Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Xie Xie, China, It's Been a Slice

Some Retelling, Relating, and Reflecting (applying my grade 4 education here..)...and pictures :)...

So…here I sit, on the floor of Departures in Beijing Int. Airport, having just eaten my last Dragonfruit and said goodbye to two very awesome girls (both fruit and friends will be missed dreadfully). The last 48 hours here in China have brought much joy as we’ve reflected on what this country has unexpectedly contributed to our lives.

J&J head out bright and early Wed morning to the transsiberian, and I fly tonight to get my feta fix. As we reflected over the trip during our last dinner together, we attempted to discuss our favourite memories of the journey – and realized the task of narrowing down our options was impossible, as each day of our short 3-week venture was so jam packed and each event offered something extremely different compared to the others.

The lack of blogger has limited my abilities to spread out the stories of our escapades in detail, I wish you all could know more clearly some of what has gone down here in this tacky and truly unique section of the globe, but I’m sure many post-trip coffee dates will bring more clarity to just how off this culture is, and how pointless it is to try and understand the 1.4 billion peoples’ daily habits as they attempted to adapt their old, eastern traditions to the rapid onset of the western influence. The clash of the two worlds has created quite an odd and overwhelming result that I hope each of you get to experience at one point or another.

The quirkiness has been observed since the moment I stepped into the Arrivals arena in Hong Kong airport to meet the quirky and jolly stranger who was my only point of contact on this unplanned adventure – and that was just Hong Kong which is basically England when compared to mainland China. I had a lot to learn…but as we’ve discovered, there are some things we are just never going to understand. You can try – but this culture’s present day ways are so far from making sense to a westerner, you just have to stand back, smile and nod at the sight before you, all the while at least appreciating how much it’s going to open your eyes to the differences within humanity. We have come to the realization (it didn’t take us long to figure out), that the word “unnecessary” is truly what defines the Chinese culture as a general rule. When something is ridiculous and unnecessary, it makes sense here. I also want to clarify that I am facetious out of love for this country…though I don’t think I’ll ever go back…but still; all love.

Here are some examples and visual aid…though pictures don’t do the culture justice. You can literally stand on the street and point at everything in the culture and fit in under the “interesting..” umbrella. As I write I realize how judgmental I sound – but honestly, it’s so different from… us we were certainly never bored.
Okay so these stools are HILARIOUS. Everyone literally carts these mini stools around with them and whenever they enter a line, sit on them. Sounds great, in theory...except then you watch them squat all the way down to sit just to stand, drag the stool, and bend to sit again every thirty seconds, only moving about half a metre every time. Saving energy? I think not. ....whatever floats your boat?

This is one of our favourite Chinese habits, and what makes the men there SO incredibly attractive.... The boys at a very young age learn to actually walk around like this...but not JUST with their shirts up, but with guts out and the constant motion of slapping and playing with their belly buttons. so hot. Please! Canadian boys! start'll win over any girl you long as you hoark and spit on them as well... That is how you get women.

oh yeah, and I might add that the man is reading a sign that discusses this stone, which actually called "Large Decorative Stone," and it is known for being the largest decorative stone in China. Necissary or unnecissary? I'll let you be the judge..

The Hoarking too…I wish I had captured this continuous occurrence on camera. The constant chorus of hoarking and car/bike honking defies reason – No man or woman produces THAT much spit naturally – every other culture manages to restrain themselves – so they unnecessarily force phlegm out of their lungs just to fling wherever it may choose to land. And the cars and bikes around you are literally just honking for fun – they must be. There are no rules for driving, you just do whatever you want..once again, China holds the highest traffic accident casualty number per capita in the world (so my completely accurate sources inform me). Another unnecessary obsession – the coughing masks. If you so much as sniffle or clear your throat they waive a mask in front of your face, yet they’ll spit anywhere and everywhere, don’t provide toilet paper ANYwhere, don’t use soap after using the washroom (like they don’t have soap anywhere), and I don’t even want to talk about the cleaning regulations (or lack there of). And all this would be fine, if they didn’t so hypocritically obsess over the face masks. So silly. They also give me an individual plastic bag for my coffee whenever I say “to go,” and don’t understand that bagging a coffee to go is an utterly pointless and redundant thing to do. This list just never ends.

No matter where I travel to next, every culture will be held up to this incredibly unromantic, weird, annoying (if you lack a sense of humour and patience) group of individuals. Because of China’s attempt to portray themselves in a more Western light, and hide the different ways of their people, I really had no idea about the actual modern customs of the culture (we’ll also keep in mind I found out I was flying here 2 days before landing so couldn’t really look anything up beforehand). One might be able to make educated assumptions about the feeling of Italy or India for example, without ever having set foot there (though they ARE high ranking locations on the bucket list, don’t get me wrong, GOING is still better than knowing from afar), one has no idea about China until you have actually allowed all of your senses to soak it all in.

We even had a tackiness meter, which we modeled after the customer satisfaction machines scattered all over; when something was truly and amazingly tacky, it would receive “satisfactory,” downwards through “moderately satisfied,” to “dissatisfied,” as opposed to any sort of option for exceeding service expectations. The mini stools are satisfactory indeed.
Over the trip we had some wicked times, which I’ll do some highlights for ya in a bit, but at one point a discussion we had at the Summer Palace in Beijing while sitting with our feet over the stone ledge next to a stunning royal lake really hit home for us. We were reminded of the fragility of life – and not even just physical life (as depressing as that part of conversation was at certain points…we can’t stick to dwelling on that), but the fragility of our life mentally, and how easily our minds can be altered to something unhealthy or negative. Especially while we were surrounded by a society still affected by such a harsh regime, we must remember how easily even the greatest, most intelligent minds, or the strongest individual’s character’s can be manipulated, controlled, and convinced of something completely immoral or inherently evil. Although at home we are given more freedom mentally – this doesn’t mean we are not affected STRONGLY by the sources around us…we may think we are not corrupted…but our minds are fragile, and the subtle ways they are affected are dangerous and not obvious unless you begin to keep your eyes open a little wider (easy for us “wide-eyes” ;), kidding). But seriously…not only should we be doing things that live life to the fullest…but we need to be aware and discerning, and that the way we think is in check and healthy and vibrant also. Remember, we are challenged to lead a life worthy of our calling…let us find strength in the one who calls us and seek to train our minds, hearts, relationships, etc. because they can so easily be lost or corrupted. What are lives worth to you?

The trip for us isn’t done – though the three of us have gone our two separate ways (I should be posting pics for the girls, fyi, if you’re looking out for what they’re doing – maybe, we’ll see!)…but this country – this massive blank map that has been filled in over the last 2 months – this land that I literally had not found out I would be spending any significant amount of time in ever until right before the trip and even while on the trip when making the hard decision to quit my job for the place…has become the craziest, most awesome, beautiful, jam-packed journey. As I fly away to the next continent on the itinerary, I am reminded, thinking back on all that has happened (oh the THOUSANDS of things that have happened mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually…), I am reminded that I am not fully on vaycay, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

While on the metro heading towards the airport I smiled as a song I was obsessed with in grade seven came up on shuffle and reminded me how long I had dreamed for big things…I’m not even ashamed to say it’s Avril Lavigne’s song “Anything but Ordinary” (I know all you boys have her CD memorized)…I’ll let you youtube/google the lyrics yourself…but it’s cool to know that our prayers may take a while to be answered and certainly (in the sense of 2 months spent in China) they are not always how we picture things…yet they are better than we could have ever thought possible. Keep dreaming guys, big things are not just meant for some people – but are promised to all.

So…get off your butt, or at least be patient.

I suppose you think this is easy for me to say being all over the globe right now…but trust me; the journey here was by no stretch easy. All you have to do is be willing to follow…all the time…and remember…

“Don’t let any one think less of you because you are young, be an example to all…” 1 Tim 4:12

… Here’s some random fav’s of ours if you’re interested, in no particular order...

climbing the sickest fence in the world..

napping on the great wall, nbd

Jess! I see the light..

Summer Palace...couldn't get enough!

Another great thing in China....the random solomn group dancing.

Summer Palace...stunning!

Tianamen Square...

little India - fav pavillion....amazing dancing...and we got samosas....home...*sigh*

I got my Thai fix, after all!!

The Irish pavillion had pictures of a bunch of different people who are irish....this "red head" was amoung U2 and Oscar Wilde. This is what Ireland has contributed to the world...

At the expo...Haiti pavillion had paper all over for people to sign with words of encouragement and such..

!out watch
Jess and Ashley and Mr. Yak

great moment - walking down the street from the metro and stopping to watch Mr. Bean with the locals as it blared out onto the sidewalk....amazing...amazing...made me miss home a bit.

he put the sunglasses on especially for the pic. so BA

When Jess got her belly button done it actually felt like I was coaching a birth. I'm going to be a pro. She did great, especially because this was her second one.

Oh yeah, Hey and p.s. Mom and Dad - I got my rook pierced!! And my second whole on the left ear.. just so ya know!! It was safe and very clean mom - not as sketch as it looked!

The guy actually pierced my ear without me knowing until it was through as I was facing away and bartering the prices we'd pay on the phone with his english speaking daughter...not as sketchy as it sounds....?

we got the "standing" train tickets for our 13 hour trip to Beijing....we were lucky enough to camp out in the smoking looks more spacious in the pictures...and was actually SO much fun...people were playing cards all on the floor, jess and I both had a new boy that night sharing our bags, my foot fell asleep once so much that when I awoke in a panic with my body probably thinking my foot had lost all blood and died, I collapsed because I literally had no sensation in my feet anymore from how cramped we were. amazing actually, no complaints!!

Here's a couple of guys sitting on the sink as their seat next to the washrooms...and this was before all the people were filled in!

We've actually had some wicked transportation adventures - maybe not everyone's style...but such awesome times. The boat to Shanghai from Osaka ended up being so chill and amazing, and we even got so much free food...which the calling of some of this free food as something edible is questionable...but any time we heard those two 'f' words together we became sort of animalistic.... literally one morning we were asleep in our Jap-style room, Julia and I facing each other, and Jess across from us, and in our dream-like state at 6am we all heard the thick accent over the intercome saying "free breakfast" and literally as soon as those words were spoken, Julia and I opened our eyes at the same time, repeated to each other "free food?" then sat up in unison to face Jess who said "I heard it too" as she sat up to face us. All this happened in a couple of split seconds, and we literally - no lie, were out of bed a second later and hurrying up bed-heads and all to the dining room even though we technically had time to sleep in a bit.

Our overnight to Japan which consisted of flying from Lhasa to Chengdu, transferring to Beijing, and then transferring to Tokyo was a cool story too. First, Ashley offered to take the hour long bus ride to the airport to say goodbye which turned out to be an insane blessing because she had our permits which we wouldn't have thought we'd need anymore - but they wouldn't have let us fly without them and we would have missed our flight by the time we'd get Ashley to the airport if she hadn't come to send us off. Then in Chengdu, our flight was delayed (along with ALL other flights to Beijing/area), and so while scrambling in the airport for some cheap options for food (we weren't even hungry), and Julia runs into the only store on our level where Jess and I were scouting out Ice cream and says "they have free food!!" (Julia actually instinctually was going to head for the food without us at first)...and we ran...for no reason, we ran and pushed to get this free food that was absolutely kind of disgusting - but not at all...because it was free. Then we took way more water bottles than we needed...and later on when there were free crackers we were like scavengers, and I had to nab a couple at a time because Julia, who was holding the package was ravenously devouring them all within minutes. That night in Chengdu we also spied a white tourist group eating tuna sandwhiches, which the girls had been craving for weeks, and so upon hearing that they got them for free from the airline, our instinct kicked in to scout them out too..which landed us with free bowls of dried noodles. Served us right...but they were amazing anyway. The story actually got cooler because as we were waiting and waiting, we were informed that our flight was going to be delayed until the next morning, which would mean our Tokyo flight would be missed, and this was the one flight the girls didn't have insurance for... we all prayed, and literally, as Jess was talking to one guy about the group that had decided to leave and go to a hotel overnight, and Julia was still holding the crackers, I went to change my contacts, came back, and Julia said "we're going." And I was like..."what?!?" Just like that, after waiting for hours and being told we'd have to wait another 7 hours to take off, we were flying to Beijing...just our plane and none of the other planes that were in line before us or after us to go to Beijing were leaving, but we were flying, and we made our Tokyo transfer just in time. Wonderful.

marx, lenin, mao - ...

an official expo hat


cutting Jule's bangs!! Newbie hairdresser and newbie bangs!


We thought this was pretty Japan, the men wear hats so much it made it on the walking sign.


Another highlight of the trip - the Japanese shower when we were laughed at and then stared at by old Japanese women will stick with us for a long, long time (partially because it was slightly scarring...?) amazing.

in the himalaya's, p.s.

Ashley's apartment and husband,'s not just how fun the whole night was - but the humbling and blessed realization of just how little we need to be truly happy. The point was driven home even further when we attempted to brain storm ideas for a thank-you gift and realized how A&D didn't need nor want anything other than what they had (except a car and a baby, but our resources were limited)...The memory of that single evening will stick out in our minds for good - so here's to hoping the observation of back to basics will also be carried with us as we press forward in life.

Running through a fountain in Tibet!

Ashley and David!!!

"Mr. Yak"

Our first hostel together!

t-shirts!! We actually couldn't get enough of them...young and old, male and female would wear any ridiculous t...

The Matching shirts!! Okay so couples in China wear matching shirts pretty often. And we can't help wondering what drama goes down with something like what point is a relationship solid enough to merit buying a matching shirt? Does the guy buy a set, or does the girl? Or is it a mutual decision? Do fights occur based on who wants to wear what shirt on what day? Or what if the guy doesn't want to match that day - does that mean things are ending?? I love it. I am so doing this when I'm no longer single. Ba! something tells me this just wouldn't fly with Canadian boys...

these "playgrounds" are set up everywhere and are used by the elderly like no tomorrow - I think they're actually really smart...they're like gyms but outside, I'd be way more into this method of working out..

At the Panda Reserve..

One of the best days...first day we traveled together back in the HK days - Jess's b-day and she got her fish and chips!!

Now I'm in Athens - I'll try to post soon!!

love, love, LOVE