Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Getting out of Guilin and coming through Kunming

PTI: Lijiang hotel is pretty cool, but they are not giving me a sec to post this, they keep recommending me what to do. It was 30 over budget but has wireless=deal. I think she was pretty shocked when she said we have internet and I almost jumped out of my sandals into the place.

Almost big props to the Guilin airport, they have the wireless, but they charge.

There is something odd in the air in country China, and I believe that something is marriage. I have heard the words "結婚" being in Guilin and Yangshuo for three days than many month long stretches in Taiwan, and those people love their marriages.
Why? Because China is all about its development, and marriage with a foreigner apparently symbolizes a sudden and massive social development, everyone knows it and they are probably right.
In Yangshuo I was asked in about 60 or 70 percent of my conversations if I was looking for a "Chinese wife" or had it brought up that "Chinese woman are beautiful." My tour guide mentioned her friends who had married foreigners (clients no less) with clear admiration of their achievements.
Its hard to blame her either, we are talking worlds apart economically. A cup of Starbucks Joe in the states feeds a family for a day here. This is not trading up from a Toyota to a Lexus, a Chinese farmer's daughter marrying a foreigner is inventing the car.
My guide and others all spoke of a foreigner searching for a Chinese wife in the way one might mention describe looking for a jade bracelet. At one point my guide mentioned in passing that her (admittedly beautiful) cousin was single, coupled with verbal winks and nudges of all sorts (some not so subtle like specifically saying she could get us together). Afterwards, she continued to say that a wife was another thing she could arrange for me (as arranging was her job).
First of all, as I hope you all know, I am not in the market for one of these aforementioned wives. That said, I find the fact that there is such a market noticeably interesting. As a hopeless romantic in some ways, I actually forgot how many people get married for reasons completely detached from love, or at least a good strong like.
I find it easy to say we should all marry for love, but if I lived off of less than $200 a month in poor country and I had $4,000 a month was "on the table," that is worth a good think. That is the difference between seeing the world and not seeing the world. That is the difference between security and insecurity. If health is at stake for self or family, that is the difference between life and death. Really now, what does love got to do with it?
Now to move from broad pondering to specifics, I want on my first "date" with a mainland girl today, composing about half an hour. It was at the airport. She was a saleswoman for a prepaid credit card of some sort. She mentioned the card and I said I did not need help, she asked if she could help with a hotel or anything in Kunming. In fact, she could. I don't especially like price hunting hotels in the middle of the night, so I was happy to have someone arrange that for me.
She arranged a hotel very fast, with what I wanted. Afterwards, I asked her if she was allowed to take a break. It was more of a way to see if she could take a break, and apparently she could.
Her story was very familiar to yesterday's story. She was a farmer's daughter, her parents grew rice. She moved to Guilin to get this job, which she did not especially like. They provided her with a dorm, and she earned about $125 a month, I think they also provided her meals. She had only worked for ten days there, so perhaps she would come to like the job, or hate it more.
You can see the economy in the distances. My guide lived an hour away and called this "very far." The airport worker lived four hours away by bus and she called the distance "extremely extremely far." It was clear that she considered those fours hours to be basically insurmountable outside of very special occasions. While here I was, talking a plane ticket on the opposite side of the world of my home, flying on a ticket that would be three weeks work for her.
I am not rich, in fact, I am staring up at the crest of a typhoon of debt, yet here, wealth cannot be claimed or denied, it can be seen. My white face in this country is evidence enough.
Our "date" was conversational in that I asked a lot of questions. She was not especially curious, talkative, or ambitious. It was clear she was resigned to her current situation for the most part. She wanted a new job, but had no idea what kind, she said whatever she naturally finds. She had no interest in politics, little interest in language, and no interest in computers. As such, our conversation just sort of faded away before I had to catch my plane.

PTI: I spent the plane talking to two fun French people, one with great English. She actually studied American Literature in England. A French person, studying American Literature in England? That is a once in a life time find I believe. She was a fun break from non-stop Chinese conversation lately.

PTI: I am now in the very nice hotel I ended up at. For the record, $$14 gets you a very very nice room in China, including breakfast and such things. The hotel is nice, but the customer service may be too nice. Charmed by the company, I hung out with the desk clerk until nearly five this morning.

Do not worry too much, I have an eight hour bus ride to sleep through. That said, I had full plans on resting well last night, as I was tired from Yangshuo. As such, my only strategy is to emphasize how charming the desk clerk really was.
Another farmers daughter, she came to Kunming from much farther away and was not working at this rather nice hotel. She was noticeably good at her job and it was clear she went about to do it well. She was studying Business Management at a near by University.
She understood the spirit behind my weird desire for wireless internet, which was a pretty great initial sign of a cool person. She turned out to be happy and funny, ambitious and willing to work. We talked about all the topics that I normally ask with ease. It was the sort of conversation I love in America, it self-sustains and you never seem to exhaust any given topic. It being in Chinese was nice for the confidence, at least until I got simply too tired and stopped making sense.

PTI: At the breakfast area, man they have a good breakfast here, I am impressed.

The conversation was the best I have had in the mainland. This was the sort of girl that symbolizes what China could be, someone who was moving himself or herself from the insecurity and poor farming life to business and the development of China. She had done work on a farm, quiet a bit it sounded like, and recognized farmer life as very peaceful but not for her.
Of the things we talked about, one of them was religion. During that we talked of fate. Asked if I believed in fate I thought about this way, I do believe in fate, fate is what you make of it. I am not sure if I have gone over some bounds of trite here, but it is a thought I can't escape from the people I have talked too lately.
I have confidence that the hotel clerk from today will have a bright future, yet I worry about the girl from the airport. The airport girl admittedly was being moved by nature, the desk clerk was ready to make her own waves. Perhaps this is I am wrong and the plight of a Chinese far is simply insurmountable. That said, I saw a determination in the clerk's eyes lacking in the card seller. I think, riding on the coattails of costal development and Chinese economic expansion, she will get where she wants. Furthermore, she had a pretty good plan and a recognizable one, she wanted to work for a localization company, helping American companies into China (mind you, this was said before I mentioned that is basically the area of law I am interested in).
By the way, yesterday I met my tour guys youngest for about a minute. She was unbelievably cute, showed her mom's bravery in waving by to what was basically a stranger, and I prey to anyone willing to listen, god or mortal alike, for her safe well-being, individuality, and happiness. She may be one of a billion Chinese people, but I have to start my well-wishing somewhere.

PTI: At a weird relaxing place in the middle of Kunming. I don't really get these places, the point seems to be you get to do what you want. Sometimes they have wireless. What I want to do is sit here, use the internet and drink coffee, but they are, and I quote, "not that type of place."

Today has been a weird day. My plan was originally to not spend any time in Kunming. However, that very quickly became somewhat silly as far as plans go, as the point of seeing Lijiang is to see it in the day, and its going to be eight hours to get there. Thus leaving at ten and getting in at six somewhat wastes the day (except the view from the bus window), when leaving at 9 and getting there at five in the morning gives me time to sleep at night and then getting to Lijiang early enough to maybe even catch the sunrise.
The new goal is to see as many World Heritage sites as possible, not moving moving moving seems counter to this, but I probably don't have a choice, and it actually does not change my schedule. Tomorrow Lijiang and then one of the three other World Heritage sites nearby.
I spent the day with the hotel clerk. We saw parks, pagodas, took an egregious number of taxis, at Yunnan style food (which was not too bad despite being apart of the category I call "way too Chinese"). The best part was the company except for too much stress over my bus tickets (which we had to change to a different time, and it was a bit of a hassle).
My clerk (who has a great name, but again, I am uncomfortable putting names up on the blog, even in pinyin with the potential of hundreds of synonyms) is the third person in four days with whom I have probably spent more than six hours with of constant Chinese.

PTI: So Kunming is a big fat wireless black hole. My hotel has wired internet, but as explained, that just won't do. I found the most likely area for wireless near my hotel, a series of western hotels and restaurants for backpackers. I asked at least ten places, I think Taiwan would have gotten at least five connections out of that, even other parts of China I would expect at least two. I came close, one I could connect to (it was actually 5 yuan an hour, but that rounds down to nothing even here). Another they just said "sorry, its broken."

The wireless quest brings up a weird aspect in language, you have to hear it a lot. As such, I can probably reject someone asking for wireless better than I could ask for wireless. Why? Well although I found a question that finally works in finding out if a place has wireless, its probably said terribly. But I don't hear people asking about wireless. But man do I hear people saying they don't have it. I could reject someone's dreams of their own computer on the internet with complete ease (perhaps I would go with the "不行" pronounced (buuu xingggggggggg) and meaning, essentially "not cool man."
Now I am in the lobby of what is probably the fanciest hotel in Kunming. No luck here, its pay. But I am dressed nice, so they are cool with me in the lobby I think. As such, I am resting here before I try the search on the side of the road I was less optimistic about.
I must say, I did Kunming local up good, I covered the sites that interested me in my guide book already and I find these wireless searches to be absolutely enlightening. The interesting part is not so much the places that have it and those that don't, usually those are predictable (if I think they might have it, about a 20%, if I consider it "worth a try," about 0%). Rather, the best part is how they react. I think its the best way to tell what businesses will do well. If the owner or employee's face reacts like "No, but we really should shouldn't we?" Then I think that business has a great future. If there is awkwardness, probably a bad sign. The worst reaction so far was the people that would have charged 5 yuan but I never got on, the guy was incredible awkward about it and basically me existing.
So back some topics, I am in near constant Chinese, which can be really frustrating at times. With the first guy, his accent was hard for me, so there were lots of rough spots. Although we talked about hard things, we did them in a logical order, so talking to my guide was not a problem. However with the clerk, our topics range drastically (she is also one of those people that loves to use idioms). As such, occasionally I don't know a word, or I switch a word (I love flipping words), and things fall apart. She gets in my face about these mistakes, which has made learning much faster.
My accent is all over the map, depending on sleep, how recently I have spoken English, who I am talking to, all of this makes Chinese...variable.

PTI: I almost fell asleep on their coach here, sign to move on to another place I can't get online, but I can order coffee.

PTI: That was not the best hotel in Kunming, this has to be. The waterfall gave it away. Yet they have a broken connection to what I think is the same pay service as across the street, ironic.

PTI: Third nice hotel, not nearly as nice as the first two. Same connection system, a pay system through a phone company. Even if I wanted to pay, its not clear how.

PTI: Another one, same deal. One place (a cafe) forward me to "Quifa" next door, but it turns out, I have no idea what that is (and neither did the man on the street). I think I have hit a wireless vacuum.

PTI: I gave up, I am at a restaurant to pass the time, order a snack and relax. I saw a good chunk of the city on that journey. I must say, it is a Chinese city, and that about covers it. It is a bit more diverse, but not by much. Also the people are not as initially friendly as other places.
This cafe is pleasant, I am by a little open window, nice breeze, apple pie is coming and a milk tea which is supposed to be "Chinese style" upon my inquisition (ensuring that I did not face the typical disaster of a Hong Kong milk tea, only a couple of steps above Hong Kong drinking water). How in the world did I become a milk tea conessueir (Frenchies, Allison and mom this means you, attack), and dare I say, snob?
Speaking of being a snob, my Chinese is doing okay but I am learning words so slow. The problem is that I am always keeping up (not really struggling, but following logic rather than language), so new words pass by in flashes. I usually don't have the time to sit down and memorize word lists like in Taiwan. Perhaps because whenever I have free time I am typing in this thing.
The fact is though that my Chinese works now. I have stopped saying "What are you talking about?" when people compliment, I just say thank you and smile. I make a lot of mistakes, tons of them. There long periods of time where I make no sense or cannot understand simple things. Yet at the end of the day, I can manage real friendships in Chinese. I feel like there are two people from this trip that I can call to some degree close and no more than six English sentences were used in forming those friendships.

PTI: The milk tea is disappointing at best, too much milk, poor quality sugar and pointlessly weak tea. Also they are out of apple pie, two disappointments but she is replacing the pie with something she said was good.

PTI: The new pie is pretty good, somehow it goes well with this bland milk tea.

I am still relieved to find shelter in English, but it is not too terrible to have days without English, and I do like realizing that my thinking is going on in English.
The problem is that I don't want this to all just fade away when I hit the states.
I am going to miss the clerk a lot, I kind of what to use her as a guide in Lijiang (something you can do with actual guides, take them to other places), but the fact is I have to move on from here and she has business to take care of.

PTI: The number of people that I am meeting here is simply not expressed in this blog. I talk about a few people a lot, or I talk about a lot of sites a lot, but the sheer mass of friendly charming people is out of control. I look forward to letting friends and family see the photo album, which probably only has half of them. I am glad that China was not some wasteland of friendliness, and rather far far from (I did not think it would be, but it had a lot to stack up against with Taiwan).

PTI: Everyone seems to sing her, thats a cute touch (just like hum to themselves). Oh, and there is mint in the water.

PTI: New cafe, an old couple, one Chinese and one clearly American are in a great older person fight. I wish I knew more about them, but asking questions might be difficult (the situation is not an especially easy to approach one). Its funny because the American man talks very slow, and orders for his wife, which his wife quickly translates into Chinese for the waiter. One thing I like though, when the wife speaks English, she speaks as slow as he does, when she speaks Chinese, she speaks very fast.

Wow, that switched away from an old person to very real problem real quick, he just said "We have a problem you don't understand, what I say." She says that she can, but she is tired, and he says, "We can't communicate." Agh, its getting more and more serious "At the bus station, at the hotel, I don't know what's going on." The problem is that they are close and loud enough I can't even dodge this incredibly personal conversation...now back to writing it onto the internet.
Apparently a fight over whether a fish should be purchased was the center of a big fight. He also seems upset that she ends up translating his English into Chinese for the waiter (who can't speak English but I guess the guy assumes he can in fact).

PTI: They have eat in mostly tranquility for a while, now they are eating and at one point he said to her "No, you eat...damn it."


Juanito said...

I liked Kunming, I found it a really chilled out place, and one of the cleanest cities in China. Whilst in Kunming did you visit Shilin Stone Forest and the Bamboo Forest?

Smiranda said...

Entry... so... long... Break it up for us short attention span people in the future, would ya?