I just spent my Christmas being violently ill with stomach flu. Arrived in Vancouver from China (connecting flight at San Francisco) on December 23, woke up at 2:00AM on December 24 with a massive attack of diarrhea-- I know I know, I *don't* talk about poop here (especially mine) but I thought I should at least mention it for contexts sake-- that lasted for hours, into the late morning. I also puked a few times, and let me tell you.... you ever see a Seinfeld episode where Jerry says he hasn't thrown up since like 1983 or something? That's pretty much about the last time I did, too. Before December 24, 2009, I hadn't barfed since I was a little kid. So it was BRUTAL.
December 25-onward was about me sleeping most of the day & night. I'm feeling better, but still recovering. My Xmas sucked pretty bad. I was trying to rush home to see my niece & nephew on Xmas, but never made it, that disappointed me a lot. I got stuck at my parents in Vancouver, and... well you know the book/movie Misery, right? You'd *think* that it'd be nice to have people taking care of you while you're sick, but believe me, it was SO not. I'd have been better off at home by myself. I literally had to leave a note, sneak out, and take the bus/Canada Line Skytrain/bus/and ferry back home.... I HAD to get out of there.... just had to.
I took Dukoral before I left last month to go to China. And for the most part I think it was effective; I ate some weird stuff during the trip... ate dog twice, snake.... slammed a shotglass of snake blood mixed with what I was told was "red wine" but I think it was something... stronger... but one of the most dangerous things was a bau (bun) I bought off a street vendor that as soon as I bit into it, oil spurted out down my chin.... ugh. Felt my stomach "tweak" that night, but no real probs.
Overall the food is one of the best things about China.... it's really really good. If you like Chinese food, you'd *love* eating in China. Even the greasiest spoon hole-in-the-wall places usually have decent food. There's such an interesting variety of vegetables & fruit, and it seems to grow everywhere (lots of personal gardens)... I've a feeling that the Chinese have a close relationship with their food.
Another thing I discovered early on to my dismay is that blog sites like Livejournal are "mysteriously inaccessible" in China. LJ, Wordpress, Blogger, all blocked. Youtube is also blocked. I was looking forward to maybe chronicling my journey but was not to be. It's impossible to condense 5 weeks of a trip into a single LJ post, would've liked to be able to post from China. Thanks Google & Yahoo!, for their complicity in helping the Chinese gov't. censor content. Both Blogger & Youtube are owned by Google..... guess no one in China is reading this blog unless they're IP-spoofing or something, maybe?
But that aside, China is an amazing place. There are so many really fascinating things about China. There are a lot of bad things too... it is a grungy country. We in North America are pretty spoiled when it comes to plumbing and having so much water available to us, I know that in most other parts of the world things are not as good. but China's public bathrooms are..... yikes. Squat toilets are the norm-- if you haven't experienced those, they're basically holes in the floor. That's not even the worst of it. A few times I came across stalls over a trough. A 1' wide x 1' deep trough, filled with 1 cm of water... you squat over it and watch as everyone's stuff floats on by... this is inside buildings too... and paper is rarely provided. Nor is soap, or hand dryers. If you can find all 3, it's a rare luxury.
There I go, talking about poop again. Sorry. Oh yeah, China is a country of smokers, smoking is everywhere, I've seen people smoking directly under No Smoking signs (in English & Chinese) and there's spitting. I did a lot of side-stepping to avoid piles of gob as I navigated the streets of China.
Even though it seems like I'm dwelling on the negatives, there's lots of wonderful things about China. So much history there.... Canada is such a young country, but China has deep roots of civilization to explore. I mentioned the food. The exchange rate is very favourable, it's about $1.00 CAD= Y6.00 RMB, so my money goes pretty far in China. Things are open really late. After 6:00PM, about the only things open in my town are restaurants, and by 10:00PM, there's nothin'. But in China, I'd blow into town late, like after 9:00PM and most shops and restaurants are still open so I had plenty to do. Shopping is fun, haggling is accepted at street vendors. Plants & trees are all tropical; palm trees everywhere rather than pine trees, and there are such beautiful vistas & landscapes. The art is so inspiring. The culture is elegant & beautiful.
I spent most of my time in the south, in Shenzhen. Toured around Shanghai & Fujian province a bit too. Went to Guangzhau, the capital of Guangdong province, where Cantonese originated. One of the highlights was getting to see the villages my parents came from (near Guangzhou).... even though I had to sacrifice a trip to Beijing to do so, I'm really glad I got to see them. Also spent a few days in Hong Kong, which is such a wild place.
Ugh... being distracted by Resident Evil:Extinction on TV, trying to type during commercial breaks. But this movie is making very little sense.
China is an amazing place. I'd love to return. But not being able to speak Mandarin or Cantonese makes it VERY difficult to travel. English-only does NOT cut it in China. Yes, there's usually english under the Chinese text on major road & highway signs (however badly spelled), but no one actually reads it. Even with only Cantonese, which my parents speak, you can only get by with it in the south and even then you have about a 50/50 chance that whoever you're dealing with speaks Cantonese as well as Mandarin... which is only called "Mandarin" outside of China. To them, it's Chinese.
So my conclusion about traveling in China, like for a few weeks or longer, is that it requires investment. I met & traveled with people who were ex-pats: they come from China and have strong ties there. I saw non-Chinese people speaking Mandarin; they probably have jobs that require them to be in China. Or maybe language students who've fallen in love with Mandarin & the culture. That's what I mean by investment: there needs to be some sort of tie that draws you to China for an extended period of time. It doesn't seem like a country that a non-Chinese speaking person could strap on a backpack & go, "I'm gonna explore this place for 6 months! Yeah!" I'm sure it does happen, but probably not that often. Not to mention that you have to apply for a visa to enter the country.
A lot of people visit their homeland, whether it's Ireland or other parts of Europe or wherever, and they reconnect with roots that allows them to reconcile or resolve a part of themselves in a way that I've often wondered what that'd be like.... it's like they've come home. But going to China didn't feel like a homecoming to me. If I'd gone a few years ago, I might've felt more that way. But I don't really have any family left in China, and the huge differences in language & culture... I've never felt *LESS* Chinese than when I was in China, and I've never felt more Canadian. I look Chinese, but I'm not. Canada is my home, I deeply believe in its values. Seeing where my dad swam as a child; the trees he jumped off of into the river, that was deeply satisfying for sure. But as wonderous as China is, I don't feel Chinese.
I'd still love to go back, even soon. Part of me still wants to be there now.