Great walls

About a month ago I spent five days in China and a day in Taiwan. Yes, a day…my workplace has an unspoken rule that all business trips must be as tightly packed and tiring as possible. It’s like the company is run by travel masochists.

I spent most of my time in China in an inland rural community about 500kms south-west of Beijing. It was everything I was expecting it to be – smelly, dirty, awkward and very poor. It reminded me a lot of all the documentaries I’ve seen about North Korea (a place I would love to go to just because it’s so bat-shit crazy.)

We stayed at the guesthouse of our clients who are a bit of a matriarchal  power-house and  who have most of the local community working for them. The guesthouse used to be a staff dormitory that they had ‘renovated’ and installed some of the latest mod-cons: shower stalls (that didn’t work), bum-washing toilets (that didn’t work), air-con (which thankfully worked) and a variety of the weirdest interior decorating I’ve ever seen (my boss had disco lights in his room).

wp_20160924_21_24_02_pro

I felt like I was in a war zone. Everything was broken and/or half-built. The air was so thick with smog that you couldn’t tell if it was morning or afternoon and I just constantly felt dirty. Even after taking a shower I still felt dirty because the water was gritty and smelled like manure. The view out my window was this:

wp_20160925_08_10_08_pro

Being blonde and a bit of a foreign attraction, they rounded up the local school children and asked me to talk/sing/entertain them for an hour or so. The local newspaper crew turned up and took photos of me leading a round of “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes”. The funniest part of that was that my boss also had to join in and we got a great video of him inch wincy spidering it with gusto (complete with hand movements).

They had their own in-house chef who cooked up a storm for us three times a day and every meal was eaten at a large round table with the whole family and an electric lazy susan. Holding the table in place while someone wrangled some food onto their plate with chopsticks was etiquette. The chef was also very good at vegetable carving and each meal come with some delightful animal:

wp_20160924_19_33_32_pro

Strangely, in that part of the country they don’t eat rice and don’t drink tea. It’s wheat noodles, warm water and fruit salad covered in mayonnaise (they take the ‘salad’ in the name quite literally.)

We did go out for one meal at a local restaurant and they had a delightful English menu with all the bad Engrish cliches you could possible hope for (“e.” stands for entrails, going by what it says in Chinese):

wp_20160925_18_30_17_pro-1

After a couple of days I was desperate for coffee and suffering caffeine withdrawals. I was also quite ill with stomach cramps which magically cleared up the day I left the country. I was quite careful in what I ate (no raw food) and drank (only bottled water). I also used bottled water to clean my teeth but I still somehow managed to get China belly. I don’t think my daily game of how long can I hold in my need to go to the toilet was helpful either. The toilets outside the guesthouse were quite horrifying and I vehemently refused to use any form of public toilet. I kept my water drinking to a minimum and thought happy thoughts of clean toilets.

We did quite a bit of travelling by road, train and domestic flights. The road travel was just insane – cars coming towards you at break-neck speed on the wrong side of the road, roundabouts where there is no rule for giving way so you just push forward and hope for the best. You also apparently need to drive with one hand on the wheel and one hand permanently on the horn.

The train was better, although I had a lot of misgivings about going on a bullet train in China. The journey started with a wait in line to get tickets where we witnessed several screaming matches between the ticketing staff and the people in line (apparently that’s a thing too…). Fortunately we forked out more cash and upgraded ourselves to business class so we had our own little cabin and sleeping pods that reclined full-flat. For a five-hour train journey that began at 6:30am that was definitely required and was probably the most well-spent $200 of our lives.

We spent a couple of days in large coastal cities like Ningbo and finally saw the sky.

wp_20160928_10_06_25_pro

The city was very large and modern and I felt like I was back in civilisation.

wp_20160927_07_47_26_pro

After dinner with our clients we were walking along and I saw Starbucks. They asked if we wanted something and even though it was 10pm and waaay past my normal coffee drinking hours, my boss and I were like, “Uhhh, yessss!” They got us take away grande lattes and I took it back to my hotel room, ready to enjoy it like the caffeine junky that I am, except I put my handbag down and then immediately dropped my coffee all over the minibar bench. I managed to snatch up the cup and drink the last mouthful but I almost cried at losing 99% of my first proper coffee.

The domestic flight was fairly normal (and there was Haagen Daz ice-cream in the inflight meal!) the flight to Taiwan however, saw me stuck inside a plane for five hours while the tail-end of a typhoon passed. I’ve never been on a plane before that has taxied out to the run-way and then sat there for an hour and then has reversed back to the gate. Looking out the window at the torrential rain and wind, I was very glad that we hadn’t taken off though. My one-hour flight to Taiwan ended up taking 6 hours and I eventually arrived only to discover that my hotel was not where I thought it was (not even in the right train station!) and I spent about an hour in the rain walking around trying to locate it.

Taiwan felt very much like Japan to me. The bullet train was just like Japan:

wp_20160929_15_53_24_pro

The Engrish was just like Japan:

wp_20160928_20_14_02_pro

The funky showers were just like Japan:

wp_20160928_20_13_37_pro

Maybe the hotel service was a bit beyond what a normal hotel provides in Japan:

wp_20160929_19_41_56_pro-1

There were also a tonne of Japanese tourists there and everywhere around me I heard Japanese. If I’d had more time I would have stayed a couple of days and done some shopping because I’m sure I would have been able to stock up on Japanese supplies.

So that was my trip. I certainly won’t be hurrying to go back again anytime soon.

 

 

Words, glorious words!

I miss writing sometimes. It’s a dull ache that I feel regularly, but most of the time I can ignore it. I can go for weeks or months on occasion, but at some point it becomes a song that hums inside me until I give it a voice.

I’d imagine it’s a bit like how some people just need a good fuck from time to time.

Similar. But with more words and fewer wet spots on the sheets.

I love words – I always have. I’ve still got a book that I began compiling during my angsty early teenage years. It’s a collection of quotes and poems from anything I happened to come across that spoke to me. Sometimes I didn’t really understand what the words meant, but I thought the words sounded beautiful so I filled them away to look at whenever I needed some love in my life.

I used to hunt through magazines and incense-filled hippy shops for postcards and pictures that seemed to go with the words. Then I’d spend a few hours writing out the words in ‘cool’ script and hand-drawing borders to frame the words.

(The things I used to fill my days with before fail videos on youtube and quizzes that can tell the year I was born in based on my favourite drink….)

 

wp_20161119_20_50_30_pro

I’m not exactly the most artistic person. I’m terrible at coordinating colours or interior decorating. I’ve never been able to compose music or draw. I was the person in art class who made nothing better than an ashtray out of clay (puke-coloured glaze) and I’m not all that good with living creatures either (human or botanical). But words and I have always had a good relationship.

I’m thinking seriously about writing another story. I’ve even got a few great opening lines (it’s all about the opening lines!) I’ve got a few stories started many years ago that I never really continued, but I’m not sure whether I should go for something a little more ‘mainstream’? (a.k.a not erotica and not science fiction/fantasy)

Anyway, that’s what’s going on in my mind at the moment. I think I need an outlet or to go back to yoga or a holiday or a new job or something. (The new apartment trick really didn’t work to shake things up this time, see last post.)

I still need to write about my trip to China last month (so much wrong) and several things about M and where we’re at these days. So many words to be written! Do I even have time to write another story?

All that bites

Two months ago M and I moved into a new apartment. When I say ‘new’, it’s actually a fairly old complex with 60 units and it’s a place I’d had my eye on for several years.

I thought it would be perfect because it ticked just about all of my boxes: fantastic bathtub? tick, double adjoining carparks? tick, pool & gym? tick, split level with space for me to have alone time? north-facing? tick, walking distance to work? tick, surrounded by shops? tick, cheaper than my previous apartment? tick.

It all sounds a bit too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Well, it was. As well as the above, I wasn’t counting on the ridiculously loud church bells that ring all day every day, the not-so-secure carpark that resulted in our car window being smashed and stuff stolen two weeks after we moved in, the classical piano-playing next-door neighbour, the low-flying planes that come overhead between the hours of 2am and 7am, the reticulation system for the courtyard garden that somehow runs through the apartment walls and creates a loud buzzing noise between 10pm and 1am that makes me want to peel my face off and last, but not least, the bed bugs.

Granted, all of the above are things that I couldn’t have known before we actually moved in (except the church bells, which I had known about and had had misgivings about, but the rest of the place was so perfect that I thought I’d be able to live with them) but still, I feel like I seriously fucked myself over. I left a perfectly good apartment with great owners for a bug-infested, noisy, crime-filled ghetto! Nah, it’s not actually that bad, but it’s been a stressful experience.

M was quite happy where we were and only agreed to move because it’s what I wanted so I’ve had quite the guilt trip as well. His bedroom is quite noisy and he’s had problems sleeping and it was all his stuff that got stolen out of the car. Along with his stuff, they also took the remote control for the carpark gate that we kept in the car. This resulted in everyone in the complex needing to get their remotes recoded or replaced. I don’t think we were very popular in the new neighbour stakes.

I angsted about whether to move or not for ages. I kept weighing up all the pros and cons and went and had a look at a whole heap of other apartments and this was the only one that I thought was better than where we were living. I’d also come and looked at a couple of different apartments in this complex over the years and always thought that I would like to live here.

I think what I’ve learned from this experience is to stop being greedy. I’ve got a serious case of fomo in regards to everything and the idea that I can ‘do better’ is always at the forefront of my mind. Why can’t I just be content with what I have? Why can’t I settle and accept? Am I chasing some unrealisable dream or do I just have an unrequited sense of entitlement?

Why can’t I ever be happy?