China Tries Various Strategies to Prevent Me from Leaving

A few days ago, I woke up on the concrete floor in the back room of the restaurant where I had had a late lunch. The owner had been kind enough to grant me permission to take a nap, and refugre from the sun, and had even brought me a rattan mat to pass out upon since the floor was so dirty. That didn’t bother me, though – I fell asleep in the minute between when she left the room and when she returned with my makeshift bed, with only the bill of my visor for a pillow.

I don’t remember dreaming, but I woke up with an image in my head: a first-person view of an infinitely long road with nothing but brown, dusty, earthy plains in each direction. No buildings, no people, no forests, no rivers, no nothing. This is not at all the reality of Laos, but it was clear to me that the image was a representation of me having just crossed the border and entered a great unknown. Out of China, which has grown so familiar over the past ten months, and into a country that I hardly know anything about, despite having backpacked there for a few weeks back in 2009.

What struck me most upon waking, though, was the total lack of feeling. Neither fear or excitement about the upcoming adventure; neither good riddance to or yearning for everything I’ve known thus far on my trip. Simply a recognition that this is what’s next. And one thought: how strange it is that none of this seems strange to me.

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About four months ago, I turned around at the top of a hill and took what I thought would be my last photograph of China. The trouble leaving started just about immediately. I rolled down this hill, followed the only road, made my way to the border crossing, and was told by the police that I was in the wrong place. This crossing was only for trucks with cargo; the non-commerce border crossing was back the way I had come from.

An hour later, I had retraced my steps and then some and was finally in Vietnam.

A month after that, following the advice of some European hippies, I was back in China, making the best use of my remaining visa time, capitalizing on the language skills I had built up, and eating whatever odd veggies I could get my hands on. I thought it’d take me a month – ride with Hyeongnim north for two weeks, then ride back south alone for two weeks. I hadn’t expected to spend two weeks couchsurfing in Shangri-La (thanks, Jessica!), two weeks heading up and down the Nujiang valley (thanks, Nujian), two weeks getting destroyed by mountains on the way to Laos, or to be sidetracked by a number of other impediments that China keeps throwing up in my path.

Specimen 1: Tropical Fruits

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Cheap tropical fruit! Rambutans, 10RMB($1.60)/500g (1.1lb)- Chinese name may or may not be “red hairy egg”

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Jackfruit 5RMB/500g

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Lychees 10RMB/500g

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Mangosteens, price unknown.

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Pineapples sometimes as cheap as 2 for 5RMB.

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Mangoes, sour or sweet, 5RMB/500g

Reason this won’t keep me in China: all of these are also available in Laos, I’m assuming. Maybe for cheaper?

Specimen 2: Sirens

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My couchsurfing host, Caffy (there in the yellow), owns a youth hostel with her husband, full of awesome young Chinese backpackers, some volunteering for a week at a time, others on their way to or from southeast Asia…and 90% of them are 20-something girls, all of them beautiful. I planned on staying two days and stayed six.

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Day 1: Swimming in the Mekong – why not?

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Oh, Asia.

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Asma, left, and Caffy. Not my goggles.

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Day 2: Trip to the nature reserve with Zheng Na, Ian, and Hongmei. (The nature reserve itself may or may not become the subect of a future F.U.S. File.)

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Dai tribe dance troupe.

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Walking around a Dai village pointing at fruit trees and playing with plants.

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Rubber trees.

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Off to some temple.

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Day 3: the night market with Hongmei and a friend (another beautiful 20-something) from her hostel.

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Coconut-shell animal lamps.

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Dumbest shirt ever candidate: “We are so so so so so happy! hehe”

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Vegetarian dumplings, $0.75 for seven!

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Day 4: Bus ride with Asma and another girl from our hostel out to the White Pagoda.

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Frickin guys with scooters.

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Your guess is as good as mine.

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That night: playing with Xiao Qiu, Caffy and Ken’s adorable daughter.

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Reason this won’t keep me in China: they all left town to continue on their own trips. I tried to get them to come with me (one by one, of course), but they all had excuses. Some had just come from down south; some didn’t have passports; some were “traditional” girls; some had “principles.” Ouch! Asma did invite me back to Dali to run a hostel, keep an organic garden in the back, smoke something I probably shouldn’t mention here, and get married. I probably should’ve said yes.

Specimen 3: Illness

With the pleasure route having failed, China tried the next best thing: immobilizing me.

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Perhaps it was because of too many nights up late playing cards, or too many days off the bicycle, or something in something I ate, but something felt wrong. Very wrong. Acid reflux. Irregular, impaired, embarassing bowel function. Complete loss of appetite. Unable to stomach the thought of any food other than, weirdly enough, apple and pineapple. Constant nausea. No urination despite drinking a liter of water every hour throughout the day. Pain not only in my legs but also up and down my back and arms. Racing heart. Breaks every twenty minutes – in restaurants, at fruit stalls, in pagodas, at rest stops, on top of an ant hill behind the highway guard rail. Wherever.

With my headphones broken and nothing to listen to, I spent numerous very long hours just trying to pay attention to my body. What kind of pains are these? Why are they there? What do you want from me? As soon as I realized that all I wanted was sleep and sugar, I formulated a plan to buy either a bottle of Coke (plastic!) or a tub of ice cream (paper!), thinking that my sickness justified a little extravagance. After holding the desires and justifications in my mind for 15km of ascent and 15km of descent, I finally found a hotel. I went immediately to the supermarket and stared at the refrigerated beverages. Beer? Coke? Chinese fake herbal stuff? I walked over to the ice creams. Sandwich? Bar? The one that looks like a tub of margarine? After some deliberation, I bought…nothing. I couldn’t do it. Despite the conviction that I ought to for my health, I couldn’t bring myself to buy five minutes’ (or less) worth of cool, soothing refreshment at the cost of who knows what damage to the planet. Apparently I’m more environ-mental than I knew. It makes me wonder – how much pain would I have to be in to go through with the purchase? Or, on the flipside, how small would the environmental impact have to be?

Thank god, it rained the following day, so I just lazed around and mostly recovered. I still can’t eat anything (today I rode 90km on raw oats for breakfast and a pineapple for lunch), or think about eating anything, but all the pain is gone.

Reason this won’t keep me in China: Actually, if it gets any worse, it might. At least until my visa runs out. Here I can at least talk to the doctors. If you’re reading this, though, it means I pulled through, made it into Laos, and even found the internet somewhere.

Specimen 4: Kindness of Strangers.

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A 50-something guy found me asleep on the floor in the restaurant and insisted I come back to his place for a shower. I accepted warily. He turned out to be a construction foreman, with the keys to all sorts of places. First, to a not-quite-finished apartment that he and some coworkers are crashing in while they put the finishing touches on the building. This is where I showered and where he fed me honey-water while telling me about his son in Beijing. He also took me to the market to try on some traditional Jinhuo minority clothes.

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Then he busted out a second key ring and brought me here: a finished but unoccupied office building. With working toilets! He opened up a room and said I could pitch my tent here and just shut the door on the way out in the morning. He offered to take me out for dinner, but I told him about my stomach problems and he let me get to sleep early. Like, 8PM early. Thanks, dude!

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A few days later, this guy (Yun Cong, “Cloud Smart”) chatted me up when he found me sitting on the curb eating pineapple. I must have been looking pathetic, because he asked if he could help me. I said no thanks and he went off, but I was in the same place when he came back 20 minutes later. He plopped down next to me, said he had just graduated high school, and that his dream was to travel like me, maybe even by bike. He offered to buy me lunch. When I replied that my stomach wasn’t doing so hot and that I couldn’t really eat, he went out and bought:

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Jesus man! Two bottles of milk tea, two bottles of fruit milk (weird stuff), a bag of apples, and a bag of nectarines. “You’ll need this for energy while you ride.” We hung out in the park talking for an hour or so. I gave him a handshake when it was time for him to go off to catch his bus, and he turned it into an awkward but super-sweet hug. As in, around both of my arms, so that I couldn’t hug him back. Ohhh, he also gave me his earphones when I mentioned that mine had broken. What a guy.

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Lastly, the boss at the guesthouse where I’m staying now, who allowed me to talk her down from 40RMB ($6.75) to 30 on account of me having only 33.3 RMB left to my name. When I said that I couldn’t afford dinner (I didn’t want to mentoin being sick), she debated with her friend (“He can’t eat X.” “Yes, he can.” “No, he’s a foreigner, he can’t.” “Just give him a few!”), then went to the kitchen and grabbed me these: sticky rice, peanuts, and ginger-fried minced pork wrapped up and steamed inside some sort of leaf. Jesus are they good! I just hope I can keep them down.

Reason why even this won’t keep me in China: My anthropological research won’t be complete until I know whether the Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese people are equally awesome.

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So, it’s really happening. Tomorrow. Zai jian, China.

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Sabaidee, Laos!

SPOILER: I made it!

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12 Responses to China Tries Various Strategies to Prevent Me from Leaving

  1. mingyulee says:

    너의 beard 계속 길러~ 내가 만나면 묶어줄께.
    싸바이디~

  2. 썌키 says:

    Did you kiss the guy with the kiss me shirt?

  3. wimdog says:

    I can read that shirt! PS – 언제 우리 만나서 beard얼 베겠어요. PPS – my korean sucks

    • Michael Roy says:

      Nice try, wimdog! I don’t think a Korean would understand what you were trying to say, but I do. At least, 75%…what’s 베겠어요 supposed to mean?

      Proper formulation:

      우리 만나면 (or 만날 때) 내가 너의 수염을 ___________ (whatever it is you want to do to my beard, keep it clean!)

  4. Jeff says:

    Well, according to Naver, 베다 means to cut, and 겠어요 was supposed to be something called the “intentional future.” Like, I intend to cut your beard!”

    • Michael Roy says:

      I figured that’s what you were going for! Your -겠어요 is dead on, though you and I are close friends and of the same age, so you can drop the 요 and either go with -겠어 or -겠다. As for 베다, I’ve never seen it, though my dictionary does confirm it. Better to go with 자르다 (to cut) or 없애다 (to get rid of.) Another trick: add the suffix vowel to whatever verb you choose, then attach 주다 (plus whatever tense marker) to indicate that you’ll be doing whatever you do for my own good.

      Witness, for example, Mingyu’s comment from a few posts ago:

      “너의 beard 계속 길러~ 내가 만나면 묶어줄께”
      “Keep growing your beard. When I meet [you, or it?] I’ll braid [it] for you.”

      Why can’t you be nice like that?