China: Round Two

It’s been a confusing month and I’m pretty ready to skip right through it into March.

Feelings.

Jet-lag.

Time zones.

Foreign communication.

I was on the way back to the hotel when I saw a pair sitting curbside, having a very serious conversation.  It was an older, Chinese man and a young boy; I’d say somewhere between three and five years old.  I wanted to capture that moment of them so, so bad but I couldn’t act on it quick enough.  I really wondered what they were talking about.  I made up that maybe he was telling him an old Chinese tale.  I went with that.  I knew that was probably in a book somewhere.

I went back to the hotel because I had to grab my passport.  Had to grab my passport because we booked a day trip to Hong Kong on the 19th.  Because I am in China; JinJiang, Fujian, China.  Hong Kong for the day doesn’t totally suck, I love it there.  We were supposed to go to London for a few days, and from there go home, but the plan changed and we are staying in China until time to go.  So, instead, I tried booking a few days in Singapore.  Take advantage of the fares while I’m in Asia since I have family there.  But things weren’t scheduling like I wished.  Next time.

I arrived here on February 8th.  The month is 28 days, and I’m only home for about 10 days of it.  Wake me up when this month ends.  Another 15 hour, nonstop flight from Boston to Hong Kong on early morning hours of February 7th.  Packed 5 Xanax for it, didn’t take one.  I was getting unusual feelings about this trip.  So, that’s why I brought along the Xannys.  I usually sleep most of the flight, I’m actually usually knocked out before the wheels are up.  Well, I was wide-eyed for most of the duration.  Watched a few movies, short naps.  This and that.  Hong Kong to Xiamen, a short flight.. about an hour.  Xiamen to JinJiang, an anxious, hour drive.  Here I am, 13 hours ahead and roughly 7,784 miles away from what I’m used with only one big pond in the middle.  Sometimes, I think that if I can take the risk and go to the other side of the world by myself then, maybe, I can tell the guy I’m interested in that I am.

Traveling is so much easier.

The first couple of days were still adjustment stages.  I was kind of just there.  I would count how many birds flew by me.  Like me, that bird probably flew from somewhere else.

18.

18.  That’s how many birds crossed paths with me – that I noticed – and then I stopped because how completely insane do I sound already?  I finally was like what the f*** am I doing ?? Imagine if I said I counted 32 birds.  You would have thought I was in a mental institution sitting in a chair and haven’t talked to someone in 72 days.

No worries.  I’m all there.  And well aware.  I mean, how can I not be when I am hearing a horn go off every second.  I’ve learned it can mean a number of things: 1) get out the way, I’m somewhere close to you.  2) My horn works  That’s good.  3) Go!  The light has been green for a whole millisecond, the hell you still stopped for???  4)Uhm, what are you doing in my lane?  5) Hello, you do not fit here. 6) No reason, just like to beep. 7, 8, 9, and 10) Again, no reason.

It legitimately goes on all day, every day.  I have told people that you hear a horn more in 10 minutes here than you do in a day in the heart of New York.

I may have convinced myself that the sun doesn’t shine in this part of China.  When I first visited 2 years ago, it was greyer than Christian.  I stand soooo corrected.  It’s been shining the entire time.  Pollution.  Weather.  Whatever.  It was averaging in the 60s, now it’s flowing into the 70s.  This is still winter for them, I’ve been told.  Scarves, puff coats, pea-coats.  All still in season.  On their mopeds/scooters, they have either have hand warmers on the handle bars or a full-on blanket thing that is to be worn while driving it.  Smart.

So, yeah, scooters seem to be the main transportation over here.  I’ve seen Maseratis, Audis, Jaguars… all the high end vehicles, and then the usual middleclass makes and models.  Motorcycles aren’t as hip as a Kawasaki or Harley you would buy today, but motorcycles they are nonetheless.  And again, scooters.  Or bicycles.  When they’re on the scooter or motorcycle, the passenger in the back almost never holds onto the one who is operating the vehicle.  Incredible bond of trust, I guess.  Almost always sit like they’re just hanging out, legs together on one side.  Maybe sometimes with a child on their lap.  Not sure if a helmet is required, but if I had a guess I would definitely say it’s not.

1 in every 3 people are probably wearing a mask over their mouth area because they’re sick.  At home, someone would ask you what the hell are you doing with a mask on your face? Here, you better wear one before you get me sick.  Before you even exit the airport you are directed to walk through a temp-check, if your body temperature is too high you get quarantined.  Not on my list of things-to-do.

I didn’t surface the streets when I visited China for the first time, last time.  But I did for this one.  Here’s what I gathered:  people urinate in public, without shame.  I guess it’s just accepted here?  One guy pulled over, hopped out, and went over to the shrubs and began doing his business.  The shrubs were literally sharing space with the sidewalk.  It was odd for me, nothing to him.  Speaking of sidewalks, they’re not just for humans here.  You’ll find that its a speedway for scooters and parking spaces for vehicles.  Keep aware of your hearing in case you get beeped at, that’s how you’ll know if you’re in the way.

I got looks left and right.  You wonder what they’re thinking when they see a face that doesn’t look like theirs.  She’s ugly.  She’s beautiful.  She’s American.  Who knows what they’re thinking, but they’re not shy about it.  I got approached by one Chinese man, I had no idea what he was saying or what he wanted.  I kept it calm and cool because that seemed like the best way to handle it.  I kept my grip on my mace lowkey though.  I just kept giving him a smile, a thumbs up and tried to keep it moving.  He followed me for only a little bit.  I felt confident that he wasn’t harmful.  The intersections get chaotic.  Cars, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians everywhere.  I follow the pedestrians and hope I’m abiding by whatever crazy laws they have.  I walk when they walk.  I stop when they stop.  I maneuver and make it through.

I’ve been noticing some people are walking backwards …. I don’t know who to ask about this ??

Many of the buildings have windows with bars on them, kinda like a cage, sorta like prison.  Either to prevent falling.  Stop someone from breaking in.  Hang clothes.  To stretch your legs on.  I don’t know.

The public is very interesting.  I love to watch their day-to-day.  It goes from decent to dirty very quickly.  Maybe safe, but definitely skeptical.  But to see that transition just from turning a corner is amazing.  You see the difference just with the street light fixtures.  If you see a flower shop on a street, you can bet your ass there are many more.  If there is a fruit market, there’s probably 3 more of the same.  Competition?  I think so.

My boss said something the other evening that had me thinking.  He told me that when 9/11 occurred, he was here.  So they stopped flights for a couple of days.  He started to wonder what it would be like if he had to stay here to live, if he was prohibited from returning to the States.  So, then I began to wonder myself.

I could do it.  Would I want to do it, or choose to do it, here?  No, probably not.  But if I had to, I could.  I haven’t had much of a hard time here, mentally or emotionally.  I did cry once.  It had been 10 days since I’ve been here and I only talked to my nephew one time.  When we got off the phone, I teared up a little bit.  I miss him so much.  That little person is such a huge light in my life.  I was hurt that I haven’t talked to him, I was hurt that I’m away from him.  Everything just hurt.  Living out of a hotel, being on the opposite side of the world and being in a different time zone takes a toll.  I’ve beat it for the most part, until I heard his voice.  Really made me miss home.  I’ve spoken to everyone regularly except him, and it was just a little shock that I had to deal with.  My parents and I talk all the time, and it made it feel like I was a town over.  It hurt to talk to them and it hurt to not talk to them.  I missed laughing with my mom first thing in the morning.  I missed every single call my dad makes to me that I claim is annoying.  I missed my morning commute to work when I put on a concert in my car.  I missed dinner and drinks with friends.  It’s felt like a year since I’ve been gone.  But I’m ok now.  The pro is that I save a shitload of money.. but I did find a Zara and H&M….

It all feels very different, but what stays the same internationally is the sun and moon.  I was in complete awe from the sunset the other night.  It was about quarter to 6, maybe, and the sun was this fiery red, pink color.  I couldn’t grab a picture of it in time, which was fine because I really loved seeing it for myself and loving every hue of it with my eyes.  A hour or so later, what made it more amazing, was that I was on SnapChat and I saw a friend from home uploaded a picture of the sunrise.  It was a beautiful sunrise there because it was a beautiful sunset here.  The sun and moon, man… fascinated with what those two do.

I don’t think people understand why I love taking pictures of everyone and everything.  I like to see things over and over again.  I fall in love.  I fall in love with places, things and people and I want to see it again and again whenever I can.  Yes, I do enjoy things in the moment and a simple snap on a camera doesn’t take any enjoyment out of it.  It also helps with my memory-loss that I diagnosed myself with.  I can’t remember anything for the life of me.

When I get to go to these places I take in as much of it as I possibly can.  Work by day, wander by night.  I make time for myself once the work day is through.  There’s a difference with being a traveler and being a tourist.  I’m not a tourist anymore.  I’ve smelled so many smells, tasted so many foreign recipes, and stepped on so many roads in different area codes.  You go home smelling like the air and people you’ve walked by – and nothing makes you happier than taking a shower and doing your laundry – but you smell like adventure.  Something about it smells like you weren’t afraid.

And, I’m not.

Smells like curiosity.

And I am full of that.

I take baths rather than a shower when I travel if a tub is available in my room.  It relaxes me and when I’m away it’s what I need most – to relax.  In China, they use squat toilets.  I opt for the ‘western toilet’ if it’s there, which is what us U.S natives use.  The pee-squat thing is totally doable behind a bush on a drunken night.  But when you’re sober and in China, you just want to stick to what you know.  The squat toilet is, however, I guess, better for your health as far as hygiene and urine/bowel movement goes.  I’ve used it once, it weirded me out but it was an experience.  Since then, I’ve learned to always travel with tissues and wipes.  That’s a very important tip.  Take it.  When you’re a foreigner and need toilet paper, you’re going to have a hard time getting it.  Luckily, I had a tissue in my bag when I thought I was screwed.  A lot of places won’t provide TP.  There might be some sort of water supply to clean up, instead.  But again, a person with a first-time experience with the squat toilet wouldn’t really know this.  So, lesson learned.  No one told me.  You are welcome.  Dead wrong if you ever thought there’s one standard toilet for the entire world.

At the office you have to go outside to use the restrooms.  It’s like this balcony with the men’s and women’s bathroom.  And in between the two, there is a 3-sink basin.  No paper towels, I don’t know the reason why, so I either bring tissues from the stall and or I air-dry.  On a chilly day I use the tissue because it’s ice cold water and I don’t want to air-dry my cold hands with cold weather.  So, if you lean over the balcony and look to the left, you will see a mountain.  I don’t know the name of it, but it’s beautiful and I wish I was on the top of it every time I look at it.  Which is every day.  Sometimes it’s like it’s not even there because the fog completely masks it, but other days it’s super clear. A lot of times I just stand over it with my eyes shut and taking deep breaths.. it’s nice.  Our company’s workspace is on the 5th floor.  4th floor doesn’t exist because it’s an unlucky number.

Have I picked up the Chinese language?  No.  Simple words, yes.  Hi.  Bye.  Thank you.  Water.  Toilet.  You know, the basics that don’t need further explanation.  I’ll forget them during the flight back home, probably.  Google translate has pretty much saved my life for everything else.  I’m pretty damn surprised and impressed by their ability to speak English.  Some are better than others, but the effort is certainly there and it counts.  You can make it work with small words back and forth and sometimes hand gestures of what it is that you want.  It’s easier to cut your sentences down for them by eliminating words that aren’t totally necessary in the message you’re trying to get across.  You learn this as you go when you’re trying to communicate.

Chinese food here is not Chinese food that you would eat at home.  Don’t try it.  Don’t try to come here looking for a crab rangoon.  Will not happen.  You eat Polynesian food.  They eat Chinese.  Noodles and rice, you’re wondering?  Yup.  For breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And whatever else.

I’ve laughed so much on this trip.  I really have.  To a point where I can’t speak until it is fully out of my system for the moment, which can take a long time.  A positive attitude is important to keep and it’s key when you’re traveling.  It makes existing here easier.  It’s been helpful that I’m around funny people here, but most of the time I’ve been laughing at my own jokes.  Haha.

Housekeeping keeps breaking into my room.  She is avoiding all Do Not Disturb signs and going in there and cleaning.  I can tell when she has been in my room from down the hall because the sign is no longer lit up and the paper sign isn’t on my knob anymore.  A freshly made bed shouldn’t make me mad, and it doesn’t, it’s just the principal of privacy.  I like to clean my stuff up first and put things where I know they are before they enter in and rearrange everything.  I came home one day to my leather jacket hung up.  Which was in my suitcase.  The suitcase was open the way I left it because I thought they wouldn’t be in there that day.  That went up my ass a mile but I was kind of grateful she thought to hang it up.  It’s just been a love+hate battle, okay.  New management just took over while I’m staying there and it hasn’t happened since.  Word to Wolfgang.  That’s the new GM’s name and he’s making moves.  But I got used to the whole B&E thing that was going on and stopped putting the DND sign up so she can enter, like she normally would, and I can be at peace with it.

Hotel rooms get pretty boring when you’re in it alone.  I brought a book with me, haven’t read it.  Netflix is not supported in China yet.  I’ve watched a lot of their TV…I’ve seen Our Brand Is Crisis here four times.  I listen to music.  Sing like hell, not giving a damn.  Ever.  A lot of nights I’ve laid in bed watching my room fill with the colors and noises from the nightlife happening outside of my window.  Sometimes, I spend time just looking out of it sitting in the loveseat.  I observe with every sense I can and take notes for myself and for the purpose of a post like this.  I slept pretty shitty the first week or so.  I’ve completely adjusted to the time now which is going to be absolute hell when I return home.  I call 3PM and 6PM the lonely hours when I’m here because people are usually sleeping back home.  I make and receive calls pretty easily, thanks T-Mobile / China Mobile.  Every now and then when I make an outgoing call a female voice of a Chinese operator will start talking on the other line.  No idea what she’s saying, but I’m going to take a wild guess and assume she isn’t trying to process my call.  So I try again and try again until it goes through.  It literally wouldn’t stop happening one night that I yelled shut up because I got mad.  I’m impatient and maybe a little aggressive.  A lot of times lines cross and I hear weird, robotic shit (it’s really just the voice breaking up because of connection) while I’m on the phone and freeaksss me out.

I used to think the Chinese, that I encountered, weren’t welcoming.  But I’ve had a change of heart.  They smile as soon as they turn a corner and your face meets with theirs.

And sometimes a smile changes everything.

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