Arrghghhhhh

Can’t upload pictures right now. Content forthcoming…but indefinitely delayed. Hopefully I can get the Great Wall pics up tonight. I just had half of them uploaded when all of a sudden “Oops! Google Chrome can’t connect.” Roar! Anger.

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Coulda Shoulda Woulda (or is it Coulda Woulda Shoulda?)

Crisis. That’s the best way to describe the end of ths trip. But it started out wonderfully! Let’s start at the top of this downward trajectory…

Last Sunday I set out for Beijing from Qingdao. I couchsurfed for the night (for the first time!) with an English guy who was living in a traditional Chinese hutong. It was actually awesome – he wasn’t creepy and didn’t have any weird collections of like, doll heads that he wanted to show me before we went to sleep or anything (hey, you never know – I’ve watched a lot of movies). He also taught me a bit about Africa, where he lived for a year doing amazing things that made me reconsider everything I’ve supposedly accomplished in life,  so now I want to visit Malawi – and not just because I might run into Madonna adopting a village.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much time to get to know each other because I arrived late at night and set out early in the morning, headed for the Great Wall. I’d been under the impression that one needed to rent a car to drive out to the wall, because I am patently awful at planning for things (more on this later!) It turns out that when one picks up what is commonly known as a “guide book,” they will inform you that there are bus routes to the Wall, and other ways as well if you need ’em. Another thing this magical book taught me is that the wall is actually quite broken up and there are five main pieces that tourists visit. Of these, I chose Mutianyu, the second-most touristy after Badaling. The weather was phenomenal and I had a great time, but I’m going to go into detail about the visit later when I can upload pictures.

After the Wall I rode back to civilization with a nice woman I’d met on the bus ride over. We got to talking and it turned out she was so nice that she took me out to a Beijing duck dinner because she could expense it for work! And here I thought this would be my “roughing it” trip – turned out the Universe wouldn’t let me!

Or would it? Dun-dun-dun…

After dinner I hightailed it to the train station, thinking that there was an overnight train to Xi’an that left at 8pm. I got to the station at 7:50 and hopped in line. Stress. I didn’t know what to expect. I could read the signs on the walls well enough to see that there were trains that took off for Xi’an, but didn’t know when or if they were sold out. It looked like they were sold out. Where was I going to go? I was flying by the seat of my pants and had no idea where else to visit. I asked some 11-year-old in front of me what one of the other cities was and if it was up North. Tianjin, that could be a backup city, right? What’s there? I don’t know. Ugh. But then I made it to the front of the line and got my overnight ticket to Xi’an without a hitch. The train didn’t leave ’til 9:30pm. I had about an hour. Sigh of relief.

(Sleeping on a train, by the way, is…notso hotso)

My first stop in Xi’an was back to the train ticket counter to see if I could get another overnight train, this time to Chengdu. I didn’t and still don’t really know where Xi’an (or Chengdu for that matter) is. I didn’t look at a map of China until I left Xi’an the next day. Anyway, I didn’t even know if there was a train from Xi’an to Chengdu, but there was and I got my ticket. Awesome! But then I didn’t know what to do. I made it to an internet cafe and misread the yhachina.com page so I thought there were no hostels in Xi’an (logic should have informed me at this time that such a large city that saw so many travelers was bound to have hostels and it would be ludicrous for them not to, but logic isn’t my strong suit – more on that later!)

I decided, as is often the ill-informed case with me, to start off walking around the city without any idea of where I was going, looking for things that I might recognize as noted landmarks. An hour later I was in an international hotel asking for directions to those landmarks and for them to please be highlighted on an English-language map. Sigh…

While later driving in a taxi to one of said “noted landmarks,” I luckily happened upon Xiangzimen hostel, where I found a room for the night that cost significantly less and was significantly more awesome than the business hotel in which I thought I might have to bunk up. The next night I set off for Chengdu…

(The people I bunked with on the train ride to Chengdu…oh my God, children. Appaqrently none of them, though all looked well into their thirties, could figure out how to entertain themselves quietly. The one guy next to me was picking at his feet, picking his nose (then looking at it!), singing to himself, putting his feet up on my bed, playing video games on his phone…it’s called a book, genius. Oh and the woman brought in with her a giant metal bucket, the bottom of which was filled with eggs. Ok.)

When I got to Chengdu I’d already booked a hostel, but had no idea really what to do in the city. It was raining and I got in later than expected, so I worked my way over to Tianfu Square and People’s Park to while away the hours of the rest of the day. The rain continured into the next morning so I scrapped my plans to visit Leshan and instead saw the pandas (panda wrestling video! upload coming soon!) (oh wait I live in China, no Youtube. Upload coming within a week or so!)

On Sunday I made the fateful error of deciding to head out to Jiuzhaigou national park. Jiuzhaigou is 12 hours outside of Chengdu by bus. The bus only leaves in the morning, not at night. The only other way to get to the park is by plane. Chengdu is 30 hours or so away from Qingdao, where I needed to be before 3:30pm Wednesday. I guess there was a small voice in the back of my head saying, “Well, just buy the plane ticket back from Jiuzhaigou, how much could it be?” Even as I asked the woman at the front desk of the hostel to call and book a flight for me that voice was calmly saying, “Oh, maybe I can get them both for under 500RMB. That’d be reasonable.”

WHaT?? I want that voice to die. Plane tickets, as I know from buying them, are not cheap. Two tickets, one from Jiuzhaigou to Chengdu and one from Chengdu to Qingdao, would have cost over 500USD. Idiot. I had an immense panic attack and slowly realized that I really didn’t have time to go to Jiuzhaigou. I never did – I should have been planning to get out of Chengdu by train, make my way up to a northern city for a day or two and then land in Qingdao. But no. I had to buy the flight from Chengdu to Qingdao because I couldn’t book the thirty hour train ride from a middle-of-nowhere park, and then wake up at 5:30am the next morning, mere hours after I’d gotten to the damn park (with maybe a half hour of sunlight left in the day) and buy myself a ticket back out to Chengdu. I spent two entire days of my vacation on a bus. KILL ME. The flight leaves tonight at 7:30pm – I might have been able to stay in Jiuzhaigou the one day and then head back super early this morning, but I would’ve only had maybe two hours to get to the airport and I thought, if anything holds up the bus…sigh. The stress of possibly missing the flight would just be tooo much stress, so today I’m in Chengdu. No Jiuzhaigou for me. Except from the bus.

So this post was mostly about travel, but once I’m home tonight I’m sure I’ll start uploading photos and details about what I did. In less than two days I’ll be in Shanghai and in less than a week I’ll be in Italy – I can’t believe it! And luckily, those trips are a little better fleshed out than this one so their course won’t so markedly paralell Kirstie Alley’s career.

P.S. Proofreading this makes this trip sound like such a mess. Hahaha, oops…remember that if we’re ever traveling together and you don’t want to get lost and possibly die or go insane!

Crowded

I spent five hours standing in line today to see the Leshan "Grand Buddha," and about twenty minutes looking at it before my stomach made me hunt down sustenance. I honestly think that the amount of time I’ve spent traveling to places in Chengdu is equal to the amount of time I’ve spent actually visiting them. Tomorrow I spend 12 hours on a bus to get to Jiuzhaigou national park. It had better be transcendental.

Foiled

I woke up this morning to the pitter-patter of rain at my window, a gentle noise with a clear message: good luck climbing up the largest stone buddha in the world while it’s wet – love, Nature. I asked the guy at the front desk what he suggested I do and switched gears to head to the panda preserve. If it’s raining tomorrow, I…don’t even wanna talk about it.

PS: I know, pictures! But I don’t have my computer with me, I’m just in my hostel using their PC’s (!!! a PC? argh) to check my e-mails and such. Next week! Pictures! Promise!

The PRC is 61 and I’m Celebratin’ Down South

So now I’m in Sichuan province at a hostel in Chengdu, China. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the National Holiday here, when China celebrates its rebirth as the PRC and over 200 million people flood the mass transit systems. I’m hoping I’ll catch the Leshan giant Buddha tomorrow morning – I remember I saw it on TV, that which validates all things, from Snuggies to Jessica Simpson, so it must be worth my while. Also on the agenda: pandas!

La Mala Educación

I walked into my second to last TOEFL class yesterday trying to figure out how I would divide up the three hours with my student. She’d mentioned she wanted to do some SAT practice, but I figured I could convince her that watching “Clueless” online was close enough.

Then I found that I had a new student. “Is he here to watch the class? For an hour? To see if he’d like to take TOEFL classes here later?” I asked expectantly. No, said the foreign affairs girl, he was joining the class.

But there are only two more classes. This class is ending.

Yes, I know, she said.

I asked the the student, “do you know this class is basically over?” We’ve been meeting for many months now, there’s only one other student, and the class is over. They have other classes you know.

He explained that he knew. I asked him if his mother was aware. He said his mother had a “simply idea” of what the class was. I said, “no kidding.”

The other student joined us a few minutes later. We talked for the first hour and then watched documentaries about China for the last two hours. I don’t know if the kid got his money’s worth – he said he’d been taking a TOEFL class at another school where the students didn’t get to practice speaking because the teachers were all Chinese – but I’ve honestly stopped caring about the idea of “money’s worth” in China, for reasons to which I’ll have to devote a separate post.

I don’t really know what’s worse, that my school would take advantage of a student who is ignorant enough to sign up for the last two classes of a course that’s been running for three months already, or that there is a student ignorant enough to sign up for the last two classes of a course that’s been running for three months already. Maybe I shouldn’t say ignorance – naiveté would be the appropriate word here.

Also, when I asked him what his name was, he said “Jobbert.” “Jobbert?” I asked, surprised that he could mispronounce “Robert” to such an extent. “How do you spell that?”

“J-I-L-B-E-R-T.”

Pause.

“You mean, G-I-L-B-E-R-T?” I replied. “Your name is Gilbert, not Jobbert.” He nodded. Oh, lord. Just be Bob.

Zane & Edward

I took these a few weeks ago, but I wanted to post them anyway because I think they’re hilarious. Expect a lot of “yearbook” posts as I finish up teaching!