Monday, October 15, 2012

China? Did I go there? Memory like a sieve...

Let's see if my younger daughter remembers anything:

"The five star hotels are really nice. They have really nice food."

"We went to lots of museums."

"The tours were boring. The wall of China was really annoying to walk on. They had horrible foods on the airplanes. The trains were ok. The subway was too crowded! The end."

Hmm. Maybe not. Oh well. China is China. 2012 is 2012. It was pretty much what you'd expect for a modern, hideously over-populated place. Actually, it was relatively clean. Decent plumbing. I mean, the cities/towns could have totally reeked of sewage, but they didn't. The streets could have been covered with litter, but they weren't. Toddlers poop on the ground instead of wearing diapers, but parents are vigilant about cleaning up. Considering all the disgusting poopy diapers we've had to deal with, going diaper-less is probably more eco-friendly and saves on diaper rash. People may be poor and have to make a living doing things people in richer countries wouldn't bother with, but it seems conditions have improved (compared to the times when millions of people were starving). The rich are richer, but aren't they always?

Emei Shan

"Oooo! There's a computer in this room! Don't tell [brother] or [sister]!"

We spent some time wandering up and down the main street. There was a bus depot for the buses going up and down the mountain. Didn't speak English there. Picked a restaurant at random. For once I didn't order too much food (come on, it's a vacation, I like to feel we have lots of food, and besides, I can never predict from the menu which dishes people will like to eat.) There was that obstacle-course game show on the TV there. These things are weirdly hypnotic. Is that guy going to go for the evil tipping chairs on the top, or try to rush past the punchy-ram things at the bottom? Punchy-ram things it is! SPLASH! D'oh! NEXT!

Got up really early the next day and had to wake up the hostel management to open the front door and check me out. Then we had to go pound on the door at the neighboring hostel to release the spouse, who had been wandering around haplessly in the dark lobby, not knowing which was the correct office door to knock on. Once out on the street, drivers aggressively pitched their services to us all the way until I put down the cash for the bus tickets.

We took the bus halfway up, to the Wanniansi stop, where there's a cable-car to be taken up to where the temple is. Whee! Another cable car ride. I think those were tea bushes we could see on the ground. Emei Shan has its own famous variety of tea. (Which I fail to appreciate, not being much of a tea connoisseur. Guess I should have gone on the "tea" shopping trip!) Then we saw the seemingly endless flights of stone steps, and the moaning commenced in earnest. We slowly made our way up, stalked by an old man selling bamboo sticks (we ended up buying some), a woman sweeping the path, and a porter who kept eyeing the moaning kid. He probably hoped we would give up and hire him to just carry our son up the mountain.

...Ok, so not that many Chinese tourists bother to walk up all these steps, either! But it was clear we weren't going to make it very far, no matter how many bribes we offered. So we stopped off at one of the little rest areas, had a snack, and then headed back down. (We didn't even get far enough to see any monkeys! D'oh!) Saw some mules carrying bricks (apparently some construction going on at the temple). The mules mostly walk by themselves without constantly moaning! We glanced at the temple, but it was crowded and the kids didn't want to go in. That was that for historic holy Emei Shan for us...

We picked up our luggage and then stood around on the sidewalk until someone with a van stopped and offered us a ride. The driver already had a passenger, but there was plenty of room and he took us right to the train station.

...hours earlier than I had planned. Not a great place, the train station. Hot (un-air-conditioned) and with yucky toilets. (Squat toilets, no doors, filthy floor.) Not the worst toilets I've encountered in China, but probably the worst on this trip. So we wandered around a bit. Bought some paper fans, snacks. I should have bought some instant noodles (the ones in the bowl that you just add hot water to) but stubbornly resisted, thinking "I eat the damn things all the time back home, I don't want to do that when I'm on vacation!" Just about every other passenger had the instant noodle bowls, though. Did they know something I didn't? Heh. Cheap and convenient beats expensive, slow, and mediocre train food any day.

...nice train. Yes, it was air conditioned! "Hard sleeper": 6 in each compartment, not bad. Don't ever let your kids steal your blanket! They have fold-down seats along the walls on the opposite side from the beds, with little fold-down tables. Passengers seem to take turns sitting there and looking out the window. One time it was some kids from Hong Kong with Justin Bieber Uno cards. Heh.

A lot of tunnels! The route goes through a mountainous area, along a river valley. Very scenic, in spots. We stopped for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. (Due to severe thunderstorms further down the track, apparently.) Arrived in Kunming in the morning.

Kunming

Crowds, crowds, crowds and traffic! Besieged by touts wanting to sell tours to Dali, Lijiang, etc. the minute we stepped out of the train station. We just followed the main mass of people in search of the taxi area. In the end, we went off with a woman who promised us a minivan. I think we could have walked to the hotel just as fast (as we did in Chengdu) but we were being lazy (plus we had more luggage than we had back when we arrived in Chengdu).

Another big shiny hotel in the middle of a pedestrian shopping district. This one was trying way too hard to reach five-star status! The staff were aggressively helpful (though they didn't seem to speak English), grabbing our luggage from the car and escorting us to our rooms (conveniently located next to each other), then coming by with an amenities cart every day and thrusting slippers, newspapers, candies, kiddie toothbrushes, etc. at us. A pity they couldn't spend more effort on the more basic stuff, such as making sure the toilets worked! We had to have someone come up and clear it twice. I guess they thought it easier to just use a plunger on it every day rather than to really de-clog it.

Spent some time wandering around (more navigation using KFCs as our landmarks!). The provincial museum was cool (and free!). Ye Olde Towne shopping alleys. One selling pets...one scary place. So many birds, baby turtles, and little furries (rabbits, rodents). Tubs of live bugs (pet food?) lying around, one in the middle of the street. Plants, souvenirs, "antiques".

More random TV shows:

Another game show... this one with people as tic-tac-toe pieces, chased around by bulls!?

Something like "Antiques Road Show" with Chinese stuff...? Whoa... did someone carve a stunningly realistic fried chicken leg and hamburger out of jade? What what what...as a diet aid/gift for a friend!? Did I hear that correctly? I guess it makes a change from jade cabbages, jade grapes, and jade bracelets.

Crazy monk... Journey to the West... Matilda... Pleasant Goat... Harry Potter... random anime...

The next day we went to the Shi Lin ("Stone Forest"). Wow! Stunning place! I don't think I've ever seen anything like it anywhere else I've ever been. Big limestone rocks just sticking up out of the ground in striking formations. Pools of water/lakes hidden in the rocks. They have paths and stairs that go all around the main tourist area. "You are in a maze of twisty passages, all different" came to our minds immediately. (Shows the age of me and the spouse!) Yes, it's really really crowded in spots, but we went early, and we accidentally went around the place backwards, so for most of our visit, we practically had it to ourselves. (In many places, we were the only people in sight.) Eventually, we did get lost and I had to ask random tour guides for the way out. (The cryptic little maps they had there only confused us, besides being in Chinese.) I think we missed out on a trolley ride, but we had a good time anyway. The weather was favorable, being a cool, drizzly day that made the gray rocks seem mysterious and impressive.

We had lunch at a restaurant in the "minority ethnic group area" (where apparently the people who used to live in the Shi Lin scenic district were relocated by the government. I suppose that's one of the things governments do to create national parks... it's happened in the U.S., too.) It was one of those "point to what you want and we'll cook it for you" places. This included a bin of...some kind of insects!? which I did not point at. Ha. I did really like their fried goat cheese squares, though!

Truffula trees! I swear, on the road from Kunming to the stone forest, there were these skinny trees with single tufty balls of leaves on the top. They looked exactly like the trees from "The Lorax", except for the coloring. No, we didn't see any bar-ba-loots.

We didn't stay in Yunnan very long. I originally wanted to visit Dali, but we didn't have enough time, so we just headed back to Beijing the next day. We didn't do much the second time around. Just wandered around another bit of the city (historical hutong sections! Alleys!) while my older daughter shopped for more anime figurines and manga. Also visited the big bookstore in the Wangfujing shopping area again. I love that bookstore! Awesome bookstore! So many floors! So many books! So many DVDs! I wish we had that bookstore near my house! Did I mention, I liked the bookstore? OMG, I want that bookstore! I should have spent the rest of our cash there. Instead, we ended up at the airport with a few hundred RMB left, and spent it hastily on overpriced souvenirs. Ah well. At least they were cute. (I like the little panda screen my older daughter got.)

...and then on the plane back to North America. So yeah. I think all this travel and vacationing is wasted on us...

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