Sunday, October 5, 2008

More From Jeff

As I have mentioned previously, my grandson Jeff is studying in china this year. His most recent update on his trip folows:

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Shanghai China.

I apologize for standing you up on my weekly update; these last few weeks have left me little time. My time not spent in school I have been traveling, first to an island in the East China Sea, then to a Taoist temple in Zhejiang province to the south. My internship also started, my task: find an alternative way to measure CO2 emissions. (Oh, and solve the world hunger problem while you are at it…)

A few weeks ago, I went to the nearest tennis club for a private lesson. People had been telling me that Chinese tennis players are not the best at tennis, and even that my instructor might not be the caliber that I am used to. I arrived at the court, and paid the equivalent of 20 USD. The pro grabbed a racket off the wall and we headed out to the court. We warmed up short court and moved back as I assessed the situation, he was not any better than me. After 40 minutes of him feeding and me grooving, I asked him to play a set. He agreed, and I smoked him 6-0. At first I was mad. Why should I pay for this? But I quickly came to terms with myself, and convinced myself it was worth it because I had worked some strokes, and had a few good points. My optimism was later confirmed by meeting a Frenchman that was looking for someone to play with at a higher level, and we exchanged numbers.

Then, the best part of the week: my fishing trip. I left Friday night at 9 on a night train (means I had a hard bunk sleeper). I started talking to the people that were in my same room (5 others) and they all turned out to be extremely interesting and knew all about where I was going. We talked late into the night. The next morning one of the ladies I had met who lived nearby paid for me to take a cab to the docks (which were in a different city called Rui'an) and bought me breakfast. Awesome. The ticket booth was nearby too, and I was able to get my tickets for the boat and head to the waiting room. While I was waiting I had to deal with the stares of everyone in the room, (I was the only foreigner I had seen for the last 12 hours, it is not a tourist destination) repeated attempts from an old man trying to set me up with his daughter, ("Is she not beautiful? Yes! Very beautiful! Good wife!") And kids trying to practice English with me. The latter was highly enjoyable, and the two kids (10 and 6) had rather good vocabularies, so I quizzed them on fruit names before they got bored.

The boat lasted a rough 2 hours, and the landlubbers around me were vomiting all over the seats, the floor, and sometimes into the trash can. The only cure was the calm seas of the dock where I was only too happy to breathe fresh air. The cab to the other side of the island took ten minutes, five up and five down. The scenery out of the window reminded me of Cinque Terre, Italy. The road dropped off into beaches and surf, fishermen unloaded their catch at docks, and women cut fish up to bait traps. I arrived at my hotel, a room part of a four room beach house, and it cost $14 a night. I set out and explored the island. It is part of a chain of islands, most of them a national park. The main industries on the island are fishing and trapping crabs, eels, and other marine animals, as well as tourists. Luckily, the cages are large and comfortable…

Tourism. There are only a few spots for tourists to stay, and a limited amount of seats (about 300 a day) on boats to and from the island. Many of the fish and shrimp that they harvest are dried, done by slicing the fish and placing them on wires out in the sun or placing the shrimp along the sides of the road. Every road near any house has three feet of shrimp shoulder drying on each side.

I tried to climb up to a mountain road, but was told by military personnel that it was forbidden. I walked back down and tried to find someone to take me deep-sea fishing. All of the boats were already out, and it was going to be too much hassle, so I went back to my beach house where the owner let me borrow a fishing pole, and I set out for the docks. On the way I bought a pound of fresh shrimp (32 American cents from a restaurant) and walked down the road to the water. The docks on the island were cut into the rock cliffs and had no fish around them. My bait was constantly stolen by tiny fish and crabs, and the two cops that were fishing next to me were also having no luck. They told me they knew a better location and invited me to join them. The location they knew about turned out to be down a cliff, my flip flops are not the best climbing shoes, but I managed. I caught no fish, but sitting on a partially submerged rock in the cool water with the sun beating, and minnows nibbling, my love of traveling was reinforced. The time it took me to plan the trip, the long train ride, the boat with vomiting people, all of those hurdles were ephemeral compared to the magnitude of peace I felt on that rock. I would come back, I decided, and I would bring friends so they could experience that feeling.

That night I met two kids (19 and 24, boy and girl, brother and sister) that were staying at my hotel, and we went out to eat at one of the local restaurants. No restaurant had a menu; they only had bins of fresh seafood that were more of a, "See how fresh our food is?" than a practicality, but I was impressed. We met four more people that they knew, and had a feast. three different types of crab, three plates of oysters on the half shell, (they eat them with wasabi and soy sauce) other assorted shells, shrimp, mussels, two types of fish, eel, and other things that I have never eaten but I was assured live in the sea. It was a feast by any measure, and the total for 7 people was not over 100 USD. Afterwords we went to the beach and cooled off in the water before retiring to bed around 10.

The next morning I woke up at 4 and took a bus to the top of the island to see the sunrise. The two kids from the night before came with, and we rock-sat one of the highest points of the island, and watched the sun rise above islands, fishing boats, and the bay. Amazing. We returned to the hotel around 7, I went swimming, ate some more delicious seafood, and took the three o'clock boat back to the mainland.

The trip back was much more eventful than the trip there. Fortunately, the boat passage was calm, no vomiting. They played a movie that was entirely inappropriate for the younger passengers, and they had the volume up so loud that it disturbed my sleep through ear plugs. Back at Rui'an, I had to catch a cab back to Wen'zhou the nearest airport. Every cab driver there (they knew the time of the boat, and were waiting in droves) quoted me ridiculous prices that I was not going to pay. I had heard that you could get a public taxi, which was essentially a cab that you took with other people so you could split the cost. I started walking away to find one and a man on a motorcycle zoomed up, offering to help me track one down. I paid him 30 RMB, put on a helmet, and told him to be careful. I must have looked ridiculous with my backpack on my back and my camera on my shoulder, hanging on to a small Chinese man weaving through traffic, crossing the center line and chasing down cabs. I did not realize that he really meant chasing when he said it, but we tore down the highway chasing cabs, hailing them over, and asking them if I could ride with them. After the most exciting 15 minutes of my life we found one for 5 RMB. I arrived at the airport, which was small and littered with advertisements for transmissions, bolts and other assorted machinery parts, (Wen'zhou is a big manufacturing center) and started memorizing Monday's characters. While waiting, I noticed that my face and back felt hot: sunburn. I went to buy a bottle of cool water, and the clerk, a woman who could barely have been 20 asked me, "Have you been drinking?" Sorry, I am just white.

Last weekend was an equally exciting adventure. After Friday's test, my friend Jamie and I went to a baseball game. His internship is with the Shanghai Eagles, Shanghai's professional baseball team. Baseball is not popular in China; the entire country only has 6 teams. We sat in the dugout, met some of the players, and watched them get destroyed by Beijing, the best team in the League. Beijing's team has most of China's Olympic players, so it was hardly fair. Shanghai's team had one Olympic player on it, and I got to sit next to him on the bench between innings, pretty cool. We left in the 7th inning, ate, and went to the train station. Our RD Jeremy and the rest of our study abroad group met us at the train station, and we took a night train to Wen'zhou (Same place as last week). The next morning we got in two taxis we had rented for the weekend and drove for a while, out of the city and into another. We ended up at a hotel. Surprise! Jeremy took us to a breakfast buffet with food in one of my favorite flavors: west. Not that the food here is terrible, but how many meals can I eat rice and dumplings in a row? After we stuffed our faces, we took off to nine pools.

Jeremy warned us that we were "not supposed to swim", and then made sure we all had our suits (hidden under clothing) before we took off. We hiked up to the ninth pool to get warm (it was only 70 and cloudy) before swimming in the 7th. It was a waterfall-carved pool, deep beyond touching, and we jumped off rocks and swam under crushing falls. We swam in the 6th (a pool with a diameter of 10 feet that was over 30 feet deep) the 8th (shallow and carved out) and the 10th (I guess it's a secret? It had a slippery rock face that we could slide down into another pool). After we were thoroughly cold, we packed up and hiked back down to a country-style dinner of spicy chicken (heads included), bamboo roots, and lotus root. We then changed into hiking clothes drove up a mountain road that changed from cement to gravel to dirt to rocks and then ended. We then left the taxis and hiked up the rest of the way in the darkening fog to a Taoist temple. We arrived in the pitch dark, and my penlight was our only guide through the shrine and past the courtyard burning incense into the commons area. A few monks were sitting around watching television, and when we arrived they disappeared into the kitchen to make us dinner. Everyone sat around the TV watching the English Channel; I was instantly bored. I ventured into the kitchen to see if I could help, and I ended up sitting behind the stove with a monk dressed in a blue robe, breaking pine boughs into small enough pieces to stuff into the stove and keep our rice cooking. It took me a good 5 minutes of talking with him to understand that he didn't really speak Mandarin, but a local dialect. We tended the fire in silence. Dinner was awesome, vegetarian dishes brimming with flavor, tea that warmed us, and laughter brought tears to our eyes as we watched the aged, fire-tending monk curl up on a chair in front of a Korean soap opera.

The beds were simple but comfortable, and we slept hard, waking up at 4 to the tap-tap-tap of monks praying and chanting. We drifted back to sleep after they quieted, and woke up to the same meal we had eaten 12 hours previously, still delicious. We hiked back down after a group photo. Our trip back to Wen'zhou was marked by eating sugarcane in the cabs. Delicious. In Wen'zhou we found a coffee shop and did our homework. We took another night train back, arriving at 5AM Monday, time enough to write my essay before class.

This week has been quiet all over Shanghai. Wednesday was a national holiday so most people had the week off. We, unfortunately, follow the US calendar and only had Wednesday off, but that will be made up for by our fall break in two weeks. The weather here is still great, 70s and sunny, and comfortable at night.

I also have a new cell number, it follows.

Until next week,

Jeff Vredenburg

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