I'm now writing to you from a big city in southern China. It's called Chang-Sha, and has a population of 6 million people. That's bigger than Sydney, Rome, Berlin, Madrid, Barcelona, Boston, or Washington. Infact, it's about 7 to 8 times the population of Amsterdam. What's that, you mean you've never heard of the bustling metropolis of Chang-Sha? But, it's massive.... it should be at the forefront of international affairs, right? Well, not really. The thing about China is that every city pretty much has a population of 6 million people living in it, which makes Chang-Sha pretty ordinary in the scheme of things. As far as i can tell, it has a river, one museum, a train station, two statues of Mao, and, of course, 6 million Chinese people strolling around. And that pretty much is it.
Which explains why no tourists go here. Or anywhere that i've been in the last two weeks, actually. In all seriousness, Benji and I have not seen a Westerner in a good 8 days. What's more, we have not conversed with a Westerner since late September. We have not even been to a resturant with an english menu for at least 3 weeks. Which means i've had little to no idea what i've been eating for about as long as well. Which explains a lot regarding bowel movements, but we'll get to that later.
So where have we been then? Well, it's grown to quite a list of places that nobody goes to, often for good reason. First on the list would be the industrial hellhole of Datong... which the World Bank rates as the third most polluted city in the entire world. Interesting fact for you all, China officially has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. We've been to 3 on that list now, but i'd rate every Chinese city as being well within the top 50. Seriously, i haven't a blue sky since arriving here. I don't know if it even exists anymore. In Datong, the pollution was so bad that you'd even get to experience 2 sunsets..... the first was when the sun descended into the deep, coal-fuelled haze hanging just above the horizon. Then it would reappear again for an instant, before descending again behind the actual horizon.
I always wondered why Chinese people spit so much. Men, women, kids, grandmas... they all hawk and slag all over the place. Sometimes in bins, but normally on the street, on the resturant floor, on the bus floor. But now i understand why. It's to do with this pollution. The air is so filthy over here that your lungs literally begin to heave under the grot and dust that you're constantly inhaling. Even the most polite, well-mannered, ettique-focused person (such as myself) cannot help but spit all that crap out every 10 minutes or so. It's the only way to stave off a premature death from cancer, really.
What else can i tell you about China? Well, the toilets make an interesting side story. Of course, we all know that the conception of sitting on a toilet seat, as a opposed to squatting over a smelly pit, hasn't really caught on in this part of the world yet. But the Chinese take the 'asian-style' toilet experience to a whole new level.... because most of the time they don't even bother installing divider walls between the holes. This means there is no such thing as even the 'toilet booth'. Rather, you walk into a room with between 3 to 6 holes, you pick a hole, and get to it.... often right next to another guy. And, thanks to the typical Chinese diet of chillies and nothing else, your neighbour will probably be merrily squatting away last night's dinner... making the experience all the more, um, melodious. Many Chinese even have conversations while shitting in this fashion, but what they talk about i've got no idea.
Heh, maybe i should explain the difference between Chinese food back home, and Chinese food here. One word: chilli. No joke, the chilli intake here far surpasses Thailand. As i said before, i've been ordering from Chinese menus for weeks now, which means it's always a suprise, but the one assurity is at least 5-10 chillies per dish. I said AT LEAST. Often i've made the hilarious mistake of ordering a dish which is just all chillies (say about 50 or so, red and green, finely chopped), with a bit of pork thrown in for flavour. It's a difficult dish to consume, let me tell you. The furthest i've got through is about 50%, which i think's a pretty respectable achievement, considering that for most of my 22 years i've eaten nothing but sausages, mash potato, and green peas, perhaps with a little bit of salt and pepper thrown on when i felt the need to live dangerously.
Other things you should know about the Chinese: they play a lot of online role-playing games. They get drunk very easily. None of them know what a kangaroo is. They call Americans, 'megwa', which sounds more like a disease than a nationality (Australians are from 'a-da-li-a', which is kind of cute). They think that Chinese NBA player from the Rockets is the single greatest sportsman since Michael Jordan. They play majong and chinese checkers just as much as sterotypical 'chinese nerds' do in US frat movies.
They also eat absolutely anything. Infact, just some of the things ive seen alive in cages outside of resturants include: beavers, turtles, eels, chipmunks, frogs, etc. Plus, we've dined in resturants where you can get dog, pig's testicles, and a whole host of even weirder shit that we can't read and have no idea what it is. The coolest things we've (knowingly) eaten include donkey meat (delicious), wild mountain boar (decent, but not fantastic), and this crazy toxic substance known only as "sheep's blood cake" (absolutely terrible).
What else? They have a Muslim population of maybe 40 million or so, which is interesting (the Chinese Muslim cuisine is fantastic by the way). They also have a 'Chinese Jewish' population... don't really know how that works, but supposedly it exists.
And, of course, the rumours are true: the Chinese, for the most part, are hardworking, business focused, money loving, capitalists..... which makes the juxtiposition with their chosen national ideology all the more perplexing.
Speaking of which, let's get political. I go to Hong Kong tomorrow, so i shouldn't be abducted and raped by getting a little controversial today (as i say this, i cautiously look over my shoulder). First off, it's absolutely astonishing how much the Chinese seem to love and respect their government. Definitely more patriotic and state-loving than anywhere else i've ever experienced (even more so than America). When i visited Mao's emblalmed body (which looked like a shiny new manequin by the way), most of the Chinese there (and there were thousands of them shuffling past), were crying, praying, offering gifts, and generally revering their great revolutionary leader. It got me thinking: the best thing our Prime Minister gets from the Australian public most of the time is nothing abuse and rotten eggs (with good reason mind you), but even he isn't responsible for millions of deaths. Of course, i'm not saying that Mao meant to kill millions (he meant to kill alot of reactionaries, but not millions by famine), but still..... it's strange. Even the current regime here admits Mao was 30% wrong, and only 70% right (although that doesn't stop them building a seemingly endless array of Mao monuments on every street corner). So yeah, I don't really know what to make of all of it at the moment, which is probably a good thing, considering my internet usage is probably being monitored as we speak, so the less i make of it right now, the better.
By the way, you cannot access BBC World in China. Nor can you access a whole host of Western media outlets, including, strangely enough, Wikipedia. Those media you can access, most of the stories regarding China fail to load. Of course, the ever-reliable Adelaide Advertiser still works, but i'll be damned if i'll read that piece of Murdoch trash, even if it is the only available newspaper on the planet.
Geez, i'm getting sidetracked here. Luckily Benji has actually written about we DID in China (as opposed to what I THOUGHT about China), so you should really check out his blog at http://gleamingtheglobe.blogspot.com to find out why chilli hurts so much in some many different bodily areas when eaten by the bucketload. I will give you a quick rundown on the months events, however, cause really, it's a hell of a lot more entertaining than my incoherent discussions regarding the failure of modern communism.
So, without further adue, these are the highlights:
- WuTai Sahn: This is a buddhist mountain range in the centre-north of China. We went here after Datong, because we thought our lungs could do with some fresh air after all that lovely coal-mine inhalation. As usual we didn't really have much of a plan, but we me this Dutch couple, who gave us a map of the area, and we decided to just walk off in a random direction. This soon became quite an adventure. We passed impoverished communities, ghost villages inhabited only by stray dogs, empty buddhist monestaries, and, by far the most bizarre, a fairly large marajuana plantation, guarded by a whole lot of Chinese dudes. Now, we've all seen the movie 'the beach', so you could imagine what me and benji were thinking as we approached this little private herb garden. The Chinese dudes were staring at us as we approached; fixed, cold, motionless. It got so awkward that i decided to say hi to them. And after a poorly orchestrated 'ni hao' to them, they all jumped up and down laughing and smiling and saying 'ni hao, ni hao, ni hao'; partly teasing me, partly happy that a foreigner had come to say hello. So yeah, they turned out to be really nice people. Not even that many AK 47s or anything either.
We ended that day by climbing a 2900m mountain, easily the highest i have ever climbed, and stumbling upon a wild flock (?) of horses. At the peak of this mountain, there was a solitary buddhist monestary, inhabited by one Chinese monk, and another American monk on a private pilgrimage. The American ended up letting us inside, and teaching us how to pray, so it turned out to be a fantastic, enlightening day. Of course, i won't be converting to Buddhism, because the only Westerners who do that seem to be those crazy hippy types who frequent nuddist beaches and sing camp songs around fires (naked, of course), but it did seem like a pretty cool religion.
- Shaolin Tsu: This is the traditional birthplace of Asian martial arts, and also the setting of every period Hong Kong movie ever created, so obviously it was a necessary pilgrimage spot for Benji and myself. The actual temple itself was thoroughly disappointing, a huge, big, disneyland-style tourist attraction. But we ended up staying in a little ghetto town nearby Shaolin, where we were introduced to a local kung-fu school, and, before you could say "chop-suey", had somehow signed up for a few days training. It was an amazing, difficult, and extremely embarrassing experience. Every single student, excpet Benji and I, could do the splits, could do back flips, could kick their own head if they so desired..... oh, and, of course, they could speak Chinese too. No one could speak English. But still, it was fun. We trained 6 hours a day, outside, in the sun, next to a glistening field of rice paddies. My aim was to learn a 28-move form by the end of the training, but now, largely thanks to 15cent Chinese rice wine, i can only remember maybe 22 moves. Still, i'd like to see that Budapest thug mess with me now! (that's a joke by the way! Just cause i learned the stance of "monkey picking fruit from a tree", doesn't mean i'm a kung fu master now by any means).
Bloody hell! I'm exhuasted, and i'm sure you are too. So i'm gonna leave it there. Once again, all the other misadventures will have to wait till i get back home. And there's a lot of 'em.... kareoke fun, car crashes, trains with so many people you literally can't move, Asian hip-hop dance competitions.
Bah! i'm off, to Hong Kong and beyond!!
PS - No spellcheck this time, it's in chinese. So sorry.