April 6th to April 14th: Let's all go to Chinatown!!!!:
We rolled into China by train and it was a culture shock to say the least. The landscape of south China was spectacular, huge jagged limestone pointy mountains covered in green, rice paddies, and rivers contrasting the huge smog producing factories, and decayed tenement brick housing. The villages were extremely poor but often fascinating, everything made of red brick with narrow (4 to 5 ft) dirts roads winding between things. It was like the setting of all ninja movies but I didn't realize these towns really exist (hey I'm just a physist after all).
On the Chinese train, no one spoke English except for an English couple (coincidence?) from England who spoke English with English accents. So for 48 hrs we spoke English with Garrin and Karima and played cards, read, and shared tea that Joey has carried in his backpack for 78 days. There is something really Marco Polo or at least Phileas Fogg about trading tea in rickety train cabin headed through China.
We stopped first in Nanning and got a full on taste of a world that really doesn't care that you don't speak Chinese (and they hate when you call it Manderin). It was actually kind of nice after traveling through the moderately touristy Southeast Asia. (Cambodia is totally like so trendy you know...EVERYONE goes there).
Beijing was a bit of a culture shock, people drive cars again instead of everyone on a motorbike, probably due to the weather, but it was a surprise to see 4 wheel vehicles that weren't being pulled by animals. We rolled on and got off in Beijing and went straight to Tianneman Square. Luckily, there we no massacres on the day we arrived. After a hellish 3 hrs of asking 1239012937 people "Do you speak English" we stumbled onto a hotel (after 4 tries) with an English speaker. We checked in and Beijing rock city got a taste of Albert Einstein superstar.
We went out hard to the bars and it's amazing how these reserved people step it up. Every bar had people dancing on the tables and it was the first place where I've seen a bar that served "Absinthe Red Bull" as a specialty drink. Gnarly.
We went to a Kung Fu show done by Shaolin fighting monks. They broke metal with their foreheads and did kicks that involved doing cartwheels, but using their bare head as a pivot point instead of their hands. The monks taught me that "The sun weaves a rainbow through the sky in the path to true Enlightment". Yeah, Buddha is cool if he can make me a ninja.
Then we went on a trek. There is this really, really, really, long wall in China. In fact, it is so long you could actually say it's great. We trekked for 10 km down this Great Wall. 10 km is not far, but some genius of an emperor decided to build the wall on the top of a giant chain of mountains to piss off Genghis Kahn and the Mongol invaders. This made 10 km a bit a a hike, but the scenery was specutacular. In fact, keep this on the DL, but we stole several pieces of a the Great Wall so we can start building our own back at Barns Lane in Pennsylvania. But I digress....
Yeah, we also went to the Forbidden City. No wonder it was forbidden...now that it's the "Only Forbidden if you won't pay 60 Yuan City" there are more tour groups rolling through with more film equipment than Steven Speilberg's entourage. On the upside, we were very excited to see one of my equations (E = mc2) posted above a highway in 6 foot tall letters next to the equation for the pull of gravity based on mass and radius of two spheres. No wonder people think all Asian people are smart. In America we just put signs with Hooters girls above our highways.
Speaking of stereotypes, in America there is a stereotype about Asian automobile drivers. Thanks to Joey there is now a stereotype about American bicycle riders in China and Vietnam. Sorry USA.
That brings us up to today, when we're anxiously awaiting word on when we can get a train ticket to Mongolia so we can mix it up with the nomads like us. Cheers!!!!
- Albert Einstein