Sat Feb 19, 2011 06:05:28
Part One: Getting there…
I’ve been back in China for almost two weeks now and now that I’m settled back in, by which I mean I have successfully rid my apartment of Jessie, my part time roommate, who riddled the place with beer bottles and dirty clothes on the floor, I am now ready to write a blog about my travels to Southeast Asia, as it is far more entertaining than cleaning up. But before we get right into the heart of my travels, I should start at the beginning of my trip. Afterall, they say getting there is half the fun…at least, that’s what they say.
I had booked a flight from Hong Kong to Singapore because, well, Singapore sounded like a cool place to start and the flight was only $50. Besides, according the map, it didn’t look too far from Thailand. Of course, I realized later that maps have a way of making countries look deceivingly closer than they are. Kind of like rear view mirrors. So, the first step was getting to Hong Kong. So, January 10th, with the help of my little Chinese friend, Rebecca, I caught a bus from Shaoyang to Hengyang where I could catch a bullet train to Guangzhou. The trip to Hengyang was simple enough, just a 2 1/2 hour bus ride. Of course, I had Rebecca there to help buy the ticket and get me started. Arriving at Hengyang and getting to the train station was not as simple however. The woman on the bus, who promised Rebecca to help me find the trainstation in Hengyang, dropped me off on the side of the road, staying true to her word by pointing down the street at a line of city buses and saying, “Ke yi, ke yi”. I didn’t quite understand at first, but my five months in China had prepared me for such a linguistical challenge. I could feel electrical signals sparking between synapses in my brain…Ke, ke, yes, of course, K…yi, yi, one…That’s it, Eureka…K-1! And there she was, bus number K-1 directly ahead of me. Ahh ha, who needed Rebecca, I was practically fluent. I even told the bus driver confidently, Huo che zhen, to which she replied with a long string of syllables and tones that quickly silenced the electric storm in my brain. Ok, maybe I hadn’t been studying hard enough these past five months. I repeated, “huo che zhen” this time, a little more timidly, and I got the idea she knew I was saying, “train station”.
So, I hopped on, paid the 2 quai, and sat down hoping to reach the station soon. Instead, with each frequent stop, the bus became increasingly crowded. When a group of older women began to board, I stood up with my 40 lb backpack to give up my seat. As it turns out, this isn’t common practice in China, as I was the only person to do this, and it wasn’t too long after, that a pig of a man with a huge mole on his face took the seat I had graciously given up. It wasn’t much longer before more pigs began to crowd in around me. One man even started coughing up something awful and so, leaned over a man sitting near him and began hocking and spitting over the man’s shoulder and onto the floor of the bus, to which the man, pretended not to notice. It was quite charming. What seemed like an hour had passed by and with each stop, I tried to make eye contact with the driver, hoping she would signal that I was suppose to get off, but she seemed to take no notice of me. As more and more people crowded around me, spitting and coughing, I became increasingly tired, hungry, and hot. So I decided to make a break for it and simply take a taxi. Afterall, it had been an hour and I had to be close. So I hopped off, called Rebecca, and tried to hail a cab. With no luck, I found the nearest motorcycle taxi and let Rebecca explain to him where I was going. He signaled to me that he understood and I hopped on the back of his electric scooter, which was barely able to handle the weight of me and my pack. In retrospect, it must have been quite a sight as I’m sure that with the pack strapped around my shoulders, I was twice as big as the bike itself. It was snowing outside and my hands and face were freezing, making this the longest thirty minute ride of my life. The bike groaned under the weight of my body and while the driver was pulling back on the throttle as far as it would go, we scooted along at about 20 mph. For some reason, I kept thinking of Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber, cruising their moped through the Rocky Mountains. Finally, I could see the train station ahead of us. Just three hundred yards away or so. But the road leading there was on a slight incline and the bike slowed down even more, chugging and fighting to make it the rest of the way. I did my best to offer moral support, whispering through the frosty fog of my breath, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” It worked, because just 10 minutes later, we were almost at the front of the station.
The bullet train to Guangzhou was actually really enjoyable. I had always wanted to ride a high speed train and loved how smooth the ride was, despite traveling at 300 km/h. It would have been a perfect time to relax, gather my thoughts, and write in my journal, but this little kid with glasses and snot running from his nose seemed to take an interest in me. He kept coming up to me and speaking in some language that I couldn’t quite understand…Russian maybe? Just kidding. But he seemed to take quite an interest in my journal and as I was writing, he would grab the book and take it away from me. Seriously, he wouldn’t let go. Then He started scribbling numbers, 1-9 all over the top of the pages. At first, I smiled, and trying to be nice, counted the numbers to him in English. But he didn’t just do it on one page. He was making his mark on every one. So, I kindly distracted him and took back my book. To which, he grabbed it again. This time, he started tearing out pages. Seriously, where the fuck was his mother? Oh, right behind me, seemingly content not to deal with the little monster. Tiger mom my ass. Finally, I tore out a page from the back and gave it to him to write on. After a few lines of numbers, he wanted more and tried to rip out another page, so I put the book away until he lost interest and went back to making his mother miserable.
Guangzhou was uneventful. I got there in the evening, booked a hotel, grabbed some food, and watched American television until I passed out. Well, almost uneventful. Sometime around 8 that evening, my hotel phone rang. I picked it up and enjoyed a quick conversation consisting mainly of, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand…I only speak English…Tin Bu Dong…Du Bi Shi…English…I don’t understand…” About five minutes after hanging up, a knock came at my door. I figured it was the front desk who had been trying to call me and realizing we couldn’t communicate over the phone, came to my room to speak face to face. Gestures count for a lot when words can’t do the trick. I opened the door and standing in front of me were three young girls. I got the feeling they weren’t from the front desk. One of the girls tried to push her way into my room which put me on the defensive. “Whoa whoa, what are you doing?” Timidly, she parroted my expression, “What are you doing?” she confusedly said as she looked at her friend and walked backwards into the hallway. In broken English, or Engrish as I like to call it, the girl in the middle asked me if I spoke Chinese. “Yi dian dian” I instinctively said which prompted her to go off on a rampage of Chinese words. She could tell I didn’t understand and mustered up all of her middle school English lessons and put together the sentence, “You make love, her?” I won’t lie, it was tempting. I mean, its not every day that a young girl knocks on your door and offers herself up. But noble, honorable, good Brandon stepped in and before temptation could take over, I smiled and politely said, “No thank you” as I closed the door. I was proud of myself. I felt righteous. It didn’t last long. I spent the next few hours tossing and turning in bed. I kept hearing phone’s ringing throughout the hotel walls and half expected another knock at the door any minute. Thank God it didn’t come because time has a way of weakening willpower. The next day, I took the subway to the train station and caught a train to Hong Kong.
It should have been simple enough. I had one goal in Hong Kong, buy a camera for my trip. I bought myself a city map at the train station, before realizing they were free at the information booth, and set out to find the main street where electronics were sold. After asking around, a nice gentleman told me to simply jump on the blue line of the subway and take it to the end of the line. At least, I thought that what he said, because I did just that. I rode the underground for about forty minutes, all the way to the end of the line, and set out to find my camera. But it was strange. I couldn’t find a direct exit. Everyone was shuffling towards the front and I kept seeing signs pointing to Shenzhen. So I stopped a few times, asking the guards where to go to find the electronics street in Hong Kong and they kept gesturing me to follow the crowd. I thought it was strange that I had to fill out an immigration form and go through customs just to get out of the subway, and after having my passport stamped for the second time that day, I went up to an officer’s booth and asked them where to go. They told me to go back upstairs to catch the train back to Hong Kong. “Wait a minute…”, I said, “Am I in Shenzhen?” Yes, I was. I had arrived in Hong Kong two hours earlier, just to take the subway clear across the border back into Mainland China. So, I had to go upstairs and buy a ticket to return. But before I did, I saw a camera shop in the train station and despite the seediness of the sales guy, I went ahead and bargained a good price for a Sony digital video recorder. I tested it out, it seemed to have everything I was looking for, and the price was right. Plus, this would mean that when I got back to Hong Kong, I could focus on finding a place to stay for the night, since apparently, there was some convention going on and rumor had it that finding a room was going to be either difficult or pricey.
I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you now, never buy electronics in Shenzhen. Throughout my trip I must have taken 250 different videos and about 60 photos before I realized that only the first ten test shots I had taken in Hong Kong had actually come out and the other 300 files on my memory card were simply blank…Of course, I didn’t realize that until I was about 3/4 through my entire trip.
So, it was back through immigration and another hour of riding the train before I reached the heart of the city, which happened to be three stops from my initial starting point. On the up side, I ended up with an entire Visa page of my passport filled with entry and exit stamps. Enter Hong Kong 01/11/11, leave Hong Kong 01/11/11, enter China 01/11/11, exit China 01/11/11, enter Hong Kong 01/11/11, exit Hong Kong 01/12/11. But you know, at first glance, it looks quite impressive., especially because you get like two stamps for each entry and exit.
It was nightfall before I finally found a guesthouse with a vacant room. It was a gem. Red neon lights flowing through the bedroom window, a television, that once turned on, showered my innocent eyes with images of Hong Kong porn, and a single serving condom on my nightstand that replaced the all too common “mint on the pillow” that most hotels seem content to provide their guests. It was still early and being that I only had one night in Hong Kong, I felt that I should explore the city the best way I know how. Buy some beer from a local store, hit play on my IPod, and wander the streets aimlessly, while slowly inebriating myself. If you haven’t tried this method before, I highly recommend it. I left my room and since I didn’t have a key, asked the lady at the front desk to lock it up for me and immediately began “exploring”. I wasn’t that impressed with Hong Kong…I mean, it had tall buildings and was filled with bright and colorful lights, which are quite beautiful when you have a six pack under your skin, and there was a cool night market that sold everything from jewelry, to trinkets, to sex toys, but really, it was like any other big city. McDonalds, BurgerKing, palm readers, and smiling, winking men who stand in front of massage parlors pushing p -asterix- ssy to passerbys. So, I took in the sights, took down a few beers, jammed out to MGMT, and sometime around midnight, swayed back into my room where I half-heartedly watched Two and Half Men, while I counted my money and set things in order for my flight leaving the next day.
It was a four hour flight to Singapore and everything went smoothly. It was pretty much a morning of subways, trains, and airports. Singapore was beautiful and clean. But for a guy like me, quite boring. I did the usual, grabbed some dinner, booked a room, and hit up the 7-11 to grab my “exploring the city” provincials. I saw Little Persia, or something like that, and booked my bus ticket to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All I can say for Singapore is it is humid, tropical, clean, and really quite beautiful. But the Singapore dollar is worth about as much as the American dollar, so I really didn’t have much desire to stay any longer than I had to. I was hungover the next morning, or so I thought. Apparently, what I had mistaken for a hangover was actually the beginning of a stomach flu that was incubating inside me. My stomach bubbled and belched as gas grew inside and I soon came to realize than any attempt to release the gas would also require a toilet of some form. Luckily, the bus I had booked was a five star bus, so it had big comfy chairs and television screens to watch movies and play early Nintendo video games. Unfortunately, it didn’t have any toilets. But the movies did a good job of keeping my mind off the matter. It wasn’t long before we crossed into Malaysia and I got to go through customs again and collected another stamp in my passport. Oh how I love collecting stamps…I actually get a rush each time I get a new stamp in my passport. I love seeing the proof right there in colored ink that I was there, here, wherever on whichever day. It adds validity to the whole passport itself. It paints a story. It adds color, both literally and figuratively and though the money I saved taking a $50 flight from Hong Kong to Singapore to begin my travels was actually quickly spent on trains, buses, taxis and lodgings getting to Thailand, not to mention the ache of traveling itself; moving from train to plane, hotel to taxi, the underground, the walking, all with a pack half my size pulling down on my back, it was worth it. Worth it if only to get a taste of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur and earn those stamps.
The scenery from my window was excellent. The plant life was amazing. Jungles of palm trees and greenery rolling through the hills. But once I arrived in KL, I decided I had little reason to stay any longer than I had to. I wanted Thailand. I wanted cheap and beautiful beaches. I wanted temples and elephants. Malaysia had Muslims, but Thailand had Monks. So, the bus dropped me off at some shopping mall and I went straight for the bathrooms. It was strange because the men’s bathroom had a sign with a picture of a woman and a mop. I didn’t know what to make of it until I walked in, and lo and behold, there was an older woman, covered with her Muslim robes, and mopping the floor of the bathroom. Well, if she didn’t mind, I didn’t mind. There was no toilet paper in the stall. Just a hose with a sink like nozzle on the end. It seemed so primitive and unsanitary, especially because the entire floor was soaked with what I could only assume was toilet water. But let me tell you, now that I’m back on toilet paper…I miss that little hose. Its so refreshing and clean. Afterwards, I quickly took the city bus to the train station, and booked my ticket for a night train to Hat Yai, Thailand…and so it begins….
Posted: Sat Feb 19, 2011
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I am totally amazed, to say the least... enjoy and explore and remember let the Lord show you the path...
Wow Brandon, what an adventure. Next time I take a wrong turn and have to turn back, I'll think of you....