There's No Crying In Youth Hostelling

So you may have noticed that my website just DISAPPEARED FROM THE INTERNET for a few days. My mother certainly did; I received a worried text message from her this afternoon that said "Are you okay? We can't read Nothing But Bonfires! Daddy is getting with withdrawal symptoms. How are you doing?" (My dad, by the way, is this site's biggest fan. He reads every post voraciously while eating his lunch at his office and he has his favorites among my regular commenters, some of whom he likes to discuss over dinner. He totally knew all about BlogHer and who was going before I could even explain it to him, and sometimes he quotes back details of my life to me that I don't even remember writing about. This is why I don't use the F-word as often as I should. Or talk more about my heroin habit.)

But anyway! Look! I'm back! And I'm coming at you from an internet cafe in Beijing, the walls of which are the grubbiest I've ever seen and the boys the geekiest. This evening, before answering the siren call of the Internet, Sean and I wandered down the hutong (or alleyway, if you're not going to be romantic about it) where we're staying, and found our way to a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, where we had two huge steaming plates of noodles and the largest bottles of beer in the world, and then paid a bill that was TWO DOLLARS FIFTY. Living large, we are, that's for sure. Two dollars fifty! Total! Take that,Chopsticks House on King Street in Charleston! Take that!

But perhaps I should back up a little. Before the Chinese government BANNED ME FROM THE INTERNET for daring to insinuate that one might get easily lost in this enormous country---yes, I am totally sure this is what happened---I was about to spend the night in an eight-person dorm, which was inhabited solely by boys. I'm pleased to say that it didn't kill me, though it certainly didn't make me stronger either. My roommates were five very polite Chinese boys who all slept in the nude, and one surly Eastern European man with a ponytail down to his waist who was full of some kind of unexplainable angst that made him stomp around, fling open doors, sigh heavily, slam the light on in the morning, and later curl up on his bunk in the fetai position listening to something that sounded suspiciously like Sarah McLachlan. When he wasn't doing that, he was parading around in these disgusting undergarments that Sean dubbed his "tighty dirties." Poor Angsty Eastern European Man, I think his pent-up rage was a result of the sign posted on the back of the dormitory door, which listed all the rules of the youth hostel. Number two, after "please do not smoke in bed," was "please do not cry anywhere in the youth hostel, for the comfort and well-being of the other guests."

Actually, while we're talking about the signs in that youth hostel, does anyone know of a job opening for a faucet? Perhaps a career day we could send it to? An internship, even? I know dispensing water is a hard market to break into, but I'd really like to see this poor faucet find a job. Why, you ask? Well, there was a sign on the sink in the youth hostel bathroom that said "DO NOT USE. THIS FAUCET IS OUT OF WORK."

Ba-dum-dum. Thank you, I'll be here all week.

So here we are in Beijing, where I'm currently sharing a dorm room with an Australian girl whose face I have never seen but whose snorting snores I am intimately acquainted with, and a French man who has taken FIVE YEARS OFF to travel the world, which sort of makes me and Sean look like slackers with our paltry six months. Getting here was quite a treat; we spent 15 hours sharing a train carriage with two old men who farted incessantly, and made no effort to cover it up. They also seemed to dislike us immensely from the very start, and spent the time they weren't farting either ignoring our friendly smiles or standing out in the corridor talking to everyone but us and gesticulating wildly in our direction.

When we arrived in Beijing at 7am, we made our way across the city to our youth hostel---coming across yet another cadre of dancing housewives in the street, though these were doing ballroom dancing, which was even more seriously awesome, pressed as they were cheek to cheek---only to find that it had been mysteriously closed. Then began an increasingly bizarre exchange between me, a Chinese girl who'd arrived at the same time as us, and a couple of lackadaisical security guards. The security guards could only speak Mandarin, the Chinese girl could speak Mandarin and French, and suddenly I was under a huge amount of pressure to finally put my eight years of French lessons to good use. It was an arduous process: the girl talked to the guards in Mandarin about why the hostel was closed, she translated to me in French, gave me a moment to translate from French to English for Sean, and then began talking to them in Mandarin again. I held up pretty well, though I was unable to work my favorite French idiom---"faire de la grasse matinee," which means "to have a lie-in" or, more literally, "to make a fat morning"---into the conversation. And I'm still kicking myself over that.

What else to report? Well, there are more pictures of Shanghai here and some of Beijing and Hangzhou here, if you're interested. I'm now an expert in the Mandarin prononciation of "how much is it?" which I put to good use bargaining for a belt ($4), shoes ($6), and pants ($10)---though the shoes turned out to be too small and the pants too big, but still, SIX DOLLARS FOR SHOES, I'M WEARING THEM ANYWAY---and also, oh yes, there's this: Sean and I now both know the Mandarin word for "diahrrea." Which, unfortunately, I'm afraid we had to learn the hard way.

1
Meg
Aug 13, 2006

Oooh, you're back, and I'm thrilled beyond thrilled. I, like your dad, was worried for your welfare. For some reason, the health of your website was inexorably linked to your bodily wellbeing in my mind, even as I know this is somewhat absurd. It sounds as though you've had a marvelously cheap, scenic, and smelly time while I've been fretting... which pretty much sums up travelling at its best!

Glad to know you're doing just fine and drinking enormous beers and buying tiny shoes and surviving the internet cafes to keep in touch with us.

And I suggest ginger and mint for the... well... the runs.

2
Wood from sweetjuniper
Aug 13, 2006

la duzi? spicy stomach, right? That was Dutch\'s most oft-used phrase when he visited me. It usually meant he was squeezing his butt cheeks and searching for a toilet he was willing to squat on.

3
KarinGal
Aug 13, 2006

Delicious photos! (Even the ones of the cockroaches (???!!!) on sticks were beautifully shot.) This armchair/keyboard traveling thing's working out pretty well for me. Where are we going next?

4
Nothing But Bonfires
Aug 13, 2006

Next we're off to Vietnam! On Thursday, in fact, on a 36 hour train.

And yes, la duzi! Well-remembered. Though I suppose it's hard to FORGET an experience like that....

5
samantha
Aug 13, 2006

Yay! You're back! *shaking my fist at the Chinese government*

Your photos are grand - but the starfish on a stick? Made me a little sad. It also made me think of all those people who have starfish in bowls at their beach houses - would our Chinese friends think that was weird? For us, it would be like they had moldy cheese in bowls as home decor. Or beef jerky.

6
Julie
Aug 13, 2006

Wheeeeeeeeee! You're back! This poor vacationless, travel-deprived soul has been waiting for the latest. I guess I should comment more often if I want to be discussed by your handsome father.

7
s@bd
Aug 13, 2006

I'll be impressed when you work both 'faire de la grasse matinee' AND the Mandarin word for “diahrrea” into one snappy little phrase.

heh heh heh

8
Betsy
Aug 13, 2006

Yeah! I'm so envious of you. All the photos are beautiful and exotic although some of those locations looked a bit stinky. I can't wait for your next post, take care.

9
Sarah
Aug 13, 2006

I'm loving these travel stories. You're certainly meeting some, err, characters! What delightful gentlemen on the train ;-)

*waves to Holly's Dad*

10
jonniker
Aug 13, 2006

God during the Downage of NBB it would just hang! Hang! HAAAAANG! For days and days and then I would explode. It's nice to see you again!

Gorgeous photos and really, I am just so freakin' sorry about the diarrhea. And your dad is also hysterical.

11
Adele
Aug 13, 2006

Naked boys in the hostel? Bugs on sticks? Ballroom dancing in the streets? Fartypants travellers? I don't know where to begin....

I think the sign in the hostel about 'not crying' is my favourite part.

Also the intriguing comments about your Dad - who of course we like even more now!

(Is it too sad for words that I am secretly hoping I am one of the commenters he talks about at dinner? Well we all have to have something to aim for in life.....)

Oh and also - how impressed am I that you have white clothes...and you are keeping them white....whilst backpacking? That is a lifeskill all of its own!

12
Lori
Aug 13, 2006

I'm so impressed that your mom knows how to text message. My mom doesn't even know how to turn on her cell phone.

13
JB
Aug 14, 2006

Okay, that yellow wall photo? You look gor-ge-ous! How is it possible to be so pretty while backpacking?? HOW?

That - PLUS - more dancing housewives. I've reached new levels of envy.

14
Hannah
Aug 14, 2006

You're back! Praise the gods! I too was worried but it sounds like things are going ok and that you are having a wonderful time. Well, minus the diarrhea and getting lost and farting traveling companions and naked men. But, I'm sure that will all be par for the course.
Can't wait to hear about Vietnam.

15
Susan
Aug 14, 2006

Good lord I've been drooling all over my iBook looking at those PICTURES. Wow.

More, please.

(Hi, Mr. Burns!)

16
Horrible Warning
Aug 14, 2006

How cute is your dad?!? Sounds like my dad, and that is very complimentary (my dad is the best!). BTW, not a blatant attempt to be discussed at dinner (although I do go well with chicken!)...

I think my dad would read my page if my parents had internet access (I know, that's sad). I would probably continue to copiously use the "F" word, though, because that never fails to crack Dad up.

17
StampyDurst
Aug 14, 2006

So, I loved the fabulous pictures. The ones from the market left me longing for Mao figurines for my bookshelves. Thus, I went searching online for "Mao Statues for Sale". One would expect to find MANY for sale...but, not so much. I found a store in the Berkelely area that sells "authentic" items from the Cultural Revolution era for scads of money. There was one site that was selling one of the all white figurines, but they pulled it from circulation after getting many scathing e-mails for selling tchotckes related to "a mass murderer" and a "perpetrator of genocide". But (I think in my oh-so-politically incorrect-longing for cool Mao statuettes mind) if the Chinese sell them to take advantage of tourists, who is the victim? Please bring some home and sell them to me for a huge markup (especially the one with him in the olive green suit where he is holding a cigarette). It will help finance your trip. And you sooo won't be taking advantage of anyone but me.

p.s. I don't know if you can check your e-mail, but I sent you a link to the new OkGo video (they are all on treadmills). I thought of you when I saw it, because I'm pretty sure we challenged each other to a dance-off. Bring it!

18
Y
Aug 14, 2006

Dude. It freaked me out when this thing disappeared. DON'T EVER DO THAT TO ME AGAIN.

And man, how awesome is it that your dad reads this and loves it and THAT HE KNEW ABOUT BLOGHER!? I'm jealous, I can't even tell my dad about my blog because I'm afraid of what he'd say. ( Which is sad, because I'm almost 35 and um, I should grow up already, huh?)

(Hi, Dad!)

19
jes
Aug 14, 2006

I considered emailing you during the outage but I didn't want to come across too stalker-ish, even though I visited your site and refreshed your site and checked your page source INCESSANTLY when the site was down.

And also, GAWD. Have I told you often enough how much I am jealous of you? How much I want my husband and I to do something similar to this before we have children? How much I would pay to be a stow-away in your bag right now?

Of course, I don't think you'd want to be responsible for carrying me, because: Heavy.

20
Kelli
Aug 14, 2006

So happy your site is back up & running -- I've been in trip update withdrawal.
Other commentors beat me to this, but I must say, that you amaze me with your ability to look adorable in every single photo -- cute skirts, tops, and shoes no matter which country you're in. And also, you're managing to keep shirts white?? I am amazed and in awe. You don't even want to know how dirty my clothes got when I was backpacking...

Have a safe (& crazy old gaseous men free) ride to Vietnam!

21
Gallaudet
Aug 14, 2006

Welcome back! Sorry about the runs; glad about the dancing housewives. In stitches over the trainfarters and the idea of you in a dorm with a weepy Eastern European. Eagerly awaiting the next installment.

One of my friends had the following embroidered on her backpack in Kathmandu (where they will embroider anything upon anything for anyone): "Adventure is just discomfort recollected in tranquillity." I think it might make a zen koan or something.

22
connie
Aug 15, 2006

I guess the only thing to say is that people are weird... everywhere. Maybe that's a universal comforting fact, but no matter where you go people just do wierd things [or gross like farting in a train]

maybe you should keep a list of all the oddities, and write a book... kinda like the 'everything i ate' book, only a 'every weird thing people do' book

23
marcheline
Aug 15, 2006

While you're there, you should learn how to say, "Get the hell out of Tibet, you commie bastards" in Mandarin.

Watched a documentary the other night - more Tibetans (peaceful, non-violent Tibetans) have been murdered by the Chinese than Jews during the holocaust. The documentary included actual footage of Chinese soldiers raiding a Tibetan monestary. One monk was running for his life, and a Chinese soldier clubbed him in the head, killing him instantly. I will never forget that sight. Part of me wishes I never saw it, part of me is glad I did, because I never knew this before.

The Dalai Lama is a refugee who can't even return to his own country for fear of being killed by the Chinese.

Gotta love China.

- M

24
Diane
Aug 15, 2006

In hysterics with my mental picture of the 2 of you sleeping in one room with the odd European man listening to Sarah MacLaughlin while wearing dirty underwear and 5 naked, geeky Chinese men. Laughed out loud in my cube at the farting, angry men and the 'out of work' faucet. Love the NBB travelling recap. Sean's pictures are fantastic and are making me yearn to get on a plane and be somewhere else. The pictures and the fact that I am tired and no longer want to be at my job but that is a whole other issue.

Glad that China has decided to let you back on the internet - Thank you Chinese goverment for bringing back a bright spot in my day.

Can't wait for the stories and pictures of Vietnam.

PS - Hi Mr. Burns!

25
L.
Aug 16, 2006

I`m glad you`re back -- I worried that your blog had fallen off the edge of the earth.

I love "THIS FAUCET IS OUT OF WORK."

Favorites I`ve personally seen --

In a Hong Kong clothing store dressing room, this warning against being overly possessive or materialistic: BEWARE OF YOUR BELONGINGS.

In the Shanghai airport (in 1997 - perhaps gone now), above a drinking fountain: THIS WATER WAS PASSED BY QUARANTINE AUTHORITIES.

I look forward to your updates!

26
Wacky Mommy
Aug 17, 2006

I am really enjoying your journal of the trip, thank you!

27
kerri
Aug 19, 2006

Your post titles are always my favorite.

"Avoid the clap. -Jimmy Dugan."

(Safe! continued trekkage to you and Sean.)