Sunday, October 24, 2010


I am in China. I can't access blogger or facebook because the government doesn't allow it. It's very strange because it's not like I need to watch my back or anything. People are people, they have lots of KFC's and Starbucks and McDonald's soft creams (for like 35 cents!) and I can go pretty much where I want when I want. But if you're reading this before Nov 3 it means my girlfriend posted it from LA after I sent her the raw text.

Also my internet has sucked in China. In Japan we usually had high-speed internet. This was crucial because I quickly found that my memory cards for my camera were nowhere near as big as what I needed - I haven't been on a truly long trip since I got my HD shooter. I had two 8 GB cards and I bought a 16 GB for the trip... and I blasted through them in a few days. So I signed up for a flickr account and have been uploading everything there. But I can't do that here because my connections have been so slow. It is becoming a big problem.

This is also why I haven't posted other videos. I have a good 4-5 more Japan ones to create but all the video is on flickr and not on my hard drive. I need a high speed connection to batch download them. I think they will have to wait until Hong Kong.

Japan feels as far away as LA did when I was in Japan.

Everyone pushes to get on trains without letting people get off first. Traffic follows evolution - the bigger you are the more right-of-way you have. Green pedestrian walk signs mean virtually nothing if anything larger than a unicycle is coming your way. When pointing at menus what you 'hope' something looks like is never what it is. I am 90% sure I ate rat my first night (it tasted ok but seeing a small spinal column gave me pause). Beer is laughably cheap, and Budweiser is laughably premium. I have eaten street food several times and have not gotten sick yet. (Watch what happens after writing that...). Bus and subway drivers slam on both the accelerator and the brake for no reason I can think of - people constantly fell into me on the Shanghai metro. I saw a toddler pee on the floor of a train station and the mother laughed. Then a cleaning lady came by and swept it up. And I haven't seen a taco truck anywhere.

But. The Shanghai skyline is one of the most impressive I've ever seen. When I smile at people I get genuine smiles back, even though I really only use two words of Chinese. Well three. I know a few more words but no one ever understands them except for 'pijiu'. Which of course means 'beer'. I'm seeing less and less English the farther from Shanghai I go but the more difficult it gets the more rewarding everything is. I am not that far at the moment - I'm only in HangZhou, but tomorrow I have to catch a bus to a main station and then another bus to Tunxi, near HuangShan mountain. I am not sure how I am going to find the station from the first bus, and once at the station I don't know how I will find the bus to Tunxi. But I'm willing to bet I'll get there. And on Tuesday I will climb the mountain. And I might do it again Wednesday, or I might move on to the deep South.

Quick story. My current hostel gave me directions to it for my arrival. I was taking a taxi from the train station, which they told me should cost 11-13 yuan, but when I got in I couldn't find any taxis. I was starting to get frustrated. I finally found one, but when I told him my destination (Gulou) he just shook his head and said something while making a hand gesture. Another guy stepped in and said the same thing. Then another guy. A small crowd of taxi drivers was forming. At first I just thought the first driver was off duty. I had no idea what they were telling me. I repeated the word they kept saying, and they nodded. I didn't have a clue what it meant. I kept saying "Gulou" to no effect. I tried deciphering the hand gestures they kept making. A map? No. Writing maybe? They wanted to see it in writing?

Luckily I had written the characters for Gulou in my notebook. "Ok, just hang on a moment there boys!" I said. I pulled out my notebook and they nodded. They understood the character. "Gulou!" they said. Yes, I had said that 10 times already! One guy said "one hundred", then typed it in his phone and showed it to me. Highway robbery! I laughed and shook my head and gave him my "what do you think I am, an idiot?" look.

Another stepped in and typed "40". I laughed at him too. He put the phone in my hand so I typed "12". His eyes got wide and he looked at me half like "you are killing me!" and half like "oh you are not stupid!" He typed in 25. I gave him the same look. 20. I made the universal hand sign for "a little bit lower". I made the number '15' with my hands.

He nodded with approval, smiling and laughing like I just took him for a ride. Then he mimed someone riding a scooter...

And that's what he had. A tiny scooter. It was raining and I had my large backpack on. I immediately thought of D-1 (only a few people will get that reference). I wanted a regular cab... with a roof... but had gone through too much already. Plus I figured it would be worth the story.

I couldn't stop smiling as to wove in and out of traffic in the rain on that tiny lawnmower of a vehicle, me with a huge backpack hanging off the back and clutching a tiny Asian man with my knees. I talked to him the whole way there, saying things like "ok buddy, don't blow this!", "oh man, the guy driving that car is a complete moron!", "you should really get a windshield on this thing!", "why did that horn sound like it was inside my skull?", "boy this place sure blows when it's getting the remnants of a super typhoon, huh?". Et cetera. He replied to everything and I'm convinced he knew exactly what I was saying by the tone of my voice, and context (ie he just cut off a tour bus, he almost ran over a small child etc).

Finally he stopped. "Gulou" he said, pointing toward a stone wall. I only had a 100 yuan note and figured there was no way he'd have change, or admit it if he did, but sure enough he had the change and gave me 85 back. I gave him 5 more even though you don't tip in China. It was worth it.

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