Hello everyone!! I haven’t made any posts in a while because time has been going so fast….November is already over! I had one half written on my computer, but as I was writing, the power shut off for the third time that day, and so I gave up for the time being. Anyway, this time around I’ve made two posts. So this is my most recent post, the older one is under this one.
Last Monday I taught two of my third grade classes in the morning and then went to lunch. About half way through lunch there was an announcement and all the students started jumping up and down and screaming. I tried to ask them what it was all about, but they were too excited to talk slowly. It took me about an hour to find out what all the happiness was about: school had been canceled for 8 days due to some students potentially having swine flu. The week before there had already been about 3 quarantined classes, but they would eat first in the cafeteria, spreading their germs all over everything for the healthy kids to slurp up when they come eat afterward. As soon as I heard that we had a week off, I started thinking of places to go…
Anyway, by the time all the students had been sent home, I was ready to hop on the bus to Changsha to catch a train to Shenzhen, which borders on Hong Kong. My Mongolian friend (Byambaa) who I met in Beijing during the October holiday was down in Hong Kong with a friend of his (Gankhulug) from Ulaanbaatar. He was renewing his Chinese visa in Hong Kong, and said they would come meet me in Shenzhen when I got there. When I got to Changsha round 7pm I ran to the ticket office and bought the first train out of there, which would arrive in Shenzhen at 7 the next morning. It was a sleeper train, so I just slept the whole way, nothing too exciting.
The train was about an hour late coming into the station, and I was supposed to meet Byambaa around noon, so it was fine. I got out of the train and wandered around for a while, trying to figure out where exactly we were supposed to meet. My cell phone doesn’t work outside of Hunan, so I went to China Mobile to try to fix that, with no luck, so I bought a phone card and used the payphone to call and find out where I was supposed to be. I had a few hours to kill before I was going to meet them, so I went to find a bank, and ended up walking all around part of the downtown.
Around 1pm, Byambaa and Gankhulug arrived from Hong Kong and we met at a McDonald’s behind the giant ‘Shangri-La Hotel’ next to the train station. After that we went to find a place to stay, which isn’t to hard because there are high rises behind the Shangri-La Hotel that are full of independent hotels with about 15 rooms each, two hotels to a floor. They are all in competition with each other so they are pretty clean and cheap. We found a room with a few beds for about 120rmb a night, and put our stuff down and went to find some noodles for lunch.
People and had told me that Shenzhen was dangerous and dirty, but when I went there I found out it was clean and modern, with police around making sure nothing bad was going on. Actually later that evening when we were walking around, there were a group of police that came up to me and Byambaa and Gankhulug, asking them if they were Chinese, and where my passport was. Apparently we are supposed to carry our passport on us at all times. None of us had ours with us at the time, and the police were looking all menacing till I Chinesed our way out of the situation. Byambaa and Gankhulug speak a little Chinese, so I did most of the talking. I think the police were a little weirded out that the white girl was doing the talking, but it worked and they softened up and didn’t fine us for having no passports on us and we could barely remember the name of our hotel!
I was in Shenzhen from Tuesday until Thursday morning, and just spend it walking around a lot and eating food and sleeping. On Wednesday night we went to meet some of Byambaa’s Mongolian friends who live in Shenzhen (or HK, not sure..). We met them outside our hotel and I was scared of them at first because they seemed like some hardcore, big gruff Mongolian gangsters, but after hanging around with them for a bit, they turned out to be not that scary. We went down into a playground below the hotel and had some beers and chatted for a while. Well, I can’t speak Mongolian, so I did more listening than talking. The two gangster guys ended up not being so scary to me, mainly because they asked me with wide, eager eyes, what was my advice on how to get a foreign girlfriend. I said, be yourself, smile, learn some vital English words and don’t act scary.
The next morning Byambaa and Gankhulug had to go back to Hong Kong to arrange some business, so I decided to hang around the train station and decided where to go next. Eventually I decided I would go to Guangzhou which is right near-by. I could have taken the train, but I decided to take the bus so I could see more of the scenery at a slower pace and also to save some money. I caught the bus for 60RMB, passed tons and tons of banana farms and smoke stacks, finally arriving at Guangzhou’s train station bus terminal about two hours later. I had nowhere to stay, so I decided to go to Shamian island, where I had stayed during Em and Han’s adoption trips. I wasn’t going to stay at the White Swan hotel, obviously since it is 5 star, and way too fancy, but there is a small youth hostel right across the street that I heard had a few dorm beds for cheap. When I got there, they said they had plenty of beds to my relief, so I paid for two nights and went and put my stuff down. I was starving, so I went off the island to go see if I could find a noodle place, or the place where I had eaten with some friends in Guangzhou in 2006. The streets were all still the same looking, but they were all so twisty and turny and covered in grime and fish and medicine vendor’s, I got a little lost. Finally I just grabbed a taxi to get to the Shangxiajiu walking street to see what I could find. In a little alley I finally found a noodle place and devoured that, while being stared at and commented on by the staff. I quickly left there and went to find some jeans. (impossible to find ones that fit me in Liuyang). Since Guangzhou is a major wholesale clothing hub, and lots of clothing manufacturing plants are based in Guangdong province, everything is amazingly cheap. I found some jeans, and by then I was pretty tired from a day of traveling and walking, so I went back to the hostel.
I stopped by 7-11 and got a Pearl River Beer, which I went to drink it by the Pearl River, and had a conversation with an old man who was there promoting audio equipment for a company in Zhengzhou. I couldn’t really understand what the audio equipment was that he was talking about, some kind of box. He tried to get me to go back to where he was staying and take a look, but something told me I probably shouldn’t follow him into the dark streets. As soon as I finished my beer I went to walk back to the hostel and outside the 7-11 there were some foreigners and Chinese sitting around a table. One of them called out for me to come sit down and have a beer with them, so I figured I would since it was still a little early to go to sleep. I ended up talking with them for a while, found out the foreigners were Polish wholesalers who came and stayed in Guangzhou going to the big markets to find products to bring back to Poland. One was a clothing and shoe buyer and one was a jewelry and stone buyer. The other guy I’m not really sure what he did, just that he lives in Guangzhou and Beijing. One of the Chinese there was named ‘Tony Macaroni’ and works for a shipment company, and he often helps the Polish guys ship their stuff back to Poland. The other Chinese guy was hanging around to learn English, but I don’t know how good that was for him because they were all speaking Polish mostly, or English with an extremely strong accent.
The next day I went to the train station to buy a train ticket for Saturday morning to go back to Changsha, and hung around the train station for a while and went to check out the wholesale markets. They were jam packed with big buyers, and people just shopping for single items. There were hundreds and hundreds of tiny booths, some selling a lot of the exact same things. It was pretty overwhelming, but cool to see where a lot of the things in western stores come from, and how cheap they are here in comparison to the west!
After that I had heard there was a park down the street, so I walked for a while to go check it out. It was a nice park with lakes, koi fish and flowers and bamboo everywhere, and it was refreshing to be able to walk around somewhere nice and green in warm weather. When I got to the opposite gate of the park, I looked across the street and saw a huge crowd of Chinese Muslims and tons of vendors and steam rising from the booths all the way up a long street. I went to go walk around there, and had some really good kebab and sweet potato dumplings. I almost bought what I thought was a nice wall hanging, but then I realized it was a prayer mat, not a wall hanging. A super-white, bare-headed, blue-eyed girl in a low-cut shirt buying a prayer mat might not have been such a good idea.
After that I rode the subway back to Shamian island and took a short nap and went on the computer. The night before the Polish people had invited me to go to the fish market with them for dinner around 7pm that day, so I met them out front of the hostel to go get some food. We went to the fish market, which was a giant wet place with zillions of small booths full of every kind of sea-food you can imagine, as well as some sliced-up crocodiles and giant clams. The guy named Artur had done this many times before, so he bargained and got about four bags of live fish and prawns and shellfish. We took the bags into this tall building full of restaurants in the market where you can bring your freshly bought food and have them cook it for you. There was a wedding on the first floor so they brought us to the roof to sit at a table and eat.
The food was amazingly good and I had crab for the first time and all sorts of other strange dishes, and the biggest shrimp I’ve ever eaten. I was pretty full after that, and lucked out because the guy Artur said he would treat us all to the dinner. Free, amazing tasty food! Nothing beats that….
After that the old pot-bellied Polish guy went to get a giant bottle of vodka which they went outside of 7-11 to drink again, so I joined them, but stuck with beer since vodka is a little to strong for me…
In the hostel I met some more people in my dorm room at the hostel from France and Belgium, who I invited outside to the 7-11 table, and then after that we all decided to go to a ‘Chinese-Disco’. I had found one on the internet that I wanted to go look at, but it turned out to be very small and empty, so the big pot-bellied man said ‘Za big disco, we go!’, so we went. It turned out to be enormous and completely full of people from the middle east, Pakistan, India, and all over Africa. There were almost no Chinese in the entire crowd, and all the music was Arabic music, and everyone doing that shoulder shaking dance. There were belly dancers that came out and danced around as well. It was actually really fun, and the whole group of us left the place around 5am.
I guess I had been awfully tired when I got back to the hostel, because when I woke up the next morning and I saw my clock, it said 11am. My train had left two hours before! I jumped out of bed and grabbed my bags, and woke up Thomas, the Belgian guy across the room, who also had to go to the train station, and ran to catch a cab to the train station to see if I could catch the next train. When I got there, I could only get a ticket for 14h35pm, and I was not able to get a refund on my previous ticket. 116RMB down the drain!! Needless to say…next time I have to catch a train and I plan on going out at night, I will set my alarm before I leave…..
When I finally got back to Changsha, I went to Freedom House because my friend Gaofeng had told me there was some good music playing that night, and there was a cheap hotel across the street. I got in at 11pm and went over there. The place was empty, but the music was good and there is a girl named Little 7 who made us some hot milk tea, and some guys who were having a drawing jam, or basically taking turns drawing on the same piece of paper, adding a little each time and then trading off. I added a little too, and in the end it was a really neat drawing!
The next day I just went to eat lunch, then hopped on the bus home. I was exhausted by the time I got back and went to sleep really early.
School won’t open for classes until Wednesday, so I have one more day to relax and plan lessons. An unexpected vacation is a great thing!!! I am totally refreshed and ready to teach like crazy until Spring Festival in February!!