Saturday, May 20, 2006

Last Days in China

Well, I just accidentally deleted a post I was in the midst of writing, so I am going to avoid going into it all again for now (it wasn't that exciting anyway) and just let everyone know I am still alive. I am in Beijing. After Shanghai, I spent a week in Hangzhou and had the great fortune of meeting a friend of a friend and staying with him and his roommate for several days.

Hangzhou was beautiful. At least the area where I has a famous lake called West Lake, and the main street near where I stayed, Nanshan Lu, is lined with gorgeous trees (and a Ferrari dealership, btw). The day I arrived, I checked into the hostel (I stayed there the first three nights I was there), and then I went to get lunch. I walked outside and immediately felt revitalized. My spirits had been dampened a bit, I think, from all the time I spent in Shanghai. I think Shanghai in general is a nice place, but I was exhausted from the intensive three weeks of practically non-stop touristing I did with Janie and Silke. I thought that being a traveler had gotten tiresome, but I realized it was being a tourist that was so tiresome. Being a traveler doesn't have to be at all. I spent a few days just chilling out, watching dvds, etc. and it was great. When you stay long enough in a place, you realize you don't have to go out every day in search of temples, pagodas, stone forests, etc. Not that I regret seeing any of those things! But, going everyday to see something new does get to be too much after a while. Also, there is a numbing effect. Things aren't as special or exciting anymore. I think what has become more interesting for me is going to the supermarket or a department store. And while I had plenty of days of non-touristiness in Shanghai, I didn't feel very much at home there, and it was hard to really relax.

So, after my week in Hangzhou, I headed to Beijing, where I met up with a relative of mine (Will) I had never met before. He lives and works here and I have been staying at his apartment. It's been really great. Most of the days, I haven't been doing any touristy things because I had some logistical stuff to take care of for my coming trip to Mongolia. And I also just wanted to do some more chilling out and watching dvds. But, I have now seen a bit of Beijing night life and some good live music. The other night I went with Will and a colleague of his, a British fellow my age, to a Middle-eastern-type place that has live music and belly dance (though not at the same time...the band will play, then they leave the stage and the dancers perform, and back and forth like that for the duration of the evening's entertainment). The food was mainly Chinese, though there was pilaf on the menu. After dinner we went to a bar called Frank's Place that was absolutely filled with ex-pats. When we walked in, I said "What happened to China?"

One of my favorite music experiences was seeing a group of four women perform English songs ranging from "Yesterday" by The Beatles and "Tears In Heaven" by Eric Clapton to "Driftwood" by Travis on traditional instruments (pipa, erhu) and keyboard. It was pretty cool. They don't speak a word of English, but the vocals were very convincing.

So, in two days I leave for Mongolia. I am very excited. After a number of absurd challenges, I finally managed to wire money to Ulaan Baatar to reserve an apartment that I plan to rent for the two months I will be there. As always, with travel, there is a bit to be nervous about: I don't have with me any of the Mongolian currency, so hopefully the airport has an ATM. Because, if plans go awry, and for some reason, I am not met at the airport by someone from the NGO where I will be volunteering, I need to get a taxi to the hotel where I will stay initially. Which means I will need to exchange money or find the ATM, or to find a taxi driver who takes US Dollars. But I only have twenties, which I am sure is too much for the drive to the hotel...None of this is such a big deal, but apparently I have to be extra careful of pickpockets, and of course I will have all my bags, so, it could add an extra bit of stress when I first arrive. But, as long as I am mindful and don't get too panicky, I won't need to sweat it. Once I am at the hotel and once I have also verified that everything is a-ok with my apartment, I will be home free. So to speak. And then I have a few days in UB before I start the volunteer project to get acquainted with the city and get a mobile phone. Suh-weet! I'll try to write more soon after I get there with intial impressions and stuff.

The real shame is that as I've been traveling, I have been writing in my journal and I have all these great ideas of things to write on the blog...but then when I am the computer, I no longer have the same inspiration. So many of the thoughts and feelings I have had in China get left behind.


MLE said...

Glad to hear you had a good time with Will. And I'm glad your last couple of days in Beijing were low-stress. That's an important part of travel, IMHO, that there are times to just relax and destress.

2:19 PM  

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