Friday, July 28, 2006

The world's largest dam through my day

From the end of the last blog entry, things got so bad, interesting, awkward, confusing, and generally annoying - it deserved its own blog entry. After that blog, we ended up getting to the big boat. From the big boat, we whipped through the three gorges. To be honest, the mini gorges were more impressive for me, as I was closer to them and seemed more personal.
The more talkative of the French guys actually slept through much of it, I listened to my Podcasts and just sort of watched. That said, I can safely say I get the gorge thing (between this and Taroko in Taiwan). I liked looking at the plates and thinking what my dad would tell me about the formations, but I still don't share his passion for rocks.
Returning to my room I talked with my roommates for the second time. The first time was the middle of last night when I discovered that the father loved English and liked to speak it loudly when his wife and child were trying to sleep. No matter how quietly I answered, he asked questions with booming English.
However during the day we quickly became friends. Furthermore, he and his wife were professors, his wife was a professor of political science in fact. With that in mind, I did my questions with a bit more excitement. Towards the government, they seemed rather positive. She emphasized that the amount farmers make has stayed about the same or risen, whereas the cost of living has fallen. They seemed positive on development, especially that it is now really reaching the west. Although the center was not growing as fast, they emphasized it was growing.
Then there was Taiwan. Taiwan was a huge issue, because they were the first people to entertain the question as to why Taiwan was automatically apart of Taiwan. Furthermore, some of the arguments (given mostly by the guy) were pretty terrible, causing me to argue back. This led to the first really passionate Taiwan debate I had, although it was in good humor and none of it was serious in a sense to be worried about.
At one point he said that Taiwan should be apart of China because of history. They were of Chinese decent. However, a good portion of the country has been apart from the mainland for 400 years, by that standard the US had no claim to independence, and in fact a good number of countries have large claims on various parts of America.
My personal favorite bad argument is that the Chinese map would not be complete without Taiwan. I pointed out that Korea is much closer than Taiwan, if we are invading for map completeness, it looks like that would be a good place to start. He said but then we should invade Thailand and a bunch of other countries, I said sure! Where do you sign up? After Taiwan, we just start hitting border states.
His most passionate argument was that Taiwan is apart of China because China _needs_ Taiwan. Their development, their economy, both are needed by China. I like this argument because I like the idea of Mexico saying to the US, "Look, we _need_ you." That doesn't really make a great argument when people are breaking up, I am not sure how it flies with geo politics.
His arguments were similar to those of bad debaters in high school (including myself). Rather than put up one good argument that disapproved a point, and thus ended the argument, one casts a series of so-so or bad arguments to create sort of a reasonable doubt. None of his arguments lacked cohesion.
His biggest, and sadly best, was history. He argued that China had Taiwan since the Qin dynasty, and that Taiwan has been independent for only forty some years. First of all, I don't know how much the Qin dynasty was interacting with the "common man" of Taiwan. I mean, did they collected taxes from Taiwan? Did their laws rule the land? Even if they did, does that really matter? If this is really an argument, what is inner-mongolia doing in China?
After that we hit the dam. The dam was just a blitz on three locations. We whipped around it far too fast to really do anything but take photos. I took incredible numbers of photos, 80% of which I will delete. I figure I wanted at least one to come out, as it was the only reason I got on this boat thing in the first place.
My biggest problem was the speed. We were looking at such a huge symbol for China modernization, Chinese approach to the environment, and generally the future of China, if not the world. Yet we had to get off the bus, take photos, get back on the bus. There was definitely no time to ponder the future of our world and the nuances in the Three Gorges debate.
Now I get to go into probably the worst day of my traveling life. We get off of the bus from the dam. As per usual, I am surrounded by taxi drivers. I want to say bye to the French guys but I have to talk over a thousand drivers saying "Wuhan? Hotel? I take you." It was clear that I was waiting for a specific bus, so they weren't pestering me, but the French guys had two or three of about six people constantly talking to them.
Eventually I yelled "对他们麽关系!走吧!” which is bad Chinese (not bad in bad word but bad is in probably terrible grammar), don't worry about them get out of here. EIther way, I think they got the picture, especially after I said this and a guy kept chilling around and I starred him down until he left (and came back almost immediately).
The big problem was this - turns out I lost my receipt. This is tantamount to losing your identity in China, you are these dumb slips of paper. Everywhere you go they give you handfuls of pieces of paper, each one of them can be worth up to say 600 yuan. You lose them - you are screwed, as simple as that.
Eventually I had a quick discussion with the French guys and gave them my email. Afterwards, I told them in normal volume English and then extremely loud Chinese, make sure to take the taxi driver in the black (who was the only one who left when I told them to leave).
The problem I was having during this time was searching through piles of receipts to slowly realize that it must have fallen out when I paid for something. Despite what I was told from the travel agency, they did not have my name, and could not help me.
This is the deal in China: people will help you like in Taiwan, but only if you are eventually going to give them money. I had tons of people help me search out the driver my bus, or my travel agency, or a new way of getting there. Yet when I said "Okay, I can't find it, look, can I buy a ticket now?" The price they all gave me was four times what it should have been and they noted that there was nothing they could do, an outright lie, but they knew there was nothing I could do. They did this with sweet faces and with utter sincerity.
At one point I out and out had to say to a group of them "look, I don't believe anyone in this country. This country loves to lie to foreigners and I blatantly don't know about this." I frequently pointed out those in the crowd who I thought were genuine and would occasionally say things like "some Chinese don't think foreigners are people" while staring at those who had yelled at my friends earlier.
Now things get weird, and you can tell me what you think. So I don't have my ticket. Eventually the six taxi drivers and three bus drivers leave me all alone. Across the street was an active little place I wanted to check out. But first I wanted to, well to scream. So I pulled off to the side and whacked my bag a good one.
While standing there deciding if I was the stupidest person I knew, a girl came up to me. She had been in the crowd surrounding me during the fruitless search. She said, "Hi, I saw what happened. My boyfriend and I are going out, and I would like to invite you to come out with us. I have a lot of foreign friends, and I would like to at least take you out"
She said this with warmness and she seemed very genuine. More to the point, this sort of thing often happened when I was traveling, basically saving me from a miserable day, so I racked it up to fate and said okay. For the record I memorized the license plate number of the SUV, I watched the two like hawks, and generally was about as aware as I can manage.
The ride was cool, he had a nice system and listened to American hip hop, so I felt a bit like home. They took me to a little restaurant with a terrible milk tea, terrible mapo dofu, but simply great chicken peppers and snail? (they had recommended it).
We talked for about an hour, and they were very nice. The guy was an engineer on the three gorges dam. The girl was a travel agent learning Japanese. Today was her father's birthday. I ate a lot and I ate slowly, but it was nice to have real food after that stupid boat.
When we left there we went to a bar her brother had apparently opened. It was dirty but their friend was nice and the fruit was great.
At one point I mentioned I was not sure what to do as far as what to do next. She said she could help me look for tickets, but she understood that I would probably want to do so by myself (as I had said I basically didn't believe anyone in this country). I noted to her that if she was taking me out and all of this to get a ten yuan commission from a bus ticket, then she was a truly weird girl, so it would be good if she helped me out.
She basically found that going to Wudang mountain would be a pain. It became clear to me (and partially verified in my guide book) that going there would take something like three or four days out of my schedule, way more than I had expected. Furthermore, I wanted to get to a developed coastal city and quick, the center was starting to tear away at me. So eventually I changed my plan to leave to Hangzhou tomorrow. This was after she recommended that I go to a weird forest reserve nearby where I could, perhaps, see a Yeti like creature. ]
After that, they took me to a hotel, her father's hotel. This left me dry. She seemed so genuine, and probably was, but god damn I wish it was not her father's hotel. It was 110, more than I had budgeted but I did want to stay in a nice place (as it was a "three star" hotel) after that boat and today's nonsense.
Here was a new problem, I was out of money. I could have used credit, but the train to Hangzhou left early the next morning, so I needed money anyway. So her boyfriend (who I really liked, I thought he was very funny and cool), took me to basically every bank in that god forsaken city.
Turns out that Yichang has a lot of banks, not even close to its whore houses - which it has like Taiwan has beetle nut stands, in spades - but it has a lot of banks. And all of them, to a one, suck. Apparently not one of them had a single international alliance (between my two ATM cards, I accept both Mastercard and Visa connected ATMs). As such, after about ten banks, I still had no money. This had never happened, even some really remote towns
In the end, I had to "borrow" money from the woman who ran the travel agency there - the mother of the girl helping me.

PTI: I am on a freaking bus and they are smoking, how is that okay?

This morning I went to a running bank and took money out of my credit card. Today I will ty to find a decent ATM and just take out all my Taiwanese cash. I am already carrying my computer, a camera, and an MP3 player, might as well have a bunch of cash as well.
I missed the train to Hangzhou because of having to go to the banks, but I was not willing to spend a single more minute in Yichang than I needed to. As such, I am going to Wuhan on a bus that cost twice as much as it should because I was lied to by the girl's father and told there was no way to negotiate.
By the way, my three star hotel had no bathtub, no hot water, and I found a giant cockroach on the neighboring bed the next morning. It looked nice, it was clear they did everything they could to get three stars, and then just stopped.
What is good now is that I am basically not going to tourist towns from here on out. Hangzhou is tourist, but that is not what drives it. Shanghai is Shanghai, Beijing is Beijing. Xi'an should not have as many travel problems. The only worry is if I still go to Shaolin, that might get rough and stupid. I may say screw it and hit these last few cities real slowly (especially lots of time in Shanghai and Beijing). Either way I am just glad to be out of that cesspool Yichang.
I asked the boyfriend, Peter, if the rampant fake head washing places (the whore houses) were less when he was young. Apparently there were more when he was young, so I guess development has brought Yichang somewhere, just not somewhere very far. The city is factually filled with beautiful girls, both night and day, but during night they are shaded in the pink glow of lacked freedom, and during the day, you have to wonder what their night job might be.

PTI: I wish I had taken notes during all of this. It really bothers me that I never fully trusted that couple, and then to have gotten to that hotel. Living here might make me a great lier spotter, great for law school, or prove that I am destine to be a sucker. Anyway, I am now on a bus to Wuhan, which is all I care about right now. Om Wiuhan I am determined to either to get to Hangzhou, find something worth rediscovering my love of China, or find wireless.

PTI: Getting to Wuhan was good. The very person smoking on the bus and his friends were a big help. We did something that I hate, the bus stopped in a random location and some, but not everyone got off. I hate places like this because I don't know if I should get off here or not. Is this the best spot? Am I next door to the best part of Wuhan, and instead I am going to take this bus to the worst (which is very possible being that I will likely be going to the bus station, often the worst place in a Chinese city).

This time I asked everyone I could trying to figure out what to do. A group of young guys said they were going near the train station (where I wanted to go first to see if I could go to Hangzhou earlier rather than later). As such, we split a cab. Sure they had their motive, to help out and hang out with a foreigner, but there is nothing wrong with that as far as I am concerned. What was nice = they clearly didn't care about my money. As such I got over to the train station very fast.
Furthermore, at the train station I could buy a ticket leaving within the hour to Hangzhou. As such, I am already on my way to Hangzhou (which is good, because Wuhan looked a bit too much like Yichang for my taste). Furthermore, the girl after me in line was also going to Hangzhou, and I quickly enlisted her help. Thanks to her, I found the platform, killed a lot of time, and, quiet happily, upgraded to a sleeper ticket (instead of the hard impossible to sleep in seats). I am very glad about the new seats because I can wake up in Hangzhou ready to go, rather than dragging ass and looking for a hotel. Furthermore I am currently lying down while typing, and I am a big fan of that.

PTI: That said, who the hell is smoking inside the cabin!? As much as I like David Sedaris, and as well as he explained his smoking habits (in both "Ashes" and the story about his OCD), I will never get how someone so freakily clean could think public smoking is acceptable. To be honest, I am more okay with the spitting.

Hangzhou sounds beautiful, and I already have a friend there. I will be there Friday night, so I think I can finally get out. Though I am not drinking, I have been pulling an Allison and watching people drink. The problem with that is that here they want people to drink with them to inspire more drinking. I love drunk Chinese young people (definitely not the older Chinese, but the young ones are great drunk), but because I am not drinking I can't really bring that out.

PTI: These sleeper trains are so good, I sleep really well and generally feel well rested at the end. However they need to mark stations better, in Taiwan and Japan the station name is everywhere, here it can be far too unclear.

PTI: I am posting this in Hangzhou, things are good here, the next post should get into that.

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