A Travellerspoint blog

Middle points

...aren't always balance

Having spent much time in Foshan and Guangzhou area, I with the nagging feeling that I had to move on, I say thank you and good bye to Frankie and Sisi and get a train ticket to a middle point between Guangzhou and the capital city of Hunan Province, Changsha. It is perhaps a strategy to bide some time, this halfway point stop in Chenzhou, a small -but, as always in China, growing- city in the border of Guangdong and Hunan provinces. My decision to go the Chenzhou is constantly met why a simple question. Why? Frankie laughs a little bit and asks this of me. The answer isn't very clear to me, the only reason is that it cuts travel in half, perhaps, but maybe also to give myself time to arrive to Changsha later in the month to meet Ting.

Posted by findmywuwei 02.05.2013 04:25 Archived in China Tagged backlog Comments (0)

An interjection ... maybe?

So far I've been back-logging the different places I've visited, but I haven't really talked much about me. In fact, I recognize that this is the first time I speak here, and I'm not sure how good of an idea it is; like a break in the flow, the narrative of this blog may suffer from taking a moment and set aside a few thoughts. Since what I am living today is far away from what I've been telling you about, it feels like I'm actually breaking out of the past and bringing you all in to my present -ironically enough, all the back-logs have been written in the present tense...- so that maybe I can work out a few thoughts. This will make a mess, but maybe that's how I am, make a few messes, clean up and continue.

I'm in Guangzhou East Station, waiting a train for Xiamen. Last night I decided to make my first visa exit. When I applied for my Chinese visa, I checked the 90 day stay periods box, but got only 30 day spans on the multiple entry, year-long visa. So to be on the clear, I ran from guangzhou to Shenzhen, about an hour (or more?) train ride. From Shenzhen, it is very easy to hop the border to Hong Kong, get on the metro there, dash one stop and return. So the whole ordeal took about three hours. Three hours in which I was missing my travel companion a lot, hoping to catch up with her in Xiamen. An close, true friend, and someone I have grown to love more and more, Luo Ting has shared her graduation vacation with me for the past two weeks. We made plans to meet again in Xiamen, and I calculated that if I made my border crossing well, I would be in Xiamen a few hours after her arrival. What I didn't count on was that the Shenzhen train station closes early, and that it has no train services to Xiamen. After making such a wide U-turn in Hong Kong, I am faced with the fact that I will have to go back to Guangzhou so I can catch a train to Xiamen. The night keeps grown longer, and I have no way to contact Ting, so I sit quietly in the train back. Upon arrival I learn that the next train to Xiamen will not be until the next night, 20 hours in the future. Midnight closing in, I have no clue where to go, so I but the Xiamen ticket -with no seat available, will I be standing for the 13 hour trip?- and walk around the now closed train station.

The only places to go are McDonalds or KFC. This fact astounds me; China has Starbucks, 7-Eleven, McDonalds, et al, all over the place, all of them equally popular, if not more than in the States, with meals in any of these places costing the same as a two- or three-person traditional Chinese meal of noodles or rice, meat and vegetables. People's consumption in these trendy places is relentless. I've been against fast food for the past five years, but hoping to at least benefit from the wi-fi, I pop McD's and get a sundae. Even at midnight, and all throughout the night, the pre-fabd restaurant keeps busy, mainly with young, fashionable Chinese. The wi-fi doesn't work, and I grow more and more tired, and fall asleep in a far corner. Surprisingly, no one bothers me, wakes me up, or asks me to buy something else or leave. It's not the best rest I've had, but I felt fortunate to sleep somewhere other than a street bench nearby.

Posted by findmywuwei 17:56 Comments (1)

Foshan, city of ceramics and Kung Fu (Wing Chun)

...with open doors thanks to a growing friendship.

sunny 26 °C

A day outing with Frankie's family to Foshan Ancestral Temple.
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We leave the building complex and drive to the Ancestral temple site. Among an impeding mass of new buildings, the village stands stranded in time. The buildings date from the Sung dynasty, with curved, tiled rooftops. The entrance gate towers majestically.
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Inside, a layout of plazas are interconnected by former residential houses, temples, opera houses and kung fu schools. The first thing we see is this enormous tile mosaic in bas relief.
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People begin to crow the place; locals celebrate their heritage passionately, praying in temples and learning history. Soon, slightly distantly, I hear drum and cymbal music. Frankie and Sisi call me.
"Come, we see the lion dance!"
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The dancers are skilled martial artists, jumping amazing heights and performing fine acrobatic moves. The crow smiles as they watch the musical performance, and cheer the amazing display of dance and theatrics. Old women buy little souvenirs for little children, who watch amazed at the lion's parade in the small square.
When the performance ends, people walk towards a nearby building. The central plaza is matted with a blue rug that soon fills with the tanned and sculpted bodies of gong fu practitioners, willing to put on a show.
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Foshan was the birthplace of Wing Chung, a versatile and effective style of kung fu. Ip Man, as he is known in the western world, was born and taught this art in Foshan. He would eventually teach a young man by the name of Bruce Lee.

Posted by findmywuwei 29.05.2012 07:30 Archived in China Tagged art architecture temple history china martial_arts foshan ancestral_temple Comments (0)

A host family in Foshan, Guangdong.

...lucky as can be!

23 °C

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After buying a fare from a machine entirely in Chinese, negotiating half of the Guangzhou metro system, and standing in it strains during the tapering end of a night time rush, I arrive in Foshan. My routine has involved reaching stations and finding a friendly stranger to make a phone call. So far, nearly everyone I've asked has been so accommodating, not only letting me call, but standing by and waiting for my contact to arrive! A few minutes waiting in Foshan metro station, Frankie and his son arrive, smiling.

Three year old Chinchin isn't very shy. We greet excitedly, and he calls me "uncle." Frankie smiles constantly while he welcomes me.
A light drizzle sprinkles the ground, so I open my small travel umbrella and give it to Chinchin, who is delighted to hold it wobbly as we walk to the car; he looks at me at the behest of his dad, squints one eye cutely and says "Ooookkayy," making an O with his small index finger and thumb.
"This is first time in China?"
I smile at Frankie and then peer out the window, "Yes, first time in Zhongguo."
We exchange short and casual talk. All the while, Chinchin jumps around the back seat; each time I look back, he bursts into coy smiles. It isn't very late in the night, but there aren't enough cars on the roads. Still, every exchange reveals a haphazard driving style, sneaking into turns and honking at every negotiation. Frankie drives slow enough to avoid what would seem imminent collisions here and there, reminding me a little bit of the roads in Bogotá.

Frankie's apartment is very spacious, with 3-meter tall ceilings, three rooms and a veranda. I step in, take my shoes off and rest my things against the edge of the couch. I see more people than I expected in the room. An older woman rushes to get me a pair of slipers, but they turn out to be extremely small for my large feet. Everyone looks at my feet and laugh. The woman goes to another apartment and fetches a larger pair of sandals with the Nike symbol on them; the letters under it say KINE. Frankie introduces his wife, who greets me a bit shyly. More neighbors pop in to meet me. At any given point there are in the room at least one child and three adults that aren't part of Frankie's family, all smiling and talking adamantly among each other. I hear frankie say "go rom bi ya" out loud a few times; everyone repeats "Go rom bi ya! oh!" This is the first time they meet someone from Colombia, and they smile at me and ask me things in Mandarin. I smile too, and look at Frankie now and then for translation. His English is good, but he searches his mind for words every time he speaks to me. I just smile more and look around, not too bewildered but definitely lost.

Chinchin is loud, and sometimes he shrieks loudly, something that doesn't seem to bother anyone in the least. I would come find out that children, and especially boys in China, are thoroughly spoiled. They are allowed to do and say just about anything, temper tantrums are amusedly ignored. Little kids don't even get reprimanded heavily, even when they kick and punch their parents! The law only allows one child per family, and they are precious kings and queens in their respective households.
Frankie's wife, Sisi, fixes a light dinner for me, so I sit t eat quietly among the conversations between Frankie, Sisi and their neighbors. As midnight presses on, the room empty out, the space quiets down and we all take showers. Going to bed seems a dream in itself; after I talk to family and friends online, I turn off the light in this new room, and quiet down into sleep.

Posted by findmywuwei 23.05.2012 01:46 Archived in China Tagged children china cute guangzhou foshan hosts late_night phone_call Comments (0)

A fast getaway

...isn't always a way out.

rain 16 °C

If my travels hadn't started already, they started today. Hong Kong refused to let me go with clear skies, so I find myself all packed up riding the East Rail Line of the MTR, one of the furthest reaches of the independent tendrils of Hong Kong mobility. The points beyond this line are no longer "special" in the administrative view of the Middle Country; I'm inching closer to China, faster than the rain inches it's way up the canals on the outskirts of the New Territories.

As the MTR approaches Lok Ma Chau, the border crossing, it seems to vein through less and less urban spaces. The station before Lok Ma Chau, Shang Shui, seems desolate under the silver lining of today's storm. An insidious feeling lingers in me. A lonesome excitement that refuses to show outwardly; it's my own refusal to let my mixture of fear and excitement be seen by the already curious train occupants, to remain cool, to be less of a laowai, an outsider.

Lol Ma Chau halts the train and my heart skips a beat. It's not that I don't know how I will get through, the means are already all around me. Phrases declaring where I'm going, who I am, how to get where, all linger confused in my mind, and can be promptly clarified by reaching for the Mandarin phrasebook. I'm not scared for being denied, or of being ruthlessly screened. My heart skips a beat because I'm unbelievably, without a doubt, finally here.

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The formalities and procedures, they rival any port in the world. So the question isn't if the Chinese standards are up to par, it is if I am up to them. In some way the Chinese models of architecture endow every arrival and departure point with unequalled magnificence. Likely stemming from Maoist ideology, the building of the Shenzhen train station towers with grandiosity that speaks loudly and makes every chinese proud. A modern day coliseum of sorts, but in which the prowesses extolled here aren't athletic, but industrial ones.

My first attempt to buy a ticket ends with a quick realization: travelling in the People's Republic isn't an easy treat. The automatic teller asks everyone travelling for a required travel id. Movement across China is tracked and tried over and over, at least by public means of transport. Neither of two options for id in the automatic ticket booth apply to me, so I head to the counter. Of course having this face here means a lot fo things. The man behind the ticket counter isn't uncouth, but not kind either. After I spell out my destination (using my guidebook, of course) he asks in plain English: "First Class?". My quick spurt of bu shi's must've sounded convincing; I am charged the standard 75 RMB (~12USD) and issued a ticket. I'm on the fast rail to Guangzhou, a fast way (306km/h or 190mph at its fastest!) into mainland China

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Posted by findmywuwei 04:19 Tagged train china station guangzhou shenzhen crosing_the_border fast_rail Comments (2)

When the tough get going....

....the going really just gets easy.

29 °C

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After an after lunch walk, K. and I spent the rest of the evening ranting and laughing. My stamina was still a bit lousy, jet lag was beating me slowly. His couch is barely six feet long, a fact he stresses to each of his selected guests. If the requesting guest is toot all, he or she will be rejected. K. has no qualms with rejecting about anyone who doesn't meet his standards. In fact, he is proud of his selectivity; a beaming pride that gets to my head a little bit, feeling fortunate to be his guest while being aware his criticality is both an asset and a deterrent. K. doesn't count on being everybody's friend, a view that in some ways is more realistic than the facebook-esque "look at all the friends I have" social construct. And K. criticizes facebook for it's shortcomings in regards to real human connections. Nothing to disagree with.

The short couch isn't short enough to prevent me from crashing while K. cooks.

Waking up to dinner has a similar effect to opening a birthday present. The only difference is your taste buds (or your brain?) can't catch up to the wonderful things happening in your mouth. Sleepily, I pick up the chopsticks and nibble. Rice, tomato and a savory salmon slightly overcooked. K. managed, and dinner goes smoothly. Rather than staying home to make digestion, K. suggests we walk.

The night air is still muggy, but a lot cooler than earlier. Following my host, I walk through shopping malls galore. This is how Hong Kongers do it. To avoid the humid air, many areas of the city can be traversed entirely through malls. Since Hong Kong is a tax free region, it is a shopper's paradise. So clearly, I'm far from my own personal Shangri La. But if any paradisiac attribute can be found in shopping malls, it is air conditioning, and K. and revel in it for ten minutes before heading towards a walkway on the bay.

Posted by findmywuwei 01:55 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

A room with a few views...

... always leading up to more thoughts

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This pace I've set on is at times tiring, toting around everything from place to place. I had just left Kevin, who met me in Central a few minutes ago and made my way to the East Rail line of the MTR, which so far has been extremely efficient, clean and easy to follow. Now, having taken a bus to K.'s neighborhood, I am surrounded by crystal-like buildings erupting everywhere. He comes to meet me and we zip up fifteen stories to his small apartment.

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Mr. K. doesn't want to be identified, but his name is so common, mentioning it couldn't possibly give away his identity.Nevertheless, I'll call him K. Meeting a person like him the first day of my trip is like seeing all the giant sequoias on your fist trip to California. A tidal wave of thoughts and viewpoints crash over me while talking to him. Educated in Stony Brook University in NY, and having lived in french Canada for a long time, this multilingual guy can wrap around you a thousand times in five seconds. With a smile, K. rants and raves (and often ravages) every and any topic in the current world. His interests are mainly focused on the Occupy movement worldwide and in Hong Kong and on education. Other interests are better left unmentioned here.

Tall and very thin, K. immediately downloads his entire view on couch surfing on me and knocks me out for three seconds. Of course he doesn't see that, I sit there quietly and listen attentively. In many way he's right, hosting loafers or recent graduates wanting to change the world by helping Hong Kong with such-and-such third world problem may be the least interesting guests to this strongly opinionated guy. He staunchly states that I'm an exception he's willing to make, since I'm Colombian (and from the U.S., a fact he's willing to probe insistently). But his probes waiver in context constantly, from sardonic to scrutinizing, cynical to comical, until I start to catch K.'s flow and jump in the current. We find our common francophone vein and plunge right in, he in a easy flowing Quebecois sort of sung in cantonese, and I with my scholastic, terribly proper, and out of use/rusty french. I catch most of his meaning and I manage to converse about cultural topics despite my limited vocabulary. The small apartment grows with his tales of Montreal life and my distinctions of South American spanish. Soon it's time for lunch.

Tai Po Market area is a very Chinese place. Not a lot of foreigners venture there. So both K. and I get curious looks while we saunter through the neighborhood. The streets are filled with people, despite the hot and humid air. Street-level stores line the color washed buildings. Despite his cynicism, K. is actually a sweet guy. He takes me to see the market. It is conspicuously located inside a six story building. The floors are packed with fresh seafood, butcher shops galore, dried goods, vegetables, clothes. The alluring smells change corner to corner, some shock the nose, some blend making scents never before imagined. I get a feeling K. is enjoying this deep inside, that he watches me while he walks lankily besides me, his long and thin arms clasped behind his back, his neck sticking forward, his ears pointing back. Strangely, the same building that sells raw meat in the open air (for 18 hours, maybe more...) houses the local Library and other offices. We land a seat in a food court and eat.

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Posted by findmywuwei 00:37 Comments (6)

Bye Bye New York, hello Hong Kong

...two steps sixteen hours apart.

semi-overcast 22 °C

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It's half past midnight and I'm eating carrots and pistachios. If I had a spoon I would also be digging into the rice, but I forgot to pack utensils. The terminal at JFK is filled with people, and it's safe to say that every single one of them is absorbed by something behind an electronic screen (including myself, as I write). It's hard to know, but I imagine the majority of the passengers in this flight are returning home to Hong Kong. Maybe not. Maybe some are actually Chinese-Americans visiting family. One thing is certain: my wild hair and round eyes are as strange here as book reading or conversing with strangers.
The red-eye schedule seems to have little bearing on people's energy levels. There are young kids watching music videos while they sing animated but in a moderate volume. Not a single person is sleepy-looking, they way I presume I must look right now. But I'm not giving up. I'm reminding my body that this may look like midnight out there, but it's lunchtime where we're all going. So I chew my carrots and pistachios evenly, enjoying the salty tinge mixing with the moist fibers of the carrot, hoping for a mouthful of rice and the fortitude to stay awake a few more hours. With luck I'll be sleeping in the cabin, something that, to me, represents the epitome of discomfort.

  • **

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Everyone in this flight speaks Cantonese, and if it weren't for the bilingual flight attendants, I would be signaling my way through meals and drinks. Sixteen hours in high altitude confines were looming ahead. Not even halfway up the sky, I was chatting with the young couple sitting next to me. Although not really "a couple," Dani and Ken were close friends who met two years ago studying in Philadelphia, and going back home to Hong Kong for a visit. They were curious about my trip, and amazed at the few things certain to me upon landing, but took my aloof, carefree attitude with a grain of salt. Through the sixteen hours up there, Dani, Ken and I took breaks between movie-watching, video-gaming and napping, and had five minute flash chats, in which I was giddily nervous about being understood, and not speaking a toddler's worth of chinese. But both Dani and Ken were immediately concerned, in a very loving way, about my well being. Arriving at Hong Kong was then tinged with a spectral familiarity, not because having been there, but because my new friends were leading the way. We stepped out into the muggy morning, passed through customs and got our luggage. They offered me a phone call or two, so I contacted a couch-surfing host who offered to at least take me around and have breakfast. No answer. Everything moved so quickly, even thought the 5 am airport was virtually empty. Things got quicker when Dani's dad showed up to pick them up. All of them looked up at me, parting expressions on all of us. I had their numbers, they said, I can call any time. My momentum quelled, but Dani's phone rang, The host was calling me back. We agreed a place and time to meet, and I felt a bit less torn about staying alone in the airport.

Posted by findmywuwei 22:04 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged flying travel airport friends chinese arriving departing long_flight Comments (1)

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