The Broken Ones (China)

A week in China has already gone by?!? How does that happen?? When I arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday at 6 in the morning, I first wanted to freshen up before finding a place to put my bags, because an entire day had gone by from the time I woke up in Rambouillet that morning. As I washed my face with all of the other girls, I looked in the mirror and all I could think was, “Wow, I feel extremely tall!,” as I was at least a couple of inches taller than every one of the other girls. I was luckily able to check my bags in even though my flight wasn’t leaving for another 13 hours, but at least I didn’t have to haul them around Shanghai! I took the 1.5 hour metro ride downtown; my first task was to find coffee. But I don’t think it mattered how much coffee I drank, I was still going to be extremely tired. I went to the nearest park in People’s Square to find a bench, read, and relax but it was hard to read when I was mostly just trying to keep my eyes open. Two girls came and asked if I could take their picture and we got to talking. I didn’t know it at the time but I was next in line to be their next scam victim. They both had commented on how beautiful my nose was and how much they liked it. My reaction was, “…Really? I’ve never heard that in my life!” It’s funny how the things that you get teased about most when you’re a child become your biggest insecurities while growing up. Whether they’re constant comments by many people or just one, small comment from only one person, a lot of those things stick with you for weeks, months, years, sometimes a lifetime, and they become what you’re most self-conscious about. Growing up, I was always teased about being skinny; once we were old enough to know what eating disorders were, I was pegged as the girl with anorexia. And I hated it! And I’d eat and eat and eat, trying to gain weight so that I could be just like everyone else. And I’d make sure everyone saw me eat. And I made sure I never went to the bathroom after a meal so that people didn’t think I was throwing up my food. All this thinking at such a young age just to prove something! I was mostly teased about my nose as a kid though, so I just got used to the fact that I had a funny nose. I remember when I was really young, I’d stare in the mirror crying, convincing myself that I was ugly, and wanting to do anything to change my nose. And whenever someone called me pretty or beautiful, I told myself that they were just saying it to be nice. And I just had to accept the fact that my nose stopped me from being normal-looking. I’m not saying all of this to fish for compliments or anything; I’m just sharing my experiences of being teased as a child and how it impacted me while growing up. Because I think everyone can relate, even though they may never show it. And I don’t think many people share what their biggest insecurities are. I’ve never shared this with anyone before; I just kept it to myself and continued to beat myself up, probably until close to the end of high school. But now I know that I would never change anything. Everywhere I go, I see beautiful people. I don’t think anyone ever looks at someone and thinks, “Wow, that person is really ugly…”; usually the differences that a person has is what truly makes them beautiful, because it’s what makes them unique. And I think that everyone I meet is beautiful! Everyone has so much to offer, so much more than looks, and I love trying to figure out why people have come into my life, whether it’s just for a day, for a few years, or for a lifetime. And sometimes, something happens years later that makes me realize why I spent that one day with that one person. It’s so cool! So I think it’s important with everyone I meet to see what I can learn from them, and figure out what I can offer them in return. I’ve said many times before: I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. But I think it only makes sense as a whole at the very end. Anyway, after talking to those girls for awhile, they invited me to what I thought was a tea festival. So I decided to join them since I didn’t have much else to do and because I was having trouble staying awake on my own. They led me to this building and as we were walking, this guy comes up and is like, “Are you about to go drink tea with these girls?” and I said yes. And he was like, “Don’t do it, it’s a scam! It’s extremely expensive!” So then I was a little hesitant and I knew that there was no backing out once I got there. But I went anyway and ended up paying a whole bunch of money to try six different teas at a tea ceremony. But it was also pretty cool and the teas were all really good. At least the girls bought me some to take home as a gift! Since I didn’t have anything to compare the prices to (except the prices of Europe), I didn’t realize it was a scam until Yang told me. We googled the scam and they did EXACTLY everything that was written down. So I was scammed on my first day in China. But I was actually pretty lucky that it wasn’t any worse. They asked me to go out for lunch after but thankfully, I had already eaten beforehand so I declined. Apparently the other scam is to order a bunch of food, one leaves because they get a phonecall and the other leaves after 15 minutes to go to the bathroom, and then neither of them ever come back. After all that tea, I really had to empty out my bladder! But every restaurant I tried, they never had an actual toilet. I am not ready to pee in a hole that’s in the ground yet! I’ve done it once in Rambouillet and once in Italy and it was never pleasant, so I went on a search for a toilet and eventually found one. I’ve come up with a ranking of toilets I would prefer: home toilet, hotel toilet, hostel toilet (depending on the hostel), restaurant toilet, ferry toilet, plane toilet, nature, bus toilet, squat toilet (ew), and side of highway. I’ve had my fair share of experience… I actually headed back to the airport around three since I was too tired to do anything else. My flight was at 10pm and then I arrived at midnight in Zhengzhou. My family, as well as Ronald and Yang were there to greet me! It was nice to see everyone again after ten weeks and I seemed to forget that I was still tired. Ron’s best man, Troy, and his dad Gordan, also arrived that day so the eight of us had to be ready to spend the next three weeks together, whether we liked it or not. We had a 1.5-hour car ride to Ron’s hometown, Pingdingshan, and at that time, I was informed that Facebook is banned in China(!!). How is that even possible?! So sorry if someone was trying to get a hold of me! Once we got to the hotel, everyone was ready to go to bed.

The next day, I slept in until about noon and from that moment on, I was in sync with the time zone! Unfortunately, the rest of my family was not. Their 14-hour difference was a bit more difficult than my 6-hour difference. So while all three of them lied on the bed in my hotel room, I unpacked and showed them everything I had bought during my trip. We also went for a walk down the street to look at what there was in Pingdingshan. We got so many stares walking down the sidewalk, as that city never usually sees any foreigners. And it wasn’t the kind of stare that when they’re caught, they look away; they just keep staring no matter what! It was a little intimidating at first but after awhile, I got used to it. That night, Ron and Yang took us for dinner to a hot-pot restaurant. The traffic in Pingdingshan was absolutely insane! As cars were only introduced about ten years ago, rules were never strictly enforced. Therefore, people can cross the streets when they want to, change lanes when they want to, bike where they want to, and notify people of their presence and what they’re doing by only the honk of their horn. It’s mayhem! When we got to the restaurant, we each got our own pot of oily broth, and then we cooked whatever meats and vegetables we wanted (similar to a fondue but we each get our own pot). They also had a variety of different spices and sauces, so we made our own sauce (while knowing what nothing was) to dip our food in. They ordered so many plates; the food just kept coming and coming! And when we finished one plate of food, it would be replaced by another. I had never seen so much food before! I got pretty frustrated trying to use my chopsticks for every meal but after about five days, I got the hang of them 🙂

On Friday, we took about an hour-long car ride to the Xiangshan Buddhist Temple. It had an enormous Buddha on top of a mountain; its toe reached my shoulder. In order to get to it, we had to climb about 1500 stairs; the humidity definitely didn’t help! In one section, there were 365 stairs total, grouped in 28 or 30 or 31, representing every day of the year, so we each got a picture on our birthday step. The Buddha was so cool! It was covered in gold and it towered above everything else. After our walk up to the Buddha, we went to the bell tower, where it cost 100 yuan ($15) to ring the bell three times. Our family decided to do it so the four of us had to pull back a large, wooden beam (about a foot in diameter and nearly two metres long) and let it go into the enormous bell. It was quite the experience! Ron’s friend Leon took us for a “small” lunch because we were planning to have dinner with Ron’s parents later that evening. He gave us a menu with pictures of live animals on it and asked what we wanted: boar, wolf, rabbit, some kind of bug… We decided to stick with chicken and within five minutes, we saw a fully-feathered chicken coming our way. So we actually got to see our food being prepared from the moment it was killed. At least we knew it was fresh! When we sat down, they kept bringing out food and more food and more food, while we struggled to keep up. That small lunch ended up being a huge lunch! We went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. The dinner was with all of the closest and most important people in Yang and Ron’s lives: their parents and a few friends. My family and I felt very honoured that we were included in their special meal. It was also great to finally meet both of their parents and see who Yang and Ron mostly looked like. The meal was huge! There were probably about twenty different dishes, and after us six Canadians had stuffed our faces, Yang informed us that those were only the appetizers!! Luckily, Yang’s wedding planner had shown up and needed Lauren and I to try on our bridesmaids dresses, so we were able to excuse ourselves from the table and give our stomachs some time to digest the food we ate. Then we went back down for round two! I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much food as I did my first five days in China! Every meal was a feast; it was like Christmas dinner times three at every single meal!

Saturday was the day of the wedding! It’s better luck the earlier the groom comes to pick up the bride so Yang told us to be ready in her room by seven (normally it’s five). She looked absolutely stunning in her dress! Although it was difficult for me and Lauren, being the only English speakers in the room, it was still cool to be there and watch how everything happened. When Ron and his guys came, they had to do a series of tasks (that were decided by two of Yang’s best friends) before they could enter the room. They had to sing, do push-ups, and bribe us with money before they were finally let in. There were cameras absolutely everywhere, taking pictures and videos of our every move throughout the entire morning. Now I know what it feels like to be a celebrity! I don’t think I could stand it for longer than half a day though. They followed us down the halls, into the elevators, into the cars, literally everywhere we went. And they absolutely loved me and Lauren, as did everyone else; everyone wanted a picture with the two Canadian girls! It must not be a common occurrence for them to see girls like us! Once we took enough pictures, we had to drive to Yang and Ron’s new house, as it was part of the ceremony. Normally, they would pick the bride up at her parents’ house and take her to the groom’s parents’ house, as it is customary for the bride and groom to live and take care of the groom’s parents. The bride’s parents usually aren’t even allowed to attend the ceremony since they “say goodbye” when the bride is taken away, but since Yang’s family is from a different area of China, her parents were allowed to attend. All of the “important people” were piled into eight cars while a whole bunch of firecrackers were let off. Then, we started our half hour drive to Yang and Ron’s new house, being led by a Range Rover with a cameraman hanging out the side, recording us the entire way there. The vehicle also had its trunk open and someone threw out firecrackers the entire way there; it was absolutely crazy! Everyone else was waiting at the house, where we took even more pictures. After we were done there, we went back to the hotel and waited to start the ceremony, which was in an enormous banquet hall. There was about 70 tables of ten, with an expected number of 700 guests! All of the tables near the stage had to be covered with plastic (of course) to protect them from being covered with firecracker remnants. I felt like I was at some kind of Academy Awards show, and I was actually a part of it! It was intimidating since I had no idea when I was supposed to do anything because the entire ceremony was in Chinese and there were 700 people watching me, but we all got through it okay! While the bridesmaids (me and Lauren) and the groomsmen (Troy and Karon) were waiting “backstage,” Ron came riding down the centre aisle of the banquet hall on a motorcycle. Everything that happened during the ceremony was everything you would expect to see during one of those cheesy Asian films, but it was so cool! Then we walked down the aisle two by two to the front, and stood on stage. Yang came down the aisle and then there was a whole bunch of talking in Chinese, basically the handing over of Yang from her dad to Ron, the exchange of rings, etc. Then the six of us poured wine into a pyramid of wine glasses until we filled all of the glasses; it was intense! Then Yang made a speech (in English) about how she was so happy to have her Canadian family with her and I was trying so hard not to cry on stage, but I did. I was just so happy that my big sister was getting married! Finally, we could eat! Luckily during all of our meals, we’ve had someone sitting with us to tell us that a certain dish was turtle soup, or duck tongues, pig’s feet, or jellyfish. I haven’t been adventurous enough to try any of the above choices, but maybe I will in the next two weeks. It was weird because as soon as people started eating, they began to take down all of the decorations in order to prepare for someone else’s wedding that would take place the next day. And as soon as people were done eating, they just left. No one stayed to socialize except the Canadian table, which became a common occurrence. We were able to rest for a couple of hours and then Karon took the Canadians out for the evening. Our night started with a 100-minute massage! I’ve never had a massage in my life and I’m not sure if I’ll ever have one again after this one haha. These tiny Chinese girls sure must have a lot of rage kept inside them! My girl kept trying to crack every part of my body; I think I was more tense during the massage than I normally am during stressful situations because I kept trying to resist everything she did. I didn’t too much enjoy her knee going down my spine… Then Karon told us that we had three choices for the last 40 minutes of our massage but he chose for us and he chose Fire… That sure got us all a bit more stressed out! The masseuse had a stick with a cloth attached and she lit it on fire. Then, she put the lit stick in a glass jar to heat it up and set the jar on the sole of my foot so it suctioned, and then she’d pull it off. I was so freaked out because there was still fire in the jar when she put it on my foot! It never got too hot though. I was literally counting down every minute until my massage was done. The men got a different treatment… Instead of getting the jars put on their feet for 2-3 seconds at a time, they got the jars (18 of them) put on their backs for about ten minutes. Their skin inside the jars rose so high, it looked like a huge pimple, about 3 inches in diameter. The jars bruised their backs once they were taken off, and the spots are still there now! After our not-so-relaxing massages, Karon took us for a “heavy dinner.” We started with a bunch of appetizers and then the main course was a plate with an entire lamb on it. We were given gloves (exactly like my biology dissection gloves) so that we could for once discard the chopsticks and rip apart the lamb with our hands, or “eat like barbarians,” as Karon had put it. The lamb was probably some of the best meat I’ve ever eaten, it was so delicious! Karon also brought a 1.8-litre bottle of Japanese saki so we were forced to do shots every 2-3 minutes until we finished off the bottle. It was such a good day!!

On Sunday, we didn’t do very much. Ron and Yang took us for a walk downtown and took us to a park, where many seniors spend their time on Sundays. There was one man playing a traditional Chinese instrument and Ron asked if dad could try. Of course, he was very enthusiastic about letting dad play his instrument and from dad’s two notes he played, he got a HUGE crowd of people who came to watch the foreign man playing the Chinese instrument. We sure got a lot of attention in China; it was insane! Ron took us for lunch and for the first time, we got one dish and one dish only: noodles! We were all so thankful that we didn’t have to eat so much food. We went back to the hotel and the six of us (my family, Troy and his dad) played cards all afternoon while Yang and Ron did more wedding stuff. Unfortunately, we couldn’t leave the hotel by ourselves since we couldn’t even cross the streets safely without Ron’s help. When Ron and Yang came back, we went out for dinner and had an assortment of different rice dishes…another huge amount of food. And our entire meal for the eight of us only cost 24 bucks!

On Monday, we packed and took a car back to Zhengzhou so we could fly to Yang’s hometown: Hangzhou. Her city was so different compared to Ron’s! We headed to our hotel where we finally got to see Yang and Ron’s son, Evan! Then we had dinner with both Yang and Ron’s parents before going to bed so we’d be ready for another big day.

Tuesday was the second wedding day! Yang came to our hotel room at about 9:30 in the morning with the photographers and hair and makeup ladies so she could get ready with us. The ceremony was planned for 4:30 so by the time we were all ready, we had quite a bit of time to kill. We first went for dim sum and then got our pictures taken by the lake. The dress I had to wear was extremely tight even when I first tried it on back in Canada, and then I remembered I wasn’t supposed to gain any weight on my trip. Like that would happen with all of the foods I’ve been trying! Luckily, I had some spanks but they limited the amount that I could eat and breathe during the entire day. After taking photos, we helped with the decorations. The ceremony was right in front of the lake, and the decorations that Yang chose looked awesome! After rehearsing once, we sat around and waited for the ceremony to begin. Yang and Ron both said beautiful speeches to our family and once again, I cried. After the ceremony, we got macaroons and cupcakes and afterwards, we had the biggest dinner of my trip so far (too bad I filled up on macaroons beforehand!). There were so many dishes and all throughout dinner, Yang’s family and friends came to our table to thank us for looking after her; it was really great! Surprisingly after dinner, Yang’s dad sung a song for her; he’s an amazing opera singer, none of us had any idea! Later that night, we headed back to the hotel to pack and had to get up superearly the next morning so we could leave the hotel by five.

On Wednesday, we went to the airport to take a plane to Xī’ān (but Yang stayed in Hangzhou with Evan for the week). Once we got there, we went for lunch and then made a trip to the Terra Cotta warriors. The ruin pits weren’t so interesting to me but the warriors were neat to see, and they’re not even done piecing them all together! We headed to our hotel and then went for dinner. It’s so awesome having someone from China with us because Ron always takes us to the most grungiest, dirtiest places (that would never pass a health inspection in Canada), somewhere a tour group would never, ever take you to. And the food is amazing and on top of that, cheap! Our dinner for the seven of us (with about five dishes) only cost ten dollars Canadian! Lots of stuff planned for the rest of the week! Sorry I don’t have any pictures to post; I was too busy with my Canon this week and I don’t have a computer to upload pictures on. Hope everyone’s doing well! Love always

The Broken Ones – Dia Frampton

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