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I’m hitting the asphalt again, logging more miles on the Sube (104K and counting). I’m staying at the Ontario Inn in charming Ontario, Oregon. It’s about the sixth or seventh time I’ve stayed here. The owners know me by name now. That’s how many times I’ve made the drive from SLC to Seattle and back.
It’s a decent place to stay. Relatively cheap and more importantly, it accepts pets — like Sadie the Terrible. Thankfully she’s passed out on her bed and not making a peep.
But after paying $45 for the room, it makes me a little sentimental about the budget hotels in China like the Home Inn and Hanting Express. $25 for a clean, well-appointed room in cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou.
And don’t even get me started on the price of food here. After paying nearly eight bucks for a mediocre teriyaki bowl in Boise, I long for the days when I could eat a meal — as good as any Chinese food I’ve ever had, second only to my mom’s cooking of course — for the cost of 12 RMB ($1.75).
Yes, I now compare everything — every check, every receipt, every purchase — to the yuan. And yes, I even annoy myself.
That’s the view of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from my window seat. I’m now sitting in a cafe in the Sunset district drinking Hong Kong-style milk tea. SF is the perfect transition, since I can speak as much or as little Cantonese as I want to. In a few days, I’ll be back in Salt Lake City, where my Cantonese will be put back in the drawer.
And even though there’s much to criticize and complain about here, I’ve got admit that when I went through customs, it felt good to hear the customs agent say “welcome home.”
My time in China and Hong Kong is ending tomorrow. With the markets crumbling and the economy in the doldrums, there’s no better time to return to America, right?
I’ll be spending a couple days in San Francisco, where I can sit down and reflect on the past three months. Perhaps write something compelling and profound — or I could summarize my trip with this video of freshly butchered fish heads.
Yep, that’s my China trip in a nutshell.
My trip is drawing to a close. And what better end to my three-month journey than riding out a typhoon in Hong Kong. I’m hunkered down in my hostel (OK, it’s really not that bad outside) as Typhoon Hagupit moves toward the city and Southern China. Hagupit apparently means “to lash” in Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines. Hagupit will stay on my good side if it doesn’t affect my flight on Thursday.
Two cell phone stores. Two salespeople. Two mics. A lot of noise.
Shenzhen is one of China’s most prosperous cities. It was one of the first to open up as millions flocked to the metropolis — kind of like California during the gold rush.
Obviously, not everything is rosy. The streets aren’t paved with gold and not everyone finds wealth. I witnessed two of the more depressing sights in Shenzhen.
While I was walking from the train station, I saw a grandmother scooping and eating rice out of a garbage can while she cradled her napping grandson.
And when I was touring a busy thoroughfare, there were beggars — young and old — everywhere. This one girl would “entertain” pedestrians by spinning round and round while she clung on to the revolving stand with her teeth. She would spin, spin, spin — and stop. Rest for a minute or two. Then bite the cloth mouthpiece to spin, spin, spin again.
I stopped in Guangzhou last week for a couple days. Saw my relatives again, ate at my favorite Chinese fast-food joint, Kung Fu and attended … Oktoberfest.
Once I saw the advertisement for it, I knew I had to go. I had never been to an Oktoberfest, so I figured there was no better locale to experience my first than Guangzhou. For $30 or $40 bucks (I forgot how much admission was), you had unlimited food and beer. Chinese servers dressed in Bavarian dresses and guys forced to wear really, really tight overalls. I expected a wild, debauched night.
Not so much.
Perhaps it was because it was a Wednesday, but the crowd was pretty subdued. The band tried to pump up the crowd to no avail. It wasn’t for the lack of trying or enthusiasm (they even yelled “ganbei!” to get the crowd to polish off their mugs of beer). Or clever games. Like the one they fooled 10 women in competing.
That’s my second uncle and me on the first night I was in Jixi. I had met him for the first time hours earlier. I didn’t know what to expect, except a lot of food. Oh, and I expected booze — a lot of it. I was warned ahead of time by my aunt’s family that my uncle and his family loved to drink. Beer and baijiu, a nasty, fiery liquor that people in the northeast love to down to toasts of “Gan bei!” I was able to keep my baijiu toasts to two shots during the trip.
My uncle couldn’t drink much any more. He had a small glass or two of beer during dinner. But my cousins-in-law kept toasting me and refilling my glass. I tried to keep it under control, drinking tea over beer whenever I could. But still, my liver is just now recovering from the past week.
One major topic of conversation during my time there was who I looked like. If I looked like my father or any other relatives. But the consensus was that I looked very similar to my uncle when he was young and in the People’s Liberation Army (he joined when he was 15 or 16). Judge for yourself.
I wonder if I’ll also look like my uncle when I’m in my 70s? Perhaps, but with a lot less hair.
My sister might have been joking when she said to look out for fake and imitation Starbucks stores. But while I was walking around Jixi, I spotted a sign that looked vaguely familiar. But not. I saw a sigh that started with “Star …” I ventured closer and spotted the neighborhood Starbucks. In red and white. In Jixi. By the Russian border. In the middle of nowhere.
Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to venture inside and order a non-fat, iced, two-pump, caramel macchiato.
It looks like, however, I could have ordered plenty of Coors Light.
My relatives know I don’t speak mandarin, so they’ve gone out of their way to make me feel more comfortable. Like in Shanghai, where relatives bought Kung Fu Panda and played it in the car while we drove around town.
And in Jixi, a remote city in Northeastern China, my relatives bought a CD for us to listen to while we drove the three hours to Xingkai Lake.
The CD? Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi.
It was a little surreal to be listening to “We belong together” somewhere on the back roads of northeast China with four other guys who don’t speak a lick of English. But it was an endearing gesture.