My legs, in different countries – Songshan

3.  Songshan, China

my-legs-songshan-china

China is such a huge country, so naturally there’s more than one leg/legs picture I’d taken within its vastness.

Looking back on this particular photo marks an important moment to me – I’d originally traveled with a friend from home and our friendship had been fraying for a while, since before we left actually.

It is a shame and in some ways I do miss him, but I remember thinking at this moment I was ready to travel alone.

We had an argument about Songshan and how to get to it, we were stone cold silent in the cable cars up and didn’t speak a word to each other.  In the heat, which was still so intense, I perched on this spot to relax and hydrate.

He was behind me with Chinese tourist vendors, trying to sell him the ‘iconic’ karate swords (as Songshan is also home to the famous Shaolin Temple.)

The vendors had taken pictures of him holding the swords in a mortal kombat-type pose, a photo I wouldn’t see until he deleted me on facebook and that was left as his profile picture.

Looking around the mountains, their peacefulness was soothing and refreshing, particularly compared to the hustle and bustle in Shanghai.  I wouldn’t have another moment like this until the next picture was taken, and when I had separated from my now former travel buddy.

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My legs, in different countries – Shanghai

2.  Shanghai, China

shanghai

Taken on my first full day in the most populated city in the world, Shanghai.  I travelled on the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai the previous afternoon – cutting 819 miles (1,318 km) into just under 5 hours.

Both boarding and alighting felt as security tight and precise as an airport, unlike the slower trains I was to take around China after this.

Finally arriving at the hostel – aka bed – I woke up to my first full day exceeding 40 degrees and the most intense heat I’ve ever experienced.  So hot, the marble blocks around this area burned my skin when sitting on them (I was wearing shorts!) before being shortly ushered off and away from them by security officers, who seemingly came out of nowhere.  Sitting upon the extended wooden arms of these marble blocks were allowed though.  But still burnt.

My travel buddy I was with at the time and I went to meet a German friend, we had met at our hostel back in Beijing.

Walking around Shanghai in this heat was exhausting, the air was thick and I felt slimy with sweat (not my most attractive sentence.)

We walked down Nanjing Road, before settling down around this spot on The Bund, heat weary, just staring over at Pudong for an hour or two.

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China Short Stories #4

Nancy

From all my wild and weird stories from visiting the People’s Republic of China I’ve decided to compile some of the most memorable into a list of short stories. If you want to read all of them, with my other tales from China, please click on the category ‘China Short Stories’ to the right of this page. These are not posted in chronological order.

A fond memory I have of China is when I met Nancy.  Pictured above, when we were having dinner in Lijiang, which was also the same day we met.

The night train arrived in Lijiang morning time and the weather was bright, sunny with a light breeze, highly welcomed from me who experienced the most intense heat since being in China and it was a far cry from the wet and miserable time I had in Kunming.

I walked towards the exit after coming off the station platform and noticed a young and pretty Chinese girl running to walk alongside me.  Not out of the ordinary, as I’ve said before.  “Hello, where are you from?”  Again, the usual conversation starter any English-speaking Chinese person with an intrigue to talk to a European-looking tourist would ask.

I answered and – “Oooh England.  I would like to visit England, one day.  I learnt English at school, what is your name?”

“Emma,”  I said, “What’s yours?”

“Nancy.”  As she spoke she blushed, looking down with a shy smile, which also made me smile.  She said her English wasn’t perfect and apologised for this, which was maybe why she was blushing, but I told her it was perfect and I understood every word she said.

Nancy told me she was in Lijiang to travel and see Lugu Lake, I told her I was here to trek to and see Tiger Leaping Gorge (which deserves its own story in this series.) And when I explained I was alone, traveling, in China, Nancy almost gasped at me in delight and amazement.

“Oh I am too, but my parents do not know, I told them I was going with a friend, but really I wanted to experience traveling alone.”  She blushed again.

She was really cute and dressed in a long, flowy skirt, a pale yellow cardigan which was buttoned up and almost reminded me of some of the styles back home.  She helped me get the right bus, which was the same as hers before I had to change to catch a different one.  When we parted ways she asked for my number to possibly meet up in Lijiang whilst we were here.

My hostel was tucked away from the main square and touristic streets of Old Town and had no other guests around when I arrived.  Quiet and a bit bored, I felt at lost what to do with myself as I was still trying to adapt to solo-traveling, I decided to walk around Old Town and take some photos.

Lijiang

A few hours passed and whilst I was walking back to my hostel I received a txt from Nancy.  She was walking around Old Town and we agreed to meet up.  She told me she was by the Water Wheels in a white skirt and pink top.  When I spotted her she was wearing that similar long, flowy skirt again with a buttoned up cardigan.

We walked around Lijiang together, chatting and eventually sat down for dinner in a scenic riverside restaurant (first picture above.)  We ordered a few dishes and shared, as is the custom in China.

She explained her parents believe a girl traveling alone in China is dangerous, hence the lie she told them about coming here with a friend.  Her father, in particular, does not want her travel alone or at all outside of China.

When I told Nancy my plans of what countries to visit after China I felt she was in awe of me and she told me she would love to do the same, one day.  I said I was meeting a guy I was dating back home in Vietnam to which her eyes lit up, I showed her pictures of him and she then told me she once met an English boy whilst visiting the Forbidden City, in Beijing.

From then on she had a “shot of love” with him, as she described and they wrote each other letters with he actually travelled to visit her in her home province.  This sounded a while ago, however.  “English men are so handsome.”  She blushed again.

After dinner she said she’d like to stay with me at my hostel, in my dorm.  Feeling charmed by her gentle friendliness I said it would be a lovely idea so we walked back together, through now a very busy Lijiang, trying to weave in and out of the crowds in the narrow streets.

It took twice as long to get back and when we arrived Nancy discovered there were some boys staying in the same dorm as me, which I could see she didn’t like and to which she said she’d go back to her own hostel, because she wasn’t comfortable with that.  A little disappointed but understanding, I told her that’s fine and I’d walk her back to the Water Wheels.

The crowds didn’t get any quieter and when walking through them I was mostly leading the way.  It was dark now and this is when Nancy grabbed my hand to hold, again I felt her real innocence and so I held her hand all the way through before we said goodbye, back at the Water Wheels.

Lijiang 2

The next time I heard from Nancy was a few days later and on the night I was heading back to Kunming.  We realised she would also be heading back that night too and our trains were actually half an hour apart so we could hang out again, which we did.  Nancy showed me pictures of the stunning Lugu Lake and I showed her my pictures of Tiger Leaping Gorge.  She then took a few photos of us both and uploaded them on what looked like a Chinese Instagram, which I would love to see now.

We still messaged each other occasionally throughout my trip and when I was in Australia I found out she was getting married soon to an ex-boyfriend, who proposed to her in a Church filled with candles.  She told me he too likes to travel so may ask for my advice on where to go in the future.

And even now since I’ve come home we still email each other now and again and I hope one day when Nancy visits Britain I’ll be able to see her again.


China Short Stories #3

350px-Kunming_Golden_Horse_Memorial_Archway

From all my wild and weird stories from visiting the People’s Republic of China I’ve decided to compile some of the most memorable into a list of short stories. If you want to read all of them, with my other tales from China, please click on the category ‘China Short Stories’ to the right of this page. These are not posted in chronological order.

I spent a lot of time in Kunming when I was China, not particularly out of choice, but more to use the city, known as the City of Eternal Spring, as a base.  First of all, as I’ve mentioned in another post (My first day in Vietnam) I needed my Vietnam visa, which was obtained at the Kunming consulate and also because to travel to Lijiang (Expats in Sleeping Lijiang) by train is only possible from Kunming.

The ‘waiting’ days between collecting my visa and returning from Lijiang were bloody boring – to be to the point.  Kunming has little to offer for a single female traveller, for the city supposed to be the eternal spring it rained a lot and had nothing to do or see. I found my only option (other than my much-anticipated visit to Lufeng Dinosaur Valley) was to visit the Stone Forest, which was expensive to do on my budget, so I left it.  However, despite my time here being one long wait to leave, Kunming was not without its weird experiences with some of the locals…

I stayed, always, at the Hump Hostel when I was here, which had its own set of characters, but one in particularly was a middle-aged Chinese man I noticed reading a lot in the seating area.  He mostly read newspapers but whenever I passed him he would look up and smile, a friendly smile, not often accustomed to your typical Chinese man.  How English, I remember thinking.  Whilst brushing my teeth in the communal sinks he spoke to me a day or so later, in perfect English and explained he indeed teaches English in Kunming and at first sight of me believed I was English (not hard to spot) and wanted to introduce himself.

Unfortunately I cannot remember his name but only recall what happened when he moved rooms into my dorm thereafter.  I was sitting on my bed, a bottom bunk, my back against the wall and my legs in a straight line in front of me, with my feet just at the edge of the bed (I’m quite small.)  He walked slowly over to me and stood opposite me and started a conversation, just like before, very polite and even with a natural English accent.  He talked about teaching English and that I should consider this too because in China this job is paid well. After he discovered I was in Kunming waiting for a visa for Vietnam he proceeded to give me tips and advice for when I was there, as he has made this journey a number of times. For example what taxi firms to trust when I arrive in Vietnam, what a reasonable price would be and how to barter with the driver.

He soon learned I was planning to travel onto Cambodia, Laos and Thailand after Vietnam, where I “simply must get a massage” whilst I’m in Thailand, as they’re so cheap but incredibly relaxing.  “I always get one when I’m there,” he said “but mostly, I go for the sex.

The sentence for me dropped like a bomb.  But to him, it was as if it was a normal thing to say like ‘oh yes make sure you try the fish and chips when you’re at the seaside…‘  He didn’t stop there either, he continued to tell me the Thai women are beautiful and know what they’re doing.  “But for you,” he concluded finally, “do try a massage.

During an inevitable awkward pause he began to smile at me, sweetly, as if he were my grandpa and I his granddaughter, and rubbing his hands.  “Can I touch your feet?”  He then said.

WHAT?!  I thought in my head and before I had a chance to answer he knelt down and touched them anyway, rubbing them.  “You have lovely little feet.”  I was in complete shock, unable to speak. He giggled – yes, giggled!  As if he was now the naughty little child.  “Can I touch them again?

And again he rubbed my feet without waiting for an answer and I, still stunned, probably had a look of worry on my face which I tried to express through a construed smile.

There, now you will remember me, I hope you enjoy Vietnam.”

And with that he strolled away, probably to read his paper and I, forcing myself into the habit of wearing socks and sitting cross legged from then on, collected my Vietnam visa a day later, looked out for this man when I was leaving the hostel. Feeling relieved I couldn’t see him, I left without saying goodbye.


China Short Stories #2

Zhengzhou_Railway_Square_2006

From all my wild and weird stories from visiting the People’s Republic of China I’ve decided to compile some of the most memorable into a list of short stories. If you want to read all of them, with my other tales from China, please click on the category ‘China Short Stories’ to the right of this page. These are not posted in chronological order.

…continued from China Short Stories #1

We arrived at Zhèngzhōu train station past 10pm, exhausted.  Unlike the luxury of China’s high speed ‘bullet’ trains, the more affordable option is a big kick down in terms of comfort.  Every seat is taken and people without seating tickets stand or sit in whatever room there is left in the carriage, blocking walkways, corridors and sometimes toilets.  This is China, after all.

The trains are much slower too, of course.  This journey alone took approximately 9 hours.

Walking around the train station there were no obvious signs to where this guesthouse was, which was supposed to be located in the train station itself.  And the train station itself?   Lacking so sorely in the wiped-clean-feel the other train stations in Beijing, Shanghai and even Nanjing had, I felt we had taken a step into the real China now, behind the curtain of the tourist friendly China and it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned at all.  There was a set of stairs we found in one corner of the station so we decided to follow them up in search of the guesthouse.  A shadowy internet cafe was on the first floor, painted dark red with a man who stared at me blankly when I asked about the guesthouse, whilst pointing towards the Chinese translation.  The stairs to the floor above was guarded by a heavy metal door, this was unlocked so again we went on through and up.

We came to what looked like a shabby reception, a white with grey speckled lino floor, like one you’d find in an old English clinic perhaps, with two lumpy pea green sofas and a wooden reception desk with no-one working.  But wait, as we edged closer to the desk it revealed the sight of a man’s head who was sleeping on the floor behind the desk, cradling a young Chinese boy, who was also asleep.

We knocked on the desk and called to him ‘excuse me, excuse me!’ until he eventually woke up and when he did he did not speak a word of English.  The reservation made back in Nanjing, an attempt so obviously made in vain, fell so flat I almost heard it slap across my travel companion’s face.  When all communication hit language barriers with the receptionist he pulled out a list of Chinese symbols with prices alongside them.  We pointed to one of the cheapest, hoping it was a twin room, which luckily it was when we were led to a room opposite one of the lumpy green sofas.

The room was filthy, with non-matching bed sheets that could have been taken out from a stereotypical hippie squat and a light which dulled the room, which must have been dirty too.  We put our bags down and said our thank you’s (in Chinese) to have the guy from reception linger in our room, longer than what was normal,  just staring at us until my travel companion reached for the door to signal it’s closure, so he left.

I went back out to reception to see if there was any wi-fi and tried asking the same guy, but with no bridge of understanding between our two greatly diverse languages it failed, so he then began to make signals with his hands towards me, appearing to be asking for my picture.  I pretended I didn’t understand and went back to my room.  Mildly freaked out, I sat on my bed, on dirty sheets.  My travel companion left the room to use the shared showers, located in front of the other lumpy green sofa.  He came back in after a few minutes, having not showered with a hint of panic in his eyes.  “Are you okay?”  I asked.

“That guy just signalled to have sex with me.  I’m not joking.”

“What?!”

“Seriously.”

“…Well, what did he do?”

“He kept pointing to me and then our room and signalling sex with his hands, you know when you put your finger through a hole made out of your other hand, like this.  [Did hand signal]  I just said I didn’t understand and walked back in here, a shower can wait.”  He slumped back down on his bed, also dirty.

Silence for a few seconds, until, I thought; “maybe he wasn’t asking to have sex with you but was trying to ask if we were boyfriend and girlfriend?”

“No, it definitely didn’t feel like that.”

Another few seconds passed, “maybe he was trying to ask if you were having sex with me?  He did ask for my picture just now.”

“…hmm…  Maybe then, but it really felt like he was asking me.  It felt wrong.”

I didn’t want to bring down his confidence, maybe somewhere in his mind he may have liked the fact a Chinese man propositioned him for sex, you never know, but I didn’t think it was likely.

(I got plenty of stares from Chinese men whilst in China, I was like the holy grail in their eyes, made of blonde European paleness and at some point in the not-so-distant future I had a different Chinese man use that same sex hand signal towards me on another cramped train.  He only spoke Chinese when he was making this signal, which of course I didn’t understand, but another Chinese man who could speak both English and Chinese told me he was trying to tell me I was sexy.  Looking back on this moment in Zhèngzhōu now, I would guess the man was just trying to say “your wife is very sexy” and not “do you want to have sex with me?“)

After half an hour passed we turned out the light but the room was punctuated with our feelings of being uncomfortable and a little bit scared.  Despite our long and tiring train journey, neither of us felt safe or snug enough to have the ability to drift into sleep.

Then, a few light footsteps out in the hall came and stopped outside our door, the door knob started turning, our door knob, trying to be opened.  The visitor, whoever it was, realised the door to the room we were in, was locked, gave up and lightly walked away again.

“I can’t stay here.”  I said.  This was my breaking point.

In a storm of hurry, we packed and gathered our things whilst simultaneously trying to be as quiet as possible, then creeped out of the room, back into the artificially-lit reception and past past the lumpy green sofas, where the reception guy was at the desk smiling to us as we passed him, looking down at the floor we continued on away from him, and scurried down both flights of stairs and left the train station.

Walking out into the stillness of the dark streets, a Chinese lady pounced on us from out of the darkness, shoving a hotel’s business card in our hands, repeating ‘hotel, hotel‘ and other Chinese words at us, again and again but we didn’t stop walking and as we carried on she followed us, until we walked inside a business hotel, paid for another twin room and tried to catch our breath in the elevator.

The next day Zhèngzhōu was in full force of people, buses, cars, taxis and any other living or mechanical thing was moving in, out and around each other.  It was like an ant farm.  A typical Chinese city day.  “Right, we’re going to Luòyáng.”  I decided and tried to take control in the chaos of the train station we had only fled last night.  I tried to buy a train ticket to Luòyáng, but the female ticket officer shouted at me in Chinese and gave me a ticket for Xi’an.  I rejoined the queue to get shouted at again before giving up and trying the bus station.

We had better luck at the here, buying our tickets from a girl who spoke English and our bus ready to leave in a few minutes.  The journey was an easy 2 hours compared to the train journey and events from last night.  I sat still, zoned out and let the bus take me to Luòyáng, not speaking a word.