Monday, November 26, 2012

Travel Notes

I eventually decided to take my computer with me on my recent excursion around southern China. I might as well not have bothered. It caused me no end of grief (that story later, perhaps), and about the only time I was able to get decent Internet access, it was on a desktop provided by the hotel. (Not proper Internet access, of course. With no VPN, it's been pretty much impossible to access any overseas sites over the past few weeks. But at least, on this one occasion, the connection was fast enough and stable enough to let me deal with my e-mail. That didn't really happen on the rest of the trip.)

I didn't think I was missing it, really. In fact, it was a valuable extra dimension to the holiday to find myself forcibly cut off from contact with employers.

However... I did find myself sending rather a lot of text messages to friends back in Beijing while I was away. So, perhaps I was missing the regular human contact that e-mail - or normal social intercourse in a city where you know people - affords?

Anyway, here are a few highlights of that short-message correspondence...

Fuwuyuan hid my shower mat!
[Not the end of the world, no. In fact, as I observed by subsequent texts to some people, it was about the least worst thing that had happened to me over the previous three or four days. But not trivial, either. When you're running late, and you desperately need a shower, discovering that your maid has removed your shower mat and concealed it in some obscure cubbyhole in your hotel room is rather aggravating. It's not as though she had replaced it or cleaned it or was trying to save it from getting too mouldy by removing it from the bath when not in use. It was very dirty and mouldy, had probably never been changed or cleaned in the hotel's history. And it was rolled up and put away still wet. And they knew the same guest was staying in the room for another day; so why, WHY would they do this?! Because this is China, that's why.]

The 'I' has dropped off the CHINA MOB LE Building. I hope it didn't fall on anyone.
[We are talking about an 'I' several feet high here. This, like most of this correspondence, came from Guiyang, the capital of the southern province of Guizhou. I wish I'd been able to take a picture of this, but during my stressful and accident-prone weekend just prior to this, I'd managed to break my camera. Trying to record observations in words rather than photographic images may have been another impetus for my prolific texting during this period.]

Ordered a 'milkshake' to justify using a table. Got a sickly sweet, lukewarm latte - undrinkably foul. Was spared having to pay for it when, moments later, a passing fly committed suicide in it.
[True story! My one - vain - attempt to try to get some work done using the wi-fi in a hotel coffee shop. The connection was even worse than the drinks.]

The trouble with the relentless malling of China's cities is that it becomes harder and harder to find a shitty little noodle shop.
[As I observed sourly to my mate The Choirboy, when struggling to find a barebones Chinese restaurant in surprisingly modern and prosperous-seeming Guiyang. Shitty little noodles shops are actually one of my favourite things in China. Especially when I've got no money. Being unable to locate one makes me unhappy.]

Ah, snack food heaven! And ALL of it fried!!
[It wasn't too long before I found the less sophisticated side of Guiyang.]

Now, this is one of the world's great snacks: a deep-fried rosti potato cake, studded with chunks of sweet potato. It's kind of like a Spanish omelette - but much greasier!

My god! They make chips on the streets here. Crinkle-cut at that!
[Lots of this in Guiyang; but I saw it a few times in the smaller city of Kaili as well. There seem to be a number of different ways of serving them, but the most common was to sprinkle a handful of chopped pickled vegetables on top... and then smother the whole lot in a heap of chilli powder!]

Nice China moment: a nurse is offering free blood pressure checks on the street. She's set up her table next to a row of five fried snack stalls. Probably not a deliberate choice...

This supermarket has blatantly ripped off the Carrefour logo. But it calls itself not a supermarket but a LiteStyle Market. Is that like a lifestyle, but... less substantial? I think I have one of those!

Madam, you outdo yourself! You've managed to encourage both of your toddlers to urinate in public simultaneously. On the tiled floor of an underground shopping mall. On either side of narrow entrance to same, completely blocking it. Outstanding!

The trouble with running away from Beijing to avoid the Party Congress is that provincial Chinese hotels only have Chinese TV, and Chinese TV has the Congress on every channel.
[No, there wasn't a lot to do in the evenings...]

The nice thing about the Congress is that hotels are instructed to give guests a free newspaper every day. Very handy for drying out sodden shoes.
[Very wet, Guizhou.]

Apparently, I'm staying in the TimeShare Intentional Hotel. No accidental tourists here!

I have discovered possibly the nicest park in China, right by the riverside. I think I'm going to soak my feet in the water until they go numb.
Of course, the only mini-jetty not occupied by amorous schoolkids is the one that someone's taken a poop in the middle of. I think I can work around it.
[This was in the much smaller Guizhou city of Zhenyuan, 250 miles or so east of Guiyang. And when my pal Ruby queried whether I really meant human poop...]

Oh yes. But it was quite a long time ago. Mostly wiped away now, only a slight lingering smell. Much like the Mao years.
[I find metaphors everywhere.]


Gary said...

Great line about Mao!

How was Guizhou? Never got to go, but I hear it's beautiful.

Froog said...

Guizhou is indeed startlingly pretty, but... very samey. You start to get another rapture fatigue after a while.

As I noted in another one of these txt msgs to The Choirboy: "One Miao village looks very much like another.".

And the weather is appalling: almost perpetual low cloud, fog, mist, drizzle. The one thing that saves you from becoming jaded with the scenery is that you can't see it most of the time; visibility is often down to 100 or 200 yards.

I found it reminded me strangely of home, though. Not the landscape itself - the crazily steep mini-mountains you get in karst limestone terrain is quite unlike anything in Britain (or Europe, as far as I know). But the kind of vegetation you get at 3,000 or 4,000 ft above sea-level is much like you find in the forests of northern Europe - I think this is the first time I've ever seen conifers in China.

There's something very comforting about having familiar shades of green in the countryside around you.

JES said...

Y'know, not trying to provoke you or anything but... many of these would do (with perhaps some abbreviation etc.) as outstanding Twitter posts.

We were in NJ a few weeks ago, post-"superstorm" Sandy. Had an entertaining series of text messages with one of my sisters. This post of yours makes me think I should perhaps take it public.

Froog said...

I fear texting is closer to being an addiction of mine than blogging.

But - as I think I've said on here before - my main objection to Twitter is not its restrictive brevity, but the billboard nature of it. I believe in targeted, person-to-person communication.

Even the blogs, really, I think of as being addressed to a limited circle of known readers, rather than the general public.

Froog said...

Revisiting this post six months later, I recall that I invented a silly little game to amuse myself during these dull evenings in provincial Chinese hotel rooms.

Coverage of the National Party Congress - at which Xi Jinping was being anointed as the new paramount leader - dominated the news night after night, and there was almost identical coverage for hours at a time on almost every channel.

But there were a few channels that switched back to their usual pap - period soap operas, often set in ancient times and enlivened with a generous smattering of martial arts - after just a one-hour news bulletin.

And I discovered that all hotel TVs in Guizhou province seemed to operate on the same - or very similar - cable service, one that offered a menu screen where the currently selected channel was still displayed in a large window in the middle, while other channels were shown in a scrolling series of small windows along the bottom.

The even greater beauty of this cable TV display was that if you chose to 'preview' one of the other channels, 'highlighting' it with the channel selector without actually confirming its selection as one you wanted to watch, the TV switched over to playing the audio for that channel while still displaying the originally selected channel in the large central window onscreen.

I found it hilarious to watch Xi speechifying - and various Party butt-kissers eulogising his speechifying - in the shrill voice of a kung fun princess. Hours of fun! Well, minutes, anyway.

Not very 'harmonious' of me, I know.

Froog said...

Kung fun is a curious typo!

It really ought to be the name of a Chinese martial art, didn't it?