Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 32

Went to China and Missed the Memo on Easter Dresses

I’ve got to hurry up and write this blog post about our hilarious trip to China because we have another
trip coming up this weekend that has the potential to be even funnier and I don’t want to mix up my crazy.  We have planned a weekend wine tasting in Spain, (Easy, right?  No problem, right?), and I’ve been online for 8 hours trying to book wine-tasting tours in English and I am not having much luck. Actually, zero luck.  So, Mr. Big, who is in Istanbul right now, has no idea that he is going to be touring wineries for the next 72 hours in Spanish.  This promises to be awesome!

Ok, so.  China.  Had never been.  Always wanted to go.  This is all I knew about the country, itself:

1.        Ex-pats who get transferred to China live only among other ex-pats, not out in the wild.  Also,      they have a million servants who do everything from drive them around to cook their food to wipe their butts.

2.        The Great Wall is there.

3.       They eat with chopsticks.

4.       It’s a communist country.

5.       Whatever happened in Tiananmen Square was bad.  Fuzzy on the details, (like how to spell Tainanmen, which I just looked up).

This is what I knew about the Chinese people as a whole:

1.        They make lousy tourists.  They travel in packs of 200 and swarm all over monuments taking pictures so no one else can ever take a picture without at least 10 of them in it.

2.       For some inexplicable reason, they all wear rain hats.  All of the time.

3.       There are 800 kajillion of them.

4.       They are taking over the world.

5.       They are awesome at making cheap, reproduction shit that falls apart the second time you use/wash it or else poisons your babies with lead paint.

This was the extent of my knowledge and that’s really not a whole heck of a lot to go on, but you know I’m always up for an adventure and I really don’t care if I make a fool of myself as long as it does not escalate into an international incident.

The first day a person from the West lands in China is kind of a wash because you will be so tapped out from jet lag you could have landed on the moon and not known the difference.  Or cared.  You will climb in a taxi at the airport and tell the driver the name of your hotel.  He will not understand you.  You will pull out your iPhone and show him your hotel confirmation screen which will also be written in Chinese and he will take you there and you will sleep like a baby who has consumed a fifth of vodka.

The next morning, (or afternoon or evening or whenever you wake up from your coma), you will stumble out of your bed and into the bathroom where you will become puzzled and it will take your jet-lagged brain a few moments to figure out the toilet.  My toilet had a remote control panel on the wall that allowed for washing, pulsating and drying both my front and back unmentionables.  In a panic, I
quickly scanned around for regular old toilet paper which I was much relieved to see was right next to the toilet where it was supposed to be.  Having taken care of business,   I ran back into the bedroom to wake Mr. Big and get my camera.

“GET UP!  Come look at the freakin’ toilet!  It says it cleans your wand!  Get up, get up!”  And so life goes in our relationship.  The poor man was like, “huh? Whuh?  Do you have any Tylenol?”  To make matters worse, our computers had been hijacked by the People’s Republic.  Imagine opening up your computer and not being able to access Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.  Your computer works just fine, but every time you try to access anything except Yahoo, you get the following message:

“The page you are trying to access is rebooting.  Your patience is appreciated.”

So, you wait and you wait aaaaaaand nothing happens.  Nothing.   And since my email is through Google, I had no email access either.  It was like being transported back to 1985.  I feel sorry for the Chinese.  What is the point of having a computer if you can’t get on Facebook?  My laptop went back into my suitcase and it didn’t resurface until we crossed the border into Cambodia, where, by the way, all of those forbidden websites magically reappeared.

We only had one day to spend in Shanghai and it was more than enough.  Shanghai is like any really big, overcrowded city.   It had neighborhoods and shopping districts and a very nice waterfront along the Yangtze River.  We stayed in the Xintiandi district at the Langham Hotel here:

I did start to notice, though, some trends.  We visited quite a few neighborhoods and the shopping was quite upscale.  Like, really upscale.  The streets and malls were filled with upper, upper echelon shops.  No Target here, my friends.  No Macy’s.  It’s all Louis Vuitton and Chanel, all the time.  Now, I know full well that the Chinese flock to these kinds of shops while they are on vacation.  God knows I have watched thousands of them pack into the Coach boutique at the Galerie Lafayette in Paris while I am there shopping the twice-yearly sales simply trying to buy sheets.  But I only thought they shopped like that while they were on vacation.  If they can get this shit at home, why were they like crazy people in Lausanne trying to buy their Rolex watches and Bally bowling shoes?

Also, I started to notice the dress code.  It was raining that day in Shanghai and yet, a large number of the girls/ladies were wearing dresses and high heels.  These were not work dresses, mind you, they were full-on twirly sundresses with four-inch strappy sandals.  Hmm, I was thinking.  Do the Chinese go to church on Thursdays?  What’s the deal with the party clothes?

We moved on the next day to Beijing where I was hoping to see a little more native culture.  Really, Shanghai could have been Chicago if everyone in Chicago was tiny, skinny, had black hair and wore an Easter dress.  We stayed in The Peninsula Hotel in Beijing here: which was fine and very close to, you guessed it, more upscale shopping.  I don’t know where the Chinese are getting all of their money but I can tell you that they like spending it.  If it has a pricey brand name plastered on it, the Chinese will buy it.

I am so used to Switzerland where everyone is very conservative and flashing your money around is the height of tackiness, (I dare you to find a Swiss person who owns a bright, red car or a diamond-encrusted anything), that it was disconcerting seeing an entire population walking around like living billboards.  I didn’t even know Ralph Lauren made a shirt with a polo player that big on it.  The logo was bigger than the head of the guy wearing the shirt.

Beijing was shaping up to be another Shanghai, so Mr. Big arranged a private tour the next day to seek
out some “culture”.  Our guide was named Cherry, which wasn’t her real name but she said we couldn’t pronounce her name so we all just went with “Cherry”.  Not Really Cherry showed up in the lobby of the Peninsula hotel  in a rain hat even though it was sunny and hot and she was thoroughly perplexed by Mr. Big’s email that had requested a trip to a flea market before hitting the Forbidden City.

“Why you want to go to Frea Mahket, Missah Beeg?  Ees not so nice praice.  Not so nice spot.  Ees furr of tings made in China.”

“Well, Cherry, that’s the point.  We might find a Chinese treasure of some kind to take back to Switzerland.  This is exactly the kind of praice, er, place, that my wife and I like to visit.”

“Ok, ok, but I terring you that you not gonna fine anyting you rike.  But we go because you are boss.”

Cherry was actually correct and we didn’t find anything there to buy.  It was indeed all made in China crap.  I did find, however, a cool vintage poster of Chairman Mao but Mr. Big talked me out of it.  Really, Trailing Spouse?  And what, pray tell, are you going to do with a poster of Chairman Mao’s big fat face on it once you get home?  Hang it in the chalet next to the snowshoes?  Save your yuan for something you really like.  He (and Cherry) were right, so I left empty-handed.

We left the “antique” market much to Cherry’s delight and made our way to the Forbidden City, which is a series of palaces and temples inside a high wall inside the center of Beijing, where the emperor, his
wife, all of his concubines and his 5,000 kids used to live.  Now, I am no historian but I am pretty sure that this is where China’s overpopulation problem started.  If the leader of a country is screwing a couple of hundred women and producing thousands of children, can there be any doubt that this kind of example will lead to overpopulation?  I think not.

The entrance to the Forbidden City was where the concept of 1.4 billion Chinese really hit home.  I think they were all at the Forbidden City that day.  The line to get in the place at the General Admission area was staggering.  Keep in mind it was about 100 degrees F and bright sunshine.  Every single person, except the non-Chinese tourists, was either carrying an umbrella or wearing a sun hat.  I asked Cherry why they hated the sun so much.  She looked at me, literally, shocked.

“Why, Meesus Big!  We want to be just rike you!  White, white, white rike snow!”

Anyone who knows me is surely laughing right now, because I am very dark complected.  Thanks to my Cherokee great-grandma, I am the color of Bananas Foster all year round.  I held out my hand and put it against Cherry’s, which was the color of kindergarten paste.  Well, I said, “it’s working!”

The umbrellas and the hats are a cultural thing.  Y’all, the women even wore fingerless gloves during the day, sometimes up to their elbows, to avoid the sun.  I get it.  To be tanned in China means one is a laborer or a field worker and is out in the sun all day.  Ergo, they all, even the men, carry umbrellas or wear hats to stay “white rike snow”.   This didn’t explain the Easter dresses, however.  The only explanation I could get out of Cherry as to why everybody was dressed to the nines was, “Fashion?”  If someone reading this blog can explain this phenomenon to me, it would be greatly appreciated.

I did learn, though, that the Chinese have a sense of humor.  A couple walked by us who were obviously Chinese but were talking to each other very loudly in English.  Not Really Cherry glanced at them and said to us under her breath, “they bananas”.

Huh?  Bananas?  I looked around for a fruit seller thinking Cherry needed a little mid-morning pick-me-up.

Cherry shook her head at my confusion and said, “what we call American Chinese tourists.  Bananas.  Yerrow on outside, white on inside.  Rike bananas.”

OMG, Cherry, please.  If you EVER go to America, DO NOT call anyone a banana.  In fact, best to stay clear of fruit-related jokes altogether.

The Forbidden City was pretty, but it was so hot and so crowded that we zipped on through at about 3 times the normal speed only stopping to take pictures of the roof tiles.  Yes, I had found a Chinese “treasure” that I wanted to hunt down, buy and take home.  Roof tiles, sometimes called roof charms,
are a train of little animals found on the corner of buildings that signify how important the people inside might be.  At the back of the train there is always a dragon, then a series of 1 to 10 other animals and then, in the front of the line, a little Chinese man riding a phoenix.  I loved them!  Cherry, where do I find these roof charms?  Again, with the horrified stare.

“Meesus Big!  These are for emperor and his priests and his famiry.  No for you and me.  No way.  Onry found here in Forbidden City and at buildings arong the Great Wall.”

“Cherry, sweetie, I don’t want to buy these actual ones!  I’m not talking about monument robbing here!  This is the land of reproductions.  Surely there must be some factory somewhere churning out these little cuties by the millions, no?”

Apparently not.  Fake Foo dogs, yes.  Fake Ming vases, yes.  Fake roof charms, no.  I made a note to google them as soon as I got out of China and got my Google back.

That night we went to the Calle de Shopping, which is a little inside joke in our family.  When Charming Daughter was at university, she did one semester in Salamanca, Spain.  She and all of her friends called the main shopping street in Salamanca the Calle de Shopping.  (Calle is Spanish for street, pronounced “kai-yay”, rhymes with “highway”).  In all of the years since, our fam refers to the main shopping street in any European city the Calle de Shopping.  The Parisians might call it Rue Saint-HonorĂ© , but in my family it is still the Calle de Shopping.   I know it’s not funny but inside jokes are never funny to other people.

On the Beijing Calle de Shopping, the street food vendors sell some crazy shit, let me tell you.  If it
breathes, it can be fried and put on a stick and eaten in China.

At first, during my photo-taking frenzy, I was sure that the vendors were putting this stuff out as a joke to attract tourists, which it so was, but then I began to notice girls in Easter dresses actually eating lizards and beetles and testicles on sticks so now I am not so sure.

On the other hand, the Chinese probably think pork rinds and fried okra are gross, too, so who is to say who is right and who is wrong, huh?  That’s why we travel, right?  To watch people smack their gums over something some of us would be more inclined to either step on or exterminate with a powerful chemical.

Enjoy the pictures.  I will start writing China Part II this weekend wherein we left Cherry and the big
cities behind and went out into the countryside to a little village called Mutianyu and hiked along the Great Wall.