Wednesday, 29 October 2014

On termine la Chine en Joual pi on en parle pu

Bon! Je suis déjà tanné de recopier mes textes du mois passé, et je suis passé de 50 lecteurs par textes, a 10.

Fak let's go, on embraye. Récapitulation turbo de la Chine, photos, merci bonsoir.

Aussi, veuillez noter que j'ai finalement réussi à activer les accents sur mon batinse de Kindle Fire.

La Chine, premièrement, c'est gros en sacramant. Gros genre, quand tu regardes ta carte pi tu te dis, "Ah ça l'air nice par là-bas, demain j'me promène là", bin t'es très loin de là réalité. En vrai, tu vas devoir, généralement, prendre un train pendant au moins 10 heures de temps pour te rendre au point B.

Deuxièmement, la Chine, c'est différent de chez nous. "Duh", tu dis. Non, le mince, tu comprends pas. Pour le train par exemple, tout le monde a son billet et sa place désignée. Les gens font quand même une géante pile de monde, un VRAI pâté chinois, quand c'est le temps d'embarquer. Ça donne du coude, ça dépasse, ça pousse, c'est gossant, y'a 18 personnes de trop dans mon espace personnel.

Le monde renifle de la gorge comme si y'avaient les sinus au complet remplis de marde. Ca crache partout, tout le temps.

Nenon, t'as pas compris. 
Partout. 
Tout. 
Le. 
Temps. 

Des fois, ils font le move de se vider la narine en bloquant l'autre avec le pouce. Mais genre, pas sur une colline en hivers entre deux descentes de trois-ski. Plus, à la Grande Muraille de Chine devant une foule, ou avant d'embarquer dans un taxi.

Et pi, quelle meilleure collation à amener en transport en commun que des graines de tournesol. Et pourquoi pas cracher les écailles partout autour de soi??? Fuck tout le monde!!!

Ah, 8 heures dans un autobus. Pas trop long, je vais pouvoir amener mes POISSONS VIVANTS DANS UN GROS SCEAU PLEIN D'EAU, ca dérange pas quand ils gigottent et arrosent le voisin.

Troisièmement, le ciel est gris. Pas gris genre Novembre, y mouille. Gris genre "Hey check, la planète est déjà morte icitte". Gris genre, la p'tite Hua Dié qui travaille dans une auberge a Lijiang dans les montagnes, et qui a grandit proche de Shanghai, fixe le ciel des heures durant, car a Lijiang dans les montagnes, le ciel est bleu et Hua Dié n'est pas habituée.

Quatrièmement, caaaalisse que c'est sale. Pas sale genre Cambodge où y'a pas l'air d'avoir de système de vidanges et t'as des déchets sur le bord de toutes les rues du pays.

Sale genre, les p'tits enfants tout mignons, au lieu d'avoir une couche, ils ont un gros trou dans les pantalons. Quand ils ont envi, n'importe quelle envie, ils la font là, drette là. Un caca dans la rue devant tout le monde pendant que grand-papa fume la pipe.

Sale genre, j'achète des légumes et du riz d'un petit resto. La cuisine est ouverte sur la rue. La bonne femme s'affaire aux légumes, le bonhomme a faire cuire des trucs. "Bon, au moins j'ai juste prit des légumes, le reste de la cuisine est crotté comme un coin d'oeil de matin. Pi j'peux voir l'étagère à légumes derrière elle, ça l'air propre". Juste quand je fini de dire ça à Patrick d'Atlanta, y'a un crisse de gros poisson qui donne son dernier débat, un bon coup de queue qui le fait tomber de l'étagère à légumes, boum à terre. La bonne femme le regarde, fini de couper ses légumes. "C'correct, on mange pas de poisson à soir, Pat". 10 minutes plus tard elle ramasse finalement le poisson plus large qu'un Achigan et le dépece au même spot que les légumes. "Ah, bin, tabarnak".

Le pire c'est qu'on a quand même mangé nos légumes (elle a même pas lavé son couteau) et on a même pas été malades.

Mais hey! La Chine c'est pas que du négatif. Ils sont froids en général, voir, glacial, mais dans les trains et auberges j'ai fait de belles rencontres et je me suis fait gâter de plusieurs repas gratuits et bières froides. Ils construisent de magnifiques temples, cuisinent comme des acharnés et conduisent sans la moindre peur.

Je voulais sortir de ma bulle de confort, la Chine était que trop heureuse de m'aider.

Petite anecdote: en sortant des toilettes de la Forbidden City, les cheveux me piquent et j'ai les mains encore mouillées mais je me gratte quand même la tête. Un gros chinois m'observe.

En ce moment, en Chine, quelqu'un pense que les blancs se sèchent les mains avec leurs cheveux.


         La petite madame qui clanche



               Le soleil dans la face



              Ah, mes chips préférés!



                 Pour prendre le train



                  Je suis oiseau rare



        Magasin de lanternes, Pingyao



     Magasin de dents croches, Pingyao



              Yamen Hostel, Pingyao



       Le gars qui amène la bouffe aux      restaurants de Hua Shan, une des 5  montagnes sacrées du Tao chinois



     Certains des escaliers de Hua Shan



De gauche à droite: l'anglais Nilkanth remcontré la veille, un étudiant chinois, un gars vraiment nice, une étudiante chinoise



Ils nous disent pas que les Sky Planks de Hua Shan finissent en Cul-de-Sac!



Il est 6am, on a dormit sur la montagne, je suis lendemain de veille et j'ai rien mangé. Mes jambes tremblaient AVANT d'arriver ici.



Le repas de la victoire, les étudiants ne nous ont pas laissés payer



             Pti-dej chez les Pandas



                  Sad panda is sad



         Go home Bruce, you're drunk



                En route vers Lijiang



                Petite cute de Lijiang



I don't always take selfies, but when I do



               Tiger Leaping Gorge



               Ah, ma soupe préférée!



        Des ptites boudhistes de Lijiang



                               k BYE

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Pingyao la petite

23/09/14

Endormit, je regarde la ville obscure qui s'etale devant moi. Sur la carte du site internet de mon auberge, la vieille partie de la ville de Pingyao, derriere sa douve et son vieux mur fortifie, devraient etre tout proche de la station de train. Mais encore, faire semblant que quelque chose est plus proche qu'il ne l'est vraiment semble une technique classique pour attirer des clients.

Pas grave si ils se perdent.

A la sortie de la station de train, un type a l'air indien se tient debout les deux yeux dans graisse de bine. Je lui demande quel est son plan et il me repond "I am absolutely useless mate", alors je le laisse derriere et prend deux secondes pour reflechir.

Un chinois d'environs 60 ans me tire de ma reverie en me hurlant des "Hello! Taxi!" a deux pouces du visage.

Je decide de prendre un taxi au lieu d'aller me perdre dans le noir avec mon gros sac-maison. Je regarde le bonhomme et dit "Yamen Hostel?" et il repond rapidement "Yes yes taxi!" et est deja en train de marcher. Ils aiment bien offrir un service et discuter du prix a la fin en Asie mais 100% du temps tu te fais fourrer sans meme un souper ou une sortie au cinema.

Je lui dit d'attendre et leve la main, ecarte les doigts. "¥5?". Son visage se transforme, comme s'il venait de mordre dans un citron, et crie No! Suivit de ce qui doit etre du chinois pour "T'es fou mec!" et il croise les deux index pour faire un X, en repetant Ten! Ten! Sur le coup je croyais que c'etait un vestige de vieille tradition a marchander avec les romains (le pti hamster d'imagination part facilement) mais j'apprendrai bien vite que chaque chiffre a son propre signe de la main ici.

(Pour les chiffres: tout d'abord c'est le dos de la main qu'on presente.  On commence par l'index pour 1, ensuite index et majeur pour 2, ainsi de suite jusqu'a 5. On garde le petit doigt et le pouce pour 6. 7, c'est comme le signe pour l'argent, on touche le pouce, l'index et le majeur ensemble. Pour 8 on fait un fusil avec le pouce et l'index et on pointe vers le bas en montrant le dos de la main. Pour 9 on remonte le bras et on fait comme une bouche de petit monstre (ou un C, celon votre niveau de maturite) avec le pouce, index et majeur. 10, on fait un X avec les index en les tappant ensemble, horizontalement. Et juste pour le plaisir, le 7 et 9 semblent s'inverser quand on change de region!)

Alors, j'embarque dans son taxi, une byciclette qui tire un cart, et je me laisse porter. Le bonhomme porte un veston trop grand pour lui et les epaulettes lui donnent un drole d'air.

La chaine de son velo marche a l'envers.

15 minutes plus tard, apres avoir passe des centres d'achats sombres, magasins, arrets d'autobus, travailleuses de la ville en veston orange fluo en train de ramasser les nombreux dechets avec une geante pince fait d'une grosse tige de bambou coupee sur le long et atachee avec un gros elastique. Apres avoir passe les douves, le gros mur de brique et silloner les petites rues entourees d'anciennes maisons de pierre avec toits classiques en tuiles noires au coins pointus, on arrive a destination.

Il l'a merite son ¥10, le monsieur!

La petite maison ancestrale qui habrite l'auberge est remplie de noir, c'est ferme. Je m'apprette a siester sur un petit banc de bois mais le chauffeur cogne a la porte sauvagement en criant.

Bien vite, un chinois a la tete blanche vient nous ouvrir la porte, tout souriant. Il m'indique de deposer mes sacs, s'empare d'une queue de billard et tout fredonnant se dirige vers le petit bureau d'accueil. Avec la queue de billard il pointe un petit morceau de carton accroche au mur.

"Business hours: 6am to 11pm".
Ensuite, tout en fredonnant, il pointe l'horloge a cote. Il est 5:30 am.
Je hoche la tete et simule dormir sur un des nombreux petits divans de la place.
Il hoche la tete a son tour, satisfait. En fredonnant toujours il retourne se coucher, me disant bonne nuit avec un petit pet.

Je m'ecrase sur le premier matelas mou en une semaine et m'endors pour 3 heures.

Quand je me reveille, je depose mon sac dans le dortoire et debute ma journee avec une petite marche dans cette ville sortie tout droit d'un film d'epoque. Les rues a peine larges pour deux voitures sont posees entre de petits hotels et magasins, eux-memes dans de petites maisons de pierres grises, renovees. Les deux axes principaux de la ville, la rue nord-sud et celle sud-ouest, sont interdites aux voitures dans le centre de la ville.

Les touristes chinois abondent, armes de geantes cameras, capturant des portraits d'artisants s'affairant a transformer des os de Yak en peignes ou engages dans l'installation de leur trepied pour prendre la meilleure photo de la tour de garde ancienne.

Il est possible, pour un prix trop eleve, d'aller faire le tour de la ville en marchant sur les ancients remparts et j'y passe une bonne heure.

Quelques metres plus haut que les toits pointus de la ville, on obtient une belle pespective. Claustrophobique!

Les longues rues semblent mener a de petites ruelles sinueuses, elles-memes donnant sur de petites cours d'ou facent quelques maisons. J'imagine qu'une famille partage les petits appartements qui entourent la cour qui habrite parfois un jardin, parfois une corde a linge, un debarras, des jouets d'enfants.

Partout, ses grosses lanternes rouges qui harborent des signes chinois noirs, si charmantes la nuit.

Pour diner je trouve un petit guesthouse ou on parle anglais. Un homme dans la soixantaine est penche sur son laptop. Un voyageur lui dit ses adieux en espagnol et l'homme lui repond fluidement. Un autre voyageur a l'accent americain lui lance un bonjour et il lui repond du meme accent. La receptioniste lui demande une question en chinois et il lui repond dans sa langue assez rapidement.

Je m'en peut plus. "Hello sir! How many languages can you speak?" "Only six. English, spanish, cantonese, german, russian and french". "Ah, I speak french too". Sur ce il me debute une discussion en francais impeccable. Je commence a lui repondre en francais et son visage s'illumine. "Ah, mais vous etes quebecois!" Sur ce, son accent change a MI-PHRASE tandis que sa voix se deplace et devient nasale. Je m'esclafe pendant qu'il me sort expression quebecoise apres l'autre.

Finalement, il est d'origine britanique mais a apprit le francais a l'ecole. Il a passe son adolescence dans le coin du Mont Tremblant et ensuite vecu 3 ans au mexique. Il est en Chine pour apprendre la langue "just because"...

Impressionnant, le bonzomme.














Thursday, 23 October 2014

Beijing markets, night train to Pingyao

23/09/14

After a nice day spent wandering around the Beijing weekend market laid out in a huge open area covered by a giant roof, under which are stalls are thrown together in long lines offering every kind of goods. The first end of the market seems to deal more in bracelets and necklaces, huge and ridiculously long, sold directly on a carpet thrown on the floor. People are haggling while smoking cigarettes, squatting comfortably inches from the floor. Again, like every place in China, there are almost no western tourists.

After a few rows of these the stalls change into huge piles of what looks like infinitely precious china - porcelain - all arranged neatly, waiting for a bidder. There are way less people in these rows and the stall owners are playing games on their phones or catching a quick nap on a tiny chair, head laid back, mouth wide open.

Following this rising trend, the last stalls are small rectangular affairs, more high than wide and my personal favorites: they deal in folk paintings of tigers or rice fields, mountainous landscapes or huge characters of Chinese alphabet, an awesome display of calligraphy.

When I even just ask to look at a tiny necklace of a Buddha sculpted in jade I am rudely waved off by an aged Chinese woman, her eyes closed to emphasize the gesture.

When you reach the outskirts of this mass (mess?) of people you run into these old, small stone buildings that look like something directly out of a Kung-Fu movie. The jewelers occupy these squat houses.

I soon realize that behind those buildings there is another, smaller market where they sell books, old vinyls and even propaganda art. I think about getting a booklet of fragile paper full of drawings against Japanese soldiers. I only know they are Japanese because of the flag insignia they are wearing - they are drawn resembling dogs or rats, stabbing farmers or common folk with bayonets! I know my friend Angus would go nuts for it but I'm afraid to destroy it if I take it with me on my travels. I settle on a classic small Chairman Mao red book written in french, from 1966. Easier to carry.

That night, in my little room consisting of a rock-hard double bed, a tiny desk and a toiler/shower, I read about leaving Beijing.

From the tiny bathroom window seeps in sounds from the street below. The incessant honking that was breaking the silence of day is replaced by chatter, laughs, spitting and burping as people eat their meals on tiny plastic furniture laid out in front of the restaurants. Classic Chinese music (it's exactly what you're picturing) provides a soundtrack to this social life buzz.

I am a little nervous as I read online that apparently it is nigh impossible to get a seat on a train on the same day. I set my alarm for 6 am and try to relax, reading a book in bed while the street noise slowly dissolves and all that is left is the man in the next room snoring peacefully.

After a short 3-hour night (time difference, a ridiculously hard bed and an even harder snorer team up to keep me awake) I take a cold shower to wake up, pack my bags and make my way to the train station.

I get there fairly easily - the subway system is efficient and there are plenty of directions in English - and I all but stop dead in my tracks, gazing at the scene unfolding in front of me.

First of all, the train station is intimidating. Huge, with no English signs at first glance.
Second, there's hundreds of humans moving about like ants working around their fortress. A policeman with machine gun, all dressed in bad ass black, is standing on a podium like a statue.

Not too far from him, kneeling on the hard ground, a lady of about 70 years is begging. I notice that she is not wearing a shirt... but you cannot see her breasts. They are completely engulfed by giant tumors flowering out of her chest. Several people are eyeing me down and pointing at my tattoos without shame.

After a few minutes of aimless walking around with my 15 kilos on my back I finally find the ticket office.

Judging from the giant light sign displaying trains, departure times, seat availability and prices on the far wall, there's a few seats left for the sleeper train that I need. Several minutes later and I have a spot thanks to the fact that there is one window at the ticket booth reserved for English speakers. The train leaves at 5 pm and it's not even 10 am yet so I find the place labeled "Baggage Let" and drop off my temporary home. The man at the booth tries to joke with me in his language and ends his sentence making a gun with his hands and pretending to shoot me.

We both laugh at the awkwardness that ensues.

A quick look at my map, there's still time to squeeze in a last sight! Temple of Summer it is.

Perched on top of a stony hill, overlooking a big lake crowded with small boats, sits a temple built right in the middle of jagged rocks. The climb is quick and easy and the view well worth it. During my walk I try some street food, this type of Pogo... a sausage wrapped in a gauffre, on a stick. Delicious!

Walking back from the Temple of Summer (it was, as you may have guessed, the summer residence of the emperor in ole days) I try more street food that I have been shying away from. All great, all cheap. I try this giant spring roll that turns out is packed tight with rice. I also get 2 types of pancakes, folder onto each other several times to become compact little squares packed with vegetable goodies. I feel that my grace period of adaptation is coming to an end: no more expensive hotels or fancy food or falling for scams, I tell myself!

That night, as a kind of confirmation, I climb into my hard mattress, 3rd bunk from the floor on a rocky sleeper train. There's small handles you can unfold from the wall to help you climb up since it's 7-feet high. I am the only whithey in the wagon. I keep waking up all night, afraid to miss my stop. I am scheduled to arrive at 5 am and I set my alarm for 4:30 but all the announcements are in Chinese and they have a very different way to pronounce city names.

At 4 am however, I am woken up by a train officer, this lady in blue uniform armed with a flashlight aimed directly in my face. When I first got on the train she came to take my ticket and exchange it for a small color card, big like a business card. She is now handing back the ticket to me as I return the color-coded card, I guess it's their little system to make sure people get off at the right place. She tells me to get ready with gestures. 40 minutes later and I arrive in Pingyao.

 It's 5 am, it's pitch black, and it's cold.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Beijing Scammer #2 and the Great Wall of China

21/09/14

After visiting the Forbidden City I make my way back to my hotel and get off at the wrong subway station, again. This time however I recognise the street corner from the last time I got lost. I look at the city map on the sidewalk (NOT conveniently pointing in the right cardinal direction or even facing the right street), then look at my own map, then at the subway lines map on the back of my city map.

Like an awesome advanced computer I triangulate my position and realise that there are stations missing on my street map!

No wonder I keep getting lost! 

For the folks at home, the Beijing metro stations are not so close to each other like in our beloved Montreal. The stations of Beijing are easily an hour's walk from each other, so you can imagine the amount of walking I have had to do.

This time though, I get back on the subway and go one more station in the right direction and here it is, the streets near my hotel greet me. Confirmed: my map is either old, or stupid.

Tired of eating 50 cent noodle soups to save money and needing to forget about the scam I climb the stairs to an ultra-posh (word I picked up in the U.K. that means "fancy" to us Canadians) Pizza Hut and sit down at an empty table, picturing a giant all-dressed monster oozing with cheese and steaming sexy calories. I was going to destroy that betch.

What I instead receive for my order is a tiny pizza for kids, what we call bambinos back home. False advertisement is the norm in China it seems.

I eat it slowly, eaves dropping on the table next to me and watch as the 3 westerners make one special demand after another to the staff, quite rudely at that.

I was wondering if the chinese workers would pull a South-East Asia style of service, the one that goes something like "You are making my life difficult therefore I will stoutly ignore you until you exit my sphere of existence" but no, these people look at the clients in all seriousness, but as soon as they turn the corner (where I am sitting) they laugh it off amongst themselves and proceed to meet every demand (not enough vegetables on this side order. Can I get more ice? Ice? ICE? No no mine was with NO ice. Can I get my coke colder, but with no ice, like her? Can I get different vegetables this time? Can I get a second pizza for free this one was not big enough?)

Later, in the hobby of the hotel, I meet 4 Polish girls, 2 pairs of travellers that just met. I tell them of my debacle at the Forbidden City and everyone has a good, long laugh at it, including me (the beers help swallow my pride). One of the two pairs invites me to join them on their trip to the Great Wall for the next day. They announce that they are leaving at 6am because they are going to a secluded portion of the wall that also has a slide, and then they retreat to their rooms.

I get back to mine, to shave off all that curly hair and beard I was letting grow, having bought a cheap shaver the day before.

The next morning I grogilly meet them in the lobby and I immediatly find myself walking top speed through the streets on an empty stomach. I think to myself that if they plan to keep this rhythm all day I would strike out on my own fairly quickly.

About 40 minutes later we arrive at the subway station that connects to a bus line that should take us to our ultimate destination. I am calmly looking for directions when suddenly a wild woman dressed in bus driver uniform appears!
"Hello! I am a bus driver, do you need help? Where are you going?"
Why, this is almost too good to be true! We tell her our bus number and the lady informs us that this line no longer exists, it has changed to a new bus line. She gives us clear directions to reach it.

The girls get into this gear, this special speed where you're more than jogging but not quite running yet. I reluctantly follow, trying not to lose them in Beijing-level rush hour traffic. As we make our way through the human river I keep an eye out for the bus signs. No indications about the old number at all.

We finally arrive in a giant indoors garage where dozens of buses drive by and tonnes of stops are identified with big green signs, metal fences forcing people to queue up (as forming a line to wait is not a concept that has yet to reach the average chinese person's mind, in 2014).

Still no sign of the original bus number but we find our new number fairly quickly and magically the lady bus driver appears to guide us in the right direction.

We manage to get on the bus after fighting our way through the pile-on that forms outside the railings and the 3 of us sit together. I fall asleep.

I wake up about 40 minutes later and we are still on the road, the Polish girls are still sitting next to me, still smiling and full of energy and good will even this early in the morning. They share a portion of their snacks with me.

Another 15 minutes go by and suddenly the lady bus driver reappears! She is now changed in civilian clothes.

"Bus stop! Here!"She says urgently and we all disembark right in the middle of a giant street corner, in a distant suburb of Beijing. There are some small stores and a few high-rises, a park where people are playing ping-pong. Smog still covers the sky,

The lady walks us a few meters down the street and from her pocket produces a car key. She unlocks her vehicule - we all stop in our tracks. The mood becomes very sour, very quickly. The girls that were making fun of me not even 12 hours ago just felt for a scam. All of a sudden, the woman's english language drops in quality, as if she just practiced a few lines over and over again.

As we grimly look on, she matter-of-factly gets a book of bills out of her car and uses the hood as a table. She leans down comfortably and gets a pen from her pocket.
"60 km" she writes. "60 x 3" she adds, pointing at the 3 of us one by one.

"Fucking bitch" we all say in perfect harmony.

I tell her that she is a thief, all the while keeping my voice calm and level, because if you make an asian lose face things can get very ugly, very fast.

She keeps smiling. "50 x 3", she writes. It's only $10 each, but a trip to the Great Wall normally costs about $3 a person, by bus. I tell her that the only way we are getting in that car is if she charges us 50 Yuan total.

The girls say they are never getting in that car, and I agree. For all we know, we'll have to stop at her friend's place for tea, then at her cousin's for cheap jewels, then pay extra still to get to our real destination.

The lady doesn't understand our logic. "You made it all this way, surely you can't just go back?" she tries to emulate with basic mimes and a few sparse english words. "No way to Wall from Beijing! No way!"

At this point I start to lose my cool a little bit. All the while smiling but speaking a little bit louder I go "You are a liar, and a thief, and a bad person. We will pay the bus again then we will go to the Great Wall from Beijing. People do it every day, all the time, for years now. Just because we're white doesn't mean we're stupid".

We crossed the street to the bus stop where a small gathering of people were seemingly just passing time. The lady follows us screaming in her language. One man seems to be very angry at me, gesturing me to get out of town with his hands, quite intensely. Everyone else is just looking on quietly. People don't like to get involved here in China, I would learn as I travel. I take the Lonely Planet book of one of the girls, find a picture of the Great Wall and show it to the man who was so agitated. He seems to understand a little bit. "Aaaaah" he says, tapping the picture with his finger and showing the curious man who was looking over his shoulder. After all, there are no mountains around us. The lady starts screaming and pointing at us, probably trying to win her case.

A quiet young man suddenly comes up to us and asks us in English what happened. We explain our predicament and he calmly translates our story to everyone. The lady is losing face. She starts yelling even more. No one seems to believe her, or care at all.

More than an hour later, back in Beijing, I walk side by side with the student. The girls are walking ahead of me and I can tell they feel terribly bad about wasting my time. The young chinese man eyes me up and down calmly and says out of the blue "You are strong". I laugh, tell him chinese people are stronger, and try to talk about his studies but he says he does not understand what I mean. Soon the group splits up. I refer to my written down notes from my original plan and make it to a more touristy section of the Great Wall in about an hour.

To try and describe the Great Wall without sounding like I'm exaggerating... The idea behind the structure sounds like something out of A Game of Thrones. The scope of it is Tolkien-ish. But this is real life.

Like a giant stone snake, the Wall rides the tops of mountains and hills, rocky and sharp, sometimes foresty. While walking it, the steepness of it - coupled with the fact that the stones are made completely smooth by centuries of feet walking it - makes my cheap shoes slip and I almost lose my footings a couple of times.

Some places offer a few flat spots. They have to be navigated shoulder to shoulder with the masses resting, taking selfies, catching their breath, spitting.

I look back at the way I came to take in this picturesque view of small poking mountains protruding from the fog... or is it smog?

I reach a high point where a small guard tower sits patiently. Totally exhausted, I watch a tiny chinese lady, as old as the wall, climb the stairs quickly and mercilessly. I feel weak.

I look at the time: already 3pm. With the climb back and the fight to get on the buses I estimate I should head back already. Some people do several days of hiking without ever stepping off the wall. It must be an amazing experience.

In retrospect the first destination considered by the girls would have probably been better and more exciting only for the fact that I wouldn't be drowned in a sea of chinese tourists but another scammer has almost ruined my day, again.

The next day was spent planning my next destination, giving a break to my dead-tired feet who have been through a lot of walking in the past month in really bad shoes. I make an effort to visit, in the late afternoon, a park close to my hotel, called the Temple of Heaven.

There, I am magnetically pulled towards a group of Chinese standing in a circle with an accordeon player and 2 flutists. They are under the direction of a jovial chore leader singing Chinese opera with all of their heart and all of their lungs.

I listen for a while, in trance. After half an hour I take my leave to calmly walk on paths lined with tall trees. Here, in the heart of the city, the air is cooler and the ambiance quieter. An old man with 3 teeth left is very delighted to meet me. All smiles he asks me a few questions about where I am from and if I like China.

I answer politely and keep walking, taking deep breaths and relaxing.

A smile appears on my face as I think about the funny, mispelled, engrish T-shirts I have seen so far. The list is infinite and I was too lazy to write them down as I saw them but here are a few:

-Prosche, instead of Porsche.
-To better love than today alone.
-FUCK
-A very old lady wearing a playboy shirt.
-BING (instead of bling?)
and many, many instances of a word missing a letter or a P or B or S printed upside down.

My theory goes like this: A man makes an order from a chinese company. The company goes and prints a few thousand shirts and sends a picture to the man. "Yo, is this cool?", to which the man loses his shit and refuses to pay for those. The chinese man, knowing full well his fellow countrymen can't read english, proceeds to sell the shirts here himself, for a nice profit.

End of story.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Beijing Scammers and the Forbidden City

20/09/2014

As some of you may know, I made a conscious decision to leave semi-prepared, hoping this would make the trip more interesting. I checked the "essentials" online a few days before leaving to make sure I wouldn't miss out on any cool things to do or have problems at borders and that was it.

Well, it has certainly made things more interesting.

On my way to the Forbidden Palace, about to exit the subway station, I am intercepted by two Chinese women of about 40 who could speak english very well. They offered me to join them for the Forbidden Palace, they would act as translators. They were part of a bigger tourist group but decided to split for a day.

That's what they said.

"Cool", I thought to myself, some company.

My top, best, favorite thing in travels is to mingle with the locals.It's not always easy. It is also one of the reasons why I love Laos so much, they let you right into their life.

After we exit the subway, they guide me to the forbidden city, all the while making small talk and invite me for some tea before we proceed.

This is when the spider-sense would have been tingling, have I read a little bit more about Beijing beforehand.

We had some tea, I had a beer and they ordered some cocktails and snacks. We had a good conversation about China and Canada and some laughs, and then came the bill.

One. Hundred. Dollars.

Even better, the tiny place where we are is dead silent. Then my brain starts working out some details I should have paid attention to. There's only one table in this place, a tiny spot in the corner. Looks normal for a chinese place though, but still. Also, the sign for open/closed is switched to Closed in the window facing the street.

The waitress and both ladies are staring at me expectantly. I raise my eyebrows and say that this is really expensive and ask for a discount for my beer, which was $10. Considering there's 50 cents cans right next door to my hotel, this was ludicrous.

The waitress, upon hearing my request, immediately starts shouting! "YOU PAY! YOU PAY!". One of the ladies says that it is chinese customs for the man to pick up the whole bill. "That's fine but I'm not chinese, and you were the one to invite me." I offer to pay for my beer and 1/3 of the tea ($50 alone!). I calmly take out my money and put it on the table, then stare at the other two ladies without saying a word. No one picks up my moneys. After a few, very tense seconds, one of the two ladies starts laughing and says she will pay the rest. I ended up paying $35 for beer and tea! More than the price of my room for a night, or even a full day in South-East Asia.

Later on in my travels I would meet other people, men and women, who would fall for this scam. One french man explains "It is the most expensive water I have ever drank".

Very bitterly I exit the restaurant and tell the women that it was over-priced and ridiculous. It still hadn't crossed my mind that they were working in tandem with the store owner, just that they wanted to be spoiled.

"Tea made me hungry, do you want to come with us and eat some noodles?"

At this point I realized that I had been a huge idiot. I stopped in my tracks and stared at them longer. I told them I was going to go on, on my own. They said their goodbyes cheerfully and went their way, probably back to the subway station to hook more tourist-fish with their deceptive worms of smiles.

I hope that once in a while, lying in their bed in the evening, they think about what they do, and they can't sleep at night.

Moments later, I find myself in front of the ticket office for the Forbidden City. There is an inner battle in my mind: Cost for my day - scam included - versus memories. In the end I tell myself I made it all the way to freaking China, might as well. I'll skip on some other things.

Inside the walls of the Forbidden City I look around wide-eyed. This had been a dream of mine since I was a kid, hearing about it in a movie.

The entrapment scam had unfortunately left a sour taste in my mouth. I can honestly say that I did not enjoy walking the confines of this ancient, sacred place. Everything looked too new and rebuilt as well.

Surrounded by chinese tourists I climbed up and down white stairs sculpted in rock, up white balconies, always decorated with intricate railings where heads of what looked like dragons equipped with short elephant snouts pointing up stare out in every direction, for ever.

At the top of these stairs - always in red walls roofed by ornate green tiles supported by wooden beams lacquered in gold - are the buildings used by emperors centuries ago, where they prayed and held ceremonies. The first building was situated maybe 10 feet higher than the court but the more you moved towards the middle of the Forbidden City, the bigger these buildings became and the higher they were situated.

Amassed at the doors of said buildings are waves and waves of people - all chinese, all with black heads - pushing and shoving to get a cellphone picture of an ancient throne of gold or a giant gong or the empress's living quarters, separated only from the onslaught of chinese tourists by a metal bar, chest-high, and a quiet guard sitting bored on a chair.

Walking absent-minded I go through the process, seeing a series of buildings almost identical to each other for about an hour. I don't even feel observed any more, even if I am the only foreigner for long stretches.

Finally, I see something that truly impressed me.

In the middle of these stairs, always laid down and following the incline are stone carvings depicting various scenes.

In the center of the complex however, following the longest stairs, this stone is HUGE.

As you walk up the stairs you can watch the scene unfold, of dragons emerging from a stormy ocean to go dance in a sky occupied by clouds of tempest.

The giant white stone has apparently been dragged there centuries ago, from thousands of miles away. This piece of rock is enormous. I'm not good with dimensions but if it was laid up and straight it would probably be about 20 feet high at least, and 7 feet wide. It was brought there by very determined people during winter time. They would sprinkle water on the ground to form an icy path and slid the stone that way across China.

Impressive.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Un peu de langue de Moliere

Je m'excuse d'avance, j'ai pas les accents sur ma tablette!

19/09/14

Ca fait bizarre d'ecrire dans un cahier, en lettres attachees en plus, mais bon! J'ai ignore les lecteurs francos trop longtemps.

Alors voici:

Beijing... le dragon d'Asie. Il m'a bien mordu, cet ancien dragon.

Hier, apres un reve assez bizarre merci, je me reveille a 4h du matin. J'ai profite du wi-fi chancelant pour ecouter quelques episodes de Attack on Titan (pas si pire) et lire un peu. J'ecoute la ville se reveiller lentement au travers de ma petite fenetre. Pas de coqs qui hurlent comme aux Philippines et Laos, mais des klaxons... Tant de klaxons.

Tout le monde vit dans des petites maisons cubiques grises en ciment, avec un toit en tuiles chinoises classiques. Ca fait plutot pauvre, mais on dirait que tout le monde a une voiture. Car dans une petite rue plus large tout proche d'ici, il y a des autos a n'en plus finir. Stationnees de par-choque  a par-choque, 3 de large, 6 de profond.

Et bon, le matin, il faut que ca sorte! Alors BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEEP ca sonne jusqu'a ce que tout le monde soit en chemin, avant 7am.

Mais ne vous laissez pas confondre par mon texte! Le klaxon est un outil essentiel a la conduite, en plus il vient avec le vehicule. En effet, il sert a signaler a la bicyclette en avant qu'elle est trop lente (ce qui n'y change absolument rien), si l'auto sur le cote de la rue prend trop de place (elle ne bougera jamais), si il y a des gens dans le chemin pendant un signale pour pietons (ca marche sur les etrangers), si je m'apprete a depasser, si je suis derriere quelqu'un, si je suis dans un angle mort, si je vais vite... en plus des klaxons-signaux auxquels je n'attribue aucune utilitee whatsoever.

Apres mon reveille enchanteur, hop! C'est le temps du pti-dej.

McDo, meme pas honte.

Ensuite, bapteme du metro a 8h am. J'ai une mission: me rendre dans l'ouest de la ville pour aller brasser des affaires dans un centre d'achats entierement pour cameras.

Pour votre benefice bien sur, chers lecteurs.

Surprennant, c'est pas trop complique. D'abord, soumettre son sac a une passe X-Ray. Y'a un policier qui se promene avec un BOSTAFF (le baton de Donatello!). Ensuite, le comptoir a tickets. La femme en uniforme et tres serieuse ne parle que chinois mais pointe sur la vitre, le signe "¥" suivit d'un 2.

40 sous le metro!

Bien sur, j'etais empile parmis tant de chinoix, plus tasse que je ne l'ai jamais ete a montreal, mais c'etait quand meme plus propre que dans la rue et personne chialait.

On me regarde sans trop se gener. Tattoos, barbe, etranger. Plein de points!

Mon epopee vers le centre de camera ne fut pas la plus brillante. En sortant du metro je me fit a la mediocre excuse de soleil que le smog nous laisse avir pour determiner le nord.

Le Japon, c'est le pays du soleil levant, ou couchant?

Et ca se couche de quel bord, un soleil?

Quel voyageur exceptionnel. Parfait moment pour avoir un blanc.

En tout cas, j'avais bien choisit.

Sauf que j'ai devie trop vite en voyant un centre d'achats. Longeant une espece d'aire libre immense et  poussiereuse ou un chinois age s'amuse avec un avion teleguide, un autre avec un cerf-volant, je me retrouve au pied d'un centre d'achats pour ultra-riches. J'y entre.

Wi-fi et toilettes, pour faire le vide et m'orienter.

Je suis loooooin de ma destination! Sur la carte, encore une fois, ca avait l'air si proche. Montreal est si petite.

En sortant, j'essaie de lire le nom des rues et de les trouver sur ma carte, elle aussi en chinois. Les jeux videos m'ont prepare on dirait, je triangule (Si t'as joue a Myst, t'as une longueur d'avance)

Par contre, le resultat: je marche en rond pendant 45 minutes.

Les voyages, c'est pas seulement la biere pas chere et les belles rencontres...

Pour en faire une histoire plus courte j'ai finalement atteint ma destination, ou tout les magasins annoncent Nikon et Canon, des fois mal ecrit, et tout le monde porte un chandail rouge "officiel" Canon.

Apres avoir marchande un peu et achete une Gopro je retourne vers mon hotel.

Je debarque du metro une station plus tot "pour voir la ville" et je me perd pour une autre heure. Sur la carte, c'est que de beaux boulevards bien droits...

En vrai, entre les boulevards y'a rues, ruelles,  chemins, couloirs, tous sinuants entre petites maisons grises et petits magasins de cigarettes et boissons, tous identiques.

Une autre heure plus tard et je reconnais finalement mon coin. J'arrive finalement chez moi... je sens mon coeur battre dans mes pieds, j'ai soif, j'ai faim.

En me perdant toute la journee par contre j'ai pu observer le petit quotidien chinois.

-Un gros chat blanc tout sale se prelasse sur une pile de dechets.

-Un petit garcon en trycicle s'arrete soundainement et me pointe, tout surpris, la bouche grande ouverte. Je lui envoi la main et sa maman me sourit en lui disant de me dire "helloooo".

-Des retraites se gardent en forme dans de petits parcs remplis de petites machines d'entrainement, en metal, peinturees jaune et bleue.

-Un petit groupe de vieux jouent une chanson traditionnelle sous un viaduc, assis sur des blocs de ciment.

-Des memes, assises sur leurs tabourets de chaque bord de la ruelle jacassent bruyement, une petite flaque de crachat a leur pieds.

-Dans le metro, un tattoue a la coupe d'Elvis et un chandail Ed Hardy et sa copine regardent mes tattouages et me donnent leur accord. C'est de bonne qualite. Ils aiment particulierement mes squelettes et cranes.

(Blog mit a jour directement d'une petite ile a Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. J'en reviens pas qu'ils ont le Wi-Fi jusqu'ici!

Friday, 17 October 2014

my weird dream

(Transcribed from notes written down directly after waking up)
17/09/14, 04:34 am (Beijing time)

I'm facing a wall a white wall curved slightly. Behind me, a snowy, night landscape. I talk with a friend, I think it's Jonathan.

I go out, past a door. Patrick Stewart is in a swing, a white sucker for toddlers in his mouth. I salute him. I walk past him into the dark, past a street, to another white, curved wall with a counter sticking out. Patrick Stewart is sitting on a stool.

He is drinking coffee. He tells me that the lady down the street makes the most delicious jelly but I know he means pancakes.He says that he believes is not her half of the trailer that they stole, but her neighbor's and they moved all her stuff in his trailer while she was sleeping and that's why she's confused.

Patrick Stewart fades.

I go to bed, outside in the street I just passed. We're in a white trailer park.

As for a reward, the ghost of Patrick Stewart wants to show me something neat. Some lights flicker faintly. My right arm levitates.

Then something happens. Something dark. I can't move everything darkens. I try to laugh but I stay silent. I try to raise my arms but I can't. I try to say something, nothing comes out. I want to scream, I feel pushed down. I push my arms up, hard, try to scream, until finally I break free and out of the dream.

I wake myself up sitting up in my bed in the dark.

There are constant chills on my back and legs as I write this.

Culture Clash 2.0

16/09/14
I have finally left the familiar and comfortable confines of England where I understand almost everyone (except in Glasgow) and the food is incredibly pricey.

Landing at the Berlin airport for a connection I am greeted by signs in German. "Oh yeah, says I to myself, it's going to be interesting from now on..."

While waiting in line I speak with a German guy. He is going to Beijing to maintain a water fountain he helped set up for the past olympics. In the plane -in which everything seems to be falling apart- I am seated next to a young German guy going back to the chinese town in
which he now resides after a short visit to his family in Germany. He was a backpacker until he found a job in China. He tells me of this man he knows, his job is to be "the white guy at a wedding": he shows up in suit and tie, reads in English from a piece of paper, walks around a little bit and leaves.

Next to us was an Italian woman on her way to judge a flute competition.

I landed in Beijing after an uncomfortable and sleepless 10-hour flight and made my way to the taxi stand. While waiting in line a cab driver approaches me to inspect my tattoos. Impressed, he shows me his, a koi fish jumping out of the water, in semi-quality black and white. He instructs me to follow him and I get to skip half the line.

White privilege, or the chance for him to charge extra? The latter, definitely.

When I first walked out of the airport I had initially thought that the road out was flanked by a big white building devoid of windows. As we drive out of the parking lot and my view is no longer confined between two parking lot levels I realise that this unmoving wall is in fact the sky, smoged to the point of being opaque. The sun was completely invisible.

We found my hotel amongst crooked little streets where I unpack, shower and fall asleep for a good 5 hours, forcing myself to my feet afterwards to get something to eat.

A quick walk on streets lined with cars and gray, small, rundown single story buildings housing restaurants. There is a constant flow of pedestrians and quite a few of them are starting at me for long seconds. They really return my smiles.

The snorting and spitting is something that, in a month, I will never get used to.

After a quick noodle soup (ordered by pointing at a picture on the wall) and supply run I retreat to my small room where I write these lines in a school notebook, on a small desk. My belongings are stored out on the bed, waiting to be reorganised for the Xth time.

All blogs seem to be blocked here in China, and so I write these lines on pages instead of internets. It's the first time I write by hand in something else than the equivalence of caps lock. How my teachers never complained about my handwriting I will never understand...