Shanghai (Dec 15-23): Back On the Road

Well let me catch you up on my time in Shanghai! I woke up on Saturday, December 15th at about 6am, got ready, packed up all of my bed sheets, said goodbye to my flatmate, and left my flat at 7am. I had to go to Southern Cross station in order to catch the airport bus by 7:45 and decided to show up early so I could get some food. I was going to Avalon airport this time, which seems a lot further than the Tullamarine airport but it’s actually faster to get to. I arrived around 8:40, got my documents checked, and went through security. Lucky for me, contact solution counts as a medicinal liquid in Australia so I was somehow able to fit all of the liquids I needed into one bag (I even took a picture so I’d be able to do it again for my next flights!). There aren’t many shops past security in Avalon so I just got a coffee and waited to board. I was SO paranoid that the airline would end up weighing my bag before getting on the plane, so I stuffed all of my heavy items in my pockets (my phone, charging pod, and camera). However, after looking around and seeing the numerous amounts of bags everyone else had around me, I realised I was being silly as my bag was only a few hundred grams over. We finally boarded the plane to leave at 10:30am and I was disappointed to find out that there wasn’t any (free) entertainment for my 8-hour AirAsia flight. It may have been a good thing that I didn’t get much sleep the night before because it forced me to relax and attempt to sleep. I don’t know if I actually got any sleep during the flight but after a few hours, I was starving! The flight attendants were serving all of the pre-ordered meals and the smells of food were making me even more hungry. I was somewhat shocked that I wasn’t offered any free food or drink during the 8-hour flight and decided to cave in and buy a meal since I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive until landing. I finally landed in Kuala Lumpur at about 4pm and had a 3-hour layover, which gave me enough time to have dinner. The flight to Bangkok was quite short – less than an hour and a half, and I arrived at about 9:30pm. I tried to go to the connecting flights but the lady checked my ticket and said that since my Shanghai flight wasn’t a connecting flight, I’d have to go through customs, get my passport stamped to enter Thailand, go through security, and get it re-stamped to exit Thailand. Not what I want to hear when the space on my passport is limited! However, I was delighted to see a Dairy Queen after I made it through security. I treated myself to my first Blizzard in a year, and had a hot dog to go with it. My layover was nearly 4 hours but it went by quickly with everything I had to do. The flight was supposed to leave at 12:15am, which was 4:15am Melbourne time so I passed out as soon as I boarded the plane. However, after an hour and a half, I woke up and realised we hadn’t left the tarmac yet. We saw the flight attendants go down the aisle with their bags and then an announcement was made that “due to technical difficulties, we were all required to disembark and we’d be notified when a new plane would be available.” As we got off the plane, we were asked for our boarding passes and were each given a number, which they wrote on our boarding pass (and kept). This number was the only proof that we had to show that we were on the flight. None of the restaurants were open anymore so I went and lied down for awhile but at 2:15, I realised that no one from my flight was around… I walked to the main flight screen only to see that my flight would be departing at 2:30 at a different gate!! I ran to the gate and it was complete mayhem when I got there. All of the boarding passes were scattered along a desk and all of the passengers were surrounding the desk in a mob, shoving their passports and numbers to the flight attendants. Some passengers even tried to go behind the desk to find their own boarding passes! I snuck in through the exit and got my boarding pass within five minutes, but I knew we wouldn’t be leaving by 2:30. Even so, I went and found my seat on the plane so I could try to get some more sleep in. The flight was four hours and I was meant to arrive in Shanghai at 5:30 but didn’t arrive until 8am. I went through customs, got some money exchanged, bought a muffin (I was so hungry since the last time I had eaten was just the hot dog and blizzard), and made my way to the metro station. The trip to Yang and Ron’s took about an hour and 20 minutes, and I had to make a couple of transfers to get there, but I figured it all out! Ron was waiting at the station for me and we walked to a cafe, where Yang and the boys were waiting. It was so nice to see them again! I hadn’t seen Yang and Evan in over three years (Evan’s in grade 3 now), and I got to meet Max for the first time, and he’s nearly two. I had some breakfast and some much-needed coffee, and then we went back to the house. Ron actually had to leave town that day for work and wouldn’t be back until Wednesday so I was able to stay at their place until he came back. Yang had made all of my favourite Christmas treats, so it was nice to have some familiar, delicious food! That day was a struggle for me and it felt like the longest day ever, as I didn’t get much sleep during the past two days. I forced myself to stay up until 9pm (the last hour was a struggle and I was literally counting down the minutes) and then I slept a good 10.5 hours.

On Monday morning, we got up and had breakfast. Then, Yang and I took Max to the only place that families can take their kids in the neighbourhood. There aren’t any green space or parks in the area that they live in (and any actual green space is fenced off) so apparently a family built an indoor playground for their kids and their kids’ friends to play in and then they kept it going for other families to use. However, it’s extremely pricey! Yang has a membership and it basically evens out to paying $20-25 each time they go. It’s insane! However, Max had a great time playing on the slides, jumping in the plastic balls, and riding around in the toy cars. Afterwards, we went to a French cafe for lunch, where we had some amazing food and desserts. We then stopped at a market so Yang could get some meat for dinner. It was neat seeing all of the meat right in front of you, and then they ground it up right when you ask.

On Tuesday, we went went to get coffee (at the London chain, Costa!) and then walked around for a bit so Max could let out some energy. She showed me one of the main tourist destinations in the area, called Tianzifang, which is a bunch of little shops along small alley-ways. We decided to get lunch at a cool Japanese restaurant, which was jam-packed with people. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to some (very expensive) cupcakes next door. Our evenings basically always included having dinner and watching at least two movies, as that had been Yang and my way of bonding back when she knew little English. Unfortunately, Evan would come home after his 7:45-3:45 school day and would usually end up doing homework from the time he got home until after dinner. They work the kids way too hard in China! The parents are responsible for checking and signing off all of the homework (and aren’t given an answer key for it). I checked his math homework one night and it was questions such as 3+4×6-2, as well as long division… for grade 3!!! I didn’t even learn multiplication tables until grade 4 and I don’t think we learnt about BEDMAS until high school. The poor kid never gets a break!

On Wednesday, we went out for breakfast so I could experience an Asian breakfast at Taoyuan Village. We had dumplings, wonton soup, some deep-fried bread, and soft tofu soup. It was delicious! Afterwards, we desperately needed coffee (as Yang and I have both found out that we get headaches if we don’t get caffeinated fast enough) so Yang suggested we go to the cat cafe that we had seen in Tianzifang the day before (Tono’s Palace). It’s so easy to get lost in the alleys so it took awhile until we finally found it. There were at least 15-20 cats in there and they would hop up on the tables next to you – Max was ecstatic! He was a bit nervous around the cats, but he was still so happy to be around them. These cats were definitely the most active out of the cat cafes that I’ve been to. That night, Ron came back home so they ended up moving me into a hotel room that was three floors above their apartment! It made it extremely easy to meet up with them each morning and to go to bed at night.

On Thursday morning, Ron was able to spend some time with us since he only had a work meeting at 4pm. Yang had to go to a parent meeting at Evan’s school, so Ron, Max, and I went for breakfast at the same cafe we had met at on my first day, and Yang joined us afterwards. We then went back to the indoor playground so that Max could play with his dad. Ron went to his meeting so that meant I was in charge of picking Evan up from school (which was just across the street). I had to wear a badge around my neck and go through a certain gate, where there was a big crowd of parents searching for their kids. The weird thing is that every family only gets one badge so if both parents come to pick up their kid, only one parent is allowed through the gate. But as long as you have a badge, you can go through. I obviously wouldn’t look like the mother of any of the kids in the school, so I found it weird how they just let me through, no questions asked. Anyway, I found Evan and we went back home. He had art class so when he was done, Yang, Max, and I went to pick him up and then we went for burgers at a restaurant in their apartment building.

On Friday morning, Ron was out getting his Shanghai residency renewed so Yang, Max and I had breakfast and relaxed at home until lunch. We met up with Ron and a couple of Evan’s friends’ parents for lunch and they ordered so much food – we couldn’t even eat it all! Evan finishes school early on Fridays so we all went to the school to pick up the kids. Evan worked on homework for a bit and then we walked to the bowling alley so Ron, Evan, and I could compete. It was only my third time doing 10-pin bowling but somehow I won the first game! I lost the second game though. The cool thing about bowling there was that tickets come out of the machine every time you knock down pins so at the end of the game, you can hand in all of your tickets in exchange for a prize. After bowling, we went for dinner at a restaurant that serves food similar to the region where Ron is from. Then, we took Evan to taekwondo. The lesson was quite long – nearly two hours – but we were able to watch the whole thing. Evan did quite well!

On Saturday, we all took a taxi to Xintiandi, which is a shopping complex but with an old-style architecture – it has a lot of character! We explored for a bit, had coffee at a chocolate shop, and then went for lunch. Since it was December Solstice, it’s tradition to go and eat dumplings with family so we went to a dumpling restaurant and that’s exactly what we did! After lunch, we took the metro to Yugarden, which is kind of a huge area of different shops and a beautiful central fish pond. We walked around for awhile and then made our way to the riverside, where we walked along the bank for a bit before heading back home. It was drizzling the entire day and none of us had umbrellas so we were cold and soaking by the time we got in the taxi. I got to test out my waterproof jacket and shoes though, and am proud to say that they work! We had dinner at home and then watched a couple of movies before I had to leave. My flight wasn’t until 6:50am the next morning but I’d have to checkin at 3:50 and metros didn’t run after midnight so I’d have to take a taxi at about 2:30. Therefore, I decided it would be better to just go to the airport and try to sleep there. However, when Ron walked me to the metro station, they said that the second train that I’d have to take stopped working at 10pm and it was already 10:30. I ended up having to take a taxi anyway. I got to the airport at about midnight but all of the seats were completely taken! I walked back towards the metro station and found a 24-hour Starbucks, bought a $7 coffee, and sat there until 3. I made my way back to the check-in counter, got ready for ‘bed,’ and as soon as I saw the flight attendants walk towards the counter 20 minutes before check-in time, I ran to get in line – I ended up being 4th but by the time they opened the counter, the line-up was already so long. I went through border control and security, and made it to the other side at about 4:30am. Of course, all of the chairs had arm rests so I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible so I could get some sleep, as I was completely exhausted. At 4:57, they started blaring Christmas music and then at 5:30, they turned the air-conditioning so high that I was shivering. I decided to get up, get a muffin, and walk around until boarding time since I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep. We left late and I was only able to attempt sleep during the first two hours of the flight, so the last two hours were quite long. Finally at about 11am, I landed in Bangkok! And I guess I’ll leave the rest for another blog post… Love always

Back on the Road – Billie Stonecipher

In Your Light (China)

And my trip is done! On Thursday, we rented bikes and rode about three quarters of the 14 km city wall of Xi’An. I finally got to try a bicycle built for two! But technically, I didn’t really bike as I let my dad do most of the work 🙂 It was scary riding in the back though, having absolutely no control over where you go! After that, we went to the Shaanxi History Museum. As history isn’t really my thing and museums also aren’t really my thing either, I kind of fast forwarded through the museum and just spent the rest of my time outside. We then took a quick look at the Big Goose Pagoda before going to the airport. Then, we waited for our flight to Beijing, which ended up leaving two hours late. When we were supposed to board the plane, it still hadn’t left Beijing yet! So we didn’t arrive until about 1:30 in the morning, giving us a good excuse to sleep in the next day.

On Friday, we went to Tiananmen Square, the biggest square in the world. We didn’t get to look around too much since we went on a tour through the Forbidden City. It was so huge! It was really cool to see where the emperors used to live back in the day. My feet really hurt by the end of it though. We also got to meet a nephew of the last emperor, who we got to watch do a personalized calligraphy parchment for us. Ron took us to a market since all of us were starving after walking all day but we soon lost our appetites. This market sold everything on skewers, with a few things that I recognized as food (like grapes, apples, and chicken) and many, many things that I have never, ever considered as a source of food. Scorpions (that were still moving on the stick!), starfish, seahorses, snake, ostrich, baby birds, lizards, the list could go on… I stuck with only eating dumplings and fruit, but with the smells of everything else, it was difficult to want to eat. Cool experience though! It was also nice to be able to look at all of the little shops in the market since we hadn’t had much shopping time during our trip.

Saturday was the day we went to the Great Wall! It was about 1.5 hours to drive there from Beijing so we left early to try to beat traffic. We were lucky to actually get sunlight while we were in the Beijing area! With all of the pollution, it’s quite common to only have smog, and that’s what we got used to seeing. The steps of the Great Wall are all uneven so that if the enemy had ever been able to actually climb onto the Great Wall, it would be difficult for them to run up it. And now I know how the enemy would have felt! I hated stairs before; while hiking, I’d rather walk up the steep hill beside the stairs than walk up the stairs themselves. But doing uneven stairs… Wow. One step could be a foot and a half and the next could be a couple of inches, but you seldom would see two steps of the same height in a row. And there were really steep points on the wall without stairs too; the angle was crazy. And there were some girls doing it in high heels! After two hours, my parents and I went for lunch and did some shopping while the others continued their climb. Then, we had the long drive back to Beijing. And was it ever long! With it being a national holiday October 1st and everyone only having to work half a day that day, it seemed like absolutely everyone was on the road. That night, we went back to the market for dinner and then Lauren and I did some shopping until the stores closed.

On Sunday, we spent the morning at the Temple of Heaven. The park was really pretty, and all of the buildings were cool to see as well! After my mom had a tripping mishap, making my mom and dad go back to the hotel, the rest of us went to another neighbourhood of shops and markets. That night, one of Ron’s mom’s coworkers (the bigwig of the company in the Beijing area) wanted to take us all for dinner. We went to an extremely expensive restaurant for a Peking duck meal. He also bought a crazy expensive bottle of alcohol (63%) and after doing a, “Cheers!” with the group as a whole, he did one shot with every person sitting at the table; it was insane! Lauren, Troy, and I had quite a lot of trouble even sipping the stuff, let alone shooting it! It reminded me of the raki in Greece that I had; it burned all the way down. The bottle was finished quite fast, which we couldn’t understand since Troy, Gord, Lauren and I had two shots each maximum, meaning most of the huge bottle would have been split between three people. And after that bottle was done, he bought beer and chugged a glass with each and every person. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone drink that amount of alcohol and still be able to act somewhat normal; we were all shocked! Somehow, arm wrestling came into the picture in this nice, expensive restaurant, but luckily, the other customers seemed amused by what was going on. We went back to the market for awhile and then went back to the hotel.

Monday, we woke up extremely early (4:30) to get to the airport and catch a flight to Shanghai. We got breakfast on the plane, which probably wasn’t the best choice of food… Whose idea is it to serve hard-boiled eggs to a couple hundred people who are in an enclosed space together for the next two and a half hours? Luckily, the flight went by really fast and when we arrived in Shanghai, Yang was there to greet us! We went out for lunch to a steamed bun restaurant (which is now one of my favourite things!) and then we walked along the river. It was absolutely crazy since it was October 1st; I feel like everyone came to Shanghai to celebrate the National day. It was way too busy to try to walk around, especially while trying to keep track of eight people! Most of China takes their holidays from October 1st to 8th so we had to be prepared for it to be busy the entire week. Apparently there were 750 million locals travelling around China that week! We got settled back in the hotel and then went for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Whether the restaurants are fancy or dingy, the food is always amazing! I’ve never had a disappointing meal yet; it’s all been great!

On Tuesday, we went to the Jinmao Observatory Building, where we got to ride the elevator up to the 88th floor and get a fantastic view of Shanghai. What was even cooler was looking down the centre of the building and being able to see every single floor all the way down to the floor of the lobby. We headed to the airport to drop off Troy and Gordan, and to have one last lunch together. Then the rest of us drove to our next destination, Suzhou. We were luckily right in the centre of a night market and because we were back with Yang, I was able to do some shopping again! I found two more purses and then the next morning, I found some new clothes at Cache Cache (they’re all over China too, yay! – but the clothes have a much more Asian look to them haha). After shopping Wednesday morning, we went to the Humble Administrator’s Garden, a crowded but beautiful Chinese garden. It would have been much nicer to see without so many people though! We had lunch and then headed to our next town, Wuzhen, a water town similar to Venice but not. It was extremely crowded so we didn’t get to see much that night but the next morning, we got up early enough to see the park without so many people around. We all took a gondola ride down the river, which was fun! We then went back to Yang’s hometown, Hangzhou, which is where we spent the rest of our time in China. Evan had been staying with Yang’s mom so he was pretty excited to see his mom and dad again!

On Friday, we spent most of the day at the Hangzhou Safari Park. It started with us driving past lions, giraffes, zebras, camels and more (with many of them coming right up to the vehicle!) and then we parked and walked through the rest, which was pretty much like a zoo. The conditions were pretty depressing at most times, and most people ignored the, “Do not feed the animals” rule. I’d see baby monkeys chewing on plastic candy wrappers and stuff like that; it was sad. But I got to see my first panda, which was cool! Evan loved seeing all of the animals as well; I think we all had more fun watching him than watching the animals. That night, we went to the night market to look around and find stuff to buy. I don’t think anyone actually bought anything but it was still fun to look at everything.

On Saturday, we went to a tea restaurant on a hill to relax and not do any sightseeing (finally). However, we didn’t know ahead of time that we would be doing this and had I known, I would have brought a book or SOMETHING to keep myself occupied. After six hours, I was nearly in tears because I was so bored. I wasn’t used to being isolated with no choice of where I could go; I had been travelling for nine weeks, deciding absolutely everything I could do. So I think it was just hard for me to sit there and do absolutely nothing when I could be out walking around or shopping or something. You can only stare into space for so long, right? We headed back to the hotel and worked on packing our suitcases, since we had all acquired a lot more stuff since we first got to China. My mom and I luckily escaped dinner that night; we were so sick of Chinese food, always having to wonder what we were eating and if our stomachs could handle it. We found an English pub and got pasta and got to eat with forks and spoons. It was a nice break!

On Sunday, we spent most of the day shopping and strolling around the lake. That evening, Yang came to pick us up and we went out for dinner with her mom and some more of her family. Both Ron and Yang’s family were so hospitable, even though we couldn’t communicate with each other at all. They’d bring us gifts, take us out for dinner, or give us a ride (or lend their car) any time, even though they had just met us. It was really amazing! I truly felt welcome by both of their families. After dinner, Yang, Ron, and Evan came back to our hotel so we could do some final visiting before they went back to Yang’s mom’s house.

On Monday morning, my mom, dad and I got a ride to the Hangzhou bus station so that we could take the 2-hour bus ride (which ended up being a 3-hour bus ride) to the Shanghai airport. I was supposed to make the trip alone since my flight left two hours before everyone else’s, but luckily my parents decided to go with me. Otherwise, I’d have to carry two big suitcases, my backpack, my purse, and my Chinese musical instrument that I bought (ha) all by myself, and I don’t think that would have went over very well. Because the bus was so late, I didn’t have much time to check in my bags (no extra costs, yay!) and go through security. Then I had a quick final meal (noodles with chopsticks, how could I not?) before boarding my plane for the 10 hour 40 minute flight. For the first time in my life, I crossed the international date line so I’ve basically been able to live Thanksgiving Monday twice! Neither time with turkey though 😦 Now I’m back in Canada! The first thing I could smell when I walked through the airport was Tim Horton’s, and then I saw its heavenly beam of light shining down, just taunting me since I couldn’t have any until I got through customs. It was so awesome to be around English again! To hear people speaking it, to hear it on tv, on the radio (the first song I heard was the overplayed “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye and I was actually happy to hear it!), I got to SEE English: on restaurants, on buildings, on magazines (ah, I think I’ll buy one!)… I have a 4-hour layover in Vancouver, then I fly to Edmonton, which is when I’ve officially went completely around the world! Then I wait in Edmonton for an hour and I arrive in Saskatoon around 5:30. I’m so excited to be home! I definitely started getting anxious towards the last week of China; I was ready to just go back. The weird thing was, everyone else was ready to go back as well, even though they had only been gone for two weeks. What amateurs… Haha so excited to see everyone when I get home! It definitely hasn’t felt like three months at all. And no, I didn’t bring souvenirs for anyone, just so you all know ahead of time; sorry. Thanks to everyone who kept up with my blog (I hope there are people still reading it??!)! And that, my friends, is the story of how I went around the world in 91 days 🙂 Love always

In Your Light – Gotye

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