Sorry for the lack of posts these past few days. October 1 was China’s national day and to celebrate, we were given a weeklong holiday. Happy 61st birthday to the People’s Republic of China! Chinese flags lined all the major roads in Dalian.
For this break, I was planning to go to Changbaishan (长白山), a beautiful mountain range on the border of China and North Korea, with several friends. However, a few problems quickly arose…
- Problem #1: I don’t have my passport. The Public Security Bureau has it because the are processing my official residence permit. I tried to pick it up the day before the October 1st holiday (when they said it would be ready), but the office had already closed up and left for vacation. Sigh. Margaret tried calling a hostel to see if they would accept other documents to prove our identity in lieu of a passport, but it would have been iffy. (Chinese po-po want to keep track of us crazy foreigners!)
- Problem #2: We heard from numerous sources, including a travel blog and a girl who went recently, that many of the trails on the mountain were closed. The main reason we wanted to go was to hike, so this was a huge bummer. We didn’t want to take a 14+ hour train ride to get there and find out that we couldn’t do what we wanted to do.
- Problem #3: I don’t have the proper winter clothing! The name Changbaishan is translated to “always white mountain” and even in the summer it is snowy and cold. I would have been hiking in sneakers and a Northface fleece– probably not the best for being in temperatures as low as -54 degrees Fahrenheit (-48 degrees Celsius)!
So, instead, Margaret and I planned an impromptu one-night trip to Shenyang (沈阳） to see Kat and Jason, the two awesome PiA fellows there. Shenyang is the capital of Liaoning Province, and is only a 4 hour train ride away (although on the way back it took us 6 hours for some reason). The highlights of the trip included…
Getting close and comfortable with numerous Chinese men’s butts. Over the National Week holiday, China’s trains are mobbed, so they oversell tickets, leaving many people just standing in the aisles. I found what I thought was my seat, but a little four year old girl was sitting in it. I had to ask her to move (and felt horrible at first), but throughout the train ride saw this happen numerous other times to other people. People just sit wherever they want, and if the person with the ticket comes, they get up pretty easily. My seat was on an aisle, so the people standing in the aisles had to smoosh against me whenever someone was trying to walk by. Note to self: Leave American bubble of personal space at home. (Here’s a picture of us boarding the train in Dalian.)
After arriving in Shenyang, we met up with Kat and Jason at their apartments, then headed out to Beilin Park (北陵公园) with Jason. We meandered around the park, discussed our love of Peter Hessler (author of River Town and other awesome books about China), and saw some pretty flowers.
Later that evening we watched Kat play ice hockey! The team that she joined in Shenyang (composed of about half Chinese, half foreigners) was hosting a tournament this weekend, so Jason, Margaret and I went to watch a game. (She’s #12- the only girl in the tournament… Girl power!)
I found it amusing/unbelievable that during breaks, the Chinese dudes would just light up a cigarette and smoke while sitting on the bench. What?!
Afterwards we went out to dinner with some of Kat’s teammates, and met the one, the only, the unforgettable… Elvis. He entertained us for hours with his gregarious personality (and mullet to match), as well as constant toasts to cowboys/cowboy pants (牛仔／牛仔裤), pretty girls (美女), handsome guys (帅哥), and “real men” (存爷们). This was my first real introduction to Chinese drinking culture, and wow. He just kept pouring more beer in my glass, and I felt like a wuss if I didn’t drink each glass completely when he enthusiastically announced “干杯!” (ganbei! or “dry glass”/bottoms up). He also had a lot of fun comparing the different Chinese speaking styles of Margaret, Kat and myself. According to Elvis, my Chinese is “soft and gentle.” Haha, I’ll take it. He taught us some Chinese slang, and sprinkled the evening with outbursts of his limited English vocabulary, including a great rendition of “Country Roads.” I would go back to Shenyang again, if only to see Elvis! (Check out Margaret’s blog for some more Elvis stories!) Here he is signing autographs…no actually he’s just writing down his email for us to keep in touch with him.
On the train ride home we sat across from the cutest old couple. The woman kept nagging the husband to put on his sweater or eat some fruit. The man kept staring out the window in amazement of the scenery/buildings and commenting on it to his wife, who only grunted in reply. The man was very amused with my height, and at one point when I was sleeping, he woke me up to ask me to get his bag from the overhead storage area. I didn’t mind, because he had a beaming smile and beady eyes that radiated friendliness. Although we didn’t really talk, I think we established a pretty decent six-hour long friendship through exchanging smiles.