What a life…

I sat in McDonalds in awe. Yes, you could say, Western Culture has arrived to the East. I’m not even sure if the word “arrived” is appropriate even. Exploded is more like it. People sat around, munching on hamburgers, sipping Pepsi, listening to the latest Brittany Spears album blasting through the air. Through the window, I could see the Starbucks across the street, packed with people gladly paying American prices for a cup of coffee – which is quite a big deal seeing as the Chinese have been pretty big fans of tea for the past, ohhhhh, several thousand years. Could you imagine going to the corner chinese tea house in America and paying around $15 bucks for a cup of Chai? That’s what it would be like, relatively. Yet they do it. I read an article about how popular cosmetic surgery is becoming here. What’s the most popular procedure? Double eyelid surgery.

What’s that? A simple procedure in which doctors “cut, fold and sew the upper eyelids with what looks like a fishhook to create a crease above the eyes”. Why is this popular? It opens up the eyes making one look more western, and thus, more beautiful.

And I just sit back and observe. It’s quite interesting. You can’t really make judgments about these things. Not only are they pointless (China doesn’t care what you or I think), it’s only natural. Cultures and societies have been influencing each other for many thousands of years. It’s just how it is.

And so, what have I been up to lately (besides not writing much on the site)? Well, let’s see if I can backtrack…My friends Mette and Rasmus left back to Denmark and I was stuck with the lumbering snoring American monster in my hostel room. After a few days, he left and I got a new crowd in my room. By then, however, I had made friends with plenty of others in the hostel and was having a great time. We all watched movies today, Sam and I played chess every night, we went to eat together and just enjoyed hanging out. Every time I saw a newcomer, I would give them a quick tour of the place, draw them a map of useful stores and restaurants around the hostel, maybe take them on the subway to show them how to do it and go out to dinner with them.

I had nothing better to do and it was fun. I met quite a few people and then, just before I left, met some Scottish girls with whom I had a great time also. I showed them the markets and some stores in Beijing, we went to the Great Wall of China together, and went out to the Bar Street the night before they left. One of them was one of the most incredible girls I’ve met on the trip and I was quite frustrated to see her go.

Frustrated? Not sad? Yeah, frustrated. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve become an expert at saying goodbye to people without feeling sad. You get that way pretty quick after starting to travel. You meet some many people and have such great times with them and then just as quickly as you met, you have to say goodbye. You cope by knowing that you can still talk via email and such.

But sometimes you meet people (girls) that you would love to date were you back home. You meet all kinds of incredible girls with whom you enjoy yourself thoroughly (for about 2 days) and then it’s “goodbye” – for most likely the rest of your life. Yeah, people always say “if it was meant to be, it will work out”, but those rules go out the window when you’re traveling. People move on. They have new experiences. They meet new people. If you’re lucky enough to meet an incredible person who is single, they wont be for long, plain and simple – let alone the rest of your trip (15 months for me). If you win the lotto, you don’t leave the ticket out in the city park for a few months until you have the time to come back to it. Someone will eventually cash it in (hah, eventually). Yet that is what I get to do all the time. Of course, I can hear it now: “Carpe diem, Casey!”. But that is to miss the point. The people I meet, and myself included, aren’t looking to run away and get married and live happily ever after right now. That’s a bit extreme and drastic. I would just like to go out on a few dates with the person and get to know them better. But you don’t get to. Everyone you meet is traveling just like you. It’s just how it is.

And then I look at it from a different perspective and realize that I am traveling around the world and am actually capable of having this problem. It would be like a billionaire complaining that no matter how hard he tries, he can’t spend all his money and it makes him feel bad. Yeah, yeah. I know. I merely said that it was frustrating.

So anyways, back to China. I’ve gone to the Great Wall and it was incredible. We walked from one part to another, with spectacular views of Mongolia in the distance and our own pit crew of old Chinese ladies selling us water and hounding us to buy picture books of the Wall along the way.

“Vedy hot! Vedy hot! YOU WATER! Vedy cooooool!” they chanted. And each time you had to bargain with them.

I took the opportunity to practice my Chinese.

“zhega yi shi tou! (that is a rock!)” I declared, pointing at a rock on the ground.

The old ladies cackled.

I flipped through my phrasebook looking for something funny.

“wo zai nar keyi xuexi gongfu? (Where can I study kung fu?)”

“Shaolin!” they replied.

“Qing gei wo kankan caidan! (Can I see the menu please?)”

They all looked confused. HAH!

And so that’s how it went for 10 kilometers. At the end, we strapped ourselves to a metal cable and zoomed down the mountain to a boat waiting nearby which took us to the bus (which would then take us home).

I also started teaching at Berlitz. It’s great! I have my own classes and am really enjoying it. The instructor’s manual makes it a breeze and I have met some really cool people, including a few people from Cuba and Spain. I’ve been able to keep up my Spanish with all the Spanish speakers I’ve met since arriving – Mexicans, Spaniards, Cubans, Colombians, Brazilians (that speak Spanish), you name it. It’s been great.

And I’ve moved into my apartment now. It’s nice to have my own room for a change. I bought a computer and all the stuff I need to live a comfortable life (a fan), went clothes shopping, enlisted the help of a girl who lives nearby to tutor me in Chinese (which is going really well) and bought an insane amount of music CD’s and DVD’s. I’m really living it up.

The apartment is in a part of town where all the Chinese go to school and needless to say, I don’t get to speak English very often. Eating out is always an experience. You never know what you’ll get (I basically just point at a bunch of symbols on the menu and hope for the best). I’ve learned what the character for spicy is and avoid that. You can’t be very picky, needless to say. I just got back from lunch and spent no more than $1.30 USD for a huge plate of food and a bottle of cold tea. Occasionally you meet people who know English and are anxious to practice with you or help you out. That’s always fun. But usually I just spend a lot of time pointing and smiling.

Sometimes a smile can communicate more than words ever can.

It’s a 20 minute bus ride to the subway station and then another 30 minute subway ride to the office, so I get plenty of time to see daily Chinese life, which was the point of this in the first place. It’s funny because I always get told by people that I could probably get a place much closer to downtown. People travel for all sorts of reasons, but it seems to me that people really miss out on a lot of opportunities they have handed to them while traveling. Lots of people come here, surround themselves with westerners and English and go from work to home to work, basically replacing their life back home. What’s the point? It’s certainly not for the squat toilets.

Oh yeah, I didn’t mention that. My apartment has a squat toilet. How does that work? I’m still not sure. It’s a toilet inset in the ground (it does flush and everything), but you don’t sit on it. You just squat over it. The shower is in the same tiny room, on the wall right over the toilet so you have to be careful not to fall in the john whilst bathing (which would necessitate another shower – which could start a pretty vicious cycle if you aren’t careful).

Of course, I’m not as hardcore as I make it seem. I’ve been getting a lot of help from my roommates, Sherry and Brad. Brad’s visiting his family in another province right now so it’s me and Sherry (we each have our own rooms) here right now, and I never hesitate to ask her for help on things like calling someone to give them directions to the apartment.

And of course, I could continue to ramble about a million more things, but I’ll spare you for another post. At least I’m caught up and my routine will stay pretty standard for the next several months, which means I can put more interesting observations in the posts, rather than simply recounting what I’ve been up to.

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