Monday, November 09, 2009

A break from Mainland China...followed by a rapid re-indoctrination

Because the number of Chinese tourist visas in my passport always makes me a bit nervous when applying for yet another visa, I generally take whatever the Chinese Embassy will give me; this time around, I am required to leave & re-enter the country every 60 days. I was originally annoyed at the prospect, but it has turned into a blessing in disguise as I now have the perfect excuse to head to Hong Kong every two months. Coming from the countryside and setting foot in a Hong Kong grocery store is probably on par with a freshly-minted-fake-ID-carrying minor setting foot in a liquor store. Peanut butter! Snickers bars! CHEESE!! Heaven. I also conveniently schedule my HK sojourn around an ultimate frisbee tournament, so I joined forces with some friends from Shanghai and got to play ultimate all weekend - and we won!

My return to mainland China and Tongjiang, however, was not as successful. After missing my departing flight on Sunday evening, no thanks to Air China's customer service-oriented miserably unhelpful staff, I spent the night at an airport hotel and was able to get on a flight the following morning. Obviously, this flight was delayed an hour, but my originally scheduled flight the preceding evening was right on time. Spent most of Monday recovering in Chendgu by eating and watching pirated DVDs before my favorite part of the journey on Tuesday: the 8+ hour public bus ride from Chengdu to Tongjiang.

Over the past 3.5 years in Asia, I have developed a personal theory that Asians in general--and Chinese in particular--are more prone to suffer from motion sickness than Caucasians. Countless flights in which people around me have made use of the "barf bags" was the seed that started my theory, and the trips I have made back and forth along the windy roads between Tongjiang and Chengdu have only given me further evidence. Little did I understand the ironic foreshadowing of the following day's bus ride when I hopped on my favorite online Chinese dictionary and Monday's example said "Try 'carsickness,' 'yunche,' or ‘晕车.' "

The first 3 hours of the trip were relatively puke-free. Furthermore, because I had learned my lesson the hard way on my first Tongjiang-->Chengdu trip, I had my trusty iPod in tow and could throw on the headphones and blast the music in the event that I wanted to mask the sounds of proximate booting. After our mid-day lunch stop, however, the regurgitation of instant noodles began...right next to me. The sweet middle-aged woman next me grabbed the black plastic bag that is apparently standard issue on every bus ride and started going at it. I cranked up the volume, looked out the window at the scenery, and managed to take my mind elsewhere until she was better. An hour later, however, she was at it again with barf bag #2. This time however, rather than leaning into the aisle of the bus, she decided that my leg looked like a comfortable arm rest and used it to prop herself up as she doubled over and vomited into the bag. All I could do was cringe, hold my breath, and question my decision to wear flip flops as I prayed the flimsy bag didn't break. Several hours and three more plastic bags later (total: 5 bags of puke), we were nearly to Tongjiang; the bus stopped for a bathroom break and my neighbor got off to get some fresh air.

At this point, I figured I had seen the worst of it and went back to reading while waiting for everyone to re-board for the last hour of the trip. No such luck, however. I glanced up from my book to see the grandmother across the aisle from me readying her grandson's traditional split-seam pants for him to actually urinate IN THE AISLE OF THE BUS. Right at her feet. WHILE THE BUS WAS STOPPED FOR A BATHROOM BREAK. And she was in the third row, approximately 10 feet from the door. And the trashcan was about 2 feet from her, if she really couldn't be bothered to take him outside to go on the ground. Unreal.

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