I guess that my first order of business should be to apologize to any of you who were using this blog to aid in your procrastination. I kept putting off this post, and if I let you down through my actions I am truly sorry. Basically, all you missed was my trip through China. It was awesome, if a little lonely.
My first stop was Beijing. In all honesty, this is an amazing city, just not one that actively caters towards tourists. I got to visit the Great Wall (the Ba Da Ling part, which is apparently considered to be the least authentic), the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, a traditional foot massage place, the Sky Temple, (I cannot remember the exact name off the top of my head, my apologies) and a place where they sold jade. I met lots of really interesting people on my two full day tours, but the hi- light had to be the racist Chinese woman who served as my tour guide for both days, including but not limited to a really awful caricature of hula dancing performed on the moving bus when she found out that one of the couples lived in Hawaii. My last day was spent wandering around lost within the railroad station. I was meant to depart that evening, but the building was huge and once you got up to the entrance gate, there was no down escalator, so I got stuck. I should point out that all the people in my hostel in Beijing were awesome, and there was even a really nice Korean guy around my age, which was funny in an odd way.
Honorable mention goes to the Chinese guide screaming in my face in broken English that I was not to go to the ATM near my hostel at night. Basically, she thought I should never go anywhere at night or alone. Of course, this is part of the reason that I basically hid in the room of my hostel and ate cashew nuts for my dinner on those two nights... Hahaha, the alone thing went over well for someone TRAVELING ALONE!!!!!!
Moving on to Shanghai, which was my favorite city out of the three places that I visited on my trip. It was a little nerve- wracking to be on the sleeper train because it did make stops, and those stops were not repeated in English. I lay awake most of the night, crippled with fear at the thought that I could miss my station and end up lost in some random part of China (did I mention that this was Lunar New Year and almost everything was closed?!). To make a boring story extremely short, I did not miss my stop (I had to fight hard against a Hamilton reference here...). Even better, there was a pretty random guy at the station (I was not wearing my glasses, might I add) who spoke a little bit of English and apparently spends long periods of his life waiting around in train stations to help poor, confused tourists find their lodgings for money. He drove me to my hostel for slightly less than a taxi would have cost, and all was well. I suppose that this is the part where I caution you, dear readers. I had read scary things about people stealing girls who traveled alone through China and trafficking them, thoughts along this train of thought were whizzing through my head as the man drove, but everything was fine and he was really nice.
I spent my first day in Shanghai speaking Spanish. This might seem a little bit odd, but I met up with a Venezuelan guy and his Colombian girlfriend (be careful, it is "Co-lOm-bi-a" if you pronounce it with the letter "u", Colombians become angry) along with a guy from Birmingham, England who was vacationing in China while living with his Spanish girlfriend who had stayed in Spain. We had an amazing time, going almost everywhere in the city on a tour bus (Big Red, it really is awesome, y'all should look into it for your next trip). We even went up a 57 (I think?) story building in 45 seconds, which was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Unfortunately, by this point my phone had died, and we parted that evening with the promise to meet in the morning and exchange contact information.
Not only had my phone died the day before, but the time it was broadcasting did not actually correspond to any known timezone. I missed my chance to hang out with my new friends, which was obviously heartbreaking.
I still made the best of my last day in the beautiful city. I ended up meeting up with some Brazilian guys studying engineering in China, and one of them was kind enough to spend the day with me. We walked around the city center talking and laughing, and he helped me get some strange fruit on a stick in hard clear candy. I joked that maybe it was a poison trap for the tourists, but then we saw a little Chinese girl eating the same thing, thus proving me wrong. I think it might have been fresh goji berries, but I have no way to say for sure.
Onward, to Guangzhou by sleeper train. This was slightly better, my Brazilian friend helped me get to the correct station, and there were the cutest little Chinese kids I have ever seen waiting with me. (The little girl was a little bit older than her brother, and their smiles legitimately lit up my world. I wanted to take them home with me, but they had attentive parents and kidnapping is frowned upon). In addition, this train had bilingual announcements, which was awesome. There was also Chinese guy who was working towards a scholarship in the US for his PHD, and his English was amazing so he helped me as well. Here is where the story gets interesting...
The taxi driver was incapable of finding my hostel in Guangzhou. Finally he dropped me off at some random hotel. I thought I was in the right place, but it soon became apparent that that was not the case. The nice man inside looked up the hostel address and pointed me in the right direction, telling me that I could walk to my destination, I thanked him and set off. After walking for a few minutes, I happened upon a bus depot and pointed to the address written in Chinese to make sure that I was going in the correct direction. They nodded and I kept walking, stopping to make sure I was going in the correct direction. All of them nodded at my questioning glances and pointed fingers in the general direction of "that way". I had walked as far as I could "that way" and could find nothing, so I asked someone else for help. Guess where they pointed!? In the opposite direction. I walked back all the way to the bus depot where there was a very sweet set of people who finally called the police because they had no way to help me. We drove all the way back the way I had walked before turning around, turned right, and there hidden in a building was the hostel.
To set the picture for you, the hallway was barely lit and one of the workers was serenely smoking a cigarette under the "No Smoking" sign when the police and I barged in. I say barged and mean meandered. After a long time of serious looks being exchanged and a little muttering, we all left. I had no idea why. Then I ended up exactly where I started in the nice hotel in the middle of nowhere. It turned out that this hostel was not allowed to have people from outside China stay there. Luckily for me, I had booked a hostel in a different part of Guangzhou for the next night. I was able to call them and arrange for an extra night.
This hostel was awesome, and I ended up going to an art and culture museum that day, since all my adventuring had taken place before 9 am that morning. Together we had the greasiest, worst noodles ever in the museum cafeteria before I went to have dinner and hang out with a friend I had not gotten to see in a while. I had squid ink pasta for the first time that night, before the two of us went to hang out with two of his other friends who were briefly home after studying abroad in Korea. we went to a bar and stayed out until past midnight. (You may not know that I turn into a pumpkin at 11:30 pm, but now you know and a lot of things about my adventuring probably make a lot more sense). We said goodnight with plans to meet the next day.
However, connection is constantly going in and out due to government involvement, and the two of us were unab[e to meet up for the duration of my stay in China. I ended up doing some low- key exploration of the area around the hostel as well as taking an entire day to try to find souvenirs. Along the way I found a Chinese Muslim restaurant where people cast me suspicious looks due to my Arabic greetings and got cool gifts for my friends.
The moral of this story is that Guangzhou is no fun unless you are sure that you will be able to spend time with someone who actually lives there, and that nothing restores faith in the police like driving around with them while seated next to your rolling duffle.
Lots of love,
Everyday Acts of Activism