This is the part I dread (the only part, mind you) about traveling - the putting back together of my life as it once was after taking it apart to experience something new.
Inevitably, travel changes you. One cannot possibly encounter such challenges, differences of culture, opinion, language, and witness such beautiful things and not come away unchanged in some small manner.
That's why it takes me so long to put everything back together. And maybe also because all I want to do is sleep. For 10 years.
My sleeper bus from Xiamen to Hangzhou returned yesterday morning around 7:30am. I taxied home, skyped my family to let them know I was alive, and then crawled into my un-made bed for the duration of the day. Around 4pm met with my friends Amanda and Hannah for some home-made fajitas and sharing of travel adventures.
I feel content with another travel week completed successfully. Because it would take me 8 million years to explain everything in detail...here is a time-line. More so that when I'm 90 I will remember, than for entertainment value.
Wednesday, September 30: taught full day of classes, left at 3:30 to catch my 6pm bus. There were no taxi's so I attached myself to a student heading to the same bus station. He led me on a maze of busses through town (in the pouring rain) and we ended up both missing our busses. He was an angel sent to me though, because without his help I never would have made it to the bus station at all. At the station I push my way to the front and show the workers my ticket, a man grabs my hand and leads me into a parking lot to a bus and points to a bed. I climb on and hope that I am on the right bus. I call Kai dying laughing at the whole thing and he says, "you think this is funny but you scare me to death." I realize that I have no water and no food for the 15 hour journey. C'est la vie.
Thursday, October 1: Arrive in Xiamen Bus Station at 8:30am. Wander around looking for Jennie and Nick, realize we are at different bus stations and take a taxi to them. There is craziness on the streets because of it being China's 60th Birthday. We get food at a small local shop and check into our Chinese hotel. We went to a bookstore where we made a life-changing purchase of the book, "WEI SHEN ME WO SHI NU HAI?" Those of you who understand that, enjoy. Nick then spent the afternoon catching up on beauty sleep and Jennie and I wandered until we found the beach. What struck me as so strange was that everyone was fully clothed! I was prepared with my swim suit, but there was no way we would be the only people half-naked while the Chinese marched around the beach in more clothes than I have hanging in my closet. For dinner we went to JJ's Western Grill. It is half owned by a fat white dude from Texas and has "welcome to Texas" and redneck sayings everywhere. After a few rounds of Tiger, we got Nick to ride the mechanical bull. The waiters and waitresses wore shorts that read, "Keep Austin Weird".
Friday, October 2: We had called around asking for available hotels since we had only booked one night and - low and behold, there was nothing. So in the late morning hours decided there was only one thing to do - go to Tai.wan. hahha. Xiamen is considered a coastal access point between the *cough* twwwo count.ries and Jennie had looked up how to get from Xiamen to Taipei, Tai.wan's capital. So we set out with our packs with the mantra of "Taiwan or starve", we would not eat a meal til we got there. (we're dumb). The plan was to find a ferry that would take us to Jinmen Island - an island owned by Tai.wan and a point of military contention between the *cough* twwwwooo coun.tries. There we heard that we could go to the regional airport on the island and book a ticket easily for the 45 minute flight to Tai.wan. Once in Taipei we would have to find a place to sleep. If somewhere along this line something failed - well, that was not an option. Getting to the ferry terminal was the hardest part. The beginning of anything is always the hardest, I think. We ended up paying a large chunk of cash for what we thought was a ferry that would take us to Jinmen, but was actually a 3 hour scenic cruise. hahaha. It wasn't funny then, but it is now. We finally found what we were looking for after consulting with many police officers and stamped out of China and boarded the pontoon ferry headed for Jinmen. Somewhere in this hour my camera decided to break. Not cool. Since Chinese national are not allowed into Taiwan I wondered at who the other people on the ferry were - they looked like business men and there were no other obvious tourists. Jinmen Island was cool, there were alot of monks and soldiers walking around, an interesting juxtaposition. The regional airport was small but busy, and lacking an security whatsoever. They thankfully took visa (if not, we would have been screwed), and we booked a ticket on Mandarin Airlines for the next hour. As you may know, I would rather eat my own poop then fly on a no-name airline, but at that point I was really hungry and we were still abiding by "Tai.wan or starve". So I had no choice. haha. Once the plane landed in Taipei, we say the city lights the capital is so famous for, and we thought "let's eat." The visitors counter man, who was obviously straight and obviously wearing two coats of eyeliner, helped us book a hostel and off we went into the land of the Taiwanese...feeling like it was the longest day of my life...
Info on Jinmen Island: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/taiwan/kinmen.htm
Saturday, October 3rd: Checked out of our hostel (not because you could see straight into the shower from the bedroom, though that would be a good reason) and went to the National Palace Museum. This is one of the top 5 museums in the world. All the treasures from Beijing and the Forbidden Palace are housed here where they were moved during the Sino-Japanese War. the coolest thing in the museum was a piece of meat carved out of jade. Super cool. We spent pretty much the whole day there and then went to see Taipei 101, the world's tallest building. From there we went to a night market where we couldn't stop eating. Tai.wanese food is incredible! I wasn't quite sure what we were eating sometimes, but it was good! Then we took a bus an hour south to visit Nick's from from his college days at UCLA who is back in his homeland of Tai.wan. We met him and his girlfriend and sat around drinking Tai.wan beer and watching Minority Report. And talking politics fre.ely. (what a treat). We went to sleep (Hank's absent roommate never thought he would have 2 american girls in his bed, haha) and were woken by vicious shaking. I thought Jennie was having a seizure. She thought I was trying to get her attention. We heard Nick running down the hall, "Is that an earthquake?!" And we bolted into the hallway where all 5 of us slumbering pengyou's stared at each other as our 14th story apartment wiggled out of our control. I was scared. For all 4 seconds that it lasted. Then we went back to bed laughing that that was the second earthquake us MAIS'ers had been through together.
National Palace Museum: http://www.npm.gov.tw/en/home.htm
Sunday, October 4th: We sat around Hank's place all morning and he brought us breakfast. Milk tea and egg wraps. DELISH. Tai food scores again. He helped us book a hostel back in Taipei and then he drove us back to Taipei because he had to drive his girlfriend home and smooze her parents with mooncakes. It was raining. We found our hostel: TaiwanMex. It is owned by a creepy Mexican dude who has been in Tai.wan 6 years and has an affinity for American girls. The room was small but super cheap and we never put the make-shift showers on the rooftop to use. There were some other interesting travelers there that made for entertaining conversations in the wee morning hours. We put our stuff away, used the internet, then went to the Museum of Modern Art because it was close by. I don't appreciate modern art quite as much as others in the population, but it was still really fun and reminded me of my sister. Hank and Renee met us there and we went to the MODERN TOILET restaurant for dinner. We wandered the streets together in the rain and then parted ways with our hosts. We set off to experience the famed Tai nightlife, but because of some "issues" we ended up at KTV, singing our usual playlists of Asia and America's greatest hits.
Modern Toilet Restaurant:
Monday, October 5th: The typhoon hit. And I didn't want to fly. But we had made hotel reservations back in Xiamen and were supposed to be making the plane/ferry trek back to the mainland. We watched the weather for about an hour and then decided to head to the airport just to see what was up. (hopefully what was up was planes). All of the flights going to other destinations had been canceled but since Jinmen Island was the opposite direction from where the typhoon was coming from, we were able to book a ticket for the next hour. The turbulence was intense, but we made it. This was when things got interesting. You see, Tai.wan does not take Chinese debit cards (political issues affect all areas of life) and the island does not take visa. When we landed on Jinmen Island we had no cash, only visa cards. We didn't plan this efficiently. So we were for all intents and purposes stuck on the island indefinitely. Jennie whispered, "let the adventure begin..." and I knew that it is in these moments that The Crew shines. We all got to work talking to different people in broken Mandarin. I went to the ferry counter and decided to just tell them our situation. "Wo men mei you qian." (We don't have money). "Wo men you mei guo de hi you zhong guo de ca" (we have american and chinese cards). "Wo men de jia zai Zhong guo" (Our home is China) "Wo hai pa" (I'm scared). haha. I have found that with a little prolonged eye contact and throwing in "I'm scared" at the end of anything gets the job done. A man responded dramatically to the situation "YOU HAVE NO MONEY?!" and led me over to an airplane counter. I wasn't quite sure what was going on, but a woman got on a cordless phone and had me fill out some paperwork and show her my visa credit card. Eventually through broken dialogue I realized that we were purchasing a ticket through her company and the company would give us cash to pay the ferry guys with. So on my visa statement it will say that I bought plane tickets from her company when really we were getting cash - using an airplane company as an ATM. Awesome. We made it with 15 minutes to spare to get on the last ferry of the day. It is my firm belief that all things work together for good. And that I would have died 5 times by now if it weren't for the unfailing kindness of perfectly placed Chinese people. Thank you, kind Jinmen Island residents. Thanks to you, my friends and I are not re-creating Gilligan's Island right now. We got back to Mainland and called our hotel to find out that they had given away our room. haha. Nick called around and reserved us a room at Xiamen University in the overseas student dorms. We went to an amaaaaaaazing Chinese restaurant and ordered enough food to feed 985743 people. Corn, meat on a stick, fish, cauliflower, onions...so delicious. Again, we piled two single beds together and called it a night.
Tuesday, October 6th:
Wednesday, October 7th: We slept in and re-packed all of our junk into our backpacks before asking the hotel to keep our bags for us as we wandered Xiamen one last time. Some of us wanted to walk around the university and because of random cracking in my ankle I wanted to preserve energy so I sat on a bench and read for a few hours. Jennie joined me and we decided to make a plan to meet up at Pizza Hut for a hearty going away meal. We ordered tons of food, shrimp ball pizza crust and popcorn chicken pizza. So good. And I have no idea how to make a pizza without corn now. Jennie and I sat talking about how great Amer.ica is and spurting random patriotic statements before we spurt out into a string of patriotic melodies. In Pizza Hut. It was a beautiful 10 minutes of cheering the red, white and blue. haha. The more I travel, the more I love my country. Nowhere compares. We went back to get our packs and I headed to the bus station alone to hop aboard my 15 hour bus back to "reality".
No matter how many places I go, there are still so many places I want to see. In every trip there are experiences that challenge, scare, annoy, and uplift the spirit. Each new destination is a part of God's world that exists completely outside of my understanding until we meet. And in those meetings I learn more about Him, His people, and my own flaws and strengths.
There is a lack of pictures because my camera is still broken... :(
Thanks Xiamen, Jinmen Island, and Tai.wan for the memories!
Next destination, January, 2010? TBD. :)