Friday, September 24, 2010

Lost in Translation: Shanghai, Part 3: 10 Days With My Cousin Traveling Through Macau, Hong Kong, and China.

After consuming a relatively inexpensive meal - so far, food in China is more expensive than in Southeast Asia - we thought we'd check out Shanghai's financial district, in Pudong. This area, and rightfully so, is Shanghai's claim to fame where the city's stunning skyline erects. At night, its unique architecturally built, modern buildings are lit up making for a fabulous photo-op.

To reach Pudong, we took the bizarre Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. Jessica and I assumingly thought that this alternative way to reach Pudong would be an informative and entertaining way to pick up some historical knowledge about the Bund, Pudong, and the construction of the tunnel while crossing the Huangpu River.


Instead, what we experienced was a bizarre Willy Wonka-esque tram ride through the tunnel. Feeling a bit flummoxed, we silently stared out the back window as we observed psychedelic lights flashing, eerie music being played, and a recording of someones voice who spouted random words. Again, all very bizarre. I was waiting for Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka to appear and begin singing.

"There's no earthly way of knowing

which direction we are going

There's no knowing where we are rowing

Or which way the river is flowing

Is it raining? Is it snowing? Is a hurricane a-blowing? . . ."

The next morning, Jessica and I checked out of our hostel. Jessica had booked two nights for us in a hotel where a few of her friends would be staying as well. The plan was to find and check into our hotel then meet up with her friends, Kirsten and Will, at the World Expo that evening.

Yes, we would be returning to the World Expo. We thought we'd give it another shot. And, as always - at least since I'd left Southeast Asia and joined forces with Jessica in China - we had difficulty finding our hotel. Shocker. According to Jessica's directions, once we exited the subway, our hotel was suppose to be a 10 minute walk away - but in what direction? So, yeah, we got lost. Big time.

And the heat! My god, the heat! It's a good thing I only wear Under Armour Shirts which . . . [ahem] . . . "showcases an ultra soft second-skin fit and delivers signature Under Armour Moisture Transport to pull sweat off the body and speed the natural evaporation process during activity." Furthermore, Under Armour Shirts contains anti-odor construction which, very importantly, "prevents the growth of odor causing microbes, ensuring your gear stays fresh in the worst heat." Simply put: It's the best brand of clothing in the . . . [speaking in a high pitch voice] . . . world! And especially for vagabonds, i.e., long-term travelers like myself. In times like these, I can't help but to remind myself to be thankful for wearing an Under Armour Shirt.

"Yeah, it's a good thing I'm wearing this type of t-shirt," I jokingly said. "Oh, shut up!" Jessica responded, whose heard it all before as her cotton t-shirt continued to absorb every last drop of sweat.

We continued to walk aimlessly through the streets in search of our hotel. After asking numerous people for help who, frustratingly, couldn't provide us with any, we were approached by a kind man who was able to direct us in the proper direction. He even wrote down the street we were looking for in Chinese characters just in case we would get lost again - which we inevitably did.

"Okay, we're not lost. Serenity now, serenity now," I repeatedly thought to myself in order to keep my sanity. "It's just a little bit further . . . it HAS to be."

At this point the heat was intensifying and our luggage was getting heavier. Jessica began to walk noticeably slower and began to trail behind me. She looked like she was going to snap - which she did, sort of. Once we walked to the end of the road and saw that our street was STILL nowhere in sight, Jessica leaned back and belted out, "Duolun Rooooad!"

We eventually found our hotel, thanks to the friendly man who wrote the street name in Chinese characters for us. What a life saver that was.

Later that evening at the World Expo, we met up Jessica's friends, Kirsten and Will, both of whom are from Scotland, who she'd met while teaching English in South Korea. The World Expo continued to be a dismal disappointment; however, being amongst the camaraderie of our Scottish friends led to an enjoyable evening. They even got us an invite to a party which was being held at the Angola Pavilion once the Expo closed, at around midnight. And what a party it was. We partied and danced to the rhythmic beats of Angola's gifted musicians. Attractive curvy, voluptuous Angolan woman would clear a section of the dance floor and break into traditional African dance with a blended mix of western hip-hop. Will, who drunkenly acknowledged that, coming from Scotland, it's a rarity to see African women, found himself 'cuckoo for cocoa puffs' sort of speak, and would frequently need assistance lifting his jaw off from the ground. He truly was in marvel of their beauty - and I got a real kick out of it.

"Ah! This is brilliant!" Will would say in a thick Scottish accent while holding onto his beer, "This is bloody brilliant!"

Indeed it was. The people from Angola knew how to throw a party.

The next day, as one can imagine, we got off to a late start. I'm sure we looked like a bunch of zombies, sluggishly and grunting around. We did manage to see the Propaganda Museum, however.

Efforts by Jessica to see the movie Aftershock, a drama about an earthquake that occurred in China in 1976, eventually fell through. Coincidentally though, as I was eating some street food near our hotel, the couple who owned the food stall where I was eating was watching a pirated copy of the movie, Aftershock. And they generously invited me to watch it with them as I ate.

The next morning before Jessica, Kirsten and Will departed back to South Korea, we went for a leisurely stroll through a park near our hotel. It was a lovely park, too, as there were many people relaxing, fishing, sleeping, playing badminton, playing music and singing. I was really impressed with the amount of people who gathered around to sing. Now, as I've mentioned in my previous blogs, I'm not the biggest fan of the Chinese language; however, when the language is sung instead of spoken, it sounds exceptionally pleasant.

Later that evening, Jessica and I said our goodbyes. The past 10 days with Jessica was quite the deviation, in terms of experiences, from my previous travels in Asia. Our trip was a bit chaotic. And despite how frustrating it was to get lost all the time - and believe me, it was frustrating - Jessica and I always managed to keep our humor. To the average bystander, however, I'd surmise that our laughter sounded a bit psychotic, but, nevertheless, we were laughing. I really enjoyed Jessica's company. It was quite the journey together. I was looking forward to seeing her in South Korea after my travels in China.


Next Stop: Xi'an, China

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lost in Translation: Shanghai, Part 2: 10 Days With My Cousin Traveling Through Macau, Hong Kong and China.

Jessica would be returning to South Korea in a few days and I still wasn't quite sure where I was going next. I eventually decided that I would go to the city of Xi'an. Due to my previous experiences purchasing a train ticket in China, I felt that it would be best to purchase the ticket immediately in order to secure a seat for the date I wanted. Because I was just going to quickly race over to the railway station and back, Jessica and I decided to meet back at the hostel in a few hours. I should've known - especially now, in China, more than ever - that plans never ACTUALLY go according to plan. And what was suppose to be a simple task such as reaching the railway station, turned out to be anything BUT simple.

Oh, Shanghai.

I changed my mind at the last moment and decided to take the bus instead of the subway to the railway station, as I had met a couple of young English lads who said the bus was more convenient and cheaper. Sounded great! Of course, being "convenient and cheaper" only applied if I had a Chinese translator with me - which the English gents did, and I did NOT - and, presumptuously, if had boarded the bus bound for the train station. Which I also . . . [ahem] . . . did not.

It was right around the time that it began to rain cats and dogs that I discovered that I'd taken the proper bus, but in the WRONG direction. I starred out the window and into my reflection, shaking my head in disbelief. There was no way I was going to step outside into the monsoon showers to transfer buses, either. So I stayed put and waited for the bus to reach its final stop (in the wrong direction). I sat in my seat as everyone exited. The bus driver hollered at me. I couldn't understand him, but if he was speaking in English I'm sure he would've been saying, "This is the last stop, you fool! Get out, get out!" I simply smiled and sarcastically said, "Oh, don't mind me. I'm just enjoying your glorious tour of the city." And I handed him the bus fare for the second go around.

The English lads had told me that I couldn't miss the train station, and that I would notice it once I reached it. However, according to my map, I shouldn't seen it by now. I began to get worried. "Hmmm . . . ?" So with my map in hand, I stood up and approached the driver.

"Um, excuse me? Train station? Is the train station nearby?" And I pointed to the map where it said 'train station', disregarding that it was in English, hoping that, maybe, the icon for train station which was displayed next to the name could be translated universally.

"Ching-Chong, Ting-Tong! Ching-Chong, Ting Tong!" he shouted. Again, as I've mentioned before, the Chinese always sound so angry when they speak. And he didn't look as if he understood what I was saying.

"Train station?'' I repeated. "You know . . . [now gesturing as a train conductor] . . . chew-chew! I think I can, I think I can! Chew-chew!"

He pointed up the road, presumably hinting that it was near. "The train station is the next stop?" I asked. He nodded his head and continued pointing up the road. And at the next stop he began hollering and gesturing for me to get off.

"Here? Get off here? And I hesitantly stepped off the bus, because I distinctly remembered the English gents saying to me that I would notice the station once I saw it - and I wasn't noticing anything. Not a good sign.

"But where? Where is the train station?" I repeated to the driver, as I stood outside looking into the bus.

"Ching-Chong, Ting-Tong! Ching-Chong, Ting-Tong!" And he pointed up the street, doing one of those "swerving" numbers with his hand.

"Across the street? The train station is across the street?" The driver gave me a nod and a grunt. You gotta love the nod 'n grunt.

"But--" And he abruptly closed the door and drove off. I stood there with a deadpanned expression on my face as the exhaust from the bus dissipated in front of me. Still raining, I walked onto the sidewalk and under an awning just large enough to shield me and a middle-aged Chinese man from the rain. I slowly looked at him from the corner of my eyes. I knew he wouldn't be able to speak English, but I thought it was worth a shot. And plus, it brought comic relief to myself.


Quietly and discretely, I said to the him "Train station . . . ? You know . . . [again gesturing as a train conductor] . . . chew-chew?"


" . . . No?" He then looked at me as if to say, "I know you're not speaking to me in English, right?"

" . . . Okay. Fair enough." So I darted across the street and began searching for someone who could speak English. Eventually I found woman, an employee of a jewelry store, who spoke decent enough English. Finally!

Unfortunately, she directed me to the . . . subway. Oy vey.

The ticket office at Shanghai's train station was a zoo. I stood motionless upon arrival - in awestruck, really - and starred at the sheer mayhem which ensued before me. I randomly chose one of the many lines to stand in, as they all appeared to be the same in length.

"This is going to be interesting," I thought, as everything was in Chinese. I finally made it to the ticket counter after waiting in line for eternity.

"One ticket for Xi'an, please." The woman quickly wrote something on a piece of scrap paper and slid it underneath the plexiglas. It read, "English ----->"

It just so happened that, the English speaking counter which indeed read "English speaking counter," was the one counter hidden behind a massive pillar obstructing my view. Dammit.

In the end, I booked a hard seat ticket for Sunday, the day after Jessica leaves for South Korea.

Phew! What an ordeal.

Once I made it back to the hostel, Jessica and I grabbed some lunch. "So, how did it go?" Jessica asked. "Oh, I'll definitely be blogging about it," I said. And after I told her what I went through to obtain my train ticket, and how everything that afternoon just seemed to have been 'lost in translation', our waitress handed me a dish that I clearly didn't order.

"Oh, C'mon!"


Next: Shanghai, Part 3

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lost in Translation: Shanghai, Part 1: 10 Days With My Cousin Traveling Through Macau, Hong Kong and China.

Jessica and I exited the train and quickly headed to the bus terminal. We had made a reservation at a hostel and, according to the website, there should've been a bus that would drop us off just a block from the hostel. The key word in the latter sentence is 'should've'. We went to the first bus terminal. Wasn't there. We went to the other bus terminal located way over yonder on the other side of the train station. Wasn't there, either. Oy vey.

Frustration quickly kicked into gear.

And there was so much commotion, so much going on, that it was difficult to hear yourself think. Seriously. The station was a live, busy beehive swarming with people buzzing into and around us.

Frustration kicked into second gear.

We tried our luck at Information. We thought maybe the people there would be able to be of some assistance. I sat on my rucksack outside awaiting Jessica and hoped she'd return with good news. But, alas, she did not.

Frustration ultimately kicked into the highest gear.

Apparently not even the people who work for Information at Shanghai's train station could speak English. You would think there would be at least one person employed who could speak English. I mean, being in the most populated country and in one of the most populated cities on planet Earth, I would think that there would be one, at least one, person employed who could speak English. I mean, the city of Shanghai is the host of this years 2010 "World" Expo. Notice the emphasis on the word . . . "World". Call me crazy but if I was hosting a "World" Expo I would assume that people from the rest of the "World" - ya know, people other than just the Chinese - would be attending. And when these people outside of China - again, you know, from around the "World" - travel to Shanghai, I would assume that they wouldn't speak Chinese but English, the lingua franca of the "World".

In the end, we decided to take the subway. We stayed at a hostel called Captain Hostel near the Bund. The Bund, an area that stretches along the Huangpu River, used to be Shanghai's Wall St. and is now one of Shanghai's historical landmarks. It was nice to walk to the Bund at night and view Shanghai's fabulous skyline, located across the Huangpu River within the city's financial district, Pudong.

After we found our hostel we took a nap. Later, we decided to walk along the Bund then to the Yu Yuan Gardens before seeing the World Expo that evening. It was painstakingly hot that afternoon as we walked along the Bund. It must have been 100-degrees Fahrenheit. Forget global warming, it felt like global melting. We were pretty much baking. And what made matters worse was that - well, but of course - we had difficulty finding the Yu Yuan Gardens. It wasn't too pleasant walking aimlessly through the streets of Shanghai when we could literally fry an egg on the streets. And just as Jessica was about to reach her breaking point . . .

. . . we found the Gardens. However, we stopped to have lunch first as we were a bit hungry. I sure enjoyed my meal. I wish Jessica could say the same.

Real quick about the Yu Yuan Gardens. Simply put: it was lame. Really. Maybe because everyone seemed to speak so highly of it and it was always on the list of places recommended for tourists to see, that perhaps I had set too high of expectations. It wasn't anything I hadn't seen before, that's for sure. I guess it's pretty hard to top the botanical gardens from my hometown in St. Louis, Missouri.

And do you know what else was pretty lame? The World Expo. Yeah I said it. I know what you're thinking. "Huh? Wha-What? Shanghai's World Expo was lame? Is this true, Adam?" Indeed. I really wish it wasn't. But it truly, truly was.

Shanghai World Expo = Lame-O

Honestly, it really was a disappointment. There were, however, a lot of country pavilions and we probably didn't even see half of them. So keep that in mind, as I didn't see all of them. Basically, each country's pavilion was an enormous constructed building and, architecturally, all of them were designed differently. So from the outside the pavilions looked impressive. But as everyone knows, looks can be deceiving. After waiting in long lines under the scorching hot sun you would expect for there to be some sort of payoff. Why else would I purchase an expensive entrance ticket and wait in long lines in the heat? Isn't that why people don't mind paying for an expensive admission ticket and waiting in long lines in the heat for amusement parks, because of the payoff and the brief thrills that typically ensue?

The World Expo gives every country the chance to showcase their country to attract and increase tourism. And we all know that when a country experiences a high level of tourism, that people are typically spending their money in that country. And that's what its all about, right? Money. Well each country did a horrendous job promoting itself. Now I'm not saying I expected the same sort of thrills that I receive when riding a roller coaster at an amusement park, but at least attempt to blow my mind some sort of way. A little effort would've been nice and appreciated.

Now I understand that the theme of the World Expo was "Better City, better life," and that its purpose was to promote an alternative lifestyle that caters to the "going green" revolution. And that's fine. But the result, unfortunately, was that every country boasted how environmentally conscientious they are, and the proper steps they are taking to implement policies to increase ecological awareness and innovation. All of this was done in a very expensive (I heard that the US pavilion cost over $80 US million dollars) and boring way. The lack of creativity was a disgrace.

I will, however, give Iceland's pavilion its props. The people of Iceland did an amazing job. And yet, it was so simple. The pavilion's exterior resembled an ice cube and, after sweating profusely outside in line, it was a relief to walk inside where it was refreshingly cool, hence "ice"land. After the employees from the pavilion herded us inside like cattle, a movie was presented on a 360-degree projector screen with beautiful footage of Iceland's landscape and natural wonders. To top it off, they set the video footage to a sensational soundtrack.

Boom! I was sold.


Next: Shanghai 2 of 2

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lost in Translation: Train to Shanghai, China: 10 Days With My Cousin Traveling Through Macau, Hong Kong and China.

[Immediately click on song below]

[Let song play as you read]

"Rollin', rollin', rollin' . . . Keep that train a rollin' . . . Rollin', rollin', rollin' . . . ShangHAIII!"

With our one-way tickets in hand, Jessica and I boarded the train heading to Shanghai. There's something about riding a train that just feels more adventurous than riding a bus. Maybe it's because I don't ride trains often. I don't know. But what I DO know, is that I was happy as hell to be leaving the shithole city of Shenzhen for Shanghai, the Whore of the Orient. Don't ask me. That's just one of the many nicknames the city has been given. So, we were leaving a shithole for a whore. An improvement? We were hoping. I was just hoping that the Whore of the Orient wasn't gonna smell as well.

Jessica and I had tickets for a hard sleeper. And a hard nights sleep it would be. But not because I felt as if the bed was too hard. No. It was because my bed (as well as Jessica's) was the top bunk on level 3. Basically when I layed down on my back and extended my legs - which, by the way, would hang a freakish foot over the edge and into the aisle - I felt as if my face was a few semi-odd
inches away from the ceiling. It was as if I was sleeping in the top drawer of a dresser or something. And I was hot, too, just as you would imagine sleeping in a top drawer of a dresser would be.

"Rollin', rollin', rollin' . . . Keep that train a rollin' . . . Rollin', rollin', rollin' . . . ShangHAIII!"

There really wasn't much to do on the train but to read or stare out the window. I did more of the latter. I was surprised with how very little uninhabited land there was from Shenzhen to Shanghai. In fact, I don't recall seeing any. We passed through some small towns but for the most part it appeared as if we were passing through a city which never seemed to end. It was just one city after the next, and you couldn't quite determine where one city ended from where the next one began. That gives you an idea of how populated and vast this country really is. Crazy, really.

"Rollin', rollin', rollin' . . . Keep that train a rollin' . . . Rollin', rollin', rollin' . . . ShangHAIII!"

[Stop music above or let it finish before you continue to read]

I have some fond memories of our train ride when I think back on it.

Memory #1

After Jessica and I consumed a few bananas we noticed that there wasn't any waste baskets to throw our rubbish into. "Okay, so in about 1 hour this place is going to turn into a cesspool," Jessica said after returning in search of a waste basket. Why there wasn't any waste bins anywhere is beyond me? I'm beginning to believe that Asians enjoy living in filth. It's really getting old. Seriously.

Memory #2

"So? How was it?" I said to Jessica, who'd just returned from using the toilet. "I mean, it was a squat toilet," she said, "so . . . " It was funny listening to Jessica talk about how gross the bathroom was and how she just hoped that she wouldn't fall, something that could easily happen due to the train and its inability to remain still which, at any moment, could suddenly sway in any direction and cause someone who may happen to be in a squatting position to tip over. Anyone's nightmare who's seen and gone to the toilet on a train in China.

Memory #3

"There's a roach on the wall next to your bed," Jessica said in dismay as I was reading. "Ah, man. C'mon!" Jessica wasn't very happy about this, to say the least, who, as I have mentioned before, has a strong disdain and fear for roaches. It was extremely unsettling for her to see a roach, and for the next hour or so as I was reading I would see Jessica frequently checking her sheets, pillow and wall for the creepy crawlers. Poor thing. But it was funny.

Memory #4

It was around 9 p.m. and both Jessica and I were reading on our bunks when the lights were suddenly turned off. "Hey!" Jessica shouted, unhappy that the lights had just been turned off at such an early time in the evening. Jessica became quite disgruntled as she didn't have a flashlight to use in order to read.

Click, click.

Luckily I had one, so I continued to read. "Okay," said Jessica, sounding restless and discontent, "I'm not tired enough to go to sleep yet, so I'm going to go to the dining area and read there." I remember getting a kick out of watching her trying to climb down from the top bunk in the dark. Ah, yes, Jessica (at her expense) provided countless humorous moments for me.

Memory #5

"Jessica. Jessica. JESSICA!" I said, as I repeatedly shook her to wake her up.

"Huh, what? What happened?"

I told her that we had unexpectedly arrived in Shanghai. It's not too often that you arrive at your destination earlier than expected. So we quickly grabbed our things as we were the last people present on the train, and headed out.

" . . . ShangHAIII!".