The HK-Shanghai Errands Interlude

Ok, I kind of really want to talk about Japan (JAPAN!!!) so allow me to give you the highlights of my three days in Hong Kong and my almost-week in Shanghai:

  • Surprising no one, the Russian Consulate in HK was full of slightly ill-tempered workers who got very annoyed when I showed up with my application but without an appointment. Apparently, this was a new rule they’d imposed in the summer, but they only posted these rules on the HK Russian consulate website, which wouldn’t load for me. So I had filled my application out on a different embassy website (I don’t know how any of this really works), and hadn’t seen or gotten any notifications requiring me to make an appointment. So I got shunted over to the Visa Application Center, which was literally right across the hallway and helped you submit your application appointment-free except for about $40 more and with nicer people.
    • (Special thanks to Jeff and Jaynie‘s blog post on applying for a Russian visa in HK, and WaytoRussia, which I used to buy the visa support document.)
  • I think I sweated out my entire bodyweight in HK while poking around the city looking for new hiking boots. At one point, I ended up in the most haphazard camping store full of towers of shoeboxes that I swear were all read to keel over and bury us all, and they still didn’t have any in my size.
  • Eventually I found a small Merrill outlet in a very, very, very large department store. The shoes were a little too long, but not too snug on my very, very, very wide feet (I brought thick hiking socks so I could check on the width), so I called this a success and bought them.
  • Then I went to Shenzhen and spent a brief night at the Star Whisperer Spacecraft Hostel!!! Which was actually kind of cool, even though the blacklights were 1000% cosmetic and served absolutely no purpose.

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    Star Whisperer Spacecraft Hotel 
  • Also, it was kind of best to just ignore what it looked like on the outside…
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Totally trustworthy.
  • On my way out of Shenzhen, I was trapped in the airport for a solid 7 to 8 hours. Three cheers to Hannah, who kept me from throwing myself into some abyss of despair when I saw this on the board.
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This is also when I realized Chinese airports don’t have any bars. 
  • Then I got to Shanghai!
  • In Shanghai, I stayed with Hannah, and visited some of the old haunts (like the archery range!), met up with as many friends as I could, and bummed around. It was kind of nice to relax in a familiar place, take a step back from traveling, and watch figure skating videos with Hannah for like, literal hours.

 

Amsterdam!

In July, I went to Amsterdam.

Yes, July was many months ago. I am very behind in this blogging thing…

But, onwards!

I flew to Amsterdam with my friends Anthony and Skyler (Shenzhen-dwellers.) The last time I checked in, I had arrived in Shenzhen to crash on Antler’s (I just made up that portmanteau, why have I never thought of this before??) couch to relax and maybe do some laundry before we headed off to Amsterdam together.

The flight was 12 hours, which I found strange because it’s 12 hours to go from the US to China, but also to go from Hong Kong to Amsterdam? This was explained to me by Anthony as the result of flights to/from China get to hop over the globe, while flights from Hong Kong to Amsterdam have to go around it. I think. I dunno, I don’t look at maps and therefore have no idea how geography works.

Anyway, we arrived in Amsterdam in the evening. The Antler and I split up, Antler to Skyler’s relatives’, and me to a hostel I’d booked on Hostelworld, called Shelter Jordan. (Because Skyler has AmsterdamMagic (aka a Dutch bank card and all that jazz) he was able to get us a more permanent transportation card for Amsterdam right at the airport, instead of just the day cards, which was nice because after this trip, I’m pretty sure I’ll be visiting Amsterdam again.)

My hostel was named Shelter Jordan. When I arrived at its doors, I was greeted with a mural of Jesus Christ giving a sermon on a boat to many disciples. The hostel’s slogan was, “Experience Christian Hospitality!” When checking in, I was invited to join the hostel volunteers in their bible study group, and also reminded that because it was a Christian hostel, no drugs or alcohol were allowed.

Somehow, in Amsterdam of all places, I picked the Christian hostel with a drugs and alcohol ban.

Annnyway. The bed was comfortable. It was a good place to do work from.

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I’m all about that work/life balance.

Anyway, Sunday morning found me up and early (Amsterdam is 6 hours behind China, meaning my body clock was the kind of weird that isn’t a full flip, which was almost even more annoying), so I did a little bit of work, and then set off at 9ish to meet Skyler and Anthony, and Lani and Phill — who were arriving that morning — at a brunch spot named Bakers & Roasters. My walk took me through a good portion of the center of the city, past beautiful canals and on streets that were fairly empty and quiet.

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Water! Green trees! Beautiful, colorful buildings! Blue sky! What is this world? 

The buildings, canals, and the cats in the windows I saw were all just stunningly beautiful. Is this real life? I had to ask myself.

Then we had brunch, and I continued to doubt my reality.

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An unreal meal! Okay, okay. Brunch spots do exist in Shanghai, but July in Shanghai is a hot, humid sweaty hellhole that ranges from about 30-40 degrees Celsius (for Fahrenheiters, that’s Really Freaking Hot), while Amsterdam was a sweet 16-20 (for Fahrenheiters, that’s Basically Perfect + A Light Sweater.)

After a very long and lazy brunch, Anthony, Skyler, Phill and Lani went to go find Phill and Lani’s boat-airbnb, and I wandered back through the city to my nice Christian hostel to take a jetlag nap and get some work done. A coffeeshop may or may not have been visited, but if it were, and if I lingered by a few canals in order not to break the hostel’s alcohol-and-drugs ban, or got lost in the Red Light district on my walk back (which is honestly a bit of an uncomfortable place in broad daylight)… well, Amsterdam!

We met up again in the evening to have dinner at a place called Kadijk, with Skyler’s cousins, and then we all went to a very very cool cocktail bar called Hidden in Plain Sight (HPS) where I ordered a blackberry drink thing that I can’t for the life of me remember exactly what it was, possibly because it contained ingredients I literally hadn’t known existed until then, and also because I was too blown away by everything to make notes like I usually do.

The next day, I talked to Katie, who was in Belgium at the time, on FaceTime. I had originally called her to complain that she was in Belgium but not in Amsterdam with me, and somehow our conversation ended with me getting online and buying a train ticket to meet up with her in Luxembourg. I have no impulse control. It’s vacation, I told myself, ignoring briefly that my entire life right now is just one long semi-vacation and I can’t really use this as an excuse anymore. But really, this was Real Vacation, the European interlude away from Asia.

Fortunately, I was rescued from more impulsive decisions by all of us heading off to Kwaku festival, which was a festival full of Surinamese food, and where I was introduced to bara. I had never heard of Surinamese food before, and admittedly I still do not know anything about Suriname, but I do now know that bara are savory doughnut things stuffed with meat curry and are absolutely amazing. The whole afternoon passed away in a haze of eating as much as I possibly could, sinking into a chair to digest, and then eating more. Really, really good macaroons also featured.

The next morning, jet lag got me again, and I was up at 4 am. At around 5:30am, unable to sleep, I decided to go for an early morning run in the Vondelpark, which wasn’t tooo far from where I was staying.

Following my run, the Gang met up again to go on BRUNCH BOAT. Brunch boat was, as you can probably guess, brunch except on a boat that meandered through the canals in Amsterdam.

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More evidence that touristing in Amsterdam is Not Real Life.

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After Brunch Boat, Anthony, Skyler, Phill and Lani headed back for Kwaku noms, Day Two. Since I planned to take a train to Luxembourg the next morning, I went off on my own to do some good old fashioned tourism. I visited the Van Gogh Museum, wandered around the city some more, then returned to Vondelpark and read a book on my kindle with some coffeeshop purchases. (Again: not real life.)

Meanwhile, at Kwaku that evening, Real Life reared its ugly head — Skyler slipped and broke his foot, and when I met up with them again, he was on crutches. (Though, by all accounts, he got some sweet dance moves in before the unfortunate accident.)

The next morning, at Early o’Clock (pre-6am) I was up and out again, this time headed to the train station to get to Luxembourg. In Luxembourg, I hung out in the downtown area (quite small, but very pretty!) and met Katie’s friend Natalie’s roommate Liz. I had met Natalie a couple of years earlier, when she visited Katie in Chengdu. I had never met Liz before, but she was super friendly and energetic, and led me back to her and Natalie’s apartment, where I did work and waited for Natalie and Katie to get back to Luxembourg. They had been on the Belgium coast, and due to a Series of Unfortunate Events, returned to Luxembourg city a little later than originally intended.

But a joyous reunion was had! A movie was watched! And I fell asleep in the middle of it.

The next morning, Natalie, Katie and I slept in (Liz had to go to work.) We had a quiet breakfast, did a little mask thing on our noses because you know, that’s just what you do, and did laundry. (I will always do laundry if it’s free.)

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A charcoal mask. I had trouble making it nose-shaped.

In the afternoon, we went to go buy me an epilator (this is like a razor, except instead of shaving hair, it plucks the hairs!! very cool! ask me about this if you are interested, but for now I will refrain from inflicting my endless enthusiasm for the epilator upon the general public.) After wandering around the downtown Luxembourg area, we went to an Escape Room that was based on the Luxembourgish myth of the mermaid Melusina.

If you don’t know what an escape room is, it involves getting locked in a room and then having to find clues in order to work your way out. This escape room had two rooms actually, and you had to progress from one to the next, and then in the second room you had to solve clues in order to keep a hostage from drowning. (Our hostage drowned. Oops.)

In the first room, I managed to stumble upon a couple of clues accidentally. For instance, there was a wooden bathtub in the corner for some reason, and because I was lazy and tired of standing, I just kind of climbed into the bathtub and sat down. The lights immediately went out.

As it turns out, the lights went out and a black light turned on, and then we were able to read the invisible ink clues on the back of a letter. On the one hand, this was cool. On the other hand, I had nowhere to sit and contemplate our clues from without turning all the lights off.

 

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Sit in the bathtub, Watson, I dare you.

And then we went to Korean BBQ for dinner, because KBBQ should always be an option.

The next morning, we had another lazy morning before walking down into Luxembourg’s Lower City. We had lunch at a place that also had this very alcoholic beer + orange liquor (we got a side-eye from the waiter for ordering these at lunchtime), and then took a glass elevator back up to what I assume is called the Upper City? Or maybe it’s just the Rest Of The City.

Sadly, after this, I had to depart Luxembourg.

But my Magical Not Real Life vacation continued!

Back in Amsterdam, on my last day there, Phill and I went to the Zaanse Schans windmills, where I continued the question the truth of my reality because oh my god, that place was so stupidly idyllic I literally could not contain myself. (Also, mushrooms.)

That evening, Anthony, Skyler and I went to a Mendelssohn + Schubert classical music concert (a contra-bass was involved, the Mendelssohn was amazing but honestly I kinda of dozed off a bit during the Schubert; Anthony helpfully nudged me, presumably when I started audibly snoring or heavy-sleep-breathing) and then the Skyler, Anthony, Phill and I returned to HPS for more Super Fancy Drinks (Lani had left earlier in the afternoon).

And then, the next day, the One-footed Skyler (with a cast), Anthony and I flew back to Hong Kong. Skyler left us at the HK airport to head to a hospital for a check in before his foot surgery, while Anthony and I headed back to Shenzhen together.

“Wow,” Anthony remarked as we got into a shuttle that would carry us back over the border.  “I kind of really missed Chinese.”

“Shut up,” I told him, because despite the incredible Magical Not Real Life, I had kind of really missed Chinese too. I imagine this is what Stockholm Syndrome is like.

 

How to take an e-bike for a walk

Between my last post and this one, I managed to do very little, but somehow that very little included getting one of the worst sunburns I’ve had in a very, very long time.

Yup. Anyway.

So, the last time you heard from me was around the Fourth of July. I promised I was going to write soon after that, but then I got extremely busy doing… I mean honestly, nothing.

After a very brief stopover in Chengdu (for food, cats, company, and, of course, laundry) I flew to Dali and made it there on about July 6th. I booked myself a private room at one of the Lonely Planet’s top recommended hostels for a few days, then booked a private room for two at Lonely Planet’s other top recommended hostel for a few nights, when a family friend came to stay with me.

In the few days before Stella came, it didn’t stop raining. I wandered the old city and found cafes where I would pull out my computer, do a bit of work, and stare at the rain. The staring at the rain was the greater part of what I did. It made work take a long time. Long enough that when the rain slowed to a drizzle, I would pack up and wander the old city until I found another cafe. Rinse and repeat.

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One of the many cafes I sampled while in the Dali old city. This one became a personal favorite. 

The day after Stella came, it was finally sunny. We didn’t really know each other, so I thought it would be a fun idea to rent a moped and drive around the lake. I didn’t realize it was a six hour drive. I also didn’t realize that not all mopeds were made to drive around the lake. But that came later. (Stella was a True Trooper.)

I had read about a market in the Lonely Planet. It happened on Mondays. It was Monday. Stella mentioned wanting to buy some gifts, so I thought it would be a cool place to go to. We walked into the old city and rented a bike without much trouble. I put down a small deposit.

So off we went! If you want to ask about the helmets… don’t ask about the helmets.

We’d asked directions to the town with the Monday market from both the bike-rentals people, and some people on the street. The consensus was unanimous. You just kind of got out onto the road and went right until you reached the marketplace. I mean, it’s a lake. How can you get lost driving around a lake?

Continue reading How to take an e-bike for a walk

a whirlwind of tourism

I don’t really know how to start this post, other than to say that I’ve finally begun traveling! Which I will continue to do until November!

So, after a few short but great weeks at home (and after moving my cat from China to the US, which was infinitely better than last year, when I moved the cat from Chengdu to Shanghai) I headed back to Beijing via Air Canada on June 20th.

I arrived in Beijing on June 21. I had three nights booked at a hostel I’d stayed at a couple summers ago, and my major tourist plans consisted solely of my desire to go to my favorite Beijing duck restaurant, 四季民福烤鸭店 (Siji Minfu Duck).

okay technically, it was a half-duck, but trust me you don’t want to know the details of the anti-social struggles I went through in order to enjoy this half-duck by myself. 

 

The eating of Beijing duck was preceded by walking 30 minutes in the pouring rain. It was absolutely worth it.

Also, in the three nights I was in Beijing, I spent some weird jetlagged hours trying to figure out if the sound I was hearing was a mosquito, my stomach, or the dying cries of the AC. My first two nights of sleep were sponsored entirely by some Ambien and the earplugs that my perennial accomplice, Katie, once got me as a joke because the sound of people smacking their lips induces an irrational amount of irrational anger in me.

So on Friday, I bought a train ticket for five-hour high speed train to Xi’an for Saturday, and booked a hostel on my way to breakfast.

And I was off! The first new destination of my trip. Somehow, I’d gone three plus years in China (including my study abroad) without going to see the Terra-cotta warriors!

However, Xi’an is hot. Like 100-degree weather. Its only saving grace is that at least it’s a dry heat.

And…

The Terra-cotta army is best described as a thing you absolutely can’t miss in China, and definitely would take people to Xi’an to go see, but 100% would not go actually go myself again. I’d take anyone straight past the unregistered cabbies and load them onto the bus and then go spend the day at the park or better yet, in the AC somewhere. 😛

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I once harbored delusions of learning actual photography for my travels. 
So really, getting super touristy was my only other option.
SuperTouristy™

On the second day in Xi’an, I got breakfast with a Chinese Muslim at my hostel, had the token No I Am Not Married, and Let Me Tell You How My Parents Don’t Actually Care Because I’m Still Only 24 conversation (though actually, it was a lot more enjoyable than it usually was!)

And then I was a boring person who avoided the heat by doing work in the AC for the morning. In the afternoon, when I thought the heat was dying down (spoiler alert: it wasn’t), I went up to the Xi’an City Walls that surround the center of Xi’an, and biked the perimeter.

It took a really long time. The wall was very impressive, and also never ended. However, that might’ve been the 100-degree weather getting to me.

This smile is actually 80% a grimace. I paid entirely too much for this hat, and then I forgot it in my Xi’an hostel. I never got around to taking the tag off of it. RIP.

 

So that brought me to Monday, June 26th.

On Monday, I bought a train ticket and booked a hotel for Tuesday. (Are you starting to see a pattern yet?)

From Xi’an, I took a seven+ hour train to Lanzhou. I got a hard sleeper. I got the middle bunk.

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I honestly do not know how people taller than me manage to make themselves comfortable in these bunks. And there are a lot of people in the world who are taller than me. Actually, most adults even in China are still taller than me. 😦

​Seven+ hours later, I rolled into Lanzhou and bundled myself into my hotel room. (Lanzhou doesn’t have many hostel options.) After showering and grabbing dinner… I bought a three hour high speed train ticket to Zhangye, and booked another hotel.

Since I got to Zhangye at about 11:30 on Tuesday, I went to the Zhangye Danxia Land Mass Thing in the afternoon. It was about an hour bus ride out.

 

Guess #howmuchfilter 

​The trip back to Zhangye took closer to two hours, because the bus driver drove at the pace of a snail and honked the horn for just as long as he went without honking. We were constantly picking up and dropping off people for the whole stretch. Public buses in more rural provinces in China are pretty casual about what constitutes a bus stop. (In other words, anyone on the side of the road who waves it down can be a bus stop.)

Later in the evening, back in my hotel room, I slowly learned that the sun never sets in Zhangye.

Okay, the sun sets in Zhangye, but until about 9PM, and let me tell you, that really messed with my head. I read get to read by daylight for an incredibly long time though!

The next day, I got up bright and early to take a two hour bus out to Mati Temple. Mati means horse’s hoofprint, because a legendary horse left its print at Mati Temple.

The temple was really cool. It was built into the cliffs, with roughly-hewn indoor and outdoor stairs. For obvious reasons, we only used the indoor stairs.

The stairs were roughly-cut out of the stone, and very dark. Pictures were not allowed. Pictures that I snuck anyway did not come out well. 
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Pictures of the shrines at each stage of the temple were not allowed, so have a picture of one of the many traffic jams instead. Because China has a lot of tourists, and these stairwells were not made for a lot of people. 

​After I went through the temple, I continued to be extremely touristy and got a horse ride up to a mountain.



​Do you see the dark clouds in the distance?They got a lot darker. By the time I reached the waterfall, it was a little cold and windy. My guide tried to convince me to go the long way back, up on the ridge, because it was a much prettier view… and added twice the price of the original ride.”Is it going to rain?” I asked.
“No,” he said firmly. This no was followed by a pretty comic-book like crack of thunder.
“Really,” I said, very skeptically.
He looked unimpressed. “Well, it’ll rain, or it won’t.”

We took the short way back.

That night, I bought a seven+ hour train ticket to Dunhuang.

Oh wait! Map time.

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I stole this map from the Internets. Basically, I went southwest from Beijing, down to Xi’an — which is in Shaanxi province, on the bottom left hand of this picture — and then slowly took trains and made my way Northeast. I was originally going to go from Zhangye to Jiayuguan to see the end of the Great Wall, but then I got lazy. #badplanner #lazytourist 

So anyway, last year when people asked me where I was going to travel, I would just laugh and joke that my only criteria was that I avoided the heat.

Xi’an was about 100 degrees. Dunhuang is in the desert. I am an idiot.

Thank god it rained, which cooled the place down a whole heck of a lot.
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Obligatory LOOK! I MADE SOLO FOOTPRINTS ON THE DUNES photo!
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Desert oases are actually pretty breathtaking… as long as you don’t get too close. The famed Crescent Lake is a little meh from spitting distance.


In the hostel, I hung out a lot with an Australian woman a couple of years older than me. We ended up splitting a cab to the airport — she to Beijing, and me to Chengdu.

And then I spent a couple of days back in Chengdu, crashing on my friend’s couch and playing with his cats, who blessed me with their many pounds (they are incredibly large cats) while I slept.

My fourth of July was thus spent eating Justin’s home-cooked Chinese meal (I think we both forgot it was the 4th). But he made four Chinese dishes + a soup for dinner, and I will never be able to cook that well but will always be down to eat that much. I hung around basically long enough for my laundry to dry, and for me to figure out where I was going next — Dali, in Yunnan, on Thursday, July 6th!

Finally, I will leave you with one last piece of advice: in China, when passing through a security checkpoint (which is whenever you enter the metro; whenever you enter a train station; whenever you enter most bus stations; whenever you enter an airport, but not at the actual airport security lines) “Go on, take a sip of your water,” is well-recognized and widely-used security protocol.
Until next time! Which actually should be pretty soon, since it’s now July 13th and I’m incredibly behind on my blog posting schedule. And just behind on my writing in general. Whoops.

 

How to move your cat to Shanghai, in five-ish easy-ish steps

(originally posted on my chengdu blog!)

So, you’ve gone and moved yourself to Shanghai. You’ve been lured by the home of mainland China’s first Disneyland and its huge city-ness, and the fact that the expat social bubble is a purported 3 degrees of separation, instead of Chengdu’s 1.5 degrees.

In this big, new and exciting city, your only friend is your cat.

Except your cat is still in Chengdu.

Well, shit.

So you ask your friends with native-level Chinese to call the airlines to see how to take a cat on a plane. You also do some online research yourself, and find that airline policies are somewhat unanimous in their requirements for a) a vaccination record, b) a record of health, and c) a regulated cat-carrier.

I can do that, you think. Next weekend is a holiday. You’ll ask a friend to take the cat to the vet and get the papers, and then you’ll go to Chengdu yourself during the holiday. (You still have good friends in greater China, if just not in Shanghai, the optimistic part of your brain reminds you. You’re still a sad, lonely cat lady, the critical side of you maintains.)

Then your boss comes in. He asks if you can swap some days – he anticipates more work next week, during the holiday, and wants to know if you can take some days off this week instead; he doesn’t mind giving you Wednesday through Friday, which you realize is actually an extra day because he’s super understanding and you both know you’ll be making it up in overtime work later.

Uh.

Yes.

Yes, you will switch some days around.

So you hop back to your little pink standing desk and you immediately book a round trip to Chengdu. You have someone call the airline with your flight info, so that you can arrange to bring a cat on the plane.

The airline, in that terribly inefficient Chinese way, tells you, well, we can’t know if we’ll have space until the day before. 

So don’t like this last-minute uncertainty, so you troll the Baidu forums and you find a pet relocation service instead. The price they quote is about as much as you’d expect to pay – lower, even.

Okay, you think. I can do this.

You go home. You get dinner with the friend of a friend, and his friends of a friend, and again you find yourself thinking, I can do this. (And you absolutely can, but also when did your alcohol tolerance drop so low? You decide to walk home in the fresh air instead of cabbing, and when you get home you end up packing a little bit drunk. But you definitely remember to pack underwear, so all is well.)

The next morning, your flight to Chengdu is delayed. You’re zen. This is OK.

You get into Chengdu a couple of hours late, and multiple cabs refuse to take you to the apartment because you live too close. It’s OK. You’re still zen. Well, not so much zen as, you get it all out of your system by yelling at cabbies. One of them realizes, after a few rounds of arguing, and in an accusatory tone – 你不是我们四川人! (you’re not one of us Sichuanese!) – and you him Yeah, no duh, in English, because that’s where you are right now. And you get out of the cab.

In a moment of glorious, serendipitous, fuck you, the very next cab finally agrees to take you.

Vindication.

Later that night, you get mouth-burning, intestines-destroying hotpot with a friend. It feels great. Then you go to the writing club you’d been a member of for the past almost-two-years. It’s the last of the old guard’s last meeting, back from when the group began years before you even studied abroad in China, and you’re happy to have made it for this special night. You also feel light, stretched, breathing easier because you’ve finally written something that could be called a full story, even if it’s only five hundred words, for the first time in a few weeks. This is what you were made for, you remember.

But a heavy-eyed fatigue is plucking at your sleeves, because you haven’t had your thyroid medication for over two weeks and that old lethargy is slinking back in.

You don’t let that stop you. You’ve clipped the cat’s nails and glued some Chinese knockoff of SoftPaws onto them, so she can scratch her heart away but not ruin the furniture in your new apartment in Shanghai. After this miraculous feat, nothing can stop you.

So your first full morning in Chengdu, you drag the cat off to the vet clinic to get your papers.

They tell you, we can only do the vaccine here. Then you have to take the vaccine record to the pet hospital, and they’ll give you a health certificate that you can then take to a health control supervisor to give you another certificate.

But you should go to the health control supervisor first, to see what you need from the pet hospital. By the way, the clinic’s vet says, we’re going to date today’s vaccine to last month, because, well, you’re supposed to wait a month after the vaccine before getting this inspection.

“Ah. Got it,” you say; it’s funny how unbothered by this you are.

So you go to the health control supervisor. He says you need to take the cat to the hospital, then go back to him. Once you get the OK from him, the papers expire in 5 days, so plan well.

You understand.

You take a break and drop the cat at home, and go to get lunch with your friends. You ask one of them to call the pet relocation service and figure out what you need to do with them.

We’ll even come pick the cat up, they say after lunch. This seems incredibly convenient, but who are you to look a gift horse in the mouth?

It’s after lunch, while you’re at the pet hospital, when they ask for your address. You’re trying to talk to the hospital-vet, who’s putting your basic information into the system then asking for your payment. You’re simultaneously trying to give your address to the relocation service and arrange times for them to pick the cat up, and also times for the cat’s separate flight to Shanghai (Pudong airport, or Hongqiao airport?)

All this Chinese is taxing your tired brain, but what’s worse is the way the cat meows a deep, warbling, defeated noise and shakes in your arms while they stick a cotton swab up her bum and then also take some blood.

You wrap the cat safely in the carrier and she presses her face against your hand while you wait for the results.

The hospital vet comes back out. He calls you over.

There’s a problem, he says. Your cat’s antibodies aren’t up to count. (Pause, for a Chinese-English dictionary; antibodies?) You may have to take her in for another vaccine.

“Well…” you hedge, realizing what the clinic vet had done. “Well,” you whisper furtively. “Well, she technically just got the vaccine today.”

You feel sheepish. The hospital vet looks resigned and unsurprised. He tells you it doesn’t matter what the other vets wrote, but the cat’s blood shows the vaccine hasn’t started working yet. Come back in twenty days. You’ll have to find another way. It’s clear he’s not going to fudge the records as your “other way”.

You deflate. You try to think of what you can do. You feel disappointed, too–disappointed in yourself. Here is perhaps China’s only by-the-rules straight-laced vet, and all you can do is think, god, this is annoying.

So you message the pet relocation people. It can’t happen tomorrow, you tell them, because the doctor won’t approve a health certificate. You try push your anticipation away and accept the fact that you won’t have your cat for another month. It’s OK. You’re zen.

And then –

Oh, the pet relocation people reply. Oh, you don’t need that, they assure you. We take care of that stuff. We’ll give it to you – and here, they use the ambiguous verb 弄 nong, so you don’t quite know what they’ll be doing in order to get this for you.

You double check with the vet – in hindsight, this was not the best thing to do. The vet reads the conversation, and looks at you. That works, he says with a shrug. The company is going to get “papers” for you.

You feel vaguely ashamed, like you’ve disappointed this hospital vet.

But on the other hand, the cat’s going to Shanghai with you tomorrow.

And really, you’re nothing but wholly happy about that.


The pet relocation people come an hour early, arriving promptly at 8am. You struggle to put pants on. You aren’t wearing a bra. The cat crawls under your bed, squeaking her fear, and you have to crawl after her and physically drag her out.

You feel like you’re stuffing her into the cat carrier like someone trying to stuff a sleeping bag back into its thing–you know it fits, that there should be space, but little parts keep poking out. Like the cat’s head, or her paw, or her tail as she tries to make another break for it.

She whines pitifully. You take deep, calming breaths as she’s taken away.

You spend your day distracting yourself. It’s easy enough to do, as incredibly sunny and warm as it is outside. You get brunch with friends. You get some work done with a friend in Starbucks.

Then you go home, you finish packing, and you eagerly get to the airport.

… Your flight is delayed. (So is your cat’s. You’re on two separate flights.)

On the plane, you spend the whole time chatting with the Chinese man next to you because you can’t sleep. He asks a lot of questions about the American economy, and you know none of the answers. At various points, he tries to convince you you should get Chinese boyfriend and live in China. He’s an okay conversationalist. But he isn’t your cat.

When you get off the plane, you make a break for the baggage inquiry. They don’t know where your cat is. You bounce between baggage inquiries and general information before the phone number you’ve been given finally picks up the call.

The cat is somewhere else entirely: at the cargo hold for Sichuan Airlines.

You wait an hour for a cab.

The cab driver is pissed that you are going literally a five minute drive away–since he’s been waiting five hours to pick someone up–and you argue with each other but he ends up taking you anyway.

He doesn’t know the address, so he puts it into his GPS. Even then, he struggles to find the place, but he tells you, you’re in my cab and it’s my responsibility to take you to your destination (负责到底.) So he drives in circles and asks everyone around you where 300 Suhang Lu is; even though it’s past midnight, everyone around you is active – wearing hard hats, loading giant trucks, unloading large pallets of things in the light rain…

You think, where the fuck am I going to find my cat in the middle of all this industrial shit?

The cab driver pulls up to a gate. A big transport truck rolls out of the drive, and you’re told your cat is somewhere inside this large cargo hold. The driver says he’ll wait for you, but not for long.

So you sprint inside, splashing through puddles to get to the office in the way back of the yard. To the left, separated by tall chain-link fences, is the airport runway: out of the corner of your eye, you see a plane taxiing to somewhere.

You shove your passport at someone in the office; you sign papers without knowing what you’re signing, really.

Then you bring them back out, past a couple of trucks, past a bunch of pallets being unloaded, into a huge gaping space half-filled with cargo.

CAT! you say desperately. I just need my cat.

Then you see her.

She’s curled up in her carrier, which has been wrapped in netting and taped up. She isn’t moving, but she meows piteously when you pick her up.

Thank god the cab hasn’t left yet. You get in with the cat.

For the thirty minute cab ride, there’s an awful combination of pity and empathy (the cat doesn’t meow anymore, just rubs her head against the finger you squeeze in to pet her with), and also the cabbie’s complete disregard for anything resembling a speed limit – well, you want to throw up a little.

And then it’s all over.

The cat is home.

(and you only puked a tiny bit.)

The Wuyi Compromise

May 1st. Also known as Wuyi. Also known as yet another Chinese national holiday I tried to travel during.

The weekend of May 1st, Alena (fun-employed traveling extraordinaire), Allison, and I made plans to return to Zhoushan, Zhejiang for 2-ish days. Instead of heading to the Dongji islands, we wanted to go find the abandoned fishing village of Houtouwan on Shengshan Island in the Shengsi islands. Shengshan is an island connected to Gouqi island. I’d tell you more about Shengshan, but we never actually got there.

Before our trip even began, Alena and I had to buy bus+boat tickets. Information online was very conflicted, so I ended up going to the bus station on the Thursday before the holiday weekend to see if I could buy tickets in advance for Saturday.

I could not. (Compromise #1, if we’re counting. We might be.)

I was told I had to return on Friday morning to get Saturday tickets from Shanghai Nanpu Daqiao Bus Station to Gouqi Island. Since the bus station began selling tickets at 6:30 AM, I got up early and got a Didi (the awful terrible Chinese version of Uber) at about 6:20.

Now, Nanpu Daqiao means “South Pu (river) Bridge”; the bus station is located under the bridge that crosses the river from Puxi (west of the Pu river) to Pudong (east of the Pu river). I live in Puxi, where Nanpu Daqiao station is, and yet I inexplicably found that my Didi driver was crossing the Nanpu bridge.

“Did you go the wrong way?” I asked the driver.

“No,” he insisted, even though we were crossing the bridge into Pudong, where the Nanpu Daqiao bus station was not.

“Um. Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

And lo and behold, the man ended up making a huge U-turn that more than doubled the price of my fare; eventually, he got so lost he straight up told me, “Maybe you should get out and get into a different cab.”

This was too much for a pre-7:00AM coffee-less Mary to handle. I got out and got into a different cab, but only with much ill-tempered grumbling. My new cab driver (not a Didi driver, but an actual cabbie) also grumbled, but that was because we were literally 1km away from the Nanpu Daqiao station.

But of course, I thought, not yet realizing this was about how the rest of the weekend would go.

Compromise #2 (We’re officially counting.)

Alena met me at Nanpu Daqiao station while I was still in line, having just taken a very early morning train into Shanghai. We got to the counter at around 7:15-7:20 AM.

All the tickets from Shanghai to Gouqi Island for Saturday morning were sold out. We were told, however, that we could buy Shanghai to Shengsi Island tickets, and then on Shengsi Island we would have enough time to buy tickets from Shengsi to Gouqi. It added an extra step, but what else could we do? We bought the Shanghai to Shengsi tickets.

“Hey,” the lady at the ticket counter said as we turned to go. “Weren’t you the girl who came yesterday too?”

Compromise #3

Then, of course, we got to go do the fun stuff: since Alena and I were planning on camping, we had some gear to buy. A tent, a camp stove and gas, some camp pots and pans, and some food that we could reliably prepare over the camp stove. I also wanted to take the opportunity to buy a lightweight sleeping bag for myself.

In China, the best place to buy all of your outdoor needs at relatively low prices is Decathlon, which is a French outdoors store. (It is huge). Alena, my friend Hannah, and I all went to the nearest Decathlon.

The nearest Decathlon did not have a sleeping bag in the temperatures and size that I wanted, but one of the store workers helped locate another Decathlon that did. So Hannah went home, and Alena and I went off to the Other Decathlon to buy things.

That night, we packed everything, divvying up shared equipment and 2.5 days’ worth of food.

Compromise #4 

At the port where we were to board the ferry to Shengsi Island, our small thing of gas was confiscated at the security check.

“Well,” Alena said as we considered what food we still had. “We’ve still got the avocados, bread, and peanut butter. Maybe we can eat chick peas cold.”

Compromise #5

On Shengsi Island, we waited in line to buy tickets from Shengsi to Gouqi. Because priority is giving to Gouqi residents looking to go home, tickets for “waidi” people — or outsiders — don’t go on sale until 10 minutes before the ferry leaves. That morning, there were 3 ferries — 9ish AM, 12ish, and 2ish.

Alena and I waited towards the front of a cramped, snaking line of at least 100 people from 9 AM to 12 PM, only to be told 10 minutes before the 9ish AM ferry that there were no available tickets for outsiders. At 12 PM, it was the same story.

Then tickets opened up for Huaniao Island, which was an island we didn’t know existed more or less until they started selling tickets for it. Alena and I pulled out our phones and started researching Huaniao. We found very little information; Alena climbed the barrier to get into line for Huaniao anyway, while I stayed in the Gouqi line with our things. We were not the only ones with this idea; the Huaniao line had grown from about 5 people to 20-30.

“Huaniao tickets sold out!” the woman at the counter insisted when Alena neared the front.

Shit.

But then she kept selling tickets, and Alena pressed forward (in a very literal physical way – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: national holidays are no time to be too polite in China!) to get to the counter.

We got the tickets. Quickly, I grabbed our things and climbed the barrier after Alena. We skipped the security check into the port proper, then ran towards the doors that lead out to the dock.

They were closed.

“You’re too late!” an employee said.

“We literally just bought the tickets!” Alena yelled, and they yielded; they reopened the doors, and subsequent dockhands waved us impatiently in the direction of the boat. We ran

On the boat, we were lucky enough to get seated by perhaps the only woman on the boat who’d actually intended to go to Huaniao. She filled us in on the deets: Huaniao was a small, one-street town.

“Oh good,” said another girl, who’d made the same last-minute hop that Alena and I had. She turned to her boyfriend. “We can just slowly walk along that one street until we find a place to stay.”

I thought about mine and Allison’s troubles finding a unbooked room on Dongji, and wished them luck.

And so, finally… 

Alena and I made it to an island in the Shengsi islands, if not the island with the abandoned fishing village.

Huaniao was indeed a one-street town; that street, like most of the buildings, was still under construction too. There was a Souvenirs shop that lacked souvenirs and also people to work there; there was a tea shop/cafe that was devoid of anything resembling food, people, tea, or coffee.

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Huaniao: Tourist Destination in the making 

After exploring the one-street, two(ish)-beach town for a little bit–and stopping to get lunch and a run-down of the island from a sweet Chinese family who manned a convenience store–Alena and I paid a dude to drive us up to the lighthouse on the other side of the island.

On the other side of the island, we watched the sunset.

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Sunset on Huaniao, where we were, for at least 10 minutes at a time, completely alone for perhaps the first time in all of our being in China. 

Then camped out in the lighthouse courtyard. Alena had peanut butter and bread for dinner, and I had avocado and bread. (In the morning, Alena had avocado and bread for breakfast, while I had peanut butter and bread. RIP camp stove gas.)

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And then, in the morning, we woke up at 5 to see the sunrise; saw that it was a little bit cloudy, and promptly went back to bed.

 

In the morning, Alena and I threw in the towel, and began the slow journey back to Shanghai.

 

 

Flotation Meditation, by a Recent Convertee

 

(written April 26)

Floatasian.

Is it Swedish wordplay on flotation, or just a Swedish word? Or is it a nod to its location in Asia?

I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time pondering this question today. Or at least, it felt like a considerable amount of time — or maybe it was none at all. I sort of lost sense of time.

My musings aside, Floatasian is the name of a sensory deprivation therapy spa n Shanghai, founde dby two Swedish brothers. The essential concept is taht you float for a bout an hour in a dark chamber filled with extremely salty water. It is meant to be relaxing, meditative, restorative, and a bunch of other physical and mental –ives.

Fair warning: I have drank the Koolaid. It is all of those things.*

 

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the Floatasian flotation chamber 

Continue reading Flotation Meditation, by a Recent Convertee