Category Archives: Exploring

Things I will miss in China

Here’s the second part–despite the truth of the first post, there are many things that I will truly  miss after I leave China.  Here are some of them.

  1. Having restaurants and markets within short walking distance
  2. Cheap and delicious restaurant meals
  3. The shopkeepers who line the block around the school and let me practice my Chinese
  4. My kindergarten kids!
  5. The fun middle school classes who ask questions, use English in class, and do hilarious skits to practice their English
  6. My apartment, despite its plumbing flaws
  7. The man and woman who make the chicken sandwiches across from the school
  8. The man from the fried chicken and french fries place that always chats with me and patiently tries to understand my Chinese
  9. My weekly lunch dates with my girls from class 22
  10. Playing rambunctious games of Settlers of Catan with the foreign teachers and dishing about our week
  11. My students that I’ve tutored to study abroad–Volcano (Aiden), Chris, Eileen, Echo, Victoria, and Peco
  12. Seeing my kindergarten kids walking together to the playground and having them all shout my name at the top of their lungs and hug my legs as I go by
  13. Walking into class 5 (middle school) and having the kids run up to me and ask what we’re learning today
  14. Pretty much every student in class 18 (middle school)
  15. Learning random Chinese words from hearing students say them in class
  16. The cheapness of taxis
  17. The sushi chefs from our weekly sushi restaurant who chat with us as they prepare the food
  18. The adorable couple who own the Taiwanese restaurant and the staff there that laughs when we order the same thing every time
  19. Kenneth, the man from Hong Kong who owns the honey shop and chats with us when we stroll past his store.  A kind, wise person.   He was the hardest so far to say goodbye to.
  20. The guy who gives us haircuts and talks to us about his dream of opening a hair salon in Los Angeles
  21. Being able to go home and take a nap at lunchtime if I need to
  22. Making coffee for my tutoring students
  23. Being able to take a train to just about any other city
  24. Street food
  25. Countless milk tea shops
  26. The old man and woman who sell us fruit at the outdoor market and always sneak extra fruit into our bag as a gift
  27. Chinese babies
  28. Sharing and hearing travel stories with other people
  29. Making friends unexpectedly
  30. Hot Pot on cold nights
  31. The Muslim restaurant with the little boy that always runs around the tables
  32. Julia, the kindergarten teacher from Xiao class 5
  33. Watching people ride on their bikes with strange objects, like trees
  34. The thrill of a fast, frightening taxi ride
  35. The familiarity of able to call any older woman I’ve just met “Auntie”  (ayi)
  36. The mojito place in Beijing on a hot summer day
  37. Letting my cat out at night to go gallumphing down the empty hallway and back
  38. The guard at the east gate who always smiles and waves at us as we go in with our grocery bags, and sometimes asks us what we’re making for dinner
  39. The pretty girl that we buy fruit from just down the street
  40. The lady who used to have a restaurant next to the school and gave us food from her own table so that we could try new things
  41. Eating the amazing meals that Jerry’s mother makes
  42. Hanging out with Jerry…but, maybe we’ll be hanging out with him in the U.S. as well once he begins university there!
  43. Peking Duck
  44. Meeting people from so many places in the world
  45. Those moments where I recall, again, the excitement I felt about being in a different place when I first stepped off the plane in Beijing
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Vientiane, Laos

As we progressed from China, to Vietnam, to Laos on our three-week journey, Asia became more and more fascinating to me.  Hanoi was very different from cities in China for many reasons, but it still didn’t seem too far off the grid.  Hoi An had a different feel altogether–no big city crush of people, no traffic to speak of, gorgeous countryside undamaged by industrial factories.   And when we got off our 22 hour long sleeper bus in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, it was an almost surreal experience.  I felt like I could be anywhere, in India, or Africa.  The air was hot and humid, the roads were packed red dirt, at least until we got into the tiny city center.  We got our backpacks out of the bus and piled into a tuk-tuk that was headed for the center, and I held my backpack, trying not to hit the two little Lao boys sitting next to me when we went over pot holes in the road.

When the tuk-tuk stopped, I was surprised.  The city was tiny–no high-rises, a two-lane highway running through it with lots of little alleys and one-way streets, and hardly any traffic at all.  But, this is one of the things that I loved Vientiane for, because it was so easy to get around and explore, and because it was wonderful to be away from big-city life.  Like Vietnam, Laos used to be a French colony, so there is a noticeably French influence in some of the architecture and cuisine, especially in Vientiane.  I have never seen so much Western food in China or Vietnam; even in its little supermarkets, Vientiane had cream soda, cheese, smoked salmon, pastries, freshly made pesto, and so many other treats that I have missed while living in China.  For lunch one day, I had a delicious mozzarella, tomato, pesto, and ham baguette sandwich that almost brought tears to my eyes, it was so good.  I know this sounds overly dramatic, but I love a good sandwich, and I have yet to find one of those in China.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Chinese food, but being without certain foods, especially comfort foods,  has made me crave them.

We walked around quite a bit in Vientiane, enjoying the hot weather, looking at the elaborate temples that were scattered all throughout the city.  The temples in Laos are much different from the ones we saw in China and Vietnam.  The workmanship on Lao temples is even more brightly colored and seems very opulent.  We saw monks in bright orange garb walking through town and praying in the temples.  We drove a motorbike to the most famous temple in the city, and it was colored almost completely gold.  I was wearing shorts that day, so when we arrived at the temple entrance, a few other similarly-clad women and I were asked to use the wrap-around skirts they had for tourists at the gate.  I was expecting this to happen, but the weather was so hot that I couldn’t bear to wear jeans that day, and when you’ve been traveling for three weeks you run out of clothing options.

One day, we rented a motorbike and drove 4o minutes out of Vientiane to Buddha Park, a garden full of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures.  The road there was riddled with potholes, but we made it there in one piece and enjoyed walking around  the statues.  One of them, included in the pictures below, was huge–you could go inside the fearsome mouth and climb up some tight stairs into something that reminded me strongly of Dante’s Inferno.  There were several levels inside, and on each level,  statues of people were fraught with  hellish torment, and gods sneered out of dark corners.  Looking at and being puzzled by the statues in Buddha Park, I wished that I knew more about the deities that were being depicted, and the people that worshiped them.  Three short days wasn’t near enough to get acclimated to the unique culture in Laos that felt so different from anywhere else I’d been.

Our last night in Vientiane, we ate at a fabulous restaurant where street children learn skills to work and support themselves.  It was exciting to see something like this in operation, and seemingly working out so well.  I hope those kids can continue to work in such a safe, caring environment, something that is not a trademark of South Asian workplaces, especially where children and teens are concerned.   There is a sobering amount of human trafficking that exploits the young, poor, and vulnerable in that part of the world.  I hope that more places like this will spring up and get the support they need.  I can’t find the name of the place, but if I do, I’ll post some more information about it.

This post wraps up my journey through southern China, Vietnam, and Laos–I don’t know if I will ever return to these places again, but I really hope to someday.  If I come back to Asia, Vietnam and Laos especially will be on the top of my list!