Monday, September 18, 2006

Lost in Translation

Last weekend passed in the sign of spontaneousity through our first visit to Mainland China. An equally difficult and interesting experience, I have to say. Interested in what happened?

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Well, after we recieved our multiple entry visas, me and Tobias packed light and took the KCR to Shenzen (the final stop, lies at the border to China) where we bought a ticket to Fenzhou, a place supposedly 10 hours away by train. This was done with the help of a guide book mainly in Chinese, three helpful but not very knowing Chinese students with poor English skills, and an English speaking Chinese woman behind us in the line who probably got tired of waiting for us trying to explain our mission with a mixture of English, Swedish, bad Chinese and hand gesturing.

It was not until the train actually had begun to move that we thought of verifying that the trip was really going to take only 10 hours.
- Of course it isn't, the Chinese conductor supposedly said while laughing and kindly directing us back to our berth.
- Shí ba, she then continued.
- Shí ba?!
'Shí ba' means 18. Eighteen hours!!! If we would go all the way to Fenzhou, all we were going to see this weekend was the inside of a soft sleeper cabin on a train. Decidedly not good... So the next morning, after 10 hours of travelling, we hopped of in Longyan. There a friendly Chinese serviceman on vacation helped us onto a bus to a place called Zhanzhou which according to our Chinese guide book would have some nice scenery.

On the bus to Zhanzhou our plans changed again. We met our first English speaking Chinese since we left Shenzou, and she told us that Zhanzou is a boring place with nothing to see.
- Go to Xiamen instead, was her advice.

And so we did.

On the bus to Xiamen we met Steven, an English speaking Taiwanese on his way to meet some business acquaintances. Really friendly, this guy, and he and his friends invited us to his office for a short tea break before we headed for our final destination, Guolan Island, a little picturesque tourist hangout for Chinese people just outside Xiamen. We stayed there one night, then had an amazing pizza at probably the world's highest situated Pizza Hut, then took the night bus back to Shenzen (which Betty, a friend of Steven, kindly had helped us with the day before).

So, what wisdom have we gained from this trip?
- While travelling in China, bring at least one Chinese speaking friend or a copy of the latest issue of Lonely Planet: China. Tentatively both. It is really hard to survive without them. Fun, but really hard.

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