While I was in China, I brought around a pen and a Moleskine notebook everywhere I went, and I wrote little notes here and there. Here's a couple of them (and I'll put up links to pictures when I get home and am able):
5/29/2006 - 12:08pm - Standing on the Great Wall of China. My legs might die from the climb up.
1:09pm - We made it down to the tourist area from the unimproved area where we started. We were somehow able to avoid paying, though we had to finesse some guards for a bit. Josh had a little accident sliding down the rail at the end. Final verdict? I think the Great Wall is awesome. We're going to get some food now, and then we're going to go to the Ming Tombs.
5/30/2006 - 4:42pm - Driving back to the hotel from the Lama Temple, which is an active Buddhist temple. Nick and Josh didn't come because they were tired, but Eli, Johan, Maurice and I went, and it was quite interesting. There's a Buddha statue 18 meters tall, carved from one tree trunk, which was pretty awe-inspiring. There were lots of people praying and burning incense at the feet of the Buddha statues. It's starting to rain now, which means hopefully it'll be clearer tomorrow for the Summer Palace than it was today.
Another thing I should mention is that there's a distinct feeling of taking your life in your hands every time you get near a road in Beijing. Whether on foot, on a bike, or in a car, recklessness seems to be the rule rather than the exception. There are fences between the two sides of every road and between every road and the sidewalk, and I get the feeling they're there out of sheer necessity. Lane markings seem to be nothing but suggestions, and quick lane changes with little space and no turn signals don't even make drivers mad, because they're so very common. When going to the Ming Tombs, we were passed on the left while doing maybe 35mph on a blind corner on the edge of a cliff. This is the kind of mentality we're talking about. Pedestrians and cyclists differ from drivers only in their personal level of risk on the road. They're just as reckless, and it's not uncommon to see pedestrians walking in the middle of the road with cars speeding by on either side, or to see people on bicycles casually drift out in front of traffic, fully expecting (and in general rightly so) that traffic will stop for them. I don't know if it's like this throughout China, or if it's just in the major cities, but I guess we'll find out soon enough. (By the way, this entry was written while in a taxi, and mainly as a distraction from everything suicidal going on in the road around me)
5/31/2006 - 4:35pm - We're on the train to Xi'an now. We're leaving in about 15 minutes. It feels a little bit like a Harry Potter movie, minus the magic, or the ability to understand what anyone's saying. At least it's air-conditioned.
19:56 [at this point I'd adopted the 24-hour clock] - We've been having an amazing adventure of a train ride. After dinner, we explored the train a bit, and I was grabbed by a very, very drunk, very friendly Chinese man. I couldn't understand anything but "Hello," "OK," and "NBA." He gave us cigarettes, talked about Yao Ming, and rarely talked below a shout. Later, our friend Arnold translated a bit and told us that the man wanted to teach us about Chinese culture.
Turns out that Arnold and his boss are motivational speakers (we got his boss's card, which is pretty funny). Arnold showed us a Tony Robbins video, which is his inspiration. Also, Arnold chose his English name because it started with A, to symbolize a new beginning, and [because of] Arnold Schwarzenegger, to symbolize strength.
6/2/2006 - 20:29 - Eli and I bought a bottle of bai jiu [Chinese liquor], knowing full well what it was. We're pretty damn retarded, in retrospect. I mean, it's hard to convey in words how mind-numbingly terrible this stuff is. Tequila is but an aspiring cousin to the absolute horror of bai jiu. But we bought it, so we have to drink it.
20:40 - Usually I wouldn't write back so soon, but I feel that I haven't explained clearly enough how bad this drink is. I say this after drinking a half glass of it with Eli, and as I write, I can feel my gorge [only] slowly receding. Every belch carries a new wave of nausea with it. Really, truly, if you can live your life without ever tasting it, your existence will be at least ten, maybe twenty times happier. I can't stress this enough. Stay away from bai jiu.
6/4/2006 - 19:39 - Out at dinner. Josh had spaghetti, Eli had steak, I had rice out of a bamboo tube. The real special part, though, is the dessert, which has yet to come out. Josh got "Salted Egg Superman," and I can think of three reasons why the name should warn him off of that dessert. But I ordered "Love Sickness the South," and that's admittedly no better. A couple of bucks to feed curiosity is worth it, though, I guess.
6/5/2006 - 22:24 - Back at the rooftop bar of the hostel, having some beers. Josh hates Shanghai, Eli doesn't seem to feel well, and I just want to meet some people and find something to do. It's true, Shanghai is very, very flashy, and comparatively expensive, but I'd kind of like to still have a good time, since we're here.
6/6/2006 - 12:16 - Breakfast and such, and then we went on to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Cool view of a huge-ass city from 350m.
6/8/2006 - 00:41 - We're at a dive bar in Yantai called Havana. Played some pool with folks who speak little to none of our language, but I guess they could also say the same. Good times, though. Go China.
6/11/2006 - 07:39 - I should be sleeping, but I'm not. A car is going to come in less than an hour to pick us up, and then a little more than a half day later we'll be back in the States. I should be sleeping, but I haven't all night. Instead I stayed up (with Nick, for the most part) and watched the sun rise.
There are things about this trip that I can't express in writing. I can't describe the beauty of the sunrise on the ocean. I can't describe the feeling of watching a foreign city shake off the reins of slumber and wake up. I can't describe the awe and admiration I have for the fishermen up before the sun. I can't describe why, sitting here right now before the gleaming sunlight, the sight of the water brings a tear to my eye.
I have nothing to report that would make anyone think this was the most amazing trip ever. I had lots of fun, but no one thing stands out. But still, knowing that we're leaving in 40 minutes is bittersweet. Maybe it's the sea. Maybe it's the new friends I've made. Maybe (and I suspect this one is it) it's traveling itself that I'll miss. I've been thousands upon thousands of miles in a short time, traveling a foreign land by train and plane, and I've never felt more at home.