A Travellerspoint blog

Magical times traveling - now in Yunnan


Being in new and unfamiliar places makes even something as simple as a trip to buy groceries or catching public transport a quest. It’s a theme I’ve been thinking about recently since I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the past 6 weeks while in Hong Kong, Guizhou and now Yunnan. I get glimpses of people’s Real Lives, and yet the life I am living right now is as real as anyone else’s.

I’m writing this from a hostel in Dali, Yunnan. It’s run by an Australian and a Chinese couple and, apart from the ping pong table and Chinese architecture, I could really be anywhere in the world because hostels are so similar and attract the same stereotypes of travellers.
I’m in the Lone Asian Female with the suitcase filled with too many clothes to be taken seriously by the “true” backpacker. Since arriving here yesterday, I’ve met the Long Distance Cyclist, the Round the World in a Year Backpacker, the Older Couple, the English Teacher, and the Too Cool Traveler with Tatttoos, the English-Learner…

Even though it’s easy to put people into these simple categories, everyone has their own stories. The Cyclist is a social worker who wants to go to law school and has a predilection for chocolate and pancakes. The English Learner is a divorced Chinese woman in her forties who feels stifled by this society and travels to feel free. The Backpacker is an Chilean art curator who identifies as French and chose to come to China to fulfill a lifelong dream.

And me? I’m lost, seeking, and have no anchor to keep in tied to anything right now. In the end, I think everyone that I’ve been meeting on the road wants the same things: to push ourselves and seek adventures, and experience things we may not get to experience when back at home.

Posted by jumbo123 23:35 Archived in China Comments (0)

Greetings from Guizhou!

In which Lisa is overwhelmed and annotates photos

Greetings again from Guizhou! It's been about a year and half since I was last here, and now I’m sitting in my paternal grandma’s house drinking milk tea and listening to my aunties talking and playing mahjong.

Until March this year, my 79 year old grandmother lived in the countryside on the farm, which I wrote about on my last visit. After her mother, my great grandmother, passed away (at 98 years old!), my grandmother moved from the countryside to the city of Xingyi, where I am now. She now lives in an apartment by herself, and my auntie and uncle live in the neighbouring block.

I’m visiting her during the Chinese National Day holidays where there is a seven day public holiday to celebrate the forming of the People’s Republic – 65 years ago yesterday, Mao declared to the masses in Tiananmen Square in Beijing that the Communists had won.

Beijing feels very, very far away. Although I’ve now spent more than three months in China this time, coming to Xingyi makes me feel very overwhelmed. After every outing, I fall into a deep sleep trying to process all the sights I’ve seen. Everything is unfamiliar and everything feels so far removed from my “normal” paradigm.

• Everyone is short, and I’m considered tall (I’m 164cm or 5’4)
• I am 29 this year, and everyone my age is married with children
• No one wears seat belts, even when driving and the warning alarm beeps incessantly, and young children aged three sit in the front seat
• People die all the time and it’s just “normal” conversation to discuss the latest deranged killer with a knife slashing people, or four teenagers dying from a motorcycle crash down the road
• Life and death and the cycle are in constant view – children and old people everywhere and chickens getting their throats slit and the hind legs of pigs on full display
• Every few metres there are Orwellian surveillance cameras
• I have not seen one non-Chinese looking person here (ie no laowai)
• China’s economic development means even here in this “small” town, BMW’s drive alongside a poor old person with no teeth selling green vegetables from a basket

OK. I will narrate some photos now. As you will see, Guizhou is province with incredible landscapes.

A typical Chinese supermarket

A typical Chinese supermarket



Playing mahjong

Playing mahjong

The Buxi ethnic minority

The Buxi ethnic minority

Random activities that children engage in

Random activities that children engage in

More beautiful mountain landscapes

More beautiful mountain landscapes

Guizhou delicacies - 凉粉

Guizhou delicacies - 凉粉

Guizhou street eats

Guizhou street eats

This year's best students from the best school in Xingyi

This year's best students from the best school in Xingyi

Chinese kids are adorable and learn the peace sign from a young age

Chinese kids are adorable and learn the peace sign from a young age

My grandmother, my auntie and me

My grandmother, my auntie and me

More Guizhou street eats

More Guizhou street eats

New money requires ostentatious furniture

New money requires ostentatious furniture

These are the swans that are for eating...

These are the swans that are for eating...

Hipsters the world over

Hipsters the world over

Believe it or not, this is how you bake a cake

Believe it or not, this is how you bake a cake

These paper hats are the in thing right now...

These paper hats are the in thing right now...





Posted by jumbo123 07:34 Archived in China Comments (0)

Wonton destruction

A non-linear update

On this trip I've devoured a fair share of wontons and dumplings, hence the terribly witty title of this post ;)

It's been a bit of a whirlwind tour on the road for 7 weeks experiencing the amazing spectrum of travelling in China: from the rural Guizhou countryside, shiny commercialism of Shenzhen, the buzzing financial hub of Hong Kong, ancient and expat Beijing, the silk road in Kashgar and Turpan in Xinjiang province, and now I'm writing from Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan province.

I'm so excited to share my travels with you. It's going to take a while to write about when I get back to Australia. In the meantime, here's a photo collage my friend Angela took from our time in Xinjiang. I really love all the colours and framing of the shot.

Friends in Kashgar

Friends in Kashgar

Today Angela and I hung out in Chengdu city. We ate at a vegetarian restaurant for lunch, got a foot massage for $6 (you get what you pay for I reckon, cos the massuse stopped in the middle for a cigerette break!), bought a bunch of Chinese art books, wandered around the beautiful People's Park Remin Gongyuan and toured the old/new Narrow Wide lane with a local who we befriended. We ate delicious Sichuan hotpot and came back to our hostel to pack. She's off to Beijing to see Cindy and I'm going back to Shenzhen for a night.

Ahhhhh... China!

Posted by jumbo123 09:22 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Grave Mistake.

An account of day 6 - Written by Stefan.

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Hey kids, Stefan ge ge here again (and no, ge ge isn’t some weird traditional food, for all you conspiracy theorists – it’s chinese for big brother).

It’s that time of the year again, which means more action, more weird traditional food and more weird traditional relatives – that’s right, I’m talking about …Christmas!

Just kidding (A.K.A “Trolled”). It was actually the 12 January, 2013, otherwise known as Day 6 (and as always, the truth changes everything.)
Santa is angry because it's not Christmas. Really, really angry. (Note the children.)

And on that extremely depressing note, I shall begin my recount of that weird and wacky day.

I woke to the blaringly loud and extremely stereotypical “cockle-doodle-doo” of a rooster’s waking call. This actually wouldn’t have been so bad (and I was so sleepy that I probably would’ve slept through it anyway) if I didn’t have an sudden, inexplicable urge to do a shit. I won’t delve into the perverse origins of my impulses here (unless you really want me to, in which case, you’re weird), although needless to say, I managed to track it down to some weird traditional food we had earlier – namely, ze er’gen.

It turns out Guizhou is famous for its food, because it is absolutely soaked with chilli. My body wasn’t used to processing that much of the famous spicy sustenance, and as such … well, you know what happens next.

Obviously a fabulous start to the day.

Moving on, the day’s schedule involved hiking, hiking, more hiking, and then praying. We were going to visit my Grandpa’s grave on a scenic plateau some 5km away from our current place of residence. The route to the grave took us through the streets of the nearby town, Sha zi lin (translation: Sandy Peak). It had been raining the day before, so due to the lack of paved roads, it was extremely muddy and dirty – so much so, that if you stayed in one place for too long, your boots (or sandals – I don’t discriminate against hippies) could become bogged down and immobile, almost like quicksand.


After a tiring 2 hours of hard yakka involving steep hill climbing and descents (not to mention goddamn motorcyclists spraying mud from the side of the road), we finally reached the gravesite. It turns out, a few residences had already begun to spring up around the area, obscuring parts of the picturesque scenic landscape. This was annoying, although we couldn’t really do anything about it.
Grandpa’s grave is fairly large, with engravings depicting descendants and relatives taking up a large portion of the plaque.

My name is on there somewhere – along with those of my parents, my sister, my aunts and uncles (on my father’s side), my father’s aunts and uncles, my aunts’ and uncles’ aunts and uncles and …

Well, you get the point.

Traditionally, it is expected of a family to provide currency for the dead in the afterlife. This currency comes in the form of paper money, which you burn and thus make accessible to the spirits of the dead. It is also extremely annoying to pry loose into single leaflets, one by one – but I give credit to where it’s due: it was all part of the experience.

Packaged with this experience was the lighting of the traditional firecrackers, which scares off evil spirits. They come in long strips with gunpowder capsules strewn along the length, which isn’t so enjoyable for the designated lighter due to one major design flaw: the wick of this enormously long firecracker was around the length of half of your little finger. The lighter of this beast receives approximately 2.31 seconds to escape to a place away from the action, whereupon a huge cacophony of sparks, sharp cracks and other misc. explosions ensues.

How do I know this, you ask? On that fateful day, I was to be the designated lighter.

And I have lived, my friends, to tell the tale. To be honest, what actually happened may not have been as dramatic as I’ve made it out to be. As I mentioned earlier, the truth hurts.

"Wh-wh-what do you mean f-f-firecrackers aren't dramatic?"*sniff*

After this, we resumed our hiking journey to visit some more relatives. This time, we were trudging through less-travelled roads so blissfully, the mud was not as churned up as it was through the town streets (nor were there any goddamn motorcyclists!).

Upon arriving at our relative’s house we were invited to have lunch which was funnily enough, already prepared for us. I say “funnily” enough because there was no way for them to know of our coming, as they, like most country residents, were not proud owners of a cellphone.

Odd happenings aside, after our meal I embarked on yet another hiking journey to the grave – and no, I don’t mean that metaphorically - even though my legs really were killing me. This time, my mother, sister and grandma (who is 77 and still in great shape!) decided not to accompany my father and I (and some other relatives) on the journey, and thus, we trekked the way in relative silence.

All the graves were situated on beautiful scenic spots overlooking a vast expanse of the countryside. Altogether, we visited a further 4 graves (for reference, they were those of my great-great aunt, grandpa’s brother, great-aunt’s husband and a grave which I can’t clearly recall the owner). One of these graves differed significantly from the other three, as there was a distinct lack of inscriptions and decrease of size. My dad told me this was due to the unaffordable costs of even simply marking the grave – farming being a lousy way to generate money (rather than food) and our relatives being farmers meant that they were unable to pay for the costs of the grave service. It was because of this that I was unable to discern the owner of the grave. However, we performed the customary rites all the same, and as thus honoured the dead in the traditional Chinese style.

After all of this, I was feeling pretty knackered. We proceeded to journey to the nearby highway, where a car would come pick us up to take us back to Grandma’s house (it was getting pretty dark by then, 6:30).

Have I ever mentioned my frequent lapses into dream states? No? Well, long story short, I had another one … for the next 3 hours. Again. Seriously, I can’t remember anything that may have happened in that span of time after our hike. In an effort to satisfy the disappointments of you readers (guys, I’m sorry), I have provided a smiling cat that should serve as eye candy and make up for my recounting skills.


And on that exquisitely joyful note, I end our blog post for day 6. Thanks for reading.

P.S By the way, the title was misleading. +1 for false advertising.

Posted by jumbo123 21:57 Archived in China Tagged food china farm funny dead tradition grave funeral guiyang guizhou firecrackers respecting_the_dead a_grave_mistake rites Comments (1)

Teaching at a rural primary school – with photos!

Day 5 of our China adventures

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Today I taught my first lesson in Chinese at the local primary school. I’m really interested in seeing schools now that I’m a teacher, and luckily my dad was able to arrange for us to visit his old primary school near the village in a place called Shazilin (Sandy Peak) Baojia. Also, other people took pictures so I can share some from the day even though I lost all of mine, hooray!

My dad with the students

My dad with the students

Standing outside with students

Standing outside with students

I’ve been teaching for the past two years near Geelong, Victoria at a disadvantaged school through a program called Teach For Australia – but compared to this school, the disadvantage really was incomparable. The librarian at my old school donated some unused picture books and posters as I heard Chinese schools were quite colourless.

“So how long will I be teaching for? How many students?” I asked my dad.

“I don’t know. Just see how you go when we get there…” he replied.

My dad, mum, brother, auntie, Weiwei and her mum got up early at 7AM and walked for 30 minutes to the school, passing the other villagers and stopping on the way to chat. My dad told me once when he was younger in year 4, he really, really didn’t want to go to school and wanted to drop out. My granddad, his father, made him walk to the school by following him on his walk with a big stick. Each time he slowed down, my granddad whacked him with the stick. They walked nearly all the way to school like this. And the school was too poor that students had to bring their own desk and chairs, but my dad’s family couldn’t afford it so he had to share a chair with his other friend.

As we approach, I heard the familiar chattering of children. Although they were on holidays, today they were at school to collect their report cards and results. They were playing games and running around. There was a huge ceramic map of the world next to the Chinese flag and there were three boys looking at it. The school was in a four story block with an asphalt square and basketball court next to it. The teachers lived in a little block next to the school.

We walked up to the 4th floor to meet the principal in his office. It was super cold and there was no heating. There were children milling around but they were too scared to venture into his office so they hung around next to the door. He began preparing some tea to welcome us and said how happy he was that my dad, a former student, had come back. He told me he wanted me to teach a year 5 class and I heard across the loudspeaker, “Year 5 Class A1 Students! This is a big announcement! An overseas teacher is here… please report to the classroom!”

My family with the school's principal

My family with the school's principal

The principal handed me some chalk – I’ve never used a blackboard before! We walked into the classroom where I saw 60+ students waiting at their desks chatting animatedly. The principal introduced us, and my dad did a small talk in the local dialect. I think it was a great opportunity for these children to be exposed to other cultures. More than half of them are minority groups (Guizhou is famous for its minority groups ie people that are no Han Chinese), and don’t even start speaking or understanding Mandarin until Year 1 or 2, let alone English.

Teaching students

Teaching students

I started the lesson by talking about who I was and introducing them to Australia animals, food and geography. There were perhaps another 30 or so students peering in through the windows and piling in through the door.

Classroom scene

Classroom scene

Classroom shot

Classroom shot

I taught them about kangaroos, beaches, sandwiches and some very simple English greetings while Stefan helped draw pictures. None of them had heard of what a sandwich was, or what it looked like.

Afterwards, there was question time. No one wanted to ask any questions as they were too scared. I said, “OK, I need three people to ask questions. If I don’t get any, I will have to pick on people!”

Eventually, one girl standing right next to me asked, softly, “How old are you?”

Then another one asked, “What animals do you like?” and a little boy asked, “What animals do you find annoying?”

I told them to study hard and be diligent. We gave them out little koalas and boomerangs.

It was so wonderful to teach these students. Even by year 2 they took their studies seriously. Weiwei, 7, received her report card and only got 60+ on her maths score. She was devastated. The pressure on Chinese students is absolutely enormous. Especially in the countryside, it’s one of the only ways you have a chance to do well. I really can’t believe how lucky my dad was to make it to Australia and change our lives.

Afterwards, we drove into town and met all the other teachers at a small hotpot restaurant. We talked about issues within education which are universal, and in China there is an even bigger socio-economic gap which impacts on student outcomes. The principal recently went on a school visit to Ningbo in Zhejiang province, a much, much more economically developed city than Guizhou. He said within one class at the Ningbo school, 75% of students would be able to go onto good universities such as Qinghua in Beijing. The best that his students could hope for are to attend second-tier universities or factory work like their parents. At least education is completely free. That’s a big, big plus. And the school provides free lunch for these students as part of some program. These huge inequalities will continue as long as the wealth gap keeps widening– right now this country has one of the biggest wage gaps in the world. I’ll be visiting the Teach For China offices in Beijing soon and be able to talk to them about some of these issues too.

It’s raining and bleak here in winter. The colour palette is all greys and browns. There are 5 generations of our family in this village and it’s so nice to be around relatives.

Posted by jumbo123 08:02 Archived in China Tagged education village school students teaching guizhou Comments (4)

Rural Guizhou - living on my grandma's farm

Day 4

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My father grew up in rural Guizhou in a place near Qinglong country, where my grandma and great grandma (who is 97 years old!) still live.
Guizhou is a beautiful and very mountainous province. My grandma’s farm is surrounded by mountains and valleys, rice paddy terraces and small villages. It’s a landscape that hasn’t change for centuries, and I doubt that the lifestyle of the peasants who live here have changed that much either. Cultivating rice grains is back breaking work but it’s now helped by some machinery instead of animals.

Our first full day on the farm was an exercise for me in weaning off my iPhone addiction. I’d inadvertently left it back in Guiyang but there was plenty to keep me occupied. I hadn’t been back to visit in five years and my grandma now had a proper concrete house to live in, albeit with an outside pit toilet. We all sat huddled around the coal heater which doubled as a stove. At night time, everyone eats sunflower seeds and chatted – liaotian.

Eating at the coal stove with Stefan, Fangfang, Weiwei and my mum

Eating at the coal stove with Stefan, Fangfang, Weiwei and my mum

My Xiao Gugu (youngest auntie on my father’s side) made us some kind of glutinous rice noodles with green vegetables. The vegetables were AMAZING. So crisp! So crunchy! So tasty! And no wonder – they were freshly taken from the farm that morning. One of China’s big issues is food quality. Apparently 1 out of 10 meals is made from used cooking oil dumped into sewerage and reprocessed. At least I knew everything I ate on the farm wasn’t contaminated (even the chicken and pork were from their farm animals).

In the small village where my grandma lives, everyone knows everyone. The saying, “it takes a village to raise a child” is literally true here. There’s a complete open door policy for all neighbours and in the five days I was there, all the kids just stream in and out and go into everyone’s house and eat dinner with who they like. It was amazing for me to see. It takes the idea of helicopter parenting and slams it to the ground, KO style.

So I hung out a lot with Weiwei, 7, and Fangfang, 4. They’re the cutest little girls in the world and my dad’s youngest uncle’s daughter. They showed me around their hood, and we went to investigate all the farm animals and visit their friends. The one child policy doesn’t seem to apply in the countryside – most families had more than 1 kid.

The girls

The girls

Every day I’m hearing a mix of mandarin, Guizhou dialect, the local countryside dialect, and Hunan dialect. It’s making my head go mental because they all sound different.

Posted by jumbo123 21:00 Archived in China Tagged china farm guizhou Comments (2)

Guizhou, y u so picturesque??!

-An Account of Day 3: Written By Stefan

Hey guys and girls (or nu hai zi, nan hai zi for those chinese speakers), Stefan here. As my quirky sister mentioned previously, I will offer a completely different perspective to our vacation, one tinged with that theme we all know and love – philosophy.

NOTE: Before reading, note the Chinese version is below. This is an attempt to bypass the great firewall of China by catering to government officials, and thus may contain a large amount of propaganda. Be warned.

Now, let me ask you this: What exactly is China?

Merriam’s free online dictionary (first link from googling “china definition”) offers two answers (or definitions) to our question:

1. A fine white or translucent vitrified ceramic material.
2. Household tableware or other objects made from this or a similar material.

Obviously my googling skills aren’t up to scratch.

Anyway, due to the ambiguous nature of the term “China”, I will talk about that one country we all know and love: yes, that's right. I'm talking about ... Zimbabwe. You can’t get any less ambiguous than Zimbabwe, can you?

But first, let me ask you this: What exactly is Zimbabwe?

Just kidding, xiao pengyu. But in a way, Zimbabwe leads to the topic this post is dedicated to today: Day 3.

Now, simpletons usually wouldn’t grasp the connection between Zimbabwe and Day 3 at first. Of course, there aren’t any. Thus, we may ascertain with a strong probability that it may be that I, Stefan, may be the simpleton – leading to a sense of irony. We have also established that “simpleton” is a subjective term, and thus labelling anyone as “simpleton” is merely a farce and may or may not have any credibility (dependent on the trustworthiness of the labeller).

Philosophy at its finest.

Anyway, back on topic – Day 3 was, well … tiring to say the least. And by “tiring”, I mean “tiring” in the way that spending 4 and a half hours of car travel in the middle seat with no breaks and a crazy driver who averaged 120 kph is “tiring”! (Try saying that in one breath – it’s grammatically correct!)

Anyway, the trip itself was fairly uneventful, unless of course you call passing under tunnels “events” – in which case the trip was very, very eventful – 46 times eventful, to be exact. Guizhou is known for its mountains, and what better way to view a mountain than to pass right underneath it? Right?

Anyway, since the trip took up around 60% of the day, I’d better elaborate – but first of all, how does one go about elaborating on a car trip?
That depends. First, we must define elabor –

Okay, we’re done with the philosophy. Anyway, there was one important detail I missed out on – we spent roughly 30 minutes stuck in a traffic jam – due to a car crash up ahead. Obviously, this is contradictory to my sister’s previous blog post – they obviously weren’t wearing seatbelts! Har-har. But of course, it may well have been due to the fact that the road was icy and thus dangerous, rather than a lack of seatbelt usage (though it may well have been both.)

As we drove by, I couldn’t help but notice the picturesque nature of the scenery. Peculiar mountains shrouded by a gloomy mist, greenery contrasting the numerous unoccupied buildings dotting the countryside – to say the least, it was, well … picturesque.

From time to time we passed a lone stranger walking by the side of the highway – carrying an obviously heavy load on their backs, ignoring lumbering trucks and our crazy 120 kph sedan to continue trudging along (to where, I couldn’t say) – which only added to the whole naturalistic feel of it all. However, there was one exception, and that was some poor old man in rags wandering aimlessly in the middle of the road, obviously distressed – I couldn’t say this was a highlight (nor an addition) to our picturesque journey.

When we arrived at the farm house, we found dinner waiting for us – it was 7 o’clock, and our grandma had delayed eating from their usual time of 5 o’clock, just for us! The dinner was surprisingly delicious and fresh, which actually isn’t so surprising considering that we were eating in a “farm” house – which surprisingly, is right next to a farm.

At the conclusion of our dinner we were all so knackered (well I was, anyway), that I proceeded through the next 3 hours in a dream state. However, I dimly recall a hole in the ground as substituting for our toilet – and although this probably wouldn’t be a contender for the best memory to retain from a dream state experience, it would soon become the most important.

With this in mind, I lumbered into bed with dreams of the preceding day - and possibly - of days to come.

P.S Although that would be a poetic and fitting way to end our blog post, for those of you looking for the Chinese version, I was lying. In other words, you got pwned.

P.S.S For clarification, I got up at 12:00 – so after brunch, we hopped into the car and were on our way.

P.P.P.S For the lack of picturesque scenery photos you can blame our SD Memory Card. Most of our photos were saved on there...darn it, Memory Card!

P.P.P.P.S An extra P.S ... for the lulz.

Posted by llamasushi 22:11 Archived in China Tagged travel scenery china guizhou picturesque day_3 rice_bowl_adventures Comments (0)

Introducing Guizhou

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Day 2 – Baiyun district, Guiyang, Guizhou

When you meet someone in China, they always asked you where you’re from. It’s a way for people to quickly size you up in such a huge country. I’m from Guizhou. Hmmmm… it’s pretty much known for being the desperately poor backwater province. Every time I come back here I wonder how exactly it was that I ended up growing up in one of the most privileged countries in the world when I see where my dad came from – a farm where they only made a paved road eight years ago and it was such a momentous occasion there is a huge plaque next to the road listing details of its construction and the amounts of money that each villager was able to donate to fund it.

Guizhou is in China’s South West, inland, and right next to the more ‘famous’ provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan. Apart from being known as the poorest province in the country, it’s also famous for its Maotai rice liquor, chilli sauce (Laoganma chilli sauce, or “Old Dry Mother” – much more tasty than it sounds), being mountainous, rice paddy terraces and Huangguoshu waterfalls (around 80m tall and 80 m wide!)
Since I’m on a little introductory spiel, I’ll also explain a bit about names in Chinese for relatives. All cousins are referred to as either your older/younger brother/sister. Aunts, uncles and grandparents have specific names depending on whether they are from your mother or father’s side of the family. If you meet someone a little bit older than you, you call them sister/brother. Otherwise you call them auntie/uncle.
So we were staying at my Shushu and Shenshen’s house the first night in Guiyang. Shushu means uncle on my father’s side (ie my dad’s brother). Shenshen means my uncle on my father’s side’s wife. Get it?!

Shenshen made this amazing hotpot when we got up in the morning. Hotpot is a great way to eat when it’s cold because the food always stays WARM! We had some small dishes as accompaniments including ‘Ze’ergen’ which is a famous Guizhou dish. If you come here you have to try it. It’s a white weed stick thing that looks weird but is really tasty. That basically describes a lot of Chinese food. It’s better to employ an “eat first, ask later” policy – actually, your hosts will generally follow the “eat first, TELL later”. That’s how I ended up eating DOG MEAT one time and was traumatised afterwards.
Guizhou delicacy - Zhe'ergen

Guizhou delicacy - Zhe'ergen

My WuJu (literally, Uncle on my mother’s side, sibling #5 – I love the brevity of the language) drove us to Baiyun District, about 50 minutes away from Guiyang. The drive was pretty depressing. Two of the top 25 apps in the Chinese app store are air pollution index monitors and you can see why. Outside it was totally muddy, grey and bleak. Everything appeared greying, except for the store signs which were prematurely greying too. Most cars were covered in dust and mud. When you go out onto any Chinese city street, you see poor haggard people wandering around, faces black with soot. The people I saw that day seemed especially haggard and sad. We stopped for a few minutes due to a traffic jam, and there were five people who walked past in the cold, polluted tunnel jamming business cards in the car windows. That was their job. It reminded me of being in Jakarta one year in a traffic jam. Children would come up to the car windows begging, and others would try to sell things by holding items like a toy car. The cynic in me thinks the only reason there weren’t any beggars on the street during this particular traffic jam was because the government has banned them. The power the government has here is difficult to imagine. Right now they are banning frames on car licence plates.

Guiyang, Guizhou

Guiyang, Guizhou

Chinese bath house

That night, my Wu Juma (literally, wife of uncle, sibling #5 on mother’s side ie my auntie) took us to the bath house. This is a very stereotypical middle-class activity. Every bathhouse is basically variations on this theme: what happens is, you get inside and change your shoes for slippers. The males go into one area and the females the other. You take off your clothes and go to the shower area. After having a shower, you can go to the sauna or steam room or pool. Then you either stand or lie naked (depending on the luxury of the bathhouse) while some woman/man scrubs all the dead skin off you. All this black stuff comes off. You can choose to get other treatments done too. Then there’s a communal area or private room depending on how you pay, and you can watch TV and eat fruit/order other meals. Generally it may be a bit dodgy if you are a man. If hotels are booked out or you don’t have your passport as a foreigner, you can stay in a bathhouse in a private room, except sometimes they can double as brothels, of which there are also many varieties in China!!

My skin is now super soft and moisturised, ready for spending 5 days in rural Guizhou.
My fashionable winter outfit - snowing in Guiyang

My fashionable winter outfit - snowing in Guiyang

Posted by jumbo123 21:30 Archived in China Tagged food china house bath guiyang guizhou Comments (0)

The trip begins!

Travelling with my Chinese family

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Hello friends!

Just like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, China also blocks other blogging platforms such as Blogger and Wordpress. So here I am trying out travellerspoint.

I'm spending six weeks travelling around the Motherland going to Guizhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tibet (if I get the permits sorted).

One week in and I have already:

  1. eaten wasps with my grandma
  2. taught my first class in Chinese at a rural school
  3. lost my memory card with hundreds of photos and broken my camera :(

As such, this blog will initially be text heavy. I’ll illustrate the wondrous country of China with words … and puns!
As I'm travelling with my family for the first two weeks, my brother Stefan will also be writing on here and sharing his intellectual and philosophical insights into our daily lives ;)


Day 1: Encounters at Sydney airport, tai chi on the plane, and confusing Chinese bureaucracy

I met my family at Sydney airport. They were struggling with over 120KG of luggage. "What on earth are you bringing over?!" "Lanolin cream, fish oil... oh, and second-hand clothes”. Even with a luggage allowance of 30KG per person and four people travelling, we went over the luggage limit. My dad took out all the second-hand clothes and put them in a huge pile beside the check-in counter to reduce our luggage load. I explained to the check-in person, “we are travelling to rural China and donating these old clothes to people”. Luckily, she took one look at our craziness, understood, and let us keep the clothes. She said, “OK, it’s for a good cause.”

In the departures area, we waited patiently in line at the boarding gate. After about 10 minutes of waiting with the line not moving, we saw that in fact we were boarding a plane for New Zealand. People wonder why I can be so patient with the students I teach. Try growing up/travelling with Chinese parents and you will soon learn. We rushed to the right gate number. There was no one in line and the screen was flashing “FINAL CALL”. The same check-in woman examined our boarding passes and my mother said, “We were in the wrong line to New Zealand!”

We travelled with China Southern Airlines. The highlight of the plane trip was doing stretching exercises before landing, simultaneously with all the other passengers. The overhead screens showed three flight attendants doing various stretches and we followed along. Out of all the photos I lost, I managed to retain shots of this. For some reason, it struck me as super hilarious and demonstrated the nonchalance that Chinese people seem to possess about otherwise looking ridiculous in public. You will see this often in China. Eg. I saw a girl wearing knee length glitter ugg booths and black woollen pants printed with skulls. She had a plaid jacket on top of another jacket with leopard print lining. She was also wearing a cap made with furry white terry towelling.

Stretching on the plane

Stretching on the plane

We landed in Guangzhou, Guangdong in transit to Guiyang, Guizhou. There were some flight attendants waiting at the bottom of the plane holding a sign with my dad’s name. There were some passengers waiting around with them. No one had any idea what was going on, despite us all being able to speak Chinese. There was also an elderly Portuguese couple who looked completely perplexed; they spoke 4 languages but no English or Chinese. All we were told was to wait because our luggage was being inspected for some reason. They placed a green circle sticker on everyone’s shoulder and we waited.

We finally realised the “inspection” was because we were transit passengers: our luggage was being inspected for customs. Another lesson in travelling in China: when in doubt, ask, and keep asking, and just pester people until they answer you, even if goes around in circles! All of us finally boarded the bus to take us to the main terminal. The small bus was entirely filled with the other passengers who were waiting for us. About 20 of us managed to squeeze in and continued to wait. After about 15 minutes more of waiting, someone in a wheelchair came up to the bus and also had to board.

Things that happen in China don’t make much sense. Today I saw people walking around in padded pyjamas.

OK anyway. A lot of people in China communicate by shouting and yelling. It doesn’t mean they’re angry at you, it’s just a way to be heard. We went past security again. Everyone was being yelled at. “DRINK ALL YOUR WATER! NO LIQUIDS! MOVE PAST!” The passengers yelled back, “WHY CAN’T I TAKE THIS IF IT GOT PASSED INTERNATIONAL RESTRICTIONS? I ONLY JUST BOUGHT IT! THIS IS DOMESTIC!”
At the departure terminal, we managed to miss the main boarding call for our flight to Guiyang, again. My mother wanted to eat dumplings and had no watch so by the time she got back, it was “FINAL CALL” again. Last time, she wandered out of the terminal past customs and couldn’t get back in because she didn’t have a passport or any other documents on her. My dad and brother didn’t realise what had happened until she was gone for about two hours and they had no idea where she was.

Guiyang, Guizhou

Things in China have changed since I was last here (only 1 year ago): people now wear seatbelts. We finally arrived in Guiyang and went to my aunt and uncle’s house. It was FREEZING.

Stefan will fill you in on Day 2!

Posted by jumbo123 07:53 Archived in China Tagged travel flight airport guiyang Comments (3)

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