Sunday, September 24, 2006

1/6 of the world lives here in china

There are 6 billion human beings on the planet.
1.3 billion of them live here.

And all of them seem to be moving at the same time.
And everything is go here.
Cars, busses, trucks, bikes, scooters and motorized bicycles (thank god most of them are electric), and pedestrians all are constantly in flux.
And there is absolutely no order to it.
All of these objects come from every direction. They come at different speeds, some hidden behind others to throw you off, and the only direction that they don't come at you is from above. However, thanks to China's insane construction spree, objects can fall from the sky to throw you off your game plan. As a bonus, construction projects are rarely sealed off. Pedestrians and vehicles alike go through the dust, the dirt, the welding that's going on. I guess public health and safety take a back seat to progress. A couple of years ago while in Vietnam, I posted a blog equating crossing the streets of Hanoi to being caught in a game of 'Frogger'. ((read here))
At least in Frogger, cars and other vehicles come for you from only one direction. Walking in China is more akin to a game of 'Asteroids', but with the third dimension element to it. Things are coming at you from every direction, and for some reason, even if there aren't any other people around, people seem to choose to interfere or get in the way of the path that you're taking. I know I've got a magnetic personality, but in China, it's almost literal. I even think I got dabbed in a crowd by an old Chinese guy. Rather than take the path of least resistance, the path with the most absolutely difficult route that can hopefully cause gridlock, a massive traffic jam, or a straight up crowd frenzy is usually taken. The Chinese seem to multiply all around you as you walk. I'm convinced they've learned how to breed while walking. Similar to South America, traffic rules, lane dividers, yellow lines, are mere guidelines. It's all part of playing the game, only there's 1.3 billion players involved.
Feel free to go on red.
Feel free to bike or scooter across the crosswalk or even on sidewalks.
As a pedestrian, don't get frustrated with it, but think of it more as a giant game of keepaway against 1.3 billion of your newest friends. However, don't expect them to play in English. I've travelled to many countries on our planet, and I have to say without a doubt, that China has been the most difficult. Now don't get me wrong, it's a great and real interesting country to visit. It's quite safe, and I've never once felt like I was in danger. But communication is so difficult here, especially when travelling solo and without a guidebook. Plus some areas speak Mandarin, others Cantonese, and they don't neccesarily always understand each other. The language barrier is the biggest obstacle. It's a tonal language and words pronounced incorrectly can have totally different meanings. Fortunately, I'm avoiding this problem by learning only 2 phrases, hello and thank you. Even that, I can't pronounce right. At least while travelling in Latin America or Europe, even if you don't speak the language, you can read or recognize signs, and try to pronounce the words. Even other Asian countries, the language barrier wasn't such a problem. Here it's a totally different set of letters (supposedly over 5000 characters), numbers are sometimes written differently (older generations don't know what the symbols we're used to for 1,2,3...etc. mean) so if you're lost, even if you've got a map, even if you ask and get directions, you're not gonna understand a damn thing. After all it's all in Chinese. One time, it took me an hour to find a youth hostel which was a mere 30 meters away.
And being a vegetarian has proven to be difficult. They put meat in everything out here, and some of it isn't recognizable. I'm so happy if I can find something on the menu (even happier if I can read the menu), or something in a street stall that I can eat without converting back to the dark side. I don't even bother asking for soy sauce or hot sauce no matter how badly I want it. It's challenging enough just getting a straight up meal. Other than hostels and hotels, no one seems to speak English out here (but then again why should they. Chinese is difficult enough to master for one language).
To add to the challenge, gestures and hand movements tend to be different here. Even indicating numbers with your fingers is different. 1-5 is pretty much the same universal signs. 6-10 is a whole new language. 6 looks like the Hawaiian 'Hang Loose' sign. 7 looks like a snake if you were playing shadow puppets. 8 is your pointer finger and thumb pointed up. Don't get this confused with indicating the number 2 which is pointer and middle finger up. I've made the mistake of ordering 8 muffins when I only wanted 2. The number 9, I can't remember. Henceforth, I refuse to do anything involving this number. 10 is forming an 'x' with your two pointer fingers crossed. Don't worry, I'm just as confused as you are.
But what are you gonna do. I can't complain, it's all part of the fun and the adventure. These little challenges are part of the magic of learning other cultures (sappy silver lining, glass half full, moral to every story, optimismal type bs) while travelling. To remedy this, I've tried to reach Dharma by visiting the largest Buddha in the world shown here.

At 233 feet high, and one of the largest sculptures in the world, the Leshan Grand Buddha is one big, bad mother youknowwhat'r. What you don't see here are the 1.3 million Chinese trying to do and see the same thing. But through the frenzy, I managed to achieve my own personal Zen by sketching the Giant Buddha.

Since I was there, I even asked the Buddha, 'How do I achieve Enlightenment?'
And as is typical in Buddhist culture for Buddhist monks to answer a question with a question, the Buddha replied, 'My son, Dónde está Ché Pelotas?'


At 9:20 AM, Blogger tturner said...


I am confessing! I look at (and sometimes read!) your blog every day! I am living vicariously through the Global Transmission team! I'm so embarrassed!

Keep up the great work all of's so entertaining. I would've commented sooner (I had so many funny ones!) but it's a pain in the ass (with a baby) to find time to create an account so they let you comment here.

When you're in India, I can direct you to many temples and Buddhas that are similar to what you've drawn here in China. But carved all from stone from the top that what they did here?

Safe travels to you, Alex, Morgan, and all your other compadres! Stella turns one on Oct. 5th, b.t.w.......

xoxo Tiffanie

At 8:20 PM, Blogger Theodora said...

What is your travel plan? How long & where? Just wondering...

At 6:37 AM, Blogger ::rentastic:: said...

Don't worry sweetie, you're still the wind beneath my wings. Keep fighting the good fight. Hope Stella is stellar. Tu nina es muy linda y preciosa. Besos para todos.
xoxo Renato

My plan so far is to get to Hong Kong by next week which is no easy feat because of the language barrier. Then Laos, Aus, and Burma before meeting the rest of the Glob Trans fools for shooting Episode 23 of 'Donde Esta Che Pelotas?'.
Fight the power.
xoxo Maxi Rodriguez


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