maanantai 5. toukokuuta 2014

Day 127 - 127. päivä: A letter to China

Dear China,

we've had our ups and downs. I have been gone for a long time, however every time I come back, there seems to be more of the former and less of the latter.

兵马俑 The Terracotta army

You did not make it easy to come back. We were stuck in Hong Kong for a week trying to get our visas, but in the end it gave us an awesome chance to explore the islands of Hong Kong and Kowloon. Unfortunately that forced us to spend a huge chunk of our budget we had been saving for USA and Europe, but we will worry about that when we actually run out cash. We also thought we could save some money in the mainland, but travelling and trying to catch as many tourist attractions as possible in one month is not cheap, even though you, China, are. I guess it was somehow lucky I got sick as soon we were about to leave Hong Kong, so in Shanghai we did not get to do any of the pricey touristy stuff we had planned. My hairdresser was a bit expensive, but worth it. I can warmly recommend Ashley at Franck Provost at 35 Shaanxi road in Shanghai. She did miracles with my falling, dry, brittle mess of a blonde hair.

Our communication has not always worked too well. For some strange reason it seems that the extent of my Chinese vocabulary does not correlate with how well I can get myself understood or things done. It seems that it is more a question of location (come on, Xi'an, why is my Chinese almost useless there when in Beijing I'm more often well understood than not?), and necessity: speak Chinese or stay hungry. Speak Chinese with the driver or walk. Speak Chinese or get a smoking room in a hotel. And oh dear how fast the language is getting back, in the past month I've regained most of my spoken Chinese skills. I think you like me better now, too, since we can communicate. At least that one taxi driver seemed to be having fun whilst we were discussing the differences between iPhone and Nokia Lumia GPS. The other one was happy forcing me to learn to pronounce the name of our hotel properly; he wouldn't let me out of the car before I got it right. Never underestimate the taxi drivers here when it comes to cruel but effective teaching methods.

长城 The Great Wall at Mutianyu

I would also like to discuss about your hygiene problem. There is a reason they call Beijing one of the most polluted cities in the world. Take a shower or something, it would be nice if the citizens and travelers could actually breath. But how, oh how, can it be even worse somewhere else? After Xi'an, the air quality in Beijing seems quite okay, actually. According to what I've heard, the internationally less famous cities are even worse. I like this country, but I am not sure if wearing a mouth mask most of the year would go too well with my hair style. My hair and skin are not very happy, either. I must add, though, that the past few days you have really tried your best, and we have seen the blue sky and sunshine and amazing sun sets. That's when you are at your most beautiful.

You have been very nice and understanding every time I have
introduced new people to you. I wasn't sure how you'd treat them, but at least a couple of Germans and one Finn seem to understand why I miss you so much. Of course, spending some good old Beijing nightlife for a few nights with karaoke, early morning food and beers and annoying the hell out of several taxi drivers and many, many people on subway can make anyone falling in love with you.

Victoria Peak in Hong Kong

You have a history which you are proud of, and partially for a very good reason. I have been to the Great Wall several times before, but it never seems less amazing. Thousands of kilometers of history in the middle of the most beautiful land you can offer located in Mutianyu, combined with a cable car ride up and a toboggan ride down are something I will always want to go back to. Tian'anmen Square, Forbidden City and Beihai in Beijing were a compulsory part of the tour I gave Ari, and they show the controversy of your past and the official history you talk about. The Teracotta army in Xi'an was new to me, and literally took my breath away for a moment. It is difficult to describe the feeling you get when you see thousands of armed clay warriors with horses and real armory, whose sole purpose of existence was to accompany an emperor in the afterlife. Talking about megalomania...

北海 Beihai

The public transportation in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing are wonderful, and even in Xi'an it works, as long as you can read the signs in Chinese. A whole morning's adventure can be based on a decision to get to the Terracotta Warriors by public buses. It is also cheap, and many cities have their own public transportation card you can use even in taxis and some stores. The food is awesome, although I'm sure in Shanghai they spend like half of the whole country's white sugar stash everyday. Anything with Sichuan pepper can make your face fall off, and tastes like heaven. It is a bit so and so to call myself a vegetarian when most times there is no way to be sure what I am eating, no matter how many times I ask since here chicken powder does not count as "having meet" in one's dish. Thus often the only "safe" way to eat vegetarian is to go one of the many vegetarian restaurants.

You always seem to have friends waiting for me here, and you have kept them the same. Your beer is cheap, good and available everywhere. Your weather is nice sometimes even for two months a year, when it's not too cold or windy or rainy or hot or sandy. You offer cheap services, and sometimes one gets lucky and finds some good quality, too. We got Ari a tailor made suit for a certain special day, and the three piece suit for 1800 yuan turned out really well at this small tailor shop hidden in a diplomatic compound in Beijing. I have used some big tailor shops before, but good quality fabrics are rare in them.

天安门广场 Tian'anmen Square

Dear China, we are going now, for our visas are expiring. But we will be back, okay? I am sure it won't be another two years this time.


P.S: Coming up: Just photos, China edition (get ready for more black, white and gray...)

P.P.S: Next stop: San Francisco, CA, USA

P.P.P.S: Coming up soon ish: Tips for the travelers based on real life experiments by Ari

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