They Took Him Away

This is, for many reasons as you will soon read, is the post I wished I never had to write. This is the post that in many ways will change or solidify the way you (and I) may see China for years to come. I’d like to first say that when I first got here, many of the travelers seemed hardened, perhaps to a fault.  They would say things like, “Ya, you just got to say Fuck You to these Cab drivers”.  Things like that that made me feel like these travelers were fresh out of the US and didn’t have any international or cultural respect.

I wanted to say they were wrong.  I wanted to prove them wrong when they would make claims about everyone being out to get you in casual conversation.  And lets not forget the awkward hesitation when the subject of national morality arose.  These were the people who had no hesitation about being a hard ass, but when the serious question of morality in a macro level were brought up, they didn’t want to so easily admit their findings.  I along with them, believe in the good in people.

No no, man is not depraved, just mislead.  The good is in all of us, I believe.  I think that people take desperate measures when they are in desperate situations.  That’s how I like to view things at least.

I had balls for lunch.  Wait what?  I took a train to a town called Juan Zoe (spelled wrong) today all by myself.  For what ever reason, I feel really comfortable traveling alone in China.  Anyway, I went into a local restaurant and ordered the only picture of food they had on the menu.  Everything was in Chinese, therefore I couldn’t begin to decipher it.  The picture was of a bowl full of glass noodles and what looked like pork.  What they ended serving me was a bowl with the noodles and what looked like a pork shoulder and what appeared to be one (very large) testicle.  The waitress had a half guilty look on her face.  Believe it or not, I’ve seen what a cross section of what a nut looks like and it isn’t stringy like a muscle.  It’s spongy like fried tofu.  Yikes, why do I know that?  Does this mean I’m not allowed to get married any more?  Far from it my friends, Vermont is a quick flight away (just Kidding, It’s about 5 hours).  Too far? The Joke or the Flight?  Ok, now its dead!

I cut the “nut” in half with my chopsticks and it was not spongy.  Shew!  And it tasted great!  Yuck!  Lets change the subject, shall we?

Time to learn a little about the language.  There are 4 tones in Mandarin.  This means that voice inflection is extremely important in communication in China.  How important you say?  The same word can be said to mean river, drink, and distress.  That’s bad.  in addition, you can just make noises that mean a bunch of different things.  The tea scammers from yesterday were intrigued when I said “uhh hu” and “mmm hmmm” in acknowledgement instead of saying “yes” and “correct” because they were not tout those slang noises, but uses similar ones in everyday life themselves.

Another fun fact is that in China, the months that you are in your mother’s womb are included in your age.  Interesting right ? Not as interesting as me apparently.

While in China, I have noticed that everyone stares at me.  Some people stare like they are about to rob you.  Some stare like you are monster.  And every once in a while, people stare at you like you are a movie star.  I’ll address those three situations now:

On people sizing you up to rob you (remember I still feel really comfortable here alone) There is an exact posture and facial expression to maintain when you feel like the area is dangerous.  On posture: walk like you have a gun in your pocket, better yet an atom bomb (and your not afraid to use it).  This is the same posture as being a drug lord that everyone in town knows not to fuck with.  You wouldn’t bother locking your car doors with this posture, because everyone knows better than to steal from you.  On facial expression: the closest I can say is blank.  Look like you are not looking for trouble.  Look like you are cool as a clam but as alert as a hawk.  All together, walk with an invincibility that simply radiates a humble omnipotence.

That, all of that is what I think of when walking alone in China while everyone stares at me and some follow me.

On people staring at me like I am a monster: Some people will call me a “Quai long” which is word for foreigner which literally translates to strange monster.  I can elaborate on this stare with a funny story today.  In boarding the train back to Shanghai, literally, for 20 minutes, 4 different parties fought about who had to sit next to me.  It made me sad at first but then I found it quite funny.  It started with a Chinese mom and her daughter taking someone elses seat and that set off a chain reaction of 4 different parties bickering.  An old man lost the fight and sat with a body language that would suggest I was a leper.  In Japan, the seats next to me were the last to fill everywhere I went, but no one ever made a scene about it.

On being a movie star: 4 kids were walking across the street today and I oddly understood one word they said “Handsome”.  I thought “That’s funny, wonder if they were talking about me”  and then one of them made their way back to me and said in an embarrassed tone “My sisters think you are a handsome man and would like to take a picture with you.  Is that ok?”  I said, of course!  The perfect confidence booster to make me forget for just a moment that I was a leper here in this strange land.

That was it.  They didn’t steal my wallet or make me pay them.  They were genuine, as far as I could tell.  Then there were the two locals who helped me flag a taxi after they observed me running in circles with no success.  Both of them were genuinely helpful with no expectation of compensation.

Speaking of lines, Chinese lines are the most irritating in the world.  If you are not touching the person ahead of you, people will walk into that small space, right in front of you. “Oh, I didn’t see you in line with the mile of space you left in front of you!”  Once you have made it to the front of the line, two people will side mount you and promptly talk over you.  Are these guys mongrels?  Either way, breaking my personal space bubble in that way is a good way to get popped.  Too bad I fear their Kung Foo Skills.  Bruce Lee is from here you know.  Well, Hong Kong.  Speaking of Chinese enclaves, many of the people staying at the hostel are from Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong (who all have ties to China).  All of those people are very nice.  One in fact, came out to dinner with me to help me translate so I could eat authentically.  While out, he ordered a tea and the waiter conspicuously said “who is it for?” as if he was asking the guy if he wanted to rip me off with old overpriced tea scam.

Even the random waiter at the random restaurant was ready to rip me off.  Which leads me to have to really wonder if this was thoroughly ingrained in the culture.  And by the way, the 500 gigabyte thumb drive is a well known scam that has been thoroughly documented on the internet .  Too bad 🙁

Was it possible that these people were actually depraved?  Were they godless barbarians?  Was this what they meant when they said China would challenge me as a traveler?  I feel that I am being challenged in all the opposite ways that Japan did.

Well I am optimistic, but I want to leave you with this final story for today.  I met a guy who had just arrived in China at my hostel tonight.  He was from England and had been traveling for the past 6 months.  He was very humbled by his last half year. He was only less than a month from going home. He said that someone on his flight was quarantined by the Chinese government because they didn’t pass the temperature test.  He told me how freaky it was to see the men take the other passenger away, but with traveler’s resolve, he didn’t really show how shaken up he really was.

Then, in the middle of his story, 4 men in masks appraoched him and said “It’s time.  Come with us.”  These men were from the quarintine department of China.  He was then escorted away in a van.  I never even cought his name.  Later I found out that he would have been my room mate.  I wasn’t freaked out that he could have possibly spread the disease to me (keep in mind that he was simply on the same plane as someone with a temerature).  I was freaked out that in those few minutes I had made a friend and lost him.  In true backpacker’s speed, he was gone.  In true traveler’s resolve, he never showed how shaken up he must have been.  He just walked down the hall with an invincibility that simply radiates humble omnipotence.

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