggui station to hop on, it’s all going to be…boring.
I’ve written about how common and routine life can get living abroad for extended periods, and I’ve even written about losing a bit of my objectivity concerning a lot of cultural details, but the truth is, even sitting in Starbucks becomes more interesting when you have to order in Chinese and you are having conversations with people in other languages.
Knowing everything that’s going on around me will be a nice benefit, but that lack of mystery can also lend itself to a rather lackluster outing when just walking down Hongmei street here for vegetables can be a fun and challenging experience. At this point, there are probably elements of American culture that I’ve demonized and other parts that I’ve inflated and championed way out of proportion, and truth be told, I don’t necessarily want my fantasies shaken just yet.
Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s time for me to go back. Two Christmases away is enough.
People like Amsterdam for a bunch of different reasons, but the legally available cannabis and Red Light District are always on the list. When you think of Spring Break, you probably think of Cancun or some place hot and steamy so you have a valid reason for imbibing ridiculous amounts of alcohol and losing articles of clothing. People visit places for a bunch of different reasons, and not least of all of those reasons is so that they can do stuff they can’t easily do at home.
China has a bunch of pretty neat things to see, as just about anyone in the world could tell you, but there are also certain behaviors or actions you can get away with here that you couldn’t back in the US or other Western countries. Here are some of the behaviors that are socially acceptable (by many, but not 100% of everybody) in China that I’ve noticed A LOT of people doing.
I’m not complaining, just stating observations…
Public Toilets are a thing of absolute horror in China. If you’re blind you can locate the restroom by scent more than a hundred yards away in almost all cases—even Hospitals. Most are squat toilets, which are glorified holes in the ground, with puddles and clumps of human waste seemingly everywhere but in the hole. When I had my body check in the hospital almost two years ago I had to use the restroom for a part, and I swear to God the creators of Saw got inspiration from the bathroom I was in.
Maybe it’s the downright atrocious stench associated with these places or that everyone here is just a mild exhibitionist, but when the toilet is not readily available the road, sidewalk, grass, trashcan, stairs, and even sink will do just fine. I have seen everyone from a toddler all the way to a grown man drop trout and just…pee. They do it just about anywhere. Often they will make the effort to, you know, go into an alley or stand next to something, but the parents with children who have to go—forget about it. Dear Old Mom will just pick up her little tyke so that his butt hangs out the back of his “split bottom” pants and make a “shhhhh” sound in his ear until he lets loose his flow. Where does this happen, you ask? EVERYWHERE. No joke. That list a few lines up, yeah, all of those places.
In fact, just a few days ago Xiao Ming and I were at this nice little area by a government building, where tons of people always hang out, and this six-year-old’s mom gives him the go-ahead to take a leak right in the middle of a crowd. SERIOUSLY. There were about a hundred people just milling around and no one said a damn thing. This boy, who is obviously old enough to know you do this crap in a toilet, is just spelling his name right where people are walking, in daylight. But the funniest thing, or most appalling part, is that just five minutes before we witnessed another young boy trip and face plant on the sidewalk—right where the second boy ended up peeing. Then, after the boy left, a young couple played with their jianzi, basically the Chinese version of hackey sack, right in the same spot.
And all of this is just Number 1. Number 2 requires a bit more tact, but not much more. There are times when you can hear suspicious grunts from behind bushes and trees, and on more than one occasion I’ve seen the leftovers not far off from walking paths. Yup.
So, who needs public toilets when all of the public is a toilet?
Don’t have a trashcan? Can’t abide dirtying your backseat? Toss it out the window.
I have seen countless acts of littering from all levels of citizens here. Taxi drivers lopping plastic bottles out the window, police officers dropping cigarette boxes, and even students throwing candy wrappers from classrooms are all annoyingly common examples of this type of behavior.
But it’s when you see the piles upon piles of garbage collected on the corners of streets or in the alleys at night being picked through by people looking for plastics and other valuable items that it becomes truly disheartening.
I have made it my mission to never litter here. Even if I must carry an empty water bottle for an hour, I won’t just discard it on the ground. When I see people doing it, I try to give them the stink eye, but it probably just looks like I have bowel problems, so I stop.
However, knowing the option of ridding your person of the added burden of toting around trash (la ji) by simply tossing it on the ground is available to you does make life a bit easier…you’re not doing anything for the scenery, but you certainly are making your life easier.
I remember the Napster and Lime Wire days of my youth where I spent hours downloading tunes and—er, wait, I didn’t do much of that, either. But a whole helluva lot of other people did, and that was illegal…apparently.
Today people still have a dozen ways to get their hands (eyes, ears, etc.) on pirated or downloaded material, even in the States, but in China you don’t have to be savvy or hush-hush about it. Just go into a store and select a DVD of a movie that just came out in the theaters two weeks ago…for 12 RMB. That’s like $2. Or, better yet, just download them from torrent sites and store them on your computer…OR, even better—and quicker—just use Baidu to stream them. Baidu is the closest thing to a Chinese Youtube, but they always have full episodes of shows, and whole movies…except most of the nudity is edited out of True Blood, Game of Thrones, and other flicks.
A lot of young people are streaming American shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and even Grey’s Anatomy in order to learn about Western culture and study the language with the English subtitles beneath the Chinese ones. The Vampire Diaries is also big here, along with Gossip Girl and the other ones I’ve mentioned above.
I have picked up a habit of buying a DVD a week since coming here, sometimes more. The last few months I’ve been cooling it, but that just means I’m downloading more. The problem is I won’t be bringing any of my DVD stash back to the States with me. I’ve heard tales of people getting them through customs and all that, but I’m just not willing to test my luck…especially when getting caught smuggling one is something like 10,000 bucks. No, I’ll probably just give ‘em away or stake out a corner on the street and sell them for 10 RMB each. By the time I’m ready to come home I might be able to sell enough to pay for a flight back.
Gone are the days you needed to worry about an open container in public…People strut around with bottles of beer (pi jiu) in the evenings all the time. I’ve talked a little about the North Eastern “Drinking Culture” before, but this is just another tidbit.
On the downside, as a pedestrian, you need to remain ever vigilant for those reeking puddles and piles of vomit that are strewn about along sidewalks and crosswalks.
Just the other night I fell victim to one and needed to wash off my sandals. Let’s hear it, the collective ewwwwwww!
It was recently Independence Day in the US, and when I told this to Xiao Ming she asked me what I usually did on the holiday. Easy, I said: We usually get the day off and spend it near a pool, a grill, or a cooler, and surround ourselves with friends and family. Then, at night, on this special day, we watch fireworks as they are mostly legally set off.
How long does it last? she asked. One glorious, patriotic day, said I.
She kinda laughed, and I could guess why.
Here in Dalian there is tons of Korean BBQ all the time, drinking at Five Color City often enough, and yes, fireworks. I’ve told you before about how I can hear fireworks just about every single day. They light them when they have a new business opening, a floor of construction on a site is finished, weddings and funerals, and just for the fun of it. They don’t relegate them to one day, holiday, or social event; they spread the love and sulfur all around.
So don’t worry about telling the cashier you’re taking them out of state or the cops that, yes, you heard the ruckus but it was from down the street, in China you can just toss a firecracker out your apartment window and hope for the best.
Got something in the back of your throat and no tissue to hock it into? You got it, just lob that loogie right onto the ground. Pay no nevermind to your surroundings or whether you’re in or out of public transportation vehicles.
Now before the 2010 Beijing Olympics you could see that a concerted effort endeavored to annihilate this particular trend, but up in the NE area, especially in Kai Fa Qu, you have a healthy mix of classes and some of them…just…spit.
This hails from the Confucius (probably) belief of “better out than in,” and people, all ages of them, follow it religiously. I’m told that spitting is not actually a cultural thing in China, it’s just a nasty freakin’ habit that people have tirelessly clung to, but that doesn’t matter when you are dodging not only bile piles but also spittle puddles in the street. People will just spit right in front, beside, and behind you. No questions asked.
One of my first experiences with the spitting craze that so many are hip to came one night when a group of us were walking and a horrible sound, similar to a squirrel with asthma trying to do a Joker laugh erupted from somewhere to our right. Now the squirrel had the cover of shadows on its side, but the sound…good gawd. And the guy leading us around turns to me and, without a smile says, “And that is a little old lady.”
A quick look verified this, and her image has forever been seared into my retinas.
When we were on a long-distance bus from zhengzhou there was another woman…
I heard the coughing hack as she summoned the saliva from the back of her throat, and then the wet, puckering smack of her lips as she spat, and finally the splat as the loogie hit the floor. INSIDE THE BUS.
A fan of the bon fire, but unable to put things aflame without your neighbors calling the cops (jing cha) on you because you didn’t let the fire department know of your intentions beforehand? Come to China and light mounds of loose leaf paper on fire just to have the wind lift them into the air and down the intersection.
As I’ve noted in a previous entry, the tradition of lighting paper, or paper money (ming bi) to send to their ancestors is very common. This is usually done at intersections and on special days like holidays or their ancestor’s b-day. The money is burnt in order to pass to the spirit world, or grandpa’s Spirit Bank account. There are those who burn more than just Casper Cash, though. They burn paper objects, and whatnot.
I have sat and watched several older couples in the act of burning these papers, and every time I’m attracted to the reverence in their gestures. This is a serious ritual for them.
Take a look at some older photos of China and you’ll probably see the ubiquitous bicycle somewhere in the frame. Until a relatively recent time China was a bike country, then a moped country, and now, in most cities, it’s quickly transforming itself into an automobile nation. There are concurrent problems that arise when ever change happens too fast, though.
Bad drivers, subjective traffic laws, advance games of Frogger every time you cross the road, and the lack of parking places are but a few. Go to any store in China and it’s easy to see that the building or the plan for it was stenciled out with no care whatsoever about where the customers would be puttin’ their cars. Xiao Ming, who has a PhD in Urban Planning and Land Use from France, has told me that a contributing factor to this situation is the building’s investor. He’s out to make as much money as possible and parking places just aren’t where the cash is. In fact, they see parking as a free service they don’t want to be tied to when they could be adding another hundred feet to their blueprints. This is neither here nor there, but she’s told me about how city officials will hire urban planners to design a city that is efficient and modern only to ignore the suggestions in order to make a buck. That’s why you get a lot of bullcrap set ups half the time here.
So what happens? Side walk parking and driving. Yes, as you stroll down the sidewalk you are on the look out for puke and slobber, but also for the ever-present threat of being run over. I’ve dodged a few close calls already.
Can’t find a place to park at the bank or grocers? Just park it right there where everyone is walking.
Wish you could just get a better deal on that scarf or that necklace? Bargaining not an option back home? Come to China where just about anything is up for negotiations.
The Chinese love a good bargaining match, and those who work in this sort of profession see it as a test of skill and moral fiber when they can get a good deal or make a buck off a customer.
Of course, when I first got here I had no precedent for haggling at all, and I’m certain I’ve overpaid on a bunch of stuff, but after a while I got used to it…and now I like it. I love asking if I could get something a little cheaper and have the merchant not laugh me off or threaten to call the cops. It’s great when the final price is less than half of the original. You can negotiate everything from socks to swords, man.
I was once on the look out for some new socks, wa zi, and the merchant wanted ten for two pairs. I chatted with them for a few moments before I then added a third set and still wanted a lower price. I held my ground, and finally she relented, giving them to me for 8 RMB. This was no big win, but it was funny because after the deal the merchant’s friend, a guy who’d been there the whole time laughed and gave me the thumbs up, adding a bit too enthusiastically, that I was like a Chinese person. All because I negotiated. I probably still got ripped off, but at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
And for my last birthday Xiao Ming bought me a katana. A genuine, full-tang katana. The thing is sweeeeet. I love swords, have since Highlander stole my imagination as a youngster, and have collected them for years. I have two swords here, both of which have been bought by Xiao Ming for me. I sometimes take the katana out and wave it around, silently whisper, “There can be only one,” just for the hell of it.
Anyway, original price was something like 2,000RMB, but she got it down to 1,200 RMB.
Negotiating is fun.
Don’t have any unique talents or marketable skills of your own? Do you have powerful or well-connect friends? Great, then those connections can help you with everything you need in this life.
Guan Xi, baby. It’s the Golden Ticket.
I once read that the evolution of guan xi as a means of social-political-business interaction rose to prominence due to the unreliable nature of the nation’s legal system and its enforcement. People needed ways to trust others, to know a man’s worth or his salt, or something like that.
My first thought to that is: Well, why not strengthen the laws and give the local governments incentive to enforce them instead of constantly perpetuating the double-standards?
Thus, the socio-cultural concept of Guan Xi stepped forth into the world. This is usually translated into “relationship,” but I’d be remiss if I whole-heartedly endorsed that simple definition of a much more complicated series of interconnected partnerships. You can have good guan xi with someone or bad, strong or weak. Some guan xi can get you discounts at stores while other kinds can help you set up a completely illegal establishment like a store or school without any kind of certification at all.
I have an adult student who once told me about a government official’s son who his company had just hired. My student seemed annoyed, so I inquired after it. Turns out, the official’s son is a complete waste of space. He has no training or drive to do the job well, but he is in a supervisor’s role. All because of guanxi.
I asked some teenage students once how they’d feel if another job applicant got a job that they were also interviewing for. They said that’d be fine. Normal thought, right? Sure. Then I asked them how’d they feel if they knew the only reason the other guy got it was because his father had strong guan xi with the CEO. They were less ok with that, but not because they thought it was a form of cheating. They were just angry because they couldn’t get the job with their skills or their guan xi. I asked if they thought of using the connections to get stuff was a form of cheating and they said they didn’t think so. One even went as far as saying that having good guan xi is actually a skill that’s on the same level as having good engineering skills.
Unfortunately, guanxi is such an engrained part of Chinese culture that foreigners are almost entirely excluded from being active members in it. Sure, we can benefit from someone’s guan xi (I certainly have), but actually having your own guanxi in any tangible, Chinese Way is nearly impossible. If you stay a long time, learn the language, or do something truly memorable for a person who already has strong guan xi then maybe, just maybe, he’ll take you under his guanxi wing and spread the wealth, but don’t count on it.
I never had a fake ID growing up. In fact, the bar scene wasn’t my scene in the least, so I never needed one. I knew some folks who had them, but not many. For me, fake IDs existed mostly in TV shows with annoying pseudo-delinquents.
Here in China, though, the fake ID is just the tip of the ice berg. I know two public school teachers who did not finish high school, but instead had fake diplomas made and used their uncle’s guan xi to get their current positions. I know of training schools that have augmented dates on lincensure certificates so well that the forgery and the real McCoy are identical in every way, even down to the perforated edges.
Heck, due to a hiccup in the Real Estate/Marital Laws married couples who own two houses are forced to pay an outrageous tax, so what are they doing? Getting divorces. They’re still “together,” just not, you know, on paper. For some, going through the motions of a divorce that cost about 20RMB to save thousands is beneath them. Instead, they’d rather pay a forger more than 100RMB to get fake divorce documents.
There are even people who pass out business cards for this forgery service! Gotta love it. Not that I’m already not cynical enough, but it’s gotten to the point where any person in a position of relative power elicits two questions from me: Did you earn this job on merit? Do you have legitimate credentials?
Sure, the National Govt. is making efforts to crack down on this sort of thing, but who’s to say the guy carrying out the policy hasn’t frequented the same services?
Want a job without all that hassle of earning it? No worries.
There’s this list. You know, the one that audiences mark off when they’re watching a movie or reading a story that has a character traveling or going on an adventure. And really, if you’re not aware of it consciously, a part of you recognizes pieces of it as the events begin to unfold. Here, I’ll prove it.
Character is in a new city (heck, could even be a jungle, doesn’t matter). He/She:
A) Finds the destination easily because the map purchased is an up-to-date work of cartographic genius.
B) Decides to just chill in the block around the hotel without venturing out farther (or swings from a hammock fashioned from vines hanging from the ginormous trees).
C) Gets lost at least once, usually through some humorous fault of his/her own (and will be just one of the many times things like this happens).
Answer: C, right?
Character gets roped into hanging with friends he/she doesn’t really know all that well. He/She:
A) Leaves the scene early and goes back to the hotel/apartment/jungle hut.
B) Realizes there’s no one he/she has anything in common with, so consumes copious amounts of alcohol in the corner of the room…
C) Forges a few actual, meaningful relationships because he/she is stretching, growing, and living in the moment.
C again, right? (Really, it’s just easier for me to make all the answers C)
OK…Maybe I’m not good at doing the quiz thing, but you gotta admit (maybe), there are certain staples to the traveling movie/fiction genre. Someone gets lost, sick or injured, new friends are made, self-discoveries abound, and things get stolen…
These things happen in just about every movie or book like this, ever. I’m definitely the type to romanticize things and give a little slack to my tether holding me to reality, but I’ll be honest, not all of those things are fun. In fact, there’s a good chunk of them that just suck. I’ve had kidney stones here (THAT nightmare has been documented on this blog), Noelle and I have gotten lost in Beijing, we’ve been ripped off….and now I’ve had my wallet stolen, right after I went to the ATM, I might add.
A friend from Scotland recently offered, “Congrats on you theft baptism ;)” when I posted a message stating that I’d just gotten my wallet stolen. I don’t know if that means I had it coming sooner or later, but it does seem odd that none of the people who commented after her seemed surprised.
Here’s what happened. It was Monday night and my friend and I had gone to the movies. We stayed until the credits rolled through, hoping for some extra—every movie nowadays has a little something at the end, ya know? But no, not a thing. We left, the last two from the audience. The only others in there were two ushers, cleaning.
We took the escalators down the four flights and saunter out into the humid night air, me thinking about the flick and how to express my thoughts in Chinese, and also contemplating a late dinner. The latter thought got the best of me, and when I reached into my back pocket to take a look at what remained of my funds my heart did that pause-between-beats-and-turn-to-ice-before-sinking-to-the-stomach combo. My wallet was gone.
I had no difficulty telling my friend in Chinese this particular problem. I didn’t wait for a response. I ran back to the theater, trying to keep enough attention on the placement of my sandals (the ground is super slick in some areas and my sandals are new and prone to slipperiness). This time I ascended to the fourth floor with the help of the elevator attached to the building’s outside.
I ran in, told the workers my issue, and was quickly waved toward the room I’d just spent the last two hours and forty minutes. Lights on and not a soul around, I searched to no avail. Two others helped, and then my friend joined us. And then we left, my friend taking the reins on the explanation and interrogation of the employees. They were of no help, mostly. Although at some point we all walked back in and looked around again for the fun of it.
Eventually, we called the cops. Not entirely sure why. I had no silent hope that they’d be able to get my wallet back to me…and they didn’t. They came, gave me the Eye, talked to my friend, nodded to me a few times, talked to the manager on duty, and then talked to my friend again. But this time it was like we were the ones putting them off. Seriously. They even turned to me and asked if I’d been drinking. I didn’t say anything. I just gave the cop my version of the T1000’s death stare and shook my head. After a few more minutes when it was obvious they were just wasting our time AND arguing with my friend, I stopped them by saying, “What’s wrong? If someone took my wallet there’s nothing you can do now, so why are you arguing with us?” In Chinese I’m sure a few things were a bit off, but it felt good to say it anyway.
My roommate helped me cancel my bank card, I cancelled my credit cards, but I still need to contact the BMV about my stolen, expired license. Really hoping that doesn’t come back and bite me later. I’ve since requested a new card from the bank here and for three days was getting by on money loaned by my roommate. I still can’t touch my account even by going directly to the bank, but I have enough for the essentials until next Friday (when I’ll theoretically get my bank card).
The day started at 6:32 for us. Or maybe 6:34…ok, you caught me. I have no clue. BUT it was in that certain quarter of the six o’clock hour. And definitely in the am.
Noelle and I got up after having stayed up much too late the night before (we watched five episodes of Six Feet Under, marathon style). Both of us were groggy and more than a little concerned that our two weeks in China might already be reshaping our sleeping paradigm for the worse…We keep finding ourselves getting up ungodly early. And this is supposed to be vacation time.
We trekked out about a mile into town until we hailed a cab. Now my Chinese is improving, but that basically means I’ve gone from a lexicon of zero to like four words. Telling the cabbie we’re going to the light rail wasn’t in my vocabulary that morning. After getting a blank look and the universal, “I have no stinkin’ idea what you’re talking about,” gesture (the scratching of the head–he actually scratched his head, too) I gave up and called one of the Chinese teachers we were meeting. She told him and we made it in time. Noelle, Me, Michael, Sunny, and her brother, Qian Fei (sp?) all boarded the train to Downtown. Seven stops. At each one more and more people crammed into the compartment like it was the last Arc ship from that Cusac movie 2012. Seriously, every time I felt like I’d staked out a little personal space we’d hit the next stop and thirteen people would be jammed into my armpits. During the trip I occasionally found myself wondering if a claustrophobic clown was ever forced into carpooling with Bozo and his pals. The experience couldn’t be all that different from the train ride here.
We got into downtown and eventually boarded a bus that would take us to the Zoo.
Now, I haven’t been here long enough to know this definitively, but it seems like the Chinese have perfected (among many other things) standing in lines. When we got there the group from the bus had to stand in two single-file lines for about 15 minutes before some young kid brought our tickets out to us and ushered us to the gate. The whole time there are troves of people walking in from every direction. I asked what we were waiting for and I was told, “our tickets.” When I pointed out that we could just walk up to the gate and exchange the ticket we had already been given for the admission ticket without waiting in line I received a perplexed, and slightly annoyed look–but no comment. Can’t fight city hall, I guess. We waited, but were eventually let in.
Dalian is a port town that is quickly developing into a city with some girth, but the people still harbor parts of their rural mindset. Foreigners aren’t all that uncommon, and in parts of Dalian at night you can come across a handful of Russians, Germans, and even a few vacationers from Sweden or Canada. Even with that, I have caught many Chinese people trying discreetly to take our pictures simply because we’re foreigners. I’ll catch the flash from the corner of my eye and turn to see a teenager or an older person grinning as they watch us for a reaction. It’s funny after you get beyond the oddity of it, however at the Zoo we had a new experience. Just as we got through the gate a small family came up to us and more or less handed their daughter over and wanted to take a few pictures of us. Noelle and I laughed and went along with it, smiling and leaning into the girl so it didn’t just look like two Americans were looming sinisterly over a defenseless Chinese kid. It wasn’t until we had walked down a ways that it occurred to me that, “We’re in a zoo.” That picture could seriously be a thing of ironic beauty. “What,” I asked Noelle, “are we the American exhibit?”
We padded through the zoo for a few more hours, taking in the scenery, relatively fresh air, and the crowds. The animals were cool, too!
After the cat area we walked by the bear exhibits, but the small containment areas they had them in ticked me off too much and unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures. They had black bears and brown bears squared away in a rectangular area about the size our our apartment. The floor was concrete and there were just a few amenities: some rocks, a dead tree, and a drinking area. I don’t like animals in cages period, but what the bears, and even the lions to an extent, live in makes me made. I’m not a member of PETA, and I don’t carry red paint with me, so I just walked by the bears and distracted myself with some of the “chinglish” signs.
This animal was impressive, too. He would sit on a post in front of the crowd and clap his hands and then hold out his palm to catch whatever food people threw out. When he finished it he would clap his hand again and wave at the crowd to toss something else. It was crazy. No employee was even around couching him.
As we left the primate area we ran into some Russian students on holiday from their studies in Xi’an. We chatted for a few and then began our trek down the large hill we’d hiked up to see the zoo. On the way down we snapped a picture of us with the ocean in the back.
After catching a glimpse of the water we decided that we should just find a nearby beach and relax for a bit before catching a bus into downtown.
We ended the day by finding a nice Indian restaurant, walking around the downtown area, and then finally taking the train (I bought our tickets using my very limited Chinese!) back to Kaifaqu.
Some honorable mentions that didn’t make it into the entry: the kangaroos, the bears, about a half dozen other primates, mountain goats, alpacas, and the rainforest area with the trees and flowers.
[Next entry: Beijing and The Great Wall of China—lots of pictures!]
As I type this with my right hand my left hand is holding a tissue to my nose.
For the last threeish days I’ve been waking up with a sore throat and runny nasal cavities. Back in the states I never got sick, but being in China, arriving during the changing of the seasons, walking EVERYWHERE when we need to travel, and playing with little munchkins everyday has taken its toll on me. I’m just surprised Noelle hasn’t gotten the sniffles yet. She usually gets six different versions of the plague during the winter and each time she starts back at her old daycare in the summers. It wouldn’t be so annoying if we hadn’t forgotten our ziploc baggy with our over the counter meds on the other side of the world!
Two days ago we took a few hours and walked up “UFO Mountain.”
It’s not really called UFO Mountain, but you can see why it has acquired that handle, right?
And at night it’s lit up all blue. I’ll get a shot of that soon.
This mountain, which is really more like an overgrown hill, is just down the street from our apartment complex. It’s surrounded by nice hiking trails that can get decently steep. The park sits at the base, right along our walk to the school everyday.
We have a nine-day holiday coming up this weekend, so I plan on hiking through most of the trails. I know Noelle wants to run them before it gets really cold, too.
There’s this little stop off where some folks were eating their lunch and just hanging out. Off to the side there was this really cool looking stone walking path that led to something called “Lover’s Garden.” It was fenced off to the public, but I stepped over the chain anyways and coaxed Noelle into doing the same. I’m glad we did. Large stones with Chinese characters carved into them littered what I soon realized was the very edge of the mountain.
We walked around a short path and there, stretching out forever, was the ocean.
We kept hiking on up the path, but before we got to the top we ran into some of these ribbons that were tied to trees. My best guess (and that’s all it is) is that they’re from the “lovers” that have visited the “Lovers Garden,” which, by the way, is a horrible name for the stone pathway…there was not one flower to be seen. Now, I’m not a botanist or even into horticulture; heck, I can barely remember to water a cactus enough to keep it alive, but I just think that anything with the word “garden” anywhere in its name should have flowers somewhere in the vicinity. And overgrown weeds don’t count.
We kept going up. Really our only option.
It didn’t show up well in the pictures, but on the other side of the city there is a big mountain the other Westerners call “Big Black Mountain.” There are a few temples on it and to get up one side and down the other it takes about a whole day. We’re going to do that probably Sunday, so hopefully we’ll be posting some nicer pics of the local scenery. Also on our itinerary for the break is the Dalian Zoo, where, I’ve read, you can feed live chickens to the lions and the tigers, and even a goat to the hyenas if you so choose. American zoos just don’t know what they’re missing. Hah.
We may even get to Beijing to see the Forbidden city and the Great Wall. We’ll see.
For now, I just want to get over this cold. Tomorrow morning we have a shopping class with one of the Eastern teachers before work. We’ve gone to the store a few times so far, so It’ll be interesting to see how much we’ve messed up ’til now.