Posted by: Megan | September 13, 2007

“Difference Doesn’t = Wrong!”

I’m sorry for my lack of appearance on the blog of late – post China
recovery takes time, you know! I’m actually on ‘blog leave’ – if there is
such a thing? Until my return in the Melbourne office (mid October) my posts
will be random ….

Ah China, what an experience that was – being back there!

When I travel outside of Australia I’m all for being open minded, and
adopting the motto; “difference doesn’t = wrong”, however … at times …
it is bloody hard – I have to admit!

Simply going shopping in China was probably one of the big “differences” I had to get use to! Until Beijing I had decided not to worry about purchasing anything as knew I had ample time at the end of the trip in Beijing to get myself a new summer wardrobe – that way not having to carry any of it prior hand.

On one of the mornings after the trip had ended I met my friend Cindy at Yashow Market (Beijing) – for what I had hoped to be a successful purchasing event. I arrived early, and while waiting for her, decided to have a sneak preview at what was on offer. The “sneak preview” though came at a cost of its’ own ….

“Watchie ! Watchie ! Looka! Looka ! Beautiful watchie ! Cheep ! Cheep! .
Looka ! Looka! Cheep! Cheep! Give you good Plice ! For you, my best
fliend, I give you vely special plice! 500 kuai !”

And this is what was simply said to me in passing (or trying to) the watch
area to the next – only to hear the same about shoes (“Lady Lady you wanta
shoes …”) to clothing (almost dressed upon you if you don’t walk past quick
enough) to EVERYTHING the market sells, really!

But that’s the fun of markets in places like China, the whole bargaining,
the whole “difference” factor – although it becomes wearing … and if truth
be known … wore me out to the point I just could not be bothered to “looka
looka” …. the summer wardrobe will have to wait …. 🙂 Like I said
though – that’s the experience of being in a market – somewhere like China.

I did somewhat struggle, however, with trying again for that summer wardrobe
in an actual shopping mal in Beijing after the market experience – thinking the experience may be a little more relaxing. Relaxing? As an Australian, I can best equate this shopping experience to blow flies on the back of a hot and sweaty back, needing a can of aeroguard sprayed good and hard! Every time I went into any shop – be it
a bakery ( I know I know … the dumplings are great but after a while …)
or a clothing shop the shop assistants would hover over me like a pesky fly …
seriously “different” … and seriously something I had to keep reminding
myself that is was not “wrong” every time I took a step I had someone not only
just next to me, but almost on me, as I looked at the goods!

Now when I was actually in Beijing last week, I had thought about blogging
this then and there, however, reluctant as not to seem negative about the experiences
– and honestly – I am, like I said open minded and see the humour and
difference in western vs eastern equation of doing things! When I received
an email though from one of my passengers on the China trip, Felicity
Glennie-Holmes, who went onto Japan after the trip, I could not help
re-think blogging the whole shopping experience in Beijing as … what
Felicity has written just (to me) hits the nail perfectly on the head as to how “difference doesn’t = wrong” thing – every country has it’s own way!

Now, I am rather biased here, having lived in Japan for several years and
just loved it – and why I loved so much what Felicity wrote:

“But the best thing about Japan was the customer service, it was such a
plesant change after China.

Kind of like this:

Oh, thank you so much for coming into our shop. Thank you so, so much.
Please, accept our thanks, please do, accept them, oh yes, even though you
have only looked around and fingered our merchandise without purchasing
anything. We are truly honoured that you have merely window-shopped. I am
not worthy of the time you have spent wasting with me here in this moment.
I am bowing low in order to abase myself before you, and raise you above
my own self. Here, I am bowing even lower, and I will bow again and again
and again as you exit the store embarrassedly, and I will cherish the
memory of our time together and hope that you wil one day return to bestow
us with the shining light of your foreign glory once more.

Hilarious!”

I am now hanging out in Venice Beach, California. While western life here
does not provide me with the hilarity I adore about travelling in the likes
of Asia, I am all the same loving the refreshing change in everything (my
god the weather is amazing here) before I head off on my cycle Morocco trip
(with Intrepid Travel) on the weekend – I am not leading it though … that
could end in disaster if I did ;)!!!

Until soon again,
Megan 🙂

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Posted by: Megan | September 4, 2007

Mao’s Big Brown Couch

In creating this blog, my theory was that a big brown couch (whether or not
it actually be brown) would come to manifest its way into every traveler’s
world at some point in time – allowing the raw essence and grandeur of
travel (and life in general) to be celebrated on it!

My biggest find this time round in China was not a steal purchase at the
Silk Markets but probably the best actual Big Brown Bouch I will come to
spot in my travels – Mao’s very own one! The other day I finally met up
with my good friend Bruce – it had been a good two years since I we last
met, skyping one another in the interim! Bruce, and I use to be tour
leaders together here in China – back in 2000! He now lives in Hong Kong,
and made the effort to come to Beijing to catch up with me – amongst many
others! Bruce had lined up a photo shoot at The Red Capitol Club for his
own business (photos with an edge) – so I could not resist tagging along
with him as the ‘assistant’ photographer – introducing myself as a writer at
the same time! It seeemed the perfect way to spend a late afternoon in
Beijing – discovering more of the city’s hidden gems! And, what a find this
place was indeed!

Mao’s Big Brown Couch Read More…

Posted by: Megan | September 4, 2007

Hutong Magic

I am flabbergasted by Beijing and how it has changed. About 5 years ago here
my friends were all tour leaders and we were eating out every night , ending
in the clubs of Sanlitun nan jie ( which incidently has been completely
raised to the ground). Many of my friends are still in Beijing or around
the region, but things have changed. Life has moved from the clubs and bars
into the backlanes known in Beijing as Hutongs, where life dances along to
a very different beat. They are running cooking schools, art workshops and
hosting photographic exhibitions. let me give you the lowdown of the
weekend I just had…

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Posted by: Megan | September 3, 2007

“Wo Ai Ni”

Above: The fun and games of spending time in the waiting room at Taiyuan Train Station! 

Would you go to your local train station, sing loudly; “I love you” in one
of the waiting rooms – you know, just to kill time? Attracting the
attention of the entire room – should you even dare to? More-over – would
you be thought of as a “hit” – in the process of humming a tune? I
wouldn’t (normally), and my guess would be that you wouldn’t – but then I
could be quite wrong …

Wo Ai Ni

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Posted by: Megan | September 3, 2007

Just a thought …

Crossing the road by foot in China (even when the light is green) is just
another challenge – for foreigners like me! For my own safety and sanity I
find that snuggling in between the locals as they walk across their mad
roads – is definitely the way to go. And, if there are no locals to ‘use’ as
padding then surely I must be seen as an Australian Olympian who has arrived
in Beijing a year early – sprinting across the road at full speed for gold!

Do you remember me mentioning finding on the menu at the Yinbo Hotel Cafe
(in Shanghai); “Our Quality Tea Leads to Relaxation”? Never mind if not,
but the thing is, I have been thinking about should the Chinese really be an
entrepreneural nation how they could be making a killing (in fortune)
selling this tea to foreigners when visiting China for encounters like road
crossings – should it actually work! “Work”? Even if it didn’t, like most
products, the surely the pyschological aspect would have some effect …

And, not just for the roads but for pretty much everything. Like take for
example checking out of a hotel here – what SHOULD be a simple proceedure!
Ah yes, where was the “Quality Tea That Leads To Relaxation” when I needed
it recently during my trip? When it can take up to or more than 30 minutes
to check out of a hotel! If I had had a cup in preparation (in my room)
before heading down to the reception desk I’d be like bring on the “Meiyou”
(meaning no, can’t do, won’t do, can’t be bothered, go away as you are a
foreigner and I just do not want to deal with you … MEIYOU!) that is said
time in and time out! With a cup of quality tea leading to relaxation I’d
be able to deal better with the time it simply takes to hand in my room key
(10 minutes), have housekeeping swear that one of my passengers has stolen a
plastic coat hanger from their room (10 more minutes), explaining that they
really did not take the 10 cent coathanger and would prefer luggage space
for a replica Terracotta Warrior (further 10 minutes), and hand over our
luggage for safe keeping until we come back and head off to the train
station (a final 10 minutes)!

Yes, a fortune there to be made – someone just needs to see the value within
the Chinglish of the cafe menu of the Yinbo Hotel! As a leader, I’d for
sure have a couple of packets for all my passengers to add to their lovely
blue Intrepid Travel Responsible Travel Bags given out at the group meeting.
Amongst the China guidebook, chopsticks, and itinerary would be …
several packets of “Our Quality Tea That Leads To Relaxtion”! Perfect for
leading styles like mine. Have myself and the group miss the local bus (as
I did) to one of China’s great historical sights? No problem – leader and
group drinks some tea! Passengers have squatting anxiety on trip? No
problem – they drink some tea! Trying to breath as we sight-see China with
10 Billion locals chain smoking and spitting on the streets as we go? No
problem – leader and group drinks some tea! Stuck in a taxi who can’t speak
English and can’t read the Chinese directions handed over to him – ending up
on the other side of Beijing? No problem – drink some tea!

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Posted by: Megan | August 30, 2007

One World One Dream …

that is the huge sign that can be seen all over Beijing – in reference to
the up and coming 2008 Olympics. My group and I waited ages tonight for 3
taxis, only to end up with 3 drivers who struggled to find our Duck
restaurant (for last night dinner) – with mind you business cards displaying
the address and map of the particular restaurant in Chinese! I think it was
my animated actions of a duck followed by actions of eating the duck that
finally pushed our driver first over the finishing line – to 235 Dongzhimen
Street. And then at that very point I wondered what the ‘one dream’
actually was. Was it for taxi drivers to brush up on their navigation
skills of Beijing – or will Olympians, come this time next year, have to
action out their sport in the back seat of a taxi for their driver to take
them to their destination? I can just picture it now – breastroke to
shot-put to diving actions madly going on inside red Beijing taxis all over
the city as the meters tick over, the drivers look further disgruntled and
their chaing smoking continues, and “wo bu dong” (I don’t understand) is
said so many times by these drivers that each and every Olympian takes away
at least one fluent phrase – if not a gold medal! It’s a mess out there.
Congested traffic, Olympic sites that don’t even look near complete, and
just enough English spoken to understand the basics – with anything beyond
that just being too hard – so expect to hear “sorry, bye”! But that said,
of a country that could easily take on the persona of one big ashtray it is
a rather hilarious experience travelling here!

So it has been a long few days – arriving into Beijing – trekking the Great
Wall for two days in the heat – the final night dinner tonight and now …
it is near midnight and this here leader come blogger is about to fall
asleep on the keyboard. Plenty more to write about when fresh with coffee
in the next few days ….


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Posted by: Megan | August 28, 2007

Does anyone need an old Mao Clock?

I simply ask because there are streets full of them outside this cafe (Sakura) where I am – in Pingyao! Now that I have my bargaining skills a little more down-pat I am sure I can get a good deal. But you have to be quick as I am out of here at 3pm! In fact, there are also hordes of local Chinese tourists outside as well (sorry I am NOT bargaining for one of those though). Guides raising their flags, with their respective groups trailing behind (cluttering up the old ancient streets of Pingyao as they go), wearing their same color hats to match the guide’s flag – the red hatted group amongst the yellow amongst the blue amongst the … Intrepid Travel group who disperse themselves from any such groups to go and wander where these hatted tribes dare not go! We (well I certainly do) like back- backstreets – away from the crowds, and the sound of the megaphones, to then venture into lesser wandered streets where the locals exist – not selling Mao Clocks and other useless trash! I hope my group do not feel like they are deprived of a hat to symbolize they are a group united in the madness of China? I am actually thinking of buying some for their outing on the Great Wall of China. Red or yellow? I guess it will depend which color I can get 13 of!

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Posted by: Megan | August 23, 2007

“How much money do you need to imitate the value”!

I’m in Xian, and I am getting the hang of finding these internet cafes now –
just need to head in the direction of where smoke permeates out from within
a dark seedy building where the youth of Xian frequent the establishment,
and those loud computer games they play can be heard out on the pavement!
While no passport is required here, there is however a posing question at
the front desk; “How much money do you need to imitate the value”! God, are
they on the me already? How do they know I can ONLY communicate via
charades? “Imitate” – um … how does one “imitate” low value? Where is the
closest tailor? Can I have custom-made an outfit with big bold 1yuan notes
all over it (shame about the cool cottonPJs but …)? Does rolling into a
ball in front of the desk constitute as a coin?

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Posted by: Megan | August 21, 2007

Our Quality Tea Lead to Relaxation

I have just (power) walked 30 minutes from my hotel to access the closest
internet. The heat and humidity (humidity estimated by my calculation at
150% and rising) outside (in Shanghai) is intense -even at 7.30pm. I
almost contemplated ducking into one of the department stores on Nanjing Lu
en-route here to make a splurge of a purchase – a cool cotton pair of PJs –
apparantly by the looks of things – they are all the fashion out there!
Along with (for sale on the streets) red neon devil’s horns on a headband
and, neon-glowing-sparkling skate additions to ANY pair of footwear
(according to the locals) – even Crocs! Serious fashion-goings on in
Shanghai these days! So I thought that a pair of cool cotton PJs be hand
really – given the heat and all! Just roll out of bed and start the day
leading as is and equally roll back into bed at the end of the day -as is!
With several 17 odd million people out there at the moment (no bloody wonder
it’s hotter than hot) I am quite positive that my choice in wears would be
of a considerable range – given the population, and all and their differing
tastes! Oh the temptations, the temptations … In the meantime my feet
feel like they are about to explode and grow further in size due to the
swelling … Cool cotton slippers needed to match any impulse purchase?
Hmmm …

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Posted by: Megan | August 19, 2007

A Swift Welcome Back to China

Well well well – what a familiar feeling this is – back using very local
Chinese internet cafes! So dark in here – it is like the outside world does
not exist … The local boys are chain- smoking away all around me while
playing computer games – their Saturday plans look well established! In the
meantime I am struggling big time to find the letters on this well worn
keyboard – I now wish I had a better relationship with the keyboard. Hmmm –
so this is going to be hard! I have to thank the boy next to me though – god
knows how I would have managed to start this computer up otherwise – with my
Chinese password and all! Life returns to being just one constant game of
charades … There is a lot to be said about looking puzzled, I have to say
– my expressions are taking me far (so far). Further than my typing that is
for sure … Walking here was an interesting experience also – I was given
vague directions to this internet cafe which took me through some great
local streets along the way … all sorts of fab local food and fresh fruit
– I must return!

Simply getting off the flight yesterday was enough to tell me I was back in
China. The push and shove once the aircraft stopped, by seemingly locals,
to get off the plane and through customs was on for young and old. I have
never understood the rush – at some point we all come to a halt either at
the customs line up or waiting for our baggage and seem to exit at about the
same time in the end anyhow! I can’t say it would have anything to do with
the up and coming Olmypics because this has been my experience in China
years ago! Simply checking into my room was enough to tell me I was back in
China … the airconditioning did not work and so I asked to have it looked
at (it is really really hot and humid here in Shanghai) … and so there I
sat and watched several men dressed in their blue trade-uniform with their
tool kit and ladder to try and fix the situation … The result? Let’s just
say that feeling cool is going to be about as cool as the beers get here –
and that’s not very! I did try one more time to have the aircon looked at
and the result? “Sorry, bye”! OK … Yes, I am back in China! Otherwise
the hotel is in a great location near the Bund and the rooms are clean and
comfy (gosh – last night also reminded me though of how hard the mattress is
– good for the back?). The motto of the Yinbo hotel, according to a sign in
my room is “We work hard to see your smile”! Love it … I tell you .. keep
that airconditioning from working and then they will be on the right track
with me – that is for sure ;)!!!

I am spending my time re-exploring the Shanghai I last knew back in 2002 …
so far it looks the same with a few more space-like buildings popping up
here there are everywhere. Still crowded with 1000s walking in any
direction not looking where they are going (bit like the traffic), still
being asked if I want to buy a cheap watch “lady lady look look” … I spent
my evening sitting at an outdoor restaurant on the Bund soaking in the
atmosphere at the same time as a coctail, looking out on Huangpu River where
glitzy tacky tourist boats went up and down! The sidewalk was crowded with
mainly locals – either residents or local Chinese tourists. It is a
stunning area to hang out at night – especially after a stinking hot day as
it is pleasant at night with a breeze – a huge relief!

So now, my group have started to come in dribs and drabs with the group
meeting to be held tonight and then it is all go go go …

Reporting live from within the heat, humidity, smoke and madness of China


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