Arrival in China
Trip Start Sep 03, 2006
50Trip End Jul 21, 2007
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Well, after a month and a half in China, we are happy to say that it all went smoothly and we even dare to say that we had a good time interacting with Chinese people. They are straightforward and helpful, and we always managed to get ourselves understood thanks to a rudimetary Chinese vocabulary and the language section of our guide book. The first thing Saoyuth had to learn was the sentence "I don't speak Mandarin" ("wo bu hue chuo zongwen" some people understood it, others just didn't get her accent!) as everybody assumed she was a native. Still it's not uncommon for Chinese people to speak different dialects (they all read the same writting but speak it differently), so they would still try to speak to Saoyuth anyway. She eventually asked someone to write down for her: "I'm not Chinese, I'm from Cambodia" and would produce the note everytime someone came to her trying to sell their services or congratulate her on how handsome her boyfriend was (what else could they possibly try to say to her???). Some people kept on trying to communicate in Chinese despite the note though, probably because they couldn't speak anything else!
First culture shock: the toilets
Our Chinese odissey started right in the bus from Laos to China, it was as if we had already crossed the border with everyone chatting in Chinese around us. We entered the country in the Yunnan province, which has direct borders with Laos and Myanmar. The province is populated by many tribes and is well known for its coffee and cuisine. We were planning to go to Kunming, the capital of the province, essentially to meet Pauline, a friend of Saoyuth.
Our bus from Laos dropped us in Mengla where we were to catch another bus to Kunming. By the magic of a toilet stop we had our first real Chinese experience! AHHH the Chinese toilets!!! Saoyuth can talk about it for hours if you start her on the subject! For those of you who never heard of the Chinese toilets (well you've never met anybody that visited China for sure!), they consist of low partitions cubicles, with squat toilets, no door and no flush or water... But this is changing, and modern buildings, often have modern toilets: with high partitions, doors and flush... Most Chinese stick to the old ways though, and don't bother to close the door nor flush, leaving nice souvenirs for the next person. Chinese toilets fame had reached our ears before entering the country thanks to a friend who lived in China for a while, but seeing a row of naked white bums (one squatter was having some quality time reading a book) and leftovers from previous people was quite a shock! One of their disturbing habits is that, when all the cubicles are full, the people waiting just stand there, staring at the squatters instead of waiting outside. Saoyuth had the case of a pee stop during a bus trip where the toilets was just a hole in a small shed, instead of waiting for their turn, three women went inside with her at the same time pulling down their trousers on the spot and did their "business" even though only one person (Saoyuth) was over the hole! Small children don't bother with all those futilities and pee or poo right on the pavement, we've seen it with our own eyes! This lack of manners regarding toilets had Saoyuth complaining / commenting / cursing everytime she would come back from the loo. As we said, if you want to hear more about it just talk to Saoyuth when you have the chance ;-)
China is so modern!
On our way to Carrefour in the morning, we witnessed the morning exercise sessions, mainly Taichi and badmington that keep the elder chinese in good shape. The streets of Kunming are pleasantly quiet and we noted that electric bikes and scooters were outnumbering push bikes nowadays. Not a problem as they are quiet and pollution free!
Meeting with Pauline in Dali
We were hoping to see Pauline in Kunming, a French friend that Saoyuth met 7 years ago at Brown university in the US. Pauline had done a round the world trip 4 years ago, and enjoyed China so much that she decided to come back and live here. She's now teaching english at a business school in Kunming.
We were also heading in that direction and agreed to meet them there. Dali is a cute little town with old houses, willow lined streets, Chinese tourists and many souvenir shops. The town is nestled between mountains and a big lake: we spent a pleasant couple of days strolling around and dinning out with Pauline and her Mum. We didn't want to stay too long there as there were many things else we wanted to see in China. After having caught up with Pauline, we said goodbye and headed north.