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  • Writer's pictureChoo Choo

China Chronicles: I

The jetlag is strong with this one. I've already been up for over an hour. You know you're in bad shape when you beat both the sun and your deaf octogenarian grandfather who wakes up at 4am every day to write poetry. Mom woke up with me, and she's been here for a week, so I guess it could be worse.

I'm going to be lazy and just copy and paste the emails I've been sending to Dad and Lynn that chronicle my travels so far. I don't have a ton of time, because Mom is trying to force-feed me Chinese breakfast pastries. I guess there are worse things.

SUBJ: In the beginning: China Trip 2014

DATE: Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 4:05 AM

I am sitting in Dulles airport, having just breezed through the easiest post-9/11 TSA screening in memory. I didn't have to take my shoes off, or take my liquids out of my carry-on. It was a feeling of elation akin to that of finding out that there is a snow day tomorrow when you were supposed to have a test that you haven't studied for. In short, it felt awesome. Unfortunately, my suitcase was about 3 kg overweight when they weighed it at the counter. So I unzipped the suitcase and rifled around it like an idiot trying to take things out while the entire airport got a sneak peek at my bras, footwear, and preference of personal hygiene products. I didn't want to carry the extra weight in my carry-on because I only brought a small backpack with me since I knew I would be walking around Amsterdam all day and wanted to travel light. So after I zipped up my suitcase and gave it back to the counter attendants (the new weight was just BARELY under the limit), I walked around the airport with a bunch of rolled up clothes and a pair of ratty sneakers in my arms. I'm pretty sure I looked like a homeless person. I ducked into the nearest restroom and threw the extra clothes and shoes in the trash can. (Don't tell Mom. She would call me wasteful. But honestly I didn't want those clothes anymore anyway.) Success! I was also informed that my bag would be traveling all the way to my final destination. (Mom told me I would have to pick up the bag in Beijing. Mom was wrong. I love it when Mom is wrong, because it happens so rarely.)

SUBJ: Amsterdam!

DATE: Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 10:23 PM

My feet are so tired! Today I walked and walked and then walked some more. Slept for most of the seven hour flight to Amsterdam, waking only to eat the adequate vegetarian meal they served me, drink the tiny bottles of KLM water, and pee in the astonishingly small airplane bathroom that contained very nice-smelling hand soap. Otherwise I slept. Woke up when we landed, around 7:30am on Tuesday morning, and groggily made my way to the baggage claim/arrivals area to get a train ticket. Boarded the train and admired the beautiful Dutch countryside with its gabled roofs and windmills that looked like they came right out of a storybook. The Dutch countryside is similar to the Swiss countryside, but while Switzerland's hills are a lush, rolling green, Holland's landscape is more flat and lemon-lime, its grass tinged with the color of straw. All of the cars have soft, curved edges as if they didn't subscribe to the concept of right angles. A few of the houses I saw jutted right out across the water, and some of them floated right on top. Houseboats are a big thing here. I didn't have much more time to enjoy myself, because as we pulled into the next station I realized that I had gone the wrong direction on the train. Not even in the country for half an hour, and I had already gotten lost. So I got back on the train, going the right way, and landed at Amsterdam Central Station. It was still early enough for the streets to be pretty empty, and I took a preliminary walk around the premises to soak up the city. I quickly learned to pay no attention to the walk signals and rather just follow the crowd--safety in numbers and whatnot--because bikes and cars (but mainly bikes, which are the king of the road) will just ride all over you and you have to be assertive and just push your way through. As the sun climbed higher I started to get sweaty, so I went back to the train station and decided to take a tour on one of those canal boats. Usually I don't like acting like such a tourist, but since I had no guide of any sort, I figured a canal tour would be an apt way to see the city and kill some time. After that was over, I found a little bagel place and had a sandwich and some tea. I felt like such a dumb American because it seemed like all the other patrons in the establishment were annoying twenty-something's from the US. The people sitting at the table next to me talked loudly about how they were hungover from last night's adventures and required sustenance and fortitude in the form of orange juice and baked goods. They tried to smoke a joint right there in the open air, but the waitress handily put a stop to that.

The bagels were pretty good though. The rest of the afternoon I just tried to get lost as much as possible. I would walk down one street, then turn down another one, letting the city wrap around me like a hug. The narrow, large-windowed townhouses that lined the canals all blurred into one, but I kept walking. When I got tired I stopped at a park bench and did some reading. Then more walking, then more reading. The last one of my walks seemed to take me all around the city in a giant circle, from urban to suburban to side alleys scattered with derelict houseboats to impressive modern buildings and imposing old ones. Right as I was starting to worry about making it back to the train station in time to get back to the airport, I turned a corner and all of a sudden the familiar old-meets-new architecture of Amsterdam Central Station loomed in front of me. In short? It's next to impossible to get lost in this city. No matter how hard you try, the city will always spit you back out right where you started.

SUBJ: China tidbits

DATE: Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 8:27 AM

Oh. My. God. I got here yesterday, and it took me until just now to even figure out how to bypass all the crazy Chinese firewalls in order to access my email and Facebook. Let me just tell you, setting up a VPN when you can't read a single word of Chinese is one of the proudest moments of my life so far.

I don't have a ton of time because I have to shower and go to NaiNai/YeYe's house, but some tidbits from my time here so far:

- I'm pretty sure LaoYie hasn't heard a single word I've said. I have a pretty low voice as it is, and I don't like to shout, so I'm almost positive that my feeble attempts to raise my voice have gone unnoticed. It's pretty funny, because LaoYe asks a lot of questions but can't ever hear any of the answers. Watching him and LaoLao interact is hilarious.

- NaiNai has way too much energy for someone her age.

- YieYie has gained weight.

- Lao Shu is probably one of the most unphotogenic people I have ever met. When we visited NaiNai/YieYie yesterday, we spent a large portion of time going through family photos, and almost every single picture of LaoShu is more unattractive than the last. He's always making some weird face, as if someone just fed him a lemon.

- No surprise here, but my trip was smooth sailing until I landed in Beijing, at which point everything just became one giant mess. The plane arrived late, and then it took forever to get through customs and transfer my baggage (so Mom was right after all, I had to pick up the suitcase in Beijing and transfer it over to Changchun) and then it took FOREVER to get through security. There was a giant line that snaked all the way around the airport and only two people working the security stations. 1.3 billion people in this country; you'd think they'd be able to hire some more airport workers.

- Because of this backup, I barely made it onto the flight to Changchun. I had to run from one end of the airport to another, then hopped on the bus (there was a bus that drove us across the airfield to catch our plane in the middle of nowhere) right as it was pulling away. It was pretty funny, because everyone on the bus had a Dongbei accent. I've determined that the Dongbei accent is the Chinese equivalent of a Boston accent; kind of crude but familiar and friendly in a nosy, impolite way. Everyone sounds like they're speaking while sucking on a hard candy, and they're trying to talk through a mouthful of saliva.

I'm not doing so well with this jetlag. I took a four-hour nap from 6-10pm last night, then slept from 1-4:30am. This morning Mom and I went for a walk around Nanhu, which was pretty in a smoggy, disgusting way.

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