Our summer travels have come and gone, and we’re now back in our home in abysmally hot southern China where we are preparing for next semesters classes. I’ll be sharing some details about our trip shortly, but before I do I want to write some general feelings about it.
We saw a lot of amazing things, but not as many as I was expecting.
Out of all of our trips this was the shortest by three days. It was a combination of being sick, poor planning and summertime crowds. You might have heard that there are a lot of people in China. It’s true. And apparently they all like to travel in August. In the course of two days we spent close to 10-hours trying to plan where we wanted to go next. We had a ton of options, but every time we tried something new, we got cock blocked by either lack of hotels or lack of train tickets. I mean, we went as far afield as trying to go to Mongolia (plane tickets to expensive) and Harbin (all train tickets sold out for 8 days and too far to go by bus) to closer destinations such as Chengde (the only affordable hotel was booked for a week). We were in a small city about 5 hours from Beijing and we even had a hell of a time getting there. Train tickets were scarce, and every single hostel in Beijing was booked solid. We ended up staying at a no-english standard Chinese hotel. It was our most expensive hotel of the trip, and one of the worst. So with out tail between our leg, we ended up buying plane tickets and headed home early. I am a bit disappointed by that.
I will never again travel in a group of three.
As I mentioned before, my dad came and joined us for 2 of the 3 weeks we were gone. Yes, he drove me crazy, yes we got in fights, and basically I’ve decided it’s no fun traveling in a small group. The traveling world is made for 2. Seats on buses and rickshaws are for 2, and things are just so much easier when it is two. Also, being the only Chinese speaker in the group, it went from ‘traveling’ to “Becky’s tour group.” I had to buy tickets while the others waited, translate anything my father found remotely interesting (“What kind of shop is that?” “What are they saying on the radio?”) I had to get all the taxis to tell the drivers where we were going, and as my dad decided to talk to every child/young person/adult/old person in China I had to be his personal interpreter. (“Beck! Tell them I’m your father.” “Beck, tell them I flew halfway around the world just to visit my daughter.”) I like being the planner, and I like organizing things, but I don’t want to be a tour guide, and that’s what traveling in a group of three feels like.
My Chinese level has improved.
I like to gauge my Chinese learning on these trips. After all, it was the realization after our first trip that I had lived in China for half a year and still knew zero Chinese that spurred me to take classes. I am happy to say that my Chinese had definitely improved. I was able to do more than just communicate. I could finally get thoughts and feelings out as well. Also, I think I spoke a few times, to a few people, and probably came off seeming like I was fluent. For instance, in a shop in Beijing we bought some shirts on sale. But the woman rung them all up together and the sale price didn’t show. “Downstairs it says two for 80 and three for 100,” I pointed out. “That prices is wrong.” She deleted the transaction and rung it up again (this time pausing after 2 shirts to give the computer time to adjust the price) and it worked! Also, at one point we were talking to a shop clerk at a store trying to buy t-shirts, and while she was speaking English, I was speaking Chinese. Last holiday, when we did the same thing in Shanghai, the girl said, “speak English,” probably because my pronunciation was bad. This time though, I got the girl to switch from speaking English to us to Chinese. So that was cool. Of course I struggled like hell most of the time, especially on one train ride where the man next to us, with a heavy Beijing accent, continously tried to talk to us despite me clearly not understanding, but the small victories were there.
We downgraded yet again.
On our first winter holiday, Ryan and I bought new, smaller, North Face bags (or rather I should say North Fake) to replace the monsters we had brought with us. This trip a small niggle in my mind began growing that our bags were still way to big. This was confirmed when I saw Ryan, ready to get off a train, was moving about and unknowingly hitting several people with his bag. Soon after we saw another pair of travelers with small, more compact bags. “I want that,” I said. So in our last day in beijing, we hit up a clothing market and got another pair of North Fake bags. Our last one was a 75+5 liter bag, and our new ones are 40. (We got them for 150 rmb, about $22, each.) It will be a challenge to travel with such a small bag, but it is a challenge I am looking forward to. When we got home, we threw away our monsteroulsy huge bags we originally came here with. They were the bags we traveled the world with back in 1999, and they have served us admirably. You will be missed giant bag.
I was expecting on this trip to knock-off most of northern China. Unfortunately there is still much to be seen up there, which will require, at some point, another trip up there. Guess it just means I’ll have to stay in China longer!