20 May 2006
11 May 2006. Hotel room. Notebook. Hallelujah. For two long days I’ve knocked my head on walls for not thinking to bring one – and having many, many random thoughts that will never again return – and 8 days and a computer too late to jot them down.
And all this I’ll type it out – pure and untainted. I promise. And I haven’t even blogged about Penang, heh. I’ve been talking to myself so much these couple of days it made me wonder should I just get a tape recorder and get over with. Anyhow…
Didn’t even know where Kunming is on the map of China. I know its somewhere in the south though. Dad gave me the itinerary only the night before I’m going to Penang, and I didn’t bother reading it then. I packed to China the night before though, so had plenty of leeway to chat and still make it (half an hour late) to meet Dad in KL Sentral for the ERL ride to KLIA. That was May 9.
ERL. 28 minutes from the heart of KL to Sepang, and a car ride will take about an hour. Met Kelly, the tour leader. The last time I took ERL was back in 2004.
The wait to check in was the worst though, I was just hanging out, a little lost and very alone, wandering around Counter K waiting for it to be opened. Worst, since it was already way past midnight, most shops there are closed. Already with flu and a growing headache, I debated with myself. My head told me to go ahead with the trip, my heart wanted to just turn back. Go home, chat and sleep. And so we wait, and wait. And wait.
Counter K opened around 1am – observed as Kelly collect everyone’s passports, watched as the air tickets were being printed and luggage being tagged and checked in. Took a while though, and there were forms to be filled as well. Then, we pass through customs. Malaysian passports are convenient nowadays – just put your passport on the slot, scan, and then place your thumbprint there. I made a fool outta myself a little, not really knowing which direction to put passport on, heh. It’s amazingly simple, but imagine, it only takes 10 seconds to scan through huge databases and display who you are (as a citizen) on a computer screen. I felt terribly vulnerable there for a second. You cannot hide in your own country.
Anyhow, there was another hour and some of waiting at Gate C13. At this point I wandered away from the sitting hall with chairs that look and feel like dentist chairs and lie down on the long, padded benches right at the Gate’s locked doors. A while later I received a few SMS wishing me Happy Birthday – and I was kind of alarmed thinking I’m celebrating my birthday alone this year. I’m turning 20 with a bunch of strangers. No one knows, no one cares. I swear, next May 10, I’m staying right where people know, love and care about me, hmmph! Birthdays are not big deals but at least it’s much more sweeter with people know know and care, right.
Oh, yes, I got a call from someone I met over the ICQ as well. He pushed hard for a meeting. After that last meeting…I don’t know. I don’t really want to. I don’t.
And the flight. At 3am we boarded the plane. I manage to grab and secure and entire 3-seater row to myself (yay!). Woohoo, aisle AND window seat, can’t get any better. First encounter with Chinese (from China) women – the stewardesses. We’re served with fruits and cake, and the sweetest and most tasteless apple juice I’ve ever encountered. Amidst the turbulence (and repeated warnings to keep our seatbelts on which I eventually ignore anyway) I lie across the row and fall asleep. When I wake up at 6.50am I looked out the window and it was dark. I went to the loo (before the queue starts!) and then back, and it’s already light outside. Watched the sunrise, took pics. Absolutely beautiful. And acutely quiet, alone and lonely too. It’s poignant.
And then, down below, Kunming came into view – strange, sparce landscape. Natural lands, cultivated lands, strange green and blue lakes, and then industrial areas, stone forests and finally, a huge, strange looking city. This is definitely not home; nowhere resembling it. First thing that crossed my mind was how square the buildings are. There are no other variations. Just squares. Something else seem strange too, though I can’t figure it til later – that the heights of all the buildings are uniform (discovered, 8 days later, due to that Kunming is vulnerable to earthquakes) are not that tall, and finally, how flat Kunming is. It’s a maze of roads, buildings, farms and cars. It’s a strange sight for me.
Had breakfast at a local hotel, where culture shock hit me. Not knowing anyone and without Kelly in sight, I took a plate of food and sat at an empty table. A Chinese man plop himself down, right next to me, and ate. And ate. And gawked at me. I felt terrible. Finally I took a bowl of very spicy noodles and soybean milk and sat with Kelly and ate in peace.
Went to a Chinese garden, beautiful place. According to local guide, Chinese people take their morning exercise seriously. There were Qigong, Fan dances, sword kungfu, western jiggles and undefined aerobics all going on. People were dancing to old-fashioned radios. Then we went to this supposedly the best fengshui place in Kunming – 2 huge entreways representing health and fortune.
Then we went to Jiuxiang – I had no idea what was coming. It’s actually a lot of water rapids, waterfalls, and caves and underground chambers. A lot of steep, narrow tunnels walkways and steps. God, the steps. The ‘exploration’ took about two fecking hours, and my knees almost gave at the steeper steps. When you think the worst is over, the nightmare only begun – 300-plus steps ASCENDING. Narrow, winding steps. They thoughtfully provide stone chairs by the sides of the steps. It took all my final, bursting exerted energy to make it out. My heart felt like bursting – years of good food and no exercise. Took cable car back to the starting point, I don’t think anyone can walk on at this point already. Bought some local fruits then – pineapples and plums for about RMB4. That’s only fecking 2 bucks! Dirt. Cheap. The pineapples are good. The plums are overripe.
Then it was hotel and dinner. Took a walk around the town (never learnt the name of that town though) and bought more fruits.
It struck me that this place is beautiful. It might not be super modern, but beautiful.
11 May. First thing in the morning – waterfall. Big beautiful waterfall. I saw a rainbow too. Then it was some Chinese medicinal stuff of which I have 0% interest in, and then some tourist spot – a wholesale emporium. Then Yunnaa Agricultural University – Tea Science Faculty (whoa!) for tea-testing and selling. Didn’t buy nothing.
Fluck, I don’t think I can charge my phone here.
Yeah, how do I feel being in my “motherland”? Or, “homeland”, as they call it here? I’m a 3rd generation Malaysian-born Chinese. I know my heritage, yet it bothered me slightly in the land where generations upon generations who came before me toiled, I’m as good as an illiterate. Communication stunted too. I can’t even speak Mandarin as she should be spoken. I can’t read, can’t write Chinese. And it feel kind of bad admitting it. I am definitely mesmerized by the way they speak Pu Tong Hwa – ordinary language – that is, Mandarin. With the proper Rs rolled and the sentence structure and figure of speech, then “hao” and “a” and “na” and “wang, wang”, “oer” in the proper places in the sentences. The way Mandarin is spoken in Malaysia and Singapore is…crude and improper to say the least. And then more culture shock – Chinese people cleaning toilets. Bellboys, waiters, bus drivers, military forces, policemen…Chinese, Chinese, Chinese. There are just no exceptions, no variations of faces. Its strictly homogenic there. And for once, I’m among so many single-eyelidded people. And single-eyelids can be so charming…and disarming…
And the food. Is. OILY and SALTY. Ugh! Many of them are acquired tastes too. We had roast ducks, eggs, a lot of fresh vegetables, and local fruits. All swimming in oil and salt.
Toilets. Chinese are big on toilet hygiene. They stink to high heaven. Some of the doors are enough to just cover you shoulder down and knee up. They’re dirty. I wonder how those foreign tourists cope. Wahahaha.
10.50am. On the bus to Lijiang. Lots of hoohah and jokes over the doorless toilets we just made a pit stop to. Lucky I never visited it. The ride will take 3-4 hours and the driver sure is speeding over bumps and cutting vehicles like a madman. Its already disorienting enough that they drive at the ‘wrong side’ of the road here, and sit at the ‘wrong side’ of the vehicle, add that to horrendous traffic in the cities and bicyclists, whoo, one fuking experience. He but by first going into the fast lane, then honk at the vehicle he’s cutting – donkey carts, motorcycles, cars, police cars, buses, heavy vehicles and they will (or will not) slow down for him. Sometimes in a one-lane road, can even see oncoming cars from opposite direction nearly hitting our bus. It’s a neck breaking experience. After Penang buses though, taking all this in stride, hah. We’ll be safe. Must have xong yang - faith.
Am feeling the withdrawals from technology and everything familiar. Do miss talking in English, in a way. Now only have a journal, and later, I’ll read my Reader’s Digest, and I brought Empress Orchid (by Anchee Min) with me. Must say the view outside is definitely scenic. Miles and miles of algricultural land, goats, cows and industrial areas, and villages. Houses with red papers framing their front door, bricks, terraced land…
11.20pm. Dali. Day fun-filled and hectic. And finally, went to a doorless toilet myself. When you have to pee, you have to pee. Its is just a long tiled drain that runs perpendicular from cubicle entrance and through all the cubicles. Okay, mind over matter. Unzip-pull down jeans CAREFULLY-squat-tissue over nose-eyes squeezed shut-do business. And hightailing it out of there as fast as you can. Then we arrive at some jade market which I got down from bus, go through the back door and look for parked bus. In Dali, a tourist guide in traditional “Bai”tribe garb greeted us at lunch. After looking at the rest of the tour’s food, our meager buffet sucked. Everything is oily, salty and spicy. Most things are pickled too. I miss Malaysian food where nothing is alien. Went to an old, refurbished house (complete with courtyards, wells, doorless toilets, narrow steps, gardens and all) to see traditional “Bai” tribe courting and marriage process. Actually, it was pretty entertaining. It’s a dance with music lyrics explaining what’s happening – from meeting to courting to wedding. We were served 3 types of tea – “Santao Cha”, tasting bitter first, then sweet, then…weird. Gingery, sweet, mouth-puckering weird. After that it was some pagoda fengshui place and then a touristy, market area. There’s a Yangren Lu – Foreigner’s Road, lots of pubs and western style shops. I get to buy these 2 carved name jade, one dragon one for bro, one tiger one for me, and then promptly dropped mine. When the carver pick it up, he said zhe ke lao fu ming ku le - this tiger has a bitter life. He might have referred to only the carved jade, but I know I went slightly ashen faced, and I swallowed. And prayed it don’t symbolize my life – dropped, broken and bitter. (I’m born in the year of the Tiger, my brother, year of the Dragon). At least it wasn’t my brother’s. I guess I can make another one in Lijiang though.
Had another buffet dinner (yuck) at the same hotel. Then back to our hotel (a different one) and walked to the shops and played with a black cat while the rest of them ooh and aah over the cheap prices of baby clothes. I heard from others they saw an entire row of shops selling dog meat. That’s sick. Dogs are companions, not food. Dogs are NOT for eating.
3.10pm. Lijiang hotel. As it turned out, our itinerary here is loose. We can afford to spend a couple of hours in the hotel, anyhow. Love this hotel, my favourite by far. Its resort-like, new, clean, AND after the clogged bath last night, I salivate over the separate shower/bath cubicle. Something funny happened – there were 2 condoms on the bedside table in last night’s hotel. I’m tempted to swipe them until I saw a note in the toilet saying they cost 2 yuan each. One old lady on our tour actually took them thinking they’re, get this, sunscreen and then when our tour leader informed her she’s been charged 4 yuan for something she took from her room, she tried looking through her luggage for that 2 package unsuccessfully. So she had to cough up 4 yuan AND become the butt of the biggest in-joke we have. This is a culture shock for us, because condoms will NOT be sold in Malaysian hotel rooms. There’s also a section of books in one of the emporiums we went to where they feature nude models. Wow, I stood there and browse and browse and you know what, naked women gets boring after awhile, heh.
And oh, at breakfast this morning I saw some really pink meat being served at the buffet table. I took a glass of soybean ilk and then this woman came and grabbed my hands and practically shriek “Did you take that pink meat?!! Someone told me you took two! Did you eat it?! Do u know it’s dog meat?!” my not-so-good appetite left me for good. I gave a sick, inadverted glance at the pink meat and gagged. Visuals of caged dogs, intelligent, barking, whining, whimpering beings being slaughtered flash through my brain. I don’t think I like it here. I miss my dogs. I want their smelly heads nudging me for a pet and a scratch.
I also gave our driver, or “sifu” as we call him here, a lot of xing yang. the way he navigated the bends and curved and blind spots on the hilly way to Lijiang - I can imagine us plunging into the ravines easily. I kind of don’t want to, you know, snuff it in “homeland”. Touchwood. He got summoned yesterday by the police for not putting on safety belt.
11pm. Lijiang hotel. Cold, wet day, and I’m underdressed here. I didn’t bring enough warm clothing. It’s 10 degrees Celsius outside. Had to wear 3 layers of clothing just to keep warm. I think the local weather agree with me though, I have pink cheeks on pale skin! I look good! I like. Been taking a lot of self-photos with my handphone out of boredom. Shopping tomorrow.
5.47pm. KFC outside Lijiang Ancient City. I guess I know what it means as comforts of home and everything familiar. And KFCs worldwide looks similar. Lots of Caucasians here as well. After a brief visit to the Ancient City’s Naxi tribe palace this morning, we went for lunch and then back to shop at the ancient city. It’s really a labyrinth of refurbished small lots and houses that used to be the residence of ancient Naxi tribesmen. Shopped like mad, they have all sorts of touristy things to buy, crafts, shawls, bags, dolls, name it. Prices here are dirt cheap too.
11.30ish, Lijiang Hotel. If there’s anything to blog about, it’s this. We have returned to Lijiang Ancient City to see the night life, 7 of us on 2 cabs. And I came back to the hotel all smiles. I enjoyed it a lot. Probably the best on this tour. The tourist guide told us about the pubs and eateries (small and open air) that are separated by a small river and walkway but faces each other where there will be people drinking, eating and singing back and forth to each other and then when we’re there in the narrow streets, we see groups of people in those pubs (not knowing each other) cluster together and sing a short version of popular Taiwanese/HK/Chinese song and hitting drums, metal basins with chopsticks and everything that makes noise together and then shout ”yak shou yak shou yak yak shou!” to the group awaiting across the walkway and they’ll sing and shout right back and it goes on and on and on. It was more than amusing, it was enjoyable as a spectator and even more as a one of them singing, shouting and enjoying themselves. Ah Niu’s “Girl Across” is a popular choice, I wonder how many of them know this song originated from our shores Malaysia…
Speaking of Malaysia, there was a hyperactive, loud, non-stop moving guy at a shop in Ancient City selling skirts asking to exchange RM into RMB with me. He took RM1, RM5, RM10 and RM50 notes on two occasions the 3 times I was in that shop (and don’t ask me how I ended up there 3 times. This is the hazards of accompanying others to shop). When we return at night, he was so excited he shouted “My Malaysian friend!!!” on top of his voice and when we leave, he shouted “bye!!! See you again!!!” He was so being so cute, and I manage to get another RMB155, it’s a win-win situation since I’m so low on RMB already.
Tonight was by far the best I had, but also made me think, how vast the differences is between the affluent, touristy areas and the poor, agricultural villages.
9.32am. Side road stop. Lijiang > Dali. An hour and half on bus and already people are complaining and saying they’re tired and sore. Kinda, well, don’t go cross country with them, then. I think I can do that, crossing country, better than visiting all those touristy, historical places (pfft they’re so boring). And also, I’m getting tired of the mince meat noodle soup they serve every morning at buffet but I have to eat it cos the rest of the food suck. And Lijiang is fricking cold. When you breath, you can see steam out of your mouth. And I got slight nosebleeds for days now. And I want a thesaurus. That’s a random thought for you.
22:55. Kunming, hotel. That was heck of a bus journey. More than 9 hours! We departed at 8am and arrive at hotel at 6pm. And I had to hold my pee towards the end for over and hour, oh my God. I nearly wet my pants, and became the laughingstock of the entire bus. The congestion inside the city was horrible, took 10 minutes to go about 500metres and when we reach hotel I grabbed my backpack and run run run to the nearest W.C. I didn’t even greet the waiting tourist guide. Oh God, the suffering.
Had “cross bridge noodles”, and I don’t know what’s the big hoohah about it. The soup was sweet and clear, but I had to ladle out a rice bowl-ful of oil from the soup AND it’s still fricking oily and I didn’t even manage to finish the noodles – and when I come back to hotel I threw up everything anyway. Drinking oil is not a good idea. Actually been feeling lousy all day, I had a flu coming back from Penang, and the spicy food and cold weather didn’t help improve it. And my face feels dry, my hands and leg feel dry, and I didn’t bring any moisturizer. Who am I kidding, I don’t even own moisturizers. Been using my Banana Boat sunscreen as substitute. And its ironic I mix and talk with the older crowd more than the younger one; they seem standoffish. And we have nothing in common (how can that be!?). Went for a walk to the nearby shopping area; and there’s 2 huge malls next to each other: Brilliant Mall and Splendid Mall. What’s next? Spectacular?
I’m so glad to be on the last leg of this tour, I want to go home. We’re going back tomorrow night. Thank goodness.
23:22. Onboard Southern China Airlines. Kunming > Kuala Lumpur. Well, that was that, an 8-day trip to china. I’m definitely glad to be on the way home, though. This last day was certainly eventful, we had breakfast and by 8am was on our way out already. This time to a flower farm. Harvested some weedlike flowers and then went to a peach orchard where I picked 4kg of peaches (each person is entitled to 2kg; I picked Kelly’s share as well). I love their peaches. Sweet, small and juicy. I bought a lot over the days I was ere. They’re ripe enough you can peel with your own hands. And then we went to some Chinese garden with flowers in full bloom, beautiful place, but all I wanted was time to move faster, faster. Went to some jade wholesale warehouse where the boss claim to be a Malaysian (my ass! He don’t speak a word of Malay, and he barely even know Cantonese or any other dialect) and then we went back to the flower farm area, to the flower wholesale market. I love lilies. Beautiful flowers. There is a juice bar at the marketplace serving pretty good lemon-egg white-yogurt drink and I had 2 tall glasses of yummy goodness. Excellent. 5 stars out of 5. and yes, I’m raving. Then we had a steamboat kind of dinner, which is good, apart from the oil. Chicken and herbs broth, chicken meat and all kinds of mushroom. I love mushrooms and those were fresh, fragrant and smooth. Yummy. We don’t get this at home. They’re too bloody expensive to eat here.
And oh, I. Need. To. Improve. My. Mandarin. (Wow the man behind AND in front of my are snoring away, and it’s only 30 minutes into the flight. I grabbed an entire 3-seater row for myself again yay).
Met a lot of beggar kids outside the restaurant and airport. I gave some small change to them, but yeah, the tour guide is right, why give and give and give when their parents remain jobless and are content with depending on their uneducated, begging kids of their income? What will these kids grow up to become? Its exploitation, by their own parents.
Kunming surprised me. I thought I was headed to some backward, rural countryside but no, it’s a huge, busy, bustling city, bigger than even KL, I think. It’s so modern and beautiful and busy, much more than I expected. I admit I’m flying home now with a new insight and appreciation of China. I don’t have much of it before.
I am fiercefully Malaysian, and will remain so, but now I have pride that I came from my ancestors who had once toiled and lived in China. I may not identify with its culture or the country in general, but it is the language, the food, the skin color and the blood in my veins that is my legacy. Chinese people are persistent and they carry themselves with pride. They stand straight and walk briskly. And that touched me.
Okay I’m sleepy now. Their apple juice sucked, they’re orange juice is no better pffffft. I’m outta here. I hope I actually will type and blog this when I get home.