One of the things I wrote about in my journal around this time was the state of the plumbing in China. From what I was told, due to the rapidly (exponentially) growing population, the plumbing/sewers just can’t handle toilet paper. As a result, you don’t put your used toilet paper in the toilet and flush it away, like we’re used to doing in the west. No, you put it in a trash can along with everyone else’s used toilet paper. I was going to write that it took some getting-used-to but I don’t think I ever got used to it. The other thing that I never got used to was the style of toilets. Some places have “normal” toilets, especially in areas where there are a lot of tourists, but many places still have what we referred to as “squatty potties.” If you’ve never experienced this wonder, let me just say – it takes some practice. It’s essentially a porcelain hole in the ground. You squat over it. And do your business. And then put your used toilet paper in the trash can. Oh. And something else – public bathrooms generally do not provide toilet paper. Thankfully, we knew this before we left, so we all went prepared with either roles of toilet paper or little packs of tissues, which we carried with us everywhere we went. Yeah, I never thought going to the toilet would be such an adventure. But hey – it was all part of the experience.
In Kaifeng, while our hotel was pretty nice, we ran into a few minor issues. Dr. O’s door/lock wouldn’t stop beeping for some unknown reason. It went on for hours, I think. Or it felt like it did, anyway. The guys’ (Dom & Zach) room was powerless when we first got there. Couldn’t figure that one out either. The other girls’ (Liz and Dao) bathroom flooded whenever they tried to take a shower. And then we lost cold water – all of us – due to some work on the pipes, we eventually learned. The problem there was that we couldn’t flush the toilet. So we developed this system where we’d empty the trashcan, fill it up with hot water from the shower, and dump it into the back of the toilet. What made this all more challenging was that, since we were in Jackie’s town, he was staying at home, of course, instead of in the hotel with us. Which meant that, when we tried to talk to the staff, it involved a translation application on one of the girl’s phones and a lot of miming. Had we been in a more touristy area, the staff probably would’ve known more English. But I think everyone was able to maintain a good attitude about it all. It was an adventure and we all just laughed it off for the most part.
We went to the Yellow River one day. The next day, perhaps, but who knows at this point… The river is really wide. I’ve never seen the Mississippi or anything like that so it was quite an experience for me. It almost looked like a lake. We went out on a boat, which was fun, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder if the driver was going to dump us all in the water a couple of times with the way he sped around. There was an island in the middle of the river – that’s how big it is – and we got off the boat and walked around for a while. Zach, Dom, Dao & I were ahead of Jackie and Liz when he called out to us, saying that we shouldn’t go any further – that we might not like what we found. When we pressed, he told us that around 200 bodies are found in the Yellow River every year. At first I thought it was just Jackie being Jackie but then I did some research and, well, read for yourself…
Later that day, we drove across the (a?) floating bridge. Like, as in, it’s just floating on the water and people drive, walk, ride across it.
Jackie hesitated when we were initially talking about going to the bridge because it is quite dangerous. There really wasn’t any concept of lanes on the bridge. People had stopped in the middle, their cars or their carts just sitting there, and everyone else just sort of had to make their way around them. All the while, you could tell you were on something that was just floating there. It was an experience.
That brings me to another random thought about China, in general. The driving. Is. Crazy. The first few days, I think most of us were actually quite nervous whenever we were in the bus. But it’s just the norm for the Chinese. Think about New York or Chicago on its worst day and then multiply it by about 10,000. In China, drivers just sort of…go. Horns are used much more often than they are here in the U.S. And they’re used differently. In the U.S., if you honk your horn, it’s usually because some idiot has cut you off or done something stupid. Well, in China, everyone drives like that so it’s kind of the other way around – you honk your horn to make sure others know you are there or that you are coming through. Driving through a red light? Just honk your horn. Cutting someone off? Honk your horn. Squeezing through an impossibly narrow passage and unsure of what’s on the other side? Honk your horn. It was…intense. People on motorcycles or mopeds use their horns frequently to make sure cars know they’re there. People on bicycles – well, they’ve just gotta watch out. Same with pedestrians. In the U.S., the pedestrian has, in theory, the right of way. In China, it’s kind of – every man for himself. If you’re walking, you watch where you’re walking but, at the same time, cars aren’t going to stop for you, so at some point, you just have to go, even if a car is 2 feet away from you and has to slam on the brakes.
So back to Kaifeng. We went to the coolest restaurant. I’m not sure if it was actually in Kaifeng or just in a neighboring city. But apparently the restaurant had been a farm and when the family had trouble making ends meet, they turned it into a restaurant, but maintained the farm, and simply used that food for the restaurant. Kind of brilliant, if you think about it. One of the coolest parts about it was the way they seated people. Or rather, the way people seated themselves. When you walk onto the farm, you can choose to go inside, where I assume there was more traditional restaurant seating, or you could sit in one of these little huts that was scattered around.
While we were waiting for our food, we just all kind of wandered around. There were fruit trees and vegetable gardens…
There were also areas for creatures. As a vegan, I felt super conflicted about that. Part of me could recognize that what these people were doing was, as I mentioned, a pretty brilliant thing – taking a hard situation (failing farm, as far as making a living) and turning it into something that works (a restaurant on a farm that had likely been in the family for generations).
I loved seeing all of the chickens wandering around – they had a ton of room and were just kinda doing their own thing…But in the back of my head, I was thinking about the fact that they were being raised as food and one of those little ladies was going to end up on our table in just a short amount of time – I wouldn’t be eating her, obviously, but the other members of my group would be.
It might have been the same day…or it might have been the next day? Anyway, we went to Zhengshou to this place that sort of reminded me of Mount Rushmore (not that I’ve been there). Except instead of presidents, it was the Chinese “legendary” first emperors Yandi and Huangdi.
We climbed to the top. It was stupid hot. And a few people were struggling with varying degrees of fears-of-heights. But it was a fun afternoon.
Okay. So I think I’m going to break here. In my next post, I’ll try to wrap up with Kaifeng. I told you it was my favorite city.