Travelling with my Chinese family
07/01/2013 - 07/01/2013 0 °C
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:
- eaten wasps with my grandma
- taught my first class in Chinese at a rural school
- 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.
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.
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!