travel thoughts and experiences
The beginnings are always difficult. Normally, difficult would stand for the usual type of lone-travel struggles all the fellow backpackers are so well accustomed to – first wave of excitement crushed by the unknown environment, the need for communication in order to get the right directions (well, this may only be me – yes, I am only a man who does not enjoy asking other people for guidance) and the disappointment upon realization the suggested route was not entirely correct, the non-stoping haggle for virtually every bit of basic human needs so specific for Southeast Asia, the feeling of everyone’s eyes piercing through one’s very being, stripping you naked (not that there is anything to reveal), leaving you exposed waiting only to be crushed squatting under the glares, … The list could go on for quite a bit longer, which would make it a different story, though.
Difficult has a lot more meaning in Chinese point of understanding. There is the usual wave of excitement, naturally. However, when it comes crushing down it hits hard, rather as a tsunami. First, there is the sudden breeze increasing in strength, warning in advance about something being amiss. With raised awareness I ignored the uneasiness caused by the stench of men`s room on the Vietnam-China border crossing, and entered just to be hammered down with the sight, left only with a conviction that even if you have to go, you may do yourself a favor and reconsider holding off.
On the other hand, the breeze might rather be comforting, especially in such a hot and humid place as Hekou is throughout the year, even though it only lasts briefly. The sudden moment of clarity lightened up by unexpectedly warm approach of Chinese immigration officers fades away right after leaving the office premises and sinking in the fact you do not understand a thing.
There comes the first wave – you find yourself entangled amidst a net of Chinese characters, snickering down upon your lack of knowledge and negligence in preparation. Well, that is not entirely true, there was quite a bit of preparation involved, we even brought a dictionary of Chinese – the one with pictures! However, you soon find it rather unpractical moving around a place trying to find the right Chinese character for a hotel. I found myself thinking whether this is how the earlier travelers of ancient times had felt when they first encountered the native people; it is an adventurous thought, quite unexpected and so welcoming for a true traveler in the 21st century.
The search for, nowadays already a basic, need for an ATM proves a futile mission, the food being no less difficult to acquire. One would not imagine how challenging a search for an accommodation could be; one might even loose the will to get going, the other has to prevail, however, and keep the wits about in order to survive in China.
After the first shock wave is gone and you find yourself afloat on the surface with all your expectations messed up and floating everywhere around you, it is time to dry up your sore throat with a beer or two. One of the first goodies of China comes in handy right there and then, beer is never too far away, even if you need it the most. It does not come too easy, though. As soon as you think yourself safe ashore on solid ground, after spending a good deal of time selecting the most beer-ish color of all the great selections of light yellow and green, even purple, you sit down, open up hearing the soothing hiss, your mouth already feeling the bitter taste of life, only to sober up with a mild sweet taste of a BEER??? Closer examination of the bottle revealed the sweetly unpleasant truth – less, or equal to 3% of alcohol says it all; the color does warn you in advance, although at certain lifetime situations a man finds himself believing his hopes rather than his visual senses.
Well, the morning always better than evening, says an old Slovak proverb, and even after a storm there come the warm rays of light showing you the path. In China, though, after the cold splashes of first encounters there is one more, say rather mild, shower waking you up on bus station with the thumping sound of “Eh??” coming right after you from behind the ticket counter, when in desperate hope you once again try the good old international English.
This time, though, you are prepared and after a brief moment of despair you find yourself baptized with refreshed knowledge of nonverbal gestural communication, all the more funny and enjoyable for all parties involved, including the ever-present audience.
Last challenge of the Hekou adventure, that being finding the right bus after you have succeeded with the ticket purchase, just feels so darn easy already, you feel like a seasoned Chinese traveler with nothing to surprise you. Bring it on China, we are going to enjoy you all the more, no matter what dark alleys and hidden death traps you have ready to deploy!
random photography by Pete Rosos
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