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Archive for April, 2007

Mas migration

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

 This blog symmetrically begins and ends on a sleeper train

2/19/07

In the PM

The beds on the train were bunks stacked three high and facing each other, making a little area of 9 beds total.  The bottom two seem to be understood as the spot where everyone sits and chit chats about this and that in manderin.  I had the misfortune to be assigned the bottom bunk on an earlier train heading some place and it was such a drag.  I remember wanting to strech out and relax in my bed but I couldn’t because four or five total strangers were sitting in my way having a fine time.  So on the night in question, the 19th, I took the very tip top bunk, which you get to by putting your feet on the other peoples beds and pulling your way up.  No ladder.  First thing I did on the train after stowing my gear was to climb up to that sweet sweet bed.   

I wish to point out that Han Xiao Yin and I had been spending every single waking minute of every single day together.  This is way too much time to be around anyone, even someone as cool as my buddy Xiao Yin.  Tensions were starting to seep to the surface, the situation was getting snappy and fast.

Xiao Yin had taken it upon himself to look out for me.  This was simaltaneously very very good and very very bad.  Good in that I had someone making sure I didn’t get ripped off or lost or killed mysteriously, bad because he demonstrated time and again that he had no power to turn it off.  Often he instructed me to eat more, not to buy something, always nagging me not to lose my passport, this sort of thing.  It was well natured and his heart was in the right place, sure.  In a big way I even apprieciated it at times, sure.  He was the only person in the world I could talk to, and I would have been miserable without his company, sure.  We had had some very cool moments so far on this trip in which two virtual strangers shared amazing unforgetable adventures, true.  At times the  comradery was such that we laughed from deep in our hearts like brothers, true.  Other times I was ready to kill him and he was ready to kill me, also true.

So just after I had climbed my ass up to the top bunk and sighed “ahhhhh” Xiao Yin tells me that he thinks I should come back down to the bottom bunk with them.  Actually, he said “I could” go down to the bottom bunk as if granting me generous permission.  There was a couple down there who wanted to give me melon.  I really didn’t want any melon.  I really just wanted to be left alone to lay at the near ceiling summit of the train.  Xiao Yin laughed at my stupidity and assured me that I didn’t have to stay up there.  I let him know that I was fine.  The woman started reaching melon slices to the top for me, I shook my head and waved my hands, smiling.  She climbed higher and stuck it right in my face.  I was eating melon.  So I took a slice and started eating.  Xiao Yin told me “don’t eat the peels.”  I let him that I am 30 years old, and rolled over.  The lady tapped me on the shoulder, more melon.

At least two or three more times Xiao Yin ordered me to come to the bottom bunk, he wanted to show me off to everybody I guess.  By now he was saying “I really think you should come to the bottom bunk.  He wasn’t smilling anymore.  Neither was I.  

The next morning I gave him the silent treatment for a spell, then we talked about it and everything was fine for the most part from then on.  He got bossy sometimes, but I tend to get messugana sometimes too.  You try going on an endless road trip with someone for that long, in China of all places.  So for the record, Han Xiao Yin is a cool friend and all that happened was we got on each others nerves for a second there.  Everything was squashed easy.

So Then we had to wait for two hours at a train station for our connection to take us to the next place.  We sat on the floor against a wall indian style with our stuff pilled next to us.  I wondered if there was any cool way to kill time in a train station.  There wasn’t.  

I went to the bathroom area.  In China they have mens and woman bathrooms just like the states, but the mirror and sink is always communial and located outside the doors to both.  This train station was packed too, and it was around 7 or 8 am.  I squeezed my way through maybe fifty to a hundred poeple chaoticly trying to get close to a sink and mirror to do their morning thing.  It took ages, there were maybe ten mirrors total.  When I finally did make it to the front I stood right behind a couple who huddled close.  I watched them both brush their teeth, then he shaved and she put on make up.  They seemed aware of all the people waiting and they were clearly trying to go as fast as they could.  They handed each other the right toiletries at the right time without exchanging a word, it was almost telepathic.  They just knew each others morning routine so cold that they were both dead on each time.   It was like watching a silent movie version of a surgeory, the part where the doctor instructs the nurse “scaple, drill, flashlight.”  I brushed my teeth and then dry shaved for lack of soap.  I was so far beyond the point of caring.  A good hotel at this point was one with heat and hot water and a good meal was one that was on time.  A good morning was one where I had five minutes to brush my teeth and shave, soap or no.   

I went and sat back down with Xiao Yin on the floor against the wall.  Francis my info man in the Yunnan came and asked for a drum lesson.  I showed him how to paradiddle (RLRRLRLL) on his knee and he picked it up in under a minute.  I showed him basic 4/4 rock beats with his foot hitting on one and three and his hand on two and four.  I counted yi, er, san, si (1, 2, 3, 4) and then switched the rhythms around on him.  He picked up everything so fast.  His brain was a beautiful thing, no wonder he was such a warehouse of historical information.  Have you ever meet someone who only needed to be told once?  smart smart smart, that guy.

 

We then went to another shop, the entrance of which was flanked by guys wearing giant plastic heads that looked like anime cartoons of bald Chinese babies with gigantic eyes.  Yeah I asked for a picture, they said no, I don’t know why.  I would be proud of my gigantic plastic freaky baby head.  You would see me strutting with my big baby head.  

We went to an open air flower market where I was shoved aside by a man who (right in front of me) started punching the hell out of another guy.  For just a fraction of a split second my first instinct was to actually take one step closer, old Eagle Woods reflexes, I used to break up fighting gangsta thug kids for a living. Just for a fraction of a second though, like I said, not long.  The smart guy voice in my head kicked in quick and I took several more steps the hell away from there.  Oh, it was bad, too.  My best theory was that one of them was buying flowers for the other fellas wife or something, but just a guess.  So the cops showed up and drug them off, one guys face was bleeding, chaos and screaming.  

In the parking lot Xiao Yin told me about the show Journey West, which is based on a famous ancient novel.  I have since seen the show, it is all about a monk, a pig king, and super monkey and they are all trying to get to India to retrieve sacred scrolls.  The problem is that all the evil monsters seem to think that eating the monks skin is a really good idea as it will make them live forever, so they are always getting chased around by cool monsters and animal people.  The show was made in the 70s and has crazy sets and martial arts and the story lines make little to no sense even when explained by a Chinese guy.  The one we saw that night in the hotel was about super monkey going to the sky and beating the crap out of everyone there until they gave him a job.  Finally (after he sufficiently beat the crap out of everyone in the sky mind you) the king of the sky said, ok, fine, we’ll give super monkey a job.  The cheeky king tricked super monkey by making him in charge of the horses in the sky and telling him it was a sweet gig.  Really, as the king and all his friends winkingly knew, it wasn’t such a sweet gig.  

I think in order to picture the guy they had playing super monkey, imagine if Jackie Chan and Pee Wee Herman used their sperm to impregnate a baboon.  I hypothesize that if the offspring of this baboon stood upright and wore clothes and was somehow blessed with limitless magical powers and the ability to speak manderin for some reason you would have something very close to the super monkey I saw.

So anyway, super monkey is so happy to have what he thinks is a fancy sky job, he smiles and claps and gleefully hops around all monkey like as they cut to stock footege of horses running, very remenicant of the work of Edward D Wood jr and his buffolo (PULL ZE STRINGS!!!)  Somebody finally spills the beans to super monkey that taking care of sky horses is sort of the sky equivilant of a sky shit job, and so super monkey goes bananas.  Thus the episode I saw of journey west symmetrically began and ended with super monkey furiously beating the crap out of everybody who worked in the sky.  

Han Xiao Yin explained the whole story to me.  I asked him to repeat my favorite part over and over again for the next week, whenever I thought about it.  This was the part where it was explained about how the Pig king came to be a pig in the fisrt place.  Aparently he used to be a regular guy who worked up in the sky but the sky king got pissed off at him about something and kicked him out of the sky.  And so when he fell out of the sky he (for some reason) landed in a pigs uterus and came out a pig.  Yup, thats how it works.

That was Februay and it is now April, I am still searching dilligently high and low for any dvd I can find, even though I don’t think I have much chance of finding it translated.  I don’t care, that is how amazing this damn show is.  

So after the kerfuffle at the flower market we went to the Yunnan botanical expo, left over from some big event back in 1999.  It had a lot of cool flowers and plants, and it was huge, but I think over all sort of ho-hum.    

The majority of the park was small mini gardens, each of which representing a province in China, sort of like a little put-put version.  Many of the gardens of places I had been (I guess) sort of reminded me of the place, but only if I really tried.  Hainan was dead on, they had a little lake surrounded by sand representing the beach and a hut with coconuts you could drink from.  We spent most of the day looking for the Henan (our province) garden.  Finally it started looking like they didn’t even have one.

The Shangdong garden had a mini Tai shan, the mountain Xiao Yin and I climbed a few weeks ago.  In front of the mountain was a sign with a stick figure person climbing a ladder behind a DO NOT DO circle and cross.  The sign read

NO SHINNEY 

Next, we went to the part of the expo which featured the mini earth, several small put-put gardens representing countries.  First we did Spain, which was a green house full of banzai trees.  There was a gift shop at one end and on a wall was a small painting of a matadore fighting a bull.  Traditional Spanish castanet music was blasting louder than a rave.  Next we went and paid a visit to jolly old England, which was enclosed by a brick wall on four sides and filled with lush tropical palm trees.  A sign in the corner explained that this was in fact the England garden so we were not in the wrong place.  England’s garden was next to the Spanish garden and therefor also blasted traditional Spanish castinet music.  Holland had a wind mill at least, which was good.  We tried to find America’s garden only to find out they used to have one, but it was torn down years ago.  Isreal had a garden, and so did Palestien, but they were located several gardens apart from each other, just to play it safe I think.  

At the end of the day we found a little room near the gate behind the bathrooms in which were huddled small photo displays depicting all the misfit provinces unworthy of a put-put garden.  We found Henan, there was a big map.  We discussed different places we could go close enough to Shangqiu to do weekend trips.  It even had a picture of a rinky dink temple on the outskirts of Shangqiu.  It was kind of neat.

 

2/21/07

We got to sleep in all the way to 8, which was like heaven.  We then hiked all the way across Kunming to get to the bus that would take us to the lake.  The plan was we’d get bikes and just ride around, just the thing to do according to my guide book.
We had to stand up on the bus, it was so packed.  For the 40 minute ride I stood behind a man craddling a baby in his arms, somehow he managed to balance himself while holding his kid with both arms as the bus rocked and bumped.
Maybe it was the day before when I heard that my good friends Georganna and Andy had spewed forth progeny, Bellaluna Love Wiley.  Georganna and I have been great email pals over the past few years now, and she writes to me where ever in the planet earth she winds up.  She now lives with her husband in England, a man who she first met when he came riding into her life on a camel somewhere in Africa.  Their exploits traveling around the world served as an inspiration to me (I don’t mind saying) just as I hope that I may be able to convince and inspire someone somewhere reading this blog to do something cool in the same way.  Georganna has been completly out-to-lunch (I am talking the really cool kind of crazy here) as long as I have known her and that is going on 15 to 20 years, lord love her.  I am maybe the most disorganized person anywhere.  I am such a mess I can’t remember a pen number or pay a bill on time or any other of life’s little complications to save my life, yet here in China I sit.  Georgeanna and I managed to get it together enough to go and do really cool stuff, clear evidence that anyone can I would think.  It may be travel or it may be something else, my friend Ron (another inspiring cat) recently put everything on the line and rolled the dice and follewed his long time dream of starting a photo gallery.  That took some stone cold hutspa!  One day you will die and then you will be dead and then what will you do?  Now or never ya’ll, all I’m saying.  
Yesterday I used skype to call my good friend Mike Dunham.  He jokingly asked if this was going in the blog.  I said I would think about it.  I forgot to ask him if he remembers the AT&T ad with the guy answering the phone “alacapesay”.  I bet he does.  Just now, about five minutes ago I called Everybodies pizza to see who was drinking and talked with Luke for a sec.
Give me your phone number and I can try to call you too! 
I don’t know why the words are purple now.  I could try to figure out how to fix it, but I think it is kind of nice, and I am too lazy.
 So anyway, I got sidetracked.
The bus stopped at this gawdy looking amuzment park and everyone got off.  We asked if we had to go through the park to get to the lake and somebody said we did.  We paid admission, a lady sold me her ticket on the cheap but still not cheap enough.  We checked to make sure that there was a place inside to rent bikes, they said yes, so we paid.  Easy come easy go.
I walked through the turnstyle and was bum rushed by a mob of people in traditional ethnic minority dress.  Here is the thing, they all had bamboo shot glasses and wooden bowls with liquid which they started pouring in my mouth.  At first I dodged and tried to stop them, then I cought a wiff of the stuff and it was alcohol, so I said what the hell.  It was the Chinese clear fire wine they love so much here and it was sudden and unexpected and burned like hell going down.  I didn’t want to seem rude, so I let them feed me four shots one after the other.  Just to be polite you understand.  Have to be a good embassador for my people don’t you know.  
So I staggered out of the crowd to whooping cheers.  I smiled all crooked and told Xiao Yin that who ever these people are, they might be trying to kill me.  Xiao Yin said they want to give me so much because they love me.  Yes, they do.  They love me because I am clearly from out of town.  I guess they think that is cool.  The next second I had to jump out of the way of a ethnic minority conga line followed by a thundering line of dancing drummers.  Quite an entrance I made in this place.
This was a provincial theme park celebrting all the 56 tribes of ethnic minorities found in China, 52 of which hang their head dresses right here in the Yunnan province.  Cool, whatever.  Over the past week we had been through villiages and cities made up of the real thing.  What we had here was a touristy send up.  Learning about culture here would be the Chinese equivilant of studing the Cherokee people from a casino.   
What the hell, where do they rent bikes around here?  We found the bike rental place in the park.  They only had bicycles built for two which rode side by side.   

daisy, daisy, come with your eyes of blue…
     

But we had set out for bikes, and these seemed to be the only ones around.  The stupid thing cost way too much money for a four hour rental.  It had a top speed of just shy of jog and was steered on the left side with a wheel like in a car.  It was the kind of thing Fred Flintstone might have except it had bike peddles instead of feet on the ground, and it was lame and stupid and bad instead of Hanna Barberra-esc and prehistoric and good.  On the upside, Xiao Yin assured me that in no way are two men riding side by side on a 2 person bike automatically considered gay.  Not in China anyway.  I just had to take him at his word.  What the hell, which way to the lake?  

After tooling around the park for a time Xiao Yin asked a woman representing an ethnic minority called the Naxi tribe which way to get to the big lake.  She said that while the park boasts many small and piddley man made lakes, it does happen to lack any kind of access at all to the one rather large and famous lake we had been trying to get to all morning.  So after paying way too much to get in, we now found ourselves stuck with this non refundable four hour rental of the stupidest damn 2 person bike which we could not leave the park in.  At this point it was 10 am, our train left for Guilin at 3:45 which put us at the train station no later that 3:00 (if you have never been in a Chinese train station you will just have to trust me) and we were stuck, once again in a Chinese tourist trap.  I think what burned me up was that this time it was my fault, I had no Chinese tour company to blaim.  
So we peddled around the tourist trap for the next few hours.  May as well, our money was spent.  When it was my turn to drive I liked to take us up hills and try to go down as fast as I could, Xiao Yin seemed to prefer to use his turn at the wheel tearing around off roading over grass lawns.  A few times we got stuck and had to get out and push.  These brief periods of pushing the lame bike through puddles and minor muddy spots provided us the most exciting times we had while piloting that rediculous insult to all bicycles everywhere.  

So we peddled around the tourist trap for the next few hours.  May as well, our money was spent.  When it was my turn to drive I liked to take us up hills and try to go down as fast as I could, Xiao Yin seemed to prefer to use his turn at the wheel tearing around off roading over grass lawns.  A few times we got stuck and had to get out and push.  These brief periods of pushing the lame bike through puddles and minor muddy spots provided us the most exciting times we had while piloting that rediculous insult to all bicycles everywhere.  

It was at this park that Han Xiao Yin got a text message saying he had recieved and email from the University of Cleveland.  As I have previously indicated, Xiao Yin was trying to get into a post grad program in America, and it was just about time to start asking when the admissions office would have news.  Whenever he talked about it his whole body posture changed, I could tell he was on pins and needles.  Earlier in the trip he had asked me about each place he had aplied, New Jersey, Baltimore, Arizona, and Cleveland.  There may have been a few others too, but I can’t remember now.  I had tried my best to make Cleveland sound better than it was in case that was where he got stuck, but I made sure that he knew any of his other choices may be better.  I never been to Cleveland but my impression is that its cold and ugly, but with good working class beer.  Maybe I am being unfair, I never been like I said.
So once again we found ourselves on yet another sleeper train.  This one left Kunming in the Yunnan Province at 4:00 in the afternoon and got into Guilin in the Guangxi the next day at 6 at night.  I was on the middle bunk.  I stayed there and got no argument from anyone.  Xiao Yin and I took turns reading the lonely planet guide book, we talked about the prospect of Cleveland, we watched the world go by out the window.  It was plesant.  The Yunnan landscape was all wide rolling plains sitting under rocky snowy mountains that climbed far into the sky.  Guanxi, on the other hand, was more chalk board mountains.  From flat rice fields and small farms they jutted suddenly in the air, imagine a five story spike coller covered in grass and trees.  They were almost too small to be mountains but way too big to be hills.  The further the train went the more we started seeing them until the horizon was a collection of distant blue sharp blades that could have been easily drawn by Dr Zeuss.   A pair of old folks eye balled me for the duration of the trip for no other reason I could figure beyond my obvious lack of Chinese-ness.  Back in January this would have given me a mad case of the creeps, but here it was Febuary so by now who cares?     

In the compartment next to us were three kids from America.  In the evening around super time I went over to say hello, I was driven by the aching itch to speak with someone at full speed again.  They were nice kids from Colorado.  I shared some of my beers with one of them.  They struck me as preshaving lilly white moon calfs, just out of college and off to see China with eyes full of dreamy stars and faces still aglow with stupid sunshine.
The kid I shared my beer with had been in China for 8 months so far and was the seasoned vetron of the group, the other two were just arriving and on their way to take 6 month teaching jobs in Yangshou.  The Yangshou two didn’t want any beer, they had done quite enough the night before.  They explained that the night before they had had to carry one of their numbers home as he had dusted off the better part of three bottles of vodka in under three hours with very little help. 
Later in the evening I sat up looking out the window with the boy who had dusted off the better part of three bottles of vodka the night before with very little help.  I said something about how cool it was to be in China and to get to travel and stuff.  He sighed, showing that he was a weary 22 year old.  He shook his head slowly with a deliberate weight.  He explained that his dad had moved to France and his mom to England so this poor boy has to travel all over Europe a few times each year.  “Sometimes I just don’t feel like traveling and I just want to hang out and have a normal life.  It fucking sucks.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say so I just went back to looking out the window.
The third guy they were traveling with didn’t talk much, I think he had a wierd ‘just-got-to’ China stomach grotesque.  He had taught at an inner city school in New York for 6 months, the other two told me.  He said he used to break up fights all the time.  I told him about working at my old job at Eagle Woods gleeful, and we traded our best ‘teaching those lovable gangsta thug’ stories for a while, which was nice.

We got to talking about things we had seen in the Yunnan province, the poor boy whose life “fucking sucked” because he had to travel Europe all the time pointed out that many Chinese men wore leather cowboy hats.  It seemed to really piss him off, too.  “Why would they wear something from my culture?  It would be like if I wore a fucking turbin.  I wouldn’t want to wear a fucking turbin!”  He raised his eyebrows and starred at me, his face stone cold frozen for emphisis.  I looked deep into his eyes and I could see that in fact he was telling the truth.  He really didn’t want to wear a fucking turbin.
We sat up talking well after the 9:00 lights out pitch black was imposed on the entire train.  At one point the conversation turned to our spring festival trips so far.  They told me a story about a previous train they had been on a few weeks earlier. They told me that as they sat there a woman spread out newspapers in the area between the two sets of bunkbeds so her little child could crap on the floor.  Here is the really gross part so brace yourself, ready?  She didn’t even wipe the kid at all.  On top of which the kid pissed on the carpeted walkway along the side of the train without paper like it aint no thing.  Kids in China wear crotchless pants which just lets it all sort of hang out.  Even in the winter when they are wrapped several inches thick in jackets their little ying yangs and ding dangs are blowing in the wind.  And so they just crap and pee pee on the street freely until maybe age three or four, five or even six if they are really pushing it like my friend May’s kid.  It is just something I see all the time while walking down the street, I am used to it by now, no big deal.  Number-2 on the floor of a moving train however, is a bit surprising.  It gets worse, ready?  This was a very long trip, Northern China down into the Sichuan.  By the last stop they could see a rash developing in the kids crotch that was starting to look serious.  The 8 month China vet asked me if I wanted to know the best part, I said I did.
“It was a really ugly kid in the first place.” He told me.  we all laughed.
“Chinese people are like fucking animals.”  announced the kid who would never wear a fucking turbin, loud enough so anyone on the train who could understand even rudimentary basic English could hear.

 

 

 

 

 

Talk of the Town

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Dirt, eating and drinking

Thursday, April 5th, 2007