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Author Topic: Mission: Second Honeymoon  (Read 5639 times)

Escaped Lunatic

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Mission: Second Honeymoon
« on: October 02, 2013, 08:27:22 AM »
It was a mission of exploration.

It was a mission of mercy.

It was a mission of shopping.

It was a mission of  bhbhbhbhbh afafafafaf

And all rolled into one, it was Mission:  Second Honeymoon.


First, the exploration part.  I've almost never been to Hunan.  I've ridden trains through it and even changed trains a couple of times.  Even though that meant changing train stations, that's kind of like riding from LaGuardia to JFK and saying you've visited New York City.  Finally, I was going to get to see a little of Hunan.

Day 1 (Sept 20):  I didn't get to see much.  We took the once/week flight from Guangzhou to Tongren. (Which I didn't even find out was in Guizhou until I was flying out - Now I've got a brand new province I almost never been to. llllllllll)  We arrived after dark.  My lovely wife had already arranged for a driver to meet us (I still had to wade through a pack of other drivers intend on taking me for a ride somewhere).  Amazingly, there were no travel snags or drunken, vomiting passengers with us (aaaaaaaaaa), unlike on our first honeymoon. ahahahahah

On the road from the Tongren airport to Feng Huang (Phoenix town), I could still make out the traditional architecture in many of the buildings.  After so many sad attempts to capture good photos of these from trains, I was finally going to get a chance to get up close and personal with building styles I've only been able to see from a distance. agagagagag

Feng Huang is more or less two pieces.  There's the old town, beautiful, but also a giant tourist trap, and everything else.  Our first hotel (for some reason, I've found it impossible to get through a honeymoon without a hotel change) was in the everything else zone.  The hotel room was large, but plain and lacked a lot of amenities. However, the staff was very accommodating, even adding a wireless hub to our room so that we could both do our jobs each morning without getting caught in a web of network cables before moving on to other activities.  One slight oddity.  The room had a Windows based PC with a tower case - complete with an Apple logo on the front. mmmmmmmmmm

Just to keep us from getting lonely, more than 20 friends showed up and were staying in that hotel or others nearby.  No, it wasn't a second honeymoon orgy (but I really should do some research on that concept before we have a 3rd honeymoon afafafafaf).  It was other members of MilliCharity joining us for the Mission of Mercy phase of the trip.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2013, 02:24:26 AM by Escaped Lunatic »
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AMonk

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2013, 09:30:43 AM »
 agagagagag So far, so good bfbfbfbfbf Awaiting your next installment bjbjbjbjbj
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Escaped Lunatic

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2013, 09:32:25 AM »
Day 2:  Getting everyone's act together.

MilliCharity is a Dongguan charity group currently celebrating it's 25th year of sponsoring poor children's education (and occasionally building houses and school buildings).  For the last 15 years, the areas in and around Feng Huang have been part of that mission.  This was the 100th trip to Feng Huang by our founder, Uncle Zhuang.

The basic plan is usually the same.  Load up a ton of candy and some clothing and other items for the kids, travel to the schools (together or else separating into subgroups to cover more territory more quickly), keep any members of the press as happy as possible, and let individual sponsors get to meet their kids.

The one drawback I've noticed in things from Dongguan is that Cantonese people love to discuss, contemplate, rehash, and reschedule just about everything.  It's endearing knowing that I'll be entertained for at least 2 hours if I visit a neighbor for a quick cup of tea.  It's also just a tiny bit less than efficient.

So, off we went to buy candy.  Happily, this wasn't as bad as it could have been, since Uncle Zhuang knew where to go to have crateloads delivered to the hotel.  After a quick (Cantonese quick, not really quick ahahahahah) lunch, everything got delivered to the hotel.

Since there were more than enough people to fill candy bags in a maelstrom of sweet and chewy chaos, and most of them had been there before, my darling wife and I shirked our duty and slipped away to wander the local neighborhood.  One thing I noticed about a small, but surprisingly significant percentage of the Hunan girls - they were . . . top heavy. VERY top heavy.  To get the image, start from the bottom and slowly pan upward - pretty petite Chinese feet, lovely slender legs, beautiful, yet modestly curved hips, a perfect narrow waist, and then . . . YOWZA!!!  WHERE DID THOSE COME FROM?!?  I was wondering if there was a Chinese version of a Dolly Parton impersonator convention going on somewhere in town.

Later, we ended up hooking up with a few members of the charity group in the evening.  The destination - one of the schools inside Feng Huang's old town.

There was an issue.  Someone in the local government seems to have caught a greed infection from theme parks and decided to apply this - to raise money for fixing up the old town.  There are gates and guards all around the old town and one is supposed to spend 148 RMB for an annual pass.

The result - far fewer tourists.  A later interrogation of a local restaurant owner indicated that business was way down since the gate fees were added.

The good news - boldly stride past the guards like you know what you are doing and most of the guards won't bother you (seemed to apply equally to the few other foreigners there as well as to local and non-local Chinese).  You can also ask a local tour guide to point out some unguarded entrances.

So, we all plowed past the guards without our passes and headed to the school.  After meeting with the sponsored children, giving them candy, money from sponsors for the new term, and a few other odds and ends, there was a group photo.  The advantage/disadvantage of being the only foreigner in the group is that I get asked to be (and if that fails, dragged) to the front and center of each pic, usually right next to Uncle Zhuang.  Kind of makes me feel a little guilty sometimes - He's been doing this for 25 years and has sponsored hundreds of children and donated uncounted piles of money.  I only started helping out the group 4 years ago.  I sponsor 4 kids and have made a few donations for other projects.  Ah well, if showing off my pretty face helps get more attention for the cause, I'll do what's needed.  Plus, I long ago admitted that I'm a whore for attention. ahahahahah

After the school, a few of us separated, with a local tour guide.  She was not just a tour guide.  When she was a student, she was sponsored by Millicharity and now is a member of the organization.

Feng Huang's old town isn't that complicated - if you have one of the little tourist maps and if you aren't running around for the first time in the dark.  Later, it would all make sense, but at the time, I was completely lost.

Like all good tourist traps, there were tons of shops.  I held off on buying anything other than some water, since I wanted to learn my way around first and to get some clue about the prices.  I did manage to get some reasonably adequate photos of some artwork that was out of my price range.

One unusual sight to see was standing across the river from Bar Street (I'm beginning to think a "Bar Street" is automatically installed in any Chinese city above a certain size).  It's dark.  Both the right and left hand views include majestic bridges, and directly across are what should be excellent examples of classic Chinese architecture - except that all are brightly outlined in glowing neon, have bright, pulsating lights and loud, pulsating music pouring out of every window.

On the way out, I spotted the strangest little creatures in small cages outside some of the restaurants.  They looked like extra-large, semi-fluffy gray guinea pigs.  When asked what one was, the restaurant employees all said it was a kind of rat.
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Escaped Lunatic

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2013, 11:03:00 AM »
Day 3:  Awards and some amazing little girls

Since this was the 15th anniversary of Millicharity's involvement in the town, as well as the 100th trip to visit, the local powers that be had arranged a ceremony to thank Uncle Zhuang and other members of the group.

In the morning, we all donned our new shirts (complete with Chinglish mistranslation of the slogan that I had previously given a correct translation of for some vests worn on another trip llllllllll) and walked to a school near the hotels.

There, we gathered and listened to lengthy speeches by various government and education officials.  There was also a video complete with pictures of Uncle Zhuang when he first came to Feng Huang (Now we all what he looked like before he went gray).  Amazingly, Uncle Zhuang's 5 minute speech only ran 7 minutes. ahahahahah  Then there were some short speeches by some people who had been sponsored as children.  One is now an English teacher. agagagagag

Finally, the award part came.  Uncle Zhuang got a very nice trophy and was awarded an honorary citizenship in Feng Huang.  Those who had been in the group and made many trips got a lower level awards.  Finally, there was the 3rd rank of awards that somehow I qualified for.  I've got a nice certificate, complete with my Chinese name as well as a glass crystal heart-shaped thank-you plaque for being such a nice guy. ababababab

I do really like those items, but I got something a million times better after the thank-you lunch.

We piled into vans for our first trip out into the countryside.  Oooohhh.... native Miao and Tujia territory. ajajajajaj  Sadly no one was singing. ananananan

When we arrived at the first primary school, I tried to find out if this was the school where one of the girls I sponsor goes.  My wife asked and there was some confusion on the point.  While the sponsorees were being rounded up, I found myself in the schoolyard surrounded by about 80 or 90 kids.  It was fun at first, but then the boys decided they should take turns shoving their friends to force them into physical contact with this strange foreign creature who had invaded their territory.  So, every time I looked one way, some hapless boy got slammed into my from the other side.  When I turned around to see what was happening, some other kid would get shoved into me from the other direction.  I decided that I'd make a habit of keeping my back to one of the vans or a wall at future school visits on the trip.

I got in a quick interview with someone from a local Feng Huang TV station.  It was awkward, since I didn't yet know if my girl would be there.  Finally, all the kids were in one place, but I couldn't get my lovely wife to look at the list.  She was having too much fun uploading pics of kids getting smacked into me to her WeChat account from her cell phone.

Finally, I heard a name that sounded correct.  There she was. akakakakak akakakakak akakakakak

How to describe her?  Third grade, but so tiny and thin.  She looked ready to play a waifish street urchin in Oliver Twist or Les Miserables, even down to the dirt smudged on her perfect little face.  From her surprise (and thankfully only slight terror), I'm guessing she wasn't expecting a furry foreigner.

Eventually, I found out the reason no one was sure what school she was at.  Somewhere closer to her house, there's a tiny little school that only does 1st and 2nd grade.  She'd just started 3rd grade at the larger elementary school.

Things got even more entertaining - about half the group (including the TV reporter) piled back into some of the vehicles and we headed off to her house in a tiny little Miao village near the school.

One thing I love about China - no matter how far out in the boondocks I get, no matter how low-tech the area is, someone's always got a satellite dish (not my girl, but one of the neighbors).  Who needs silly things like electricity and running water when you've got a direct hookup to space?  xxxxxxxxxx

On the way to the house from as close as we could get the vans, my little girl lead.  I have a suspicion that the reporter has a foot fetish.  For some reason, he spent about 4 minutes trying to video her feet as she walked.  Somehow, the most of the others lagged behind, so it was just me, her, and the reporter when we met her father.  He seemed a little confused when the reporter introduced us.  Then he said my wife's name - that cleared up the confusion of how he and the girl weren't expecting anyone quite like me to come calling. ahahahahah  Since the sponsorship money is often sent by postal wire, it's infinitely easier for my wife to send it with her name on it.

The house was a traditional local structure, adequately sized for a family of 5, but was surprisingly lacking in one feature - interior walls.  Instead, there were 3 curtained off beds (one for parents, one for the son, and 1 for the daughters).  I got interviewed again, this time without the confusion about whether or not I was in the right place and with my little darling right there.  ajajajajaj

Finally, sadly, it was time to leave. ananananan There was a local traditional laundry facility (flowing water and a flat surface) next to where we parked.  I recalled that the entire time I'd been in Hunan, I was walking on asphalt, concrete, or stones.  I finally stepped off the path and took my first step onto Hunan's soil while trying not to loose my balance and end up in the water next to the women doing their washing.  I like to think of this as One small step for a Lunatic, one giant leap for all Lunatic kind. ahahahahah

At that point, I'd have been happy to declare victory and retreat to the hotel for a little celebratory  bhbhbhbhbh

but the day was far from over. . .

The next stop only a few scary kilometers over sort-of roads away - a middle/high school.

This stop seemed a little less organized than most (perhaps "more fractal than most" would be an alternate way of expressing things ahahahahah) - either that or the school was waiting for certain classes to end instead of sending all the kids over at once.

So there we were, parked on one edge of the running track (for some unknown reason, the track was built out of dark gray gravel mixed with dark gray powder that would stick to everything - maybe it was really the school's winter supply of coal spread out in a big oval mmmmmmmmmm) with random kids coming up alone, in small groups, and in packs.  As the crowd slowly grew, I was getting lots of "hellos" and "nice to meet you" statements, but no one seemed to really have any English skills above that.  I conveniently kept my back to one of the vans, since I didn't want some kid almost as big as I am to get hurled against me.

I was chatting with the TV reporter (who spoke some English) when this one tall girl in the crowd got a bold look in her eyes, strode forward, and started speaking English about as well as the reporter did.  We ended up having a very nice conversation and some of her friends also got brave enough to join in.  Every now and then, I managed to lure my lovely wife close enough to translate words we got stuck on.  Then came the question that anyone who doesn't want to spend an extra 8 hours per day tied into chat dreads getting from a pack of students - "What's your QQ number?"

Giving my QQ to one or two high school girls is something I can handle.  By this point, I had a pack of 20 all yanking out pens to write down the number. aoaoaoaoao aoaoaoaoao aoaoaoaoao

Happily for me, I don't know my own QQ number or even my own phone number (it's not like I call my own mobile very often).  What I failed to mention that both numbers were conveniently located in my phone.  I did end up with a piece of paper with that first, very brave girl's contact info as well as one of her friends (both got QQ invites from me as soon as I got back to DG).  Both were in the sponsored group, so when the time came for the group photos, for once, I wasn't standing next to Uncle Zhuang, but instead was off to one side with my own pack of very pretty fan girls. ababababab

Sadly, time ran out and we had to move on. ananananan  But I'd made some wonderful new friends. akakakakak

Finally, there was one more middle school to visit in the evening.  In this one, they kept us and the kids contained to one room (better organized, but much less fun).  Then a few of us went out for another run around the old town.  I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever see it in daylight or not.

We kept bumping into MilliCharity people in the hotel and in the old town.  Uncle Zhang kept visiting schools for most of the week.  I'd loved to have gone along, but he was leaving for the more remote ones in the morning when we had to work (normal people get vacations - for me, a vacation is working only 5 hours per day during ffffffffff).  For me, this meant the Mission of Mercy was over.

Rain or shine, there were other missions to accomplish before the trip was over.
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xwarrior

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2013, 01:34:49 PM »

I think your support for these students is awesome ...

agagagagag
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Granny Mae

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2013, 10:39:08 PM »
EL, I really don't know how you find the time or the energy that you would need to live your life. Thank goodness that your darling is so supportive. agagagagag Keep up the good work and I wish you the good health to do so. agagagagag

Escaped Lunatic

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2013, 11:49:32 PM »
I wish I had more time and energy.  I sponsor 4 children and have met 3 of the 4, each only once.
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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2013, 10:19:35 AM »
Day 4:  Early wake up call and other weather related entertainment

First, let me mention that I didn't really pay attention on Saturday when someone told me a typhoon was going to hit Dongguan at any moment.  That was about the 10th time this year that I've heard this, and most of the time there wasn't even a simple rain shower.  Besides, my house has walls about 30 cm thick, so what's the worst that could happen? mmmmmmmmmm

My day began no with a bang, but with a wimper.  At about 3 am I was trying to burrow under my pillow to escape this annoying ring tone from my lovely wife's phone.  Then she brutally kicked me awake and ask me about the location of sensor #19832-74K/x in the alarm system in our house back in the village.  Lacking a handy abacus, I had to mentally envision a 3D map of the house showing each of the sensors while counting on my fingers.  After losing my place several times and restarting, I determined that it was either the motion detector in the 3rd floor dining room or else an inbound killer asteroid alert from NASA.

After some discussion, punctuated by the alarm system calling back with repeated activation of the same sensor, there were three possible explanations:  1.  A burglar decided to break into a very inaccessible window in the middle of a storm and kept jumping up and down in front of only one sensor in order to keep me from sleeping.  2.  My darling wife's fear of stale air causing asphyxiation meant that there was an open window (part of the alarm system design was based on allowing windows to be opened and closed while the perimeter was armed) and the typhoon was blowing the drapes quite violently.  3.  Sensor #19832-74K/x had decided 3 am would be a cool time to suffer a massive malfunction.

By this point, I was slowly regaining enough consciousness to get my brain working.  Considering the typhoon, I decided to test option 2 and asked my wife to reset the system to perimeter only, disarming all internal motion detectors.  Happily, that did the trick and we got back to sleep for a few hours.

In the morning, my lovely wive called the maid and asked her to check the house and close all the windows.  Problem solved. (or was it???)

So, after a mere 6 hours of online work, we finally got to head outside.  Our first real day of independent enjoyment of the Feng Huang old town. but it was raining. ananananan

Feng Huang has these really cool stretched golf carts that act as buses.  It's only 1 kuai for a ride, and for reasons I haven't figured out, you pay when getting out.  Even more fun, there's no rule against hanging on the outside.  The issue was that when it's raining, they fill up really fast.  We finally found a taxi instead of walking to the old town.

First stop - a local grocery store just outside of the tourist zone to find a second umbrella (we'd only brought one).  Weather reports before we left said temperatures would be in the 25-30 degree range, with a little rain later in the week.  It was only Monday and it was raining hard. kkkkkkkkkk

For some reason, all prior entries to town brought us into a square with a huge metal Phoenix, and then down the same road to the river.  It was time to explore. agagagagag

We started down the same road, but as soon as I could find a side street, I took it.  There were good omens.  The first shop had a cat, so I got in some much needed petting time before continuing further.  Then my luck ran out.  My wife found something she loves more than me.  It was a large shop that was a wholesale supplier of traditional clothes and other cloth items to many of the smaller shops in town.  My lovely wife was so happy.  My wallet and I were in trouble. amamamamam

Happily, she started out just by pricing everything.  I foolishly thought I was about to escape, then she decided to try on a pair of pants.  There was no changing room, so I ended up guarding one end of an L-shaped alcove.  The pants were ok, so she bought them.  I tried to head for the exit.  Then she spotted a shirt that would look nice with the pants.  After some arguments about price, she bought that.  Then she got something else and I ran off with the remaining money after paying for that. oooooooooo

After some wandering in back streets, we found out way back to a road we recognized and headed to the river.  Some of the shops had some dofu that was very similar to the kind we'd had on our first honeymoon in Yangshou.  The taste was only slightly different, but it was still very good.

We ended up heading back a little early.  We'd started later than planned, and finding a ride in the rain took up a lot of time.  We were hoping the weather would improve the next day.  After all, what could be worse than all day rain?
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Escaped Lunatic

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2013, 12:00:35 PM »
Day 5:  Dawn of the ice age and more alarming events

I hate those 7 am wakeup calls.  I'm not a morning person, but if I let myself sleep in, I'm unlikely to drag myself out of bed before lunch.  From the first beep of the alarm to me being online and checking my work takes 6 minutes or less most mornings. ababababab  I find this puts me in the proper frame of mind to deal with people in a kind and compassionate way. tttttttttt

I was hard at working dealing with the usual online craziness when my lovely wife told me the bad news.

It was 11 degrees outside. aoaoaoaoao aoaoaoaoao aoaoaoaoao

I'd packed for 25 degree lows.  Shorts, short sleeve golf shirts, and sandals.  No socks.  No pants.  No jackets. bibibibibi

My thought was, "Ah well, I'm glued to my computer until lunchtime.  It should warm up some by then."  It did.  All the way to 12 degrees. ananananan ananananan ananananan

For some reason, taxis in Feng Huang don't seem to bother with meters.  Before dark, a ride from our hotel to the nearest gate into the old town is 5 RMB.  If we come back before dark, it's 5.  If after dark, it's 10.  For some reason, there seems to be a cold weather surtax.  All the taxis wanted 10 RMB.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get my attack wife properly muzzled, and even though we were ready to pay 10, she kept wanting to discuss it with drivers before we got in - resulting in the drivers zooming off without us. llllllllll

I want to be in charge of taxi policy in China for 1 day.  That's all I'll need to make a lasting impression on the surviving drivers. bababababa

We finally got a taxi to take us to town for 5 RMB. agagagagag

On Monday, my darling wife bought some painfully bright yellow rubber shoes, only to later in the day buy some green rubber boots.  Chinese footwear ranges from sexy to silly, but at least it's seldom boring. ahahahahah Since it was cold and raining even harder than on Monday, my darling wife added a blue plastic body condom rain poncho to her fashion ensemble.  That and the green boots made it look like she was ready to join a hazmat cleanup team. ahahahahah

Being averse to shoving myself into a plastic bag, I settled for hiding beneath my new umbrella and consigning the camera to it's own condom Ziplock bag. (Yes, a real genuine Made-In-The-USA freezer-grade Ziplock bag.  Super high quality zipper bags are a little hard to come by here, so I usually buy some when I'm visiting the USA.)  I was slowly succumbing to hypothermia, but the looks on the faces of people who were dressed for a blizzard was enough to make it worth the chill.

We spend much of the day exploring.  We ended up in an alley where tour groups (always lead by someone with a portable public address system set on maximum volume) when my lovely wife's phone rang.  It was Sensor #28371-92r/d, which either is a beam sensor in one of the side alleys at ground level or else the imminent volcanic eruption alarm.  This was a little more worrisome, since the alleys to either side at ground level are a very logical place to try breaking in.  She asked the alarm company to have village security take a quick look and then called the system to reset the alarm.

Moments later her phone rang again.  This time it was sensor #19832-74K/x (the one on the 3rd floor that had previously woken us up).  I was wondering if the wind was strong enough to not only throw things into the alley, but also to have broken a window.  Just after resetting the system to perimeter only, the alarm company called back and said that security reported nothing suspicious.  My wife then called the maid and asked if she was nearby, while I explained my secret emergency method of dealing with a defective motion sensor over the sound of yet another tour guide shouting into his PA system.  The trick is to demount it, then wrap it in aluminum foil to block any signals it tries to send.  Then, shove it in the microwave to shield it even more thoroughly (but don't turn on the microwave).

The maid arrived and reported that she'd closed one of the two sliding panels of the window, but had missed closing the other one.  bibibibibi

Ah well, at least that put a final end to alarm silliness.  I'm chalking up the ground floor sensor alarm to random windblown debris or an imminent volcanic eruption. ahahahahah

We finally got back to the hotel - where I spent about 30 minutes taking a hot shower to thaw myself out.
« Last Edit: October 05, 2013, 03:44:22 AM by Escaped Lunatic »
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Granny Mae

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2013, 10:19:37 PM »
I'm exhausted EL!

Escaped Lunatic

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2013, 02:22:12 AM »
Gaaah.... Looks like I accidentally blended Day 5 and 6. bibibibibi  Need to do some editing. ananananan
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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2013, 03:46:09 AM »
Day 6.  Not so distant drums and attack of the Mutant Pizza

The cold and rain continued.

Mostly, we slogged around into both known and unexplored areas, pricing odds and ends and bought a few things.

One particular oddity.  There are at least a dozen shops dedicated to selling drums inside old town.  About 2/3 of them play the same CD over and over again while the clerk drums along to attact business.  Of those, over half just loop one song on the CD.  My lovely wife bought a copy of the CD and kept playing it when were were in the hotel room until I finally begged enough to get her to stop.  Now I've got that song stuck in my head.  I can't imagine how the people who work in those shops take it.  I'm not going to be surprised if someday I read a news story about a Feng Huang drum store clerk going crazy and beating innocent tourists to death with a drum.

And for some reason, I didn't see a single shop selling CDs of traditional Miao or Tujia music.

There was tiny little stall set up in an alley selling the same artwork available all over town.  It had a sign (only in Chinese) saying that to take a photo of anything there would cost 50 RMB.  If it hadn't been raining so much, I'd have loved to have come back by without my lovely wife and played “idiot foreign tourist” and taken a picture – of the sign.

The rain was adding up.  At least two of the low foot bridges across the river flooded on Wednesday and had the unattached panels (removable so that the boats could get past) get partly or completely free.  Tourist boat rides didn't resume until Saturday.

After a long, cold, wet day, it was time for dinner.  On our first honeymoon in Yangshou, I spotted a place on West Street offering pizza.  My lovely wife kept convincing me to put off going there until "tomorrow" and almost succeeded in preventing me from getting what turned out to be an excellent pizza.  I'd already spotted a pizza place by the river, and managed to convince her that delays would not prevent an inevitable meal there.

They had one size of pizza (about 7 inches).  It was available in ham and mushroom or beef and mushroom.  This was starting to sound suspicious, so we ordered one ham and mushroom pizza to try it out and see if we wanted a second pizza or not.  While waiting for the pizza, we enjoyed a spectacular view of the river at sunset (or, what would have been sunset if we could have seen the sun).

My darling wife liked the view so much (It's SOOOO romantic.) that she wanted to move to the hotel above the restaurant.  I pointed out some flaws with her plan.  1.  We had an incredibly fast wireless connection in our hotel room.  Speed to allow us to work quickly.  Wireless so we didn't create a web of cables to get in our way.  2.  We'd have to give up a large amount of a day just to pack, move, and unpack.  3.  Cars can't come into the old town.  We were quite some distance from the nearest gate and would have to carry everything.  4.  We were directly across from Bar Street, which starts getting loud a little after sunset and reportedly continues until 2 or 3 in the morning.

I thought I'd won that fight (foolish me ananananan) when the waitress came back and asked if we wanted tomato sauce with our pizza.  Considering the amount of time that had passed, I was trying to figure out how a fully assembled and cooked pizza could possibly have tomato sauce be a last minute yes/no item. mmmmmmmmmm mmmmmmmmmm mmmmmmmmmm  I said that tomato sauce would be very nice and she soon brought the pizza to us.

What we had was a 7 inch pizza (from the time delay, I'll say cooked in a toaster oven instead of microwaved).  There was crust, cheese, and toppings.  It was cut into 8 tiny little slices which were then spread out.  In the center was a blob of ketchup tomato sauce.

My lovely wife wanted to see the hotel rooms (so much for an easy victory in the hotel moving war).  What was truly endearing about the room we checked out was that the wall opposite the river view was a glass panel separating the bathroom from the bedroom.  The whole bathroom was elevated to the same level as the bed, and the squat toilet was set to give a profile view of the user from all of the windows along bar street. aqaqaqaqaq

That and my other arguments finally made me think I'd cancelled any plans for changing hotels.  On the way out, I saw the source of the pizzas.  There was a freezer full of little pizza boxes. ahahahahah

Since we were both still a little hungry, we headed over to an street between 2 of the school in old town.  We'd been there the day before, but class had just let out, and it was impossible to fight paste the hungry students to try out the local food stalls.  It was late enough to be very quiet, so we had no trouble getting a seat and ordering some noodles.

There were only two tables, so we ended up sharing with an incredibly lovely girl wearing some sort of tour guide uniform.  Her food arrived first, and she shared a couple of items with me.  I really wanted to take her picture, but wasn't quite sure how to broach the subject - until she asked if she could have her picture taken with me. ababababab

She didn't speak any English, but I occasionally got my lovely wife to slow the conversation down enough to translate some questions and answers.  She was a local Miao and worked in one of the museums.  Naturally, I had to ask if she could sing (if you haven't guessed yet, I ADORE Miao songs, with Tujia coming in a close second).  She said she tried, but her mother said the singing didn't sound right, so she gave up. :-[

What's sort of odd about the whole trip was that most of the Hunan food wasn't very spicy compared to what I find at Hunan restaurants in Dongguan.  I don't know if they are afraid of tourists falling to the ground screaming in pain or if it's the influence from the less spicy cuisine next door in Guanxi province.  Overall, I thought the tiny little shop by the school's food was better than any of the other restaurants I tried both inside and outside of Feng Huang's old town.

So, I was safe from having to change hotels and was sure the temperature should warm up the next day.  Nothing to worry about.  Nothing at all.
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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2013, 06:27:28 AM »
Day 7:  Losing the war, Bandit chicken, Bridges too far, and Balcony plans.

Thursday morning, I was curled up in bed around my laptop.  From where I was, I could see the screen of my lovely wife's laptop on the desk.  Something wasn't right.  She wasn't working.  From the images flashing across the screen, it looked suspiciously like she was checking out hotels.

"I've found the perfect hotel and we can move there." she announced. llllllllll

I returned to my solid logical arguments about the noise around bar street, having to pack, move, carry things down narrow, uneven streets, possibly having slow internet (or no internet), etc.  She said, "We'll change hotels after work tomorrow.  Then we don't need internet.  It has a river view and it's not across from Bar Street . . . and I just made a non-refundable booking."

 ananananan aoaoaoaoao asasasasas aoaoaoaoao ananananan

Non-refundable or not, I did want to see it before moving.  We had a rough (VERY rough) idea of where it was on the map of old town.  It was on a section of street we'd never been down before.  I wanted to see what sort of obstacle course I'd have to haul the luggage through in order to get there.

On the way into old town, I was pleasantly surprised to find a baijiu shop with hollow baijiu gourds significantly lower prices than elsewhere.  Farther in, I found a different shop with some very unusual baijiu bottles.  They were baked clay and had 3 legs.  My collection of unusual baijiu and baijiu-related items was going to do better than I thought it would.   jjjjjjjjjj

Before heading down the street to the hotel, my lovely wife was admiring some "beggar chicken" cooking in front of a few restaurants (right next to cages containing more of those giant guinea pig "rats").  She wanted to order one, but I pointed out that a whole chicken would be way too much and we'd end up wasting most of it.  I suggested that some of the restaurants might have less than whole chicken servings.  She disagreed (in the same way a rottweiler disagrees if you try to keep it away from a steak it's trying to eat), but finally decided she'd order something else.

The restaurant selected for lunch had an alternative called Bandit Chicken.  This turned out to consist of chicken heads, necks, feet, and other bits with minimal quantities of meat.  My personal theory is that bandit chicken is all that's left after the bandits come in and eat all the better parts. ahahahahah

One other outstanding feature of the restaurant was one of the large, clear bottles of baijiu.  At first, it looked like it was full of large roaches.  Upon closer inspection, these turned out to be cicadas.  I decided that this was something my baijiu collection could live without.

The street leading to the hotel had me worried at first.  Seems there's a mini version of bar street on the side we'd been spending all of our time on.  Thankfully, the bars were almost all in one small cluster, and ended at a small shrine to a local deity.  My lovely wife said the sign identified the shrine as belonging to the god of dirt. mmmmmmmmmm   I think she must have mistranslated somehow.  The rest of the way was mostly shops, hotels, and restaurants.

One shop featured a large statue of a pig, proudly holding a bag from the shop.  It turns out that the shop sold pig meat.  I'd love to put a sign at the base of the statue saying "I sold my family and friends and got enough money to buy back parts of them here." ahahahahah

Speaking of pigs, dried pig faces were somewhat common around town.  I saw them in shops selling meat as well as in front of restaurants.  One of the restaurants on the same street as the hotel had put a Japanese headband on the pig face.  I guess that the tension between China and Japan includes dried meat too.

The hotel was much farther down that I thought it would be.  We checked the rooms on the first floor (too accessible from the riverfront sidewalk using nothing more than a stepladder), and the 3rd floor (roof eves compressed the view above the railing into a narrow slit.  This left the (currently occupied) second floor as the optimal place to stay.  The owners assured us that at least one of the 2 rooms there would be empty on Friday.

The view was exceptionally nice in one direction.  A beautiful bridge, built in traditional style.  The other way had a much lower bridge over a small spillway dam in the river.  It turns out the optimal way to move our luggage to the hotel would be to take a taxi from the old hotel, cross the river, and go to the bigger bridge.

Then came the sales pitch from the hotel owners.  "We can get you discount tickets to a campfire show on Friday night and to a Miao village on Saturday."  I was informed the campfire show had some form of singing and dancing, and that they could get us seats in front.  The Miao village would require us to leave at about 9 am on Saturday, with no way to return until around 4:30 pm.

I managed to restrain my lovely wife into just getting the Friday evening show tickets so we could look up the options at different villages on Saturday (there were several available).  Also, as much as I'd love to see a Miao village, I knew we'd have to pack (again) on Saturday evening and we'd also be looking to head back to areas we'd seen to pick up a few things.

Since we were already in unexplored territory, we decided to press onward with an eye towards crossing the river.

The center part of the spillway bridge was high and dry.  The parts on either side were submerged and the water was a little too deep and fast to make me feel like risking a crossing.  The good news was that the rain had finally reduced from steady to on and off drizzles.

We finally got outside the extremely touristy areas.  The one item on the map for tourists this far out was the grave and memorial to an author who's book about Feng Huang made the town famous.  I expected a nice plaque and perhaps some carvings.  Instead, it was a small park, complete with paths going far up a hill, crossing and recrossing streams flowing from springs.

We decided to press on and cross at a "hopping bridge".  This one consisted of meter-wide stone steps that were about 30 cm across with 30 cm gaps between them for the river to flow through.  There was a problem.  The boards that bridged the gaps wide enough for boats to get through on each end were missing.  The gap on one end was far too wide.  The one at the other was potentially withing my ability to leap, but anything short of a perfect landing would be a very very bad thing. :snoopytrage:  We decided to go a little farther downriver to the next car bridge to finally get a chance to explore the far side of the river.

Heading back upriver, we stopped across from the new hotel.  I conceived of a cunning plan.  Using the zoom on my camera, I found I could take reasonably good photos of the balconies.  Now it was just a matter of convincing my super-lovely wife to cooperate.  The plan was to wait until after we'd moved in for me to head back across the river (using a closer bridge) call her, and have her step outside while neglecting to be dressed. afafafafaf  I estimated that anyone not currently set up for photography would have to first spot her (amidst many balconies on all the hotels in that area), aim a camera, and zoom in to get any detail.  Since I'd already have the hotel room centered, that should give me a 15 second window of time to take pics before she would run back inside.  After all, it's the least she could do after forcing me to pack up and move an extra time.  Ahhh... something to look forward to. afafafafaf

At one of the tables (not a shop or even a stand, but a table), I spotted something unusual.  It was a pair of small 3 legged items very similar to the unusual baijiu bottle I'd spotted earlier.  It turns out that these were some form of ancient traditional baijiu cups.  The drawback - 25 kuai each, and the woman wouldn't budge below 20 each.  I noted the location and decided I'd go back - unless I could find them cheaper elsewhere.

We were going to cross the river and head back the way we came, but it was easier (but cost 15 kuai) to take a taxi from town back to our hotel.  I then got to spend figuring how to pack everything in a way that would minimize repacking on Saturday night. mmmmmmmmmm

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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2013, 07:31:58 AM »
Day 8:  TGIF, Moving, Beggar's chicken, and the Truth to the legends of sirens.

The cold continued, along with intermittent rain.

Amazingly, we both got done with work by 11 am.  I'd planned to spend only 25 hours online during the week and managed to come in a few minutes under target.

A combination of online research and calling a few people indicated that the Miao village our new hotel wanted to send us to was even more of a tourist trap that the old town was.  Since we had a few more things to do than available time, we decided to save that sort of side trip for a future visit.

The first hotel had a book on display in the lobby.  It was sketches and details of the architecture of Feng Huang, and it was bilingual.  I hadn't seen it anywhere else, so spent a little over 200 RMB on a copy while checking out.  Someday, I'll build a 6 story house so I'll have room to get my personal library out of its storage boxes.

We hauled everything downstairs and took a taxi (only 10 kuai in that direction mmmmmmmmmm) to the bridge closest to the hotel.  There were a few minor obstacles.  First, we had to haul everything down from the road to the riverside walk level.  Then back up to various levels on the bridge, then down on the other side of the bridge.  Once back on the riverfront sidewalk, a very nice old lady in traditional garb tried her hardest to direct me up the sidewalk between two hotels, despite the fact that my hotel was directly above another sidewalk 4 or 5 buildings down and the rolling suitcases worked a lot better on the riverfront sidewalk than on the very uneven streets above.

One room on the second floor was available.  The room had an angled wall on one end, making it a bit smaller than the other, but this gave the balcony a better view of the beautiful bridge upriver.  Another nice feature of the hotel was that both regular and sheer drapes were available (more on this later afafafafaf).

My lovely wife asked for a recommendation for a restaurant from the hotel owners.  They suggested one not too far away (near the one where she'd previously ordered bandit chicken).

Being in an alien environment where I speak so little of the language puts me at a severe disadvantage in arguments with my lovely wife.  Thus, after being viciously and severely told that no restaurant would have moderate servings of beggar's chicken, I was quite delighted to learn that this restaurant did indeed serve less than a whole chicken's worth on a plate. ababababab  And, after many years of wanting to try beggar's chicken, she didn't like the flavor. ahahahahah

Since it was our honeymoon, there was still some serious bhbhbhbhbh time left on the agenda.  After lunch, we headed back to the hotel, opened the main drapes, left the sheer ones closed (just enough blurring effect to preserve plausible deniability if anyone took pics from across the river) and engaged in a wide array of honeymoon approved activities. afafafafaf

Just after dark, we headed out to catch dinner before the campfire show.  The temperature had fallen again and the rain had picked up.  I finally gave in and bought a lightweight traditional jacket to keep from freezing to death.

Dinner was a noodle restaurant that had a sign indicating that they had been featured on TV.  They should have mentioned that this was probably a show about health code violations. ahahahahah

The show was in 2 parts.  The first was indoors.  The second outdoors.  Row 5 wasn't too far back, but we were all the way on one side.  As we came in, they were auctioning off some very nice looking pieces of art.  I thought about bidding, but couldn't tell of they were original paintings or cheaply made prints without a close examination.  Finally the "we've charged you to get in, now let's see if we can get you into a bidding war" phase ended and the good part began.

(ALERT:  Escaped Lunatic is about to go on a tangent.  Please fasten your seatbelt. ahahahahah) Ancient Greek legends about Odysseus and the Sirens.  Their singing was so beautiful that mariners would wreck their ships to try to get closer to see the beautiful faces and to hear the beautiful voices.  It used to sound very silly to me.

Long before I came to China, I saw a show on CCTV that featured Miao traditional singers.  That's when I finally understood that wrecking a ship might seem like a small inconvenience if it lead to getting closer to a siren. ajajajajaj ajajajajaj ajajajajaj

The singers in the show were Miao, Tujia, Yi, and Bai nationalities.  All were great, but the Miao girls definitely retained first place in my eyes.

The second half of the show was outdoors, but there was a roof covering the bleachers and another covering part of the performing area.  The "campfire" aspect was a bonfire to one side of the performing area.

Annoyingly, it began with an allegedly famous calligrapher writing auspicious things on large wall scrolls that were then auctioned off.  At prices as high as 2400 kuai a pop, they raked in a nice pile of money selling 4 or 5 of those at the beginning of the show (and were selling more at the end).  Adding to the questionable aspects was a "famous" author selling a set of autographed books for 200 RMB.  He did have a book with photos of Feng Huang for only 30 (20 plus 10 for the autograph).  I did like that one and picked up a copy.  When we got back to Dongguan, my lovely wife tried to look him up.  The "famous" author had one mention on Baidu. kkkkkkkkkk

Some of this part of the show was a little boring.  A Miao wizard did a few fairly simple magic tricks.  The highlight was two guys who liked to play with fire.  One who kept rolling flaming torches across his arms and chest, and then finally shoved the torches down his pants to extinguish them. aqaqaqaqaq  The other guy had a pair of burning wooden planks and kept biting burning coals off the ends.

Since we'd cancelled any plans to head outside of town, this left us all day Saturday for any final shopping and . . . other activities. afafafafaf
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Re: Mission: Second Honeymoon
« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2013, 10:52:14 AM »
Day 9:  Good weather at last, Near-fatal collision, Final shopping binge,  What light through yonder window breaks, and Who woke up the guards?  (it was a long day ahahahahah)

Finally, the rains ended and the sun came out.  It was cool in the morning, but not unpleasantly so.

After a tasty breakfast of baozi from a local shop, there was some morning . . . exercise ( bhbhbhbhbh) to get to.  Things were going quite nicely when there was an unfortunate collision during a positional adjustment.  This involved her head and the bridge of my nose, and was accompanies by a loud cracking sound. ananananan ananananan ananananan

The bridge of my nose is now a bit flatter than it used to be.  I guess that makes me look a little more Chinese. bjbjbjbjbj  We decided to take a break from . . . marital bliss and do some shopping while I recovered.  I'm definitely going to have to add a warning about the possibility of this sort of accident in the annotated version of the Kama Sutra I'm working on. yyyyyyyyyy

Mixed with last minute shopping now that we knew where to get lower prices on many items was getting photos that just didn't work with all the rain.  First up - a walk to that Baijiu shop to buy a gourd and to pick up other oddly shaped containers of baijiu on the way back.  Friday evening (forgot to mention this in the previous days post), we found those ancient traditional baijiu cups.  The asking price started at 25, but quickly fell to 10, so I bought a pair of them.

For lunch, we headed back to that tiny place next to the school.  This time we had one table to ourselves, but a group of 5 middle school girls squeezed around the other table wanted to practice English with me.  This really wasn't much of a problem, since there was a backup in the food orders and it took awhile to get mine cooked.

We headed over towards the wholesale shop.  With the rain gone, a lot more shops, stalls, and tables full of junk tacky souvenirs precious cultural artifacts were open for business.  Suddenly, those hard-to-find baijiu cups were everywhere, along with all sorts of other little decorations.

Since I permanently moved to China, there's one thing I've wanted and haven't gotten so far.  A decent sized Christmas tree (not a tiny table-top one).  Sure, I could pick one up at WalMart and buy all the usual decorations, but I have something special in mind.  Every time I head off to some far distant tourist area, I look for little Chinese decorations in the 1-5 kuai range.  From that point of view, Feng Huang was a treasure trove.  The far side of the river had places with more and different ones than I'd seen elsewhere, some at excellent prices.  On a sunny day, the area near that wholesale shop on the near side was also overflowing with just the right stuff.  I think I now have enough decorations to finally buy the tree this year. agagagagag

Alas, I almost made it through a trip without buying another item for my wife's purse collection, but she found one that she just HAD to have. kkkkkkkkkk  At least it was only one.

There was a nice old woman selling red peppers in oil.  She handed me a small spoon to try a sample.  I scooped out a tiny bit.  She seemed to think I needed a much bigger spoonful, so I scooped deeper.  Much to my amusement and her consternation, I declared the contents to be "a little spicy". ahahahahah  I still bought a bottle to bring home.

One other good thing about a sunny day.  Dogs and cats were out in abundance.  Since I've lived in China, I have a serious deficit in time spent petting dogs and cats.  Feng Huang helped make up for a little of that.  Being proficient in the languages of both dogs and cats, I told each of them all how cute and fuzzy they were, and warned them to watch out for hungry Chinese people. aqaqaqaqaq

Since we were slowly overloading ourselves with items for home or as gifts, we needed to run back to the hotel.  The battery in the camera was almost flatlined, and there wasn't time for me to take a walk to the other side of the river.  So, my lovely wife went up to our room while I lingered on the sidewalk below pretending to take pictures while waiting for a hand to emerge with a quick wave to let me know when to point the camera at the balcony.

Juliet on the balcony doesn't come close to comparing to the view of my lovely wife in all her exposed glory. akakakakak

Sadly, she lingered for only a couple of seconds, so I only got 2 shots.  Also sadly, she's a bit short, and the wooden railing was a bit tall, so the one where she's directly facing me has the railing eclipsing the view of her ni... chest, restoring at least a trace of her modesty.

I quickly ran upstairs to finish what the damage to my nose had interrupted earlier in the day. afafafafaf  Happily, there was no further structural damage despite trying a few of the more advanced positions.

After quite a bit more wedded bliss, we headed out again.  The bridge over the spillway next to the hotel was mostly crossable (if you didn't mind getting your feet wet).  One worrisome thing.  On both sides were brand new ticket booths, not yet installed.  It looks like they may be expanding the area where tourists are supposed to have tickets. kkkkkkkkkk

The boat rides had finally begun again.  One had a Miao girl singing to other boats as they passed.

We finally got a good look at Bar street and some other items farther down the far side of the river than we'd ever gone.  Then we came back across another hopping bridge that had been flooded earlier in the week.  This one was 2 rows of stones about 30 cm square.  I was told that boys were supposed to walk on the taller stones.  Due to the average height different, it seemed more logical to me to let the girls use the upper ones.  With heavy 2-way traffic (and people taking pictures of each other, buildings, boats, etc.) it required a lot of lane changing to get across.

We kept heading upriver past the ticket gates (that looks suspiciously narrower than the others we'd been through) before crossing a small curving wooden bridge just above water level back to the bar street side of the river.  I was admiring a pair of tall, thin, elegant looking girls in matching suits when they stepped into our path and blocked us.  The girls were gate guards.

We were quite some distance from our hotel and now we couldn't get back in. aoaoaoaoao

Taking a quick left away from the river, we walked to the end of the nearest building (about 10-12 meters), turned right for another 10 meters, turned right again and emerged inside the gate area behind the guard girls.  I was deeply tempted to go up behind them and ask them why the next street wasn't guarded, but decided not to tempt them to throw me into the river - at least not while I was carrying my camera.  ahahahahah

Dinner consisted of snacks.  Hunan style french fries (the only REALLY spicy food I had the whole time), tofu, etc., etc.

We spend an hour or so getting most of our stuff wedged into suitcases (not arguments about needing an extra bag like we had on our first honeymoon).

It was getting late and things were quiet.  It was the last night of our second honeymoon and we were leaving early the next morning.  There was only one thing to do.  This time we both stepped out onto the balcony. afafafafaf  It was great fun, until some guy stopped just below us to use his cell phone to take a few pics of the bridges and then get into a long conversation.  Out whispered conversation on what his reaction would be if he glanced up had us both desperately trying not to burst out laughing.  Leaving the sliding door and windows wide open, we retreated to the bed.

Now all we had to do was get back home and see what the typhoon had done in our absence. aoaoaoaoao
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