Thursday, December 9, 2010

Last Weeks: Leaving the Fairyland (not my choice of names)

This morning we pulled up the rugs and shipped out of the flat that has been our home for the last few months. I can't help but wonder what will happen to our room, except that I am sure it will get a girlie make over since one of our flatmates is taking it over. In no time it will be covered with Justin Bieber (I actually don't know who he is just that he is a teen sensation) posters and pictures of girls in various stock poses, good times. Of course while we were there we tried to make the place as friendly as possible this included such fascist bourgeois American ideals like "No Smoking" and "Please Slipper". The latter being a sign in Chinese gone wrong that was supposed to say "Please take off your shoes". Still I think that I like "please slipper" better and people should expect to see a replica of it on our front door step in Ohio in Chinese of course.

So we left this morning at 7am for a fairly uneventful drive down to the village of Chengdu, though it is not really a village but a giant raw material eating, cement building pooping, monster. Along the way we were greeted with many vehicles prepped for the mein bow che nuptuals, i.e. the little mini-vans that run around all over Sichuan were decorated for a wedding or more likely several weddings. Also we were able to see the extremely rare sight of pigs being slaughtered on the road, note not on the side of the road but literally on the road. The drive though a short seven and half hours gave me a chance to go over the things that I will miss in Jiuzhaigou and the many things that I won't. In true TCC fashion it will be in a "list-way".

Things I won't miss:

Staring: it is rare to see foreigners in such a remote part of the country and for many it is the first time they have seen a real life foreigner in their country, but staring at me in amasement does not ingratiate yourself to me.

Yelling at me: While on the subject of seeing foreigners for the first time yelling "Hello" and the occasional "moshi moshi" at us while we are riding by does not do well to make me want to respond. Of course for me it is more of an annoyance since the people often do not seem to be truly interested in actually starting a conversation with me. In case you don't know what "moshi moshi" is it is a japanese saying that one uses when answering the phone.

Secret pictures: Yes I saw you taking my picture with your phone camera, I also saw you pretend to take a picture of a bush behind me when in fact you were taking my picture with your girlfriend walking behind me in the background. Just ask and I'm more than willing to let you take my picture maybe even with your girlfriend/wife if shes cute.

The No: It took me a few months but after receiving no's to several queries, we came up with the theory of "No". The theory of No states that if the first thing someones says to your question is "no" then they will not be helpful in any way. This could be for several reasons the majority of which pointing to the fact that they do not actually know the answer to the question that you are asking. An example of this would be "I would like to purchase [something]", reply "No you can't do that", "why not?", "you are a foreigner, I don't speak foreigner". At this point the theory of no says to find someone else that can help you and that in no case will the first person ever be helpful to you. The second part of the theory of No is the theory of yes, see things that I will miss.

The Taxi's and hired vans: They are the worse drivers in the area, unfortunately they also have the most experience in driving which means they have been driving for at least a year. The taxi's will pass you every chance they get which is essentially anytime they are behind you.That is, if you are on a narrow road with a blind corner that is a perfectly good time to pass. Also they will rip you off whenever they can, something I despise. The vans are similar except they almost always abide by the theory of no, as in "No, we can't pick you up there", "No, we don't have any cars at this time that can take you to the airport in the morning", "No, it's not against the law to drive and smoke and talk on the phone at the same time", and my favorite "No, we can't take your luggage". Amongst all that they also drive such that I always feel ill in the vans. Lord Pukington here I come.

Piggy parts: This shouldn't be a surprise if you have been reading the blog for awhile but when we returned to our flat in JZG in July after being gone most of June, we had three new flatmates, Flopsy, Mopsy and cotton la rou. Cotton la rou being the smoked and cured pig that was now residing in our refrigerator. Of course this was unacceptable to Amanda, for me it was more of a nuissance. However after seeing that over the five months that Cotton la rou lived in our refrigerator that he never got eaten it began to wear on me. I will not miss Cotton la rou nor his beady little eye (there was only half of his skull in the vegetable drawer) staring at me when I was grabbing the lettuce. (PS we didn't actually keep the lettuce in the drawer with him, the margarine on the other hand).When I last saw him his leg, detached, was now occupying the sink disabling us from doing our dishes.

The cold as Hell office: Of course we all know that hell is supposed to be hot, but in this case hell has frozen over and its name is a Chinese Dan Wei (Government Work Unit) where the heater in the office doesn't work and the girl in the other office who spends most of her time sleeping with her head on the desk feels its her duty to come in and open the windows and make the place even colder. I could write an entire rant just on the wasted energy alone let alone the fact that you don't work in my office why the hell do you keep taking our water and opening the windows and doors. The result is that she went on vacation they changed the locks to the office that she was sleeping in. Hah!

REALLY bad hotpot: There is this one hot pot place that the staff always takes guests to for official functions. It is the most disgusting hot pot restaurant I have ever been to. I hate it, I wish it would go away and all of the other things that one would say about a person they don't like when they are five years old. This place, which must give out kickbacks to the park staff for taking people there is wretched. Most Sichuan hot pot is bad and tastes the same no matter what you get, but this place is especially atrocious. The floor is somehow both sticky like in a cheap movie theatre and greasy like a bad diner at the same time. You are only able to regain full traction once the floor is tiled in empty sunflower seed shells. The private rooms are small, hot and when you walk out you smell like hot pot, think smoky bar but spicier. The waitstaff is slow and really could some training on how to maintain the illusion of cleanliness.

Thorny Bushes: Literally ten patches on one tube until we decided not to ride in that valley anymore. It was fun but not worth the work.

So that is the bad that I won't miss. Now for the good. The stuff that I will miss.

The little things: Some of the things that I enjoyed the most are the simple things that you notice when you are out and about. For me it was when we would ride out of town and see people on the side of the road. Generally very cheerful, polite, and friendly. Often people would make the pat the dog motion of calling you over to have a chat, a genuine interest in who you are and what you are doing there. The old Tibetan women that sweep the street above Zhangzha that smile when they see you and the children that wave and say hello ( the exception to the above).Monks on motorcycles and many more little details.

The dirt road: This is the road that Amanda and I used for training for the race in Yakeshi. There was nothing special about it except that it was dirt, of a generally good grade and since very few cars drove on it you could fly down it at a good clip. At the top if you kept going you would wind up on a beautiful singletrack that terminates in a meadow that was (is) used to graze yaks.

The park: Jiuzhaigou is beautiful and having access to it whenever I wanted meant I was very lucky. I have hundreds of pictures of different areas and everytime I went in I found something new that would amaze me. If you don't believe me come over here and see for yourself, I freakin' dare you.

The new dirt road: Similar to the dirt road except that there are like thirty switchbacks and can be ridden as a loop. It was a challenge to get up there and when you thought you were at the top there was still more to go. When you finally did reach the top you were rewarded with a wonderful view and a chance to herd yaks with your bicycle. There was a old Tibetan village up there and the valley seemed to go on forever. The last time we went up there it was snowing at the village and dry down in the valley. The ride down was pretty fun too.

Flopsy and Mopsy (Not there real names): Amanda may differ with me here but they were nice girls and Mopsy always was happy, maybe a little too happy. They were nice though they did things that I certainly don't understand but I am sure there were plenty of things that we did that were strange, like yoga. It was a good experience to live with Tibetan city girls.

Abu Luzi: After the tourist season began to slow down we started spending more time at the restaurant owned by our Tibetan friends Ke Zhu and Zhou Ma. I spent more time there than Amanda I think but it was nice to hang out somewhere other than the flat at night and I met a lot of nice and interesting people.

The Orphanage: I was asked to help do some work with the landscaping and with the help of Kieran and his friends on his birthday we accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. However nothing beats the kids with perpetually runny noses and red cheeks running around like monsters. They were always so happy when we came to show a movie and the doctor was always friendly and curious as to whether I had learned chinese yet. They were like a giant family and treated each other like brothers and sisters with the doctor as grandfather and rest of the staff as Aunts and Uncles.

The nine bends: The name is deceiving since it was more like the 10, 11, or 12 turns depending on where you started counting. Needless to say we rode our bikes along this section of road many times and was fun to go down whether you stayed on the road or took the trails between each of the switchbacks (hint the trail between turns seven and nine was the longest and best).

Seeing Emma in Songpan: We took all of our guests up to Songpan to show them the ancient Tibetan walled city but for us it was usually to go and see Emma one of the nicest most genuine people I have met in China.

Zhou Ma, Ke Zhu, and Kieran: I pretty much met all of them at the same time when we first got to Chengdu. We went to the traditional Tibetan meal at the bookworm where Ke Zhu was cooking and Zhou Ma and her sister-in-law were serving. Kieran introduced himself and we got to know the others the next day as we all went to the car market to look at used cars. After going to JZG we saw them again when we went to Abu Luzi for dinner with my brother and sister-in-law while they were visiting. We ran into them again at their homestay where I had yak butter tea for the first time and we went horse back riding (I use the term loosely) in the valley. All three of them made my time in JZG bearable because of their friendship, without them I would have probably cried myself to sleep every night. Not really, but I would have definitely been more desperate about getting out of there for my visa run in September. It was one of the most unique friendships that I have been involved in since two out of the three barely skoke any english and I don't speak Chinese. Ke Zhu and Zhou Ma make success look easy in a place that relies so much on connections with the right people, why is this, simply, they are friendly genuine people.

A'ma, Lopsong, and the Homestay: We spent a lot of time at the homestay even though we never stayed the night. A'ma always invited us into the house and wanted to serve us Su You Cha. How can a guy say no to a woman that laughs the way she does. When she found out that Amanda was a vegetarian and that I eat meat, she made it her mission to make sure that I had enough meat to last me until the next time that I came. Of course a visit to the homestay was not complete without playing with Lopsong (The youngest of A'ma's three grandson's). It was amazing to see how much he began to speak over the last few months and how comfortable he was around us. If there is a more adorable kid in Tibetan robes I haven't seen him/her. I knew that I was making a sacrifice to come to China with my wife and live in a remote area of Sichuan province but nobody seemed to appreciate it more than A'ma. I'm guessing the thought of the husband picking up and moving across the country let alone the world to be with his wife is a very unusual occurence and that I must truly love Amanda to do it. All true of course. However it always made me feel better to go and spend some time up at the house drinking tea and eating flat bread and yak meat oh and the honey, buckets of honey. Despite the language barrier it was the most worthwhile experience that I have had in my time in China.

I could really go on for a long time so I will let this go for now.


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