ARRIVING IN CHINA
First of all – China has the best firewall on the planet – not only is Facebook banned & I can’t find any cinemas playing ‘The Great Gatsby’ (desperate to see it) but also haven’t been able to get onto WordPress, so blogs have been a bit slow – now thanks to cousin Meri she has been posting some of our blogs and photos from Australia – thanks Meri – you’re a legend!
This following blog was written almost 2 weeks ago – more recent to follow:
China has been a big culture shock – we don’t really know what we were expecting – though if I had to articulate it I would’ve thought it was less developed, more chaotic & probably lots more crowded. I mean it is crowded but no-where near as crazy as India (which both Sandy & I just love!) The infrastructure, roads and general cleanliness is quite amazing. Though then you turn a corner into a back alley which is super dirty & the toilets – well that deserves a blog entry on its own!
I never had any desire to come to China previously because of what the government has done to the Tibetan people (not to mention the Uigurs etc) though our friends Liss, Bergs, Xander & Edan have raved about it -especially their trip to Tiger leaping gorge – so they and Sandy talked me into it – and it was a logical way to get through Asia cross-continent to Europe. I’m so glad we came!
One of the biggest culture shocks for me is I’m not used to being so lost with language – previously when I’ve traveled I’ve known the language or at least spent a few months studying it but this time I was far too busy – so I am embarrassed to say how lost we all are with it – we know some numbers, hi, thank you and the words for twins but that’s it – and not many people at all speak English – and why should they – Mandarin is he most spoken language in the world!
Traveling with kids outside of their sleep times makes everything that much harder – firstly we get to our Singapore hotel at 11pm (1am body clock time), then the next day stay at Singapore zoo till 10pm ( the night show was really brilliant) and expect the kids to wake up at 4.15am to get our flight to Kunming via KL. Asking for trouble weren’t we!
Arriving in Kunming was relatively painless though then we get into some guys car ( who said he had a big car (aka 5 seater sedan) – well he seemed very nice! We managed to get all our big bags in the boot though we had to squeeze others into the car as well as all the kids and myself in the back while Sandy chatted to the guy in the front. It was a scene to remember! The 1/2 hr trip into town would’ve been pretty easy if it only took 1/2 hr though as Chinese streets don’t always have names rather are part of a group or neighbourhood – our quaint little guesthouse wasn’t easy to find – as he drove around the lake for over 5 times and making more and more frustrated calls to the guesthouse – the time in the car was about an hour, I couldn’t feel my legs from a sleeping Zoi and I was worried that we might be tainted the loudest family in the world as the kids got fidgety and started annoying each other. Eventually we found the guesthouse and really needed the quiet few days walking to the ‘Green Lake’ nearby, trying desperately to find food that wasn’t so spicy and feeling totally inadequate with the language.
On one of the days we walked to ‘Walgreens’ (yes I know the Americans think China is taking over but American companies have already taken over China!) and a great, busy and smelly market to buy some snack foods for the kids – if the kids are hungry things get harder so need to be prepared. Somewhere along the way I lost Toby’s iPod from my day-pack- not exactly sure if it fell out or someone took it but we couldn’t find it anywhere. I felt so bad – Toby and Yasi have been saving for almost 2 yrs as we said if they can save the $ themselves they can have one when they were 10 yrs old. Well initially they didn’t have enough so they shared one which I thought was going to be a disaster and the deal was if there was any arguing it came straight to Sandy or I for a whole day. Anyway – just upon leaving Australia they had enough for a second one duty free. If Toby had lost it himself then he would just have to save enough for another because I think kids need to learn these tough lessons but since I lost it I think I’ll have to replace it. Bummer!
Anyway – I thought that maybe I dropped it while at the checkout in Walgreens as that’s when my wallet fell out as I was preparing to pay- so after the kids were in bed that night Sandy stayed with them and I waltzed down to Walgreens and played a game of charades, showed them a small note that the guesthouse had written for me and hoped for the best – not to be found, though they promised to call the guesthouse if it did. On the way back I thought I would pop into the police caravan to do the same. Well that mistake cost me a couple of hours. The policeman motioned to the policewoman, who was eating her noodles, who then stood up and lead me down the road, into some really bizarre backstreets and on a maze I thought I would never be able to find my way back – and she was walking so slow – I was starting to worry about where she was leading me to. Eventually we get to a police station – where no body spoke any English – my note was passed around to 10 or so cops, they made call after call and all I wanted to do was get up and leave though I got the feeling this would be totally inappropriate and possibly dangerous so I just sat there waiting……. They found an incident form that had some English so I filled that out and thought it would be it but no – they motioned me to wait – eventually a Chinese girl and her Thai boyfriend who were staying at a hostel nearby came in and translated for me – the police had gone from premises to premises nearby looking for English speakers! I explained that I really wasn’t that worried about the iPod and I just wanted to check if it had been handed in. Well it was explained that since I came here I had to go through the correct procedures! OMG I just wanted bed! Well we (the interpreters and I) were taken by a policeman to a room upstairs through a dark corridor to make a statement – well I thought I had already done that with the form! After 5 minutes of sitting there the computer wouldn’t work so we went back down the dark stairs then outside through the back car park past some cells to another room that had computer which was working. Well eventually all the questions were answered and they knew the colour, age everything of myself and the iPod! When I was taken back to the reception area they asked how far my hotel was and after explaining I had no idea where I was really but would try and find Walgreens to retrace my steps home – I got a ride in a Chinese police car. They were pretty nice really – just following protocol!!!!!!!
TRAFFIC IN CHINA
On the whole I’ve been quite impressed with traffic & roads in China. On first impression there are so many 4 lane highways interconnecting the cities (& what they call villages – though are about 20 times bigger than the village where I was born in Greece). The highways are very good quality & clean & mostly lined with trees & flowers in the median strip & often the sides – especially into & out of cities – impressions are important!
However – today is what I was more expecting as we try & ascend this big mountain for Day 3 of our tour – a four hour horse trek up a mountain to a minority village called Mapingguan village – then a home-stay. I think i was expecting more of Indian-style chaos. Anyway, as we ascend by car 500m or so from Dali to Shaxi the road is very narrow & cars just pass each other at bends and all just by using their horn! It seems to work. We are so lucky that Kham – our driver – is really relaxed, very friendly & not in a hurry.
MAPINGGUAN VILLAGE ‘HORSE TREK’
Our home-stay in Mapingguan (a Bai minority village) was quite eye-opening & amazing! First of all getting there was simply a lot of hard work – I guess the horses that carried the kids are used to the 600m in altitude ascent – but golly Sandy & I weren’t ready or it – it was definitely the steepest path I’ve ever had to hike up (though I have forgotten the physical pain initially when trekking in Ladakh but also I was 15 years younger). Anyway -the trek started off flat along the rice paddy fields then took a very steep turn & I was feeling tired but ok until one of the horse-men said `we have 15kms to go’ that was almost enough to get me too turn around – though I thought it might not be the best example for the kids who were way ahead on horses I couldn’t see them anyway. I tried to blame the altitude, I tried to blame my lingering ‘I’ve given up coffee’ headache – though really I just haven’t had enough hiking practice lately! Eventually four hours later we made it to this quaint village that you can only reach by foot or horseback. Instantly it made me feel homesick for my birth village in Greece – a collection of rustic houses all together in a small village, with the animals in stables in the yard & surrounded by fields of incredible looking vegetables & other crops. Wild bees creating honey etc – all very self sufficient! Well it would have to be when the closest shop is 4 hours by foot or horseback along a steep path (did I mention it was STEEP?)
After the excitement of the horses, when we got there It was initially quite a culture shock for the kids & thoughts of “why are we doing this?” started seeping in – but once the tea came out (we are all getting very fond of tea) & I reminded the older kids they could get a new album for their iPod in each country we go to it all seemed ok & they started soaking in the experience – a neighbour brought their baby granddaughter to visit – which broke the ice, then Kalika & Zoi started fighting over who was using the straw broom to sweep the yard after the horses were put away.
Mapingguan is a village of about 100 homes that has only had electricity for the last two years and has just had a mobile phone tower put in. I was walking up puffing and thinking ‘Holy strife – how did they possibly build electricity poles and infrastructure here?’ I have been amazed at what this country can achieve. It’s very different to what I had imagined. All building materials sourced in the village surrounds or hauled up the mountain by horse.
We stayed with a beautiful couple called Dun Zhe Qun (male) & Dun Yue Zhe (female) – they met by introduction at the age of 21, had 3 children (obviously before the one-child policy – though Bai minority people can have 2 children), grow most of what they eat, have built their lovely home & seem very united.
Their children have all grown up & moved to the cities & towns nearby – 2 of them are married & the weddings were right here in the yard. They also have 2 grandchildren. Dun Zhe Qun’s face just lit up when I asked about his grand kids. He reminded me of my granddad in Greece – I was almost in tears – he and his wife were so impressive- making their own oil, honey, drying meat, collecting enough hay for their horses who live in the underground stables during the snowy winter (imagine their wonderment when they come out again in the spring), their wood pile was so neat like my grandad’s – I really thought they were awesome. We were fed such glorious food – lots of different types of veggie dishes – but one of them we couldn’t even get a translation for even through Yeshi – they were a root veggie that looked a bit like big whichetty grubs but tasted like delicious chips! Mmmmm! Yum! Please tell us if you know what they are. We asked Dun Yue Zhe to not make things too spicy but I almost fell off my stool when Tobes, Yas & Kiki added chilli to their bowl – OMG!
The biggest culture shock though was the toilet – we had to go out the front gate, down a path littered with rubbish (obviously the local tip as well) then to a small mud building that had no running water just a shallow rectangular hole. We were a bit confused about what to do with the ‘stuff’ so asked Yeshi & after he asked Dun Zhe Qun he said ” oh no problem just leave it – they will gather later & mix with the pig manure for the garden!” The whole experience wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to walk though rubbish to get there. As we’ve been rating toilets – we gave this one less than 1/10.
By Baba Miliking