My dear darling diary. My travel project of three years. Lost. Stolen? Or what I’d like to believe, confiscated from my bag by some sort of power crazy Chinese politburo agent. I’ve become increasingly good at dealing with financial losses of several kinds during the trip, even the accidental loss of my beard. But this one hurt. Just words on paper though, right? In any case, losing my travel notes will somewhat effect the quality of this post and a few more coming up. All that being said, where did I leave off again?
Oh yes. The old China. The second bullet train of the trip whisked my soul and body from of Shanghai over to the old capital, Nanjing, with calculated speed and effectiveness. After the late evening arrival, Nanjing introduced itself with beautiful river views bathed in red lantern light. And all this traditional Chinese scenery, apparently branded and brought to you by the Coca-Cola Company.
Even with all the re-imagined, re-branded and revised history of the old capital, it is a nice place to walk about in and experience a whiff of “the real China”, which looms in some of the more unknown corners of this vast nation. One of these whiffs being, the lack of westerners on the streets and the subsequent attitudes of the Chinese towards one.
Example. An early morning visit to the Nanjing massacre memorial. A hallowed spot meant for solemn thoughts and quiet moments. I was quite ready to experience a few deep thoughts and ponder the evils of humanity on a lovely spring day. However, as some three or four hundred schoolchildren entered the museum behind me, I knew that my time there would be devoted to photo modelling from thereon out.
When leaving the major cities of China, an individual of non-Asian origin quickly becomes the target of long stares and requests for selfies. Sitting in a restaurant for example, you will see men, women and children stopping I their tracks next to you, just to watch you eat for a good ten minutes. And in a case such as the one in Nanjing, while visiting a museum or some different attraction you will quickly garner more attention from views and cameras than the intended destination itself. The perfect celebrity simulator I guess, but not something I can say that I enjoy. I mean it does bring a smile to my face, most times, to be asked to pose for pictures by schoolkids excited to a stutter. But it is quite bizarre doing this literally next to a tomb of massacre victims.
China is completely strange, and forever unknowable to an outsider. A woman painting text onto dry pavement with water and brush. That’s strange. A crowd gathered around her reacting to the words, which slowly evaporate into the air. Some people seem shocked, others nod in approval. What is the interaction here? No way of knowing.
Still, I must investigate, go deeper and foolishly attempt to understand even a sliver of this culture. I imagined that Hangzhou, what some people of past and present have praised as the most beautiful city in China, would give me some insights. Instead, the amount of domestic tourists filling this boulevard and river-clad city only confounded me even further. Sadly I’ve got very few takeaways from this somewhat lovely city. The local tandoori pastries were excellent and experiencing my first capsule hotel was a total trip filled with frighteningly entertaining Chinese TV.
I was able to arrange a restaurant date in Hangzhou with my fresh Danish friend from Beijing and Shanghai. After ordering two glasses of some wonderfully clarifying local tea, the finest on the planet some say, we discussed our mutual bewilderment, past and future travels and the state of American politics. Over a shared platter of deliciously prepared chicken feet, the idea of a trip to the Yellow Mountains was introduced to me by the Dane, who had just returned from a stay in a quiet mountain hideout.
Perhaps my confused mind could be calmed a by a stay up in the mountains? Yes. This sounds like a plan. A good one at that. Towards Huangshan it shall be then.