Back in the States, back in my home, my bedroom, sitting here with my dogs, my belly full of cheese, my brain full of aimless, unanswerable questions.  People ask me things like So, what’s China like?  How does life in China compare to the US? or, What kind of stuff do you eat in China? Now I understand why people ask these questions, they’re curious, inquisitive and self admittedly uninformed, so they start with the basics.  But really, how the hell am I supposed to answer these kind of questions.  China is big.  Life in China is different from life in the US.  I eat food in China.

What’s more is when people ask me deeper, more involved questions, I often times have difficulty coming up with an answer for them, as I haven’t even begun to reflect upon my journey in a way that I can draw conclusions.  I’m still in the throws of jet lag, of culture shock, and a little head cold I think I got on the plane.  It’s going to be a while before I’ll really be able to sum my experience up in a way that satisfies people’s need to know and my own need to explain.

So until then I suppose I’ll write about what I did after the last time you all heard from me.  I spent about six days in Chengdu, which is the capitol of Sichuan province, and home to some of China’s spiciest dishes, including the world renowned Sichuan Hotpot, and (my favorite) rabbit head.  Chengdu is also the home of the largest panda reserve in China, as well as the prettiest girls.  It’s said that after a girl marries her mother gives the girl explicit directions to never let her husband go to Chengdu.

Looking back now I think I can honestly say that my few days in Chengdu were among some of the best of my life. I had a crew of mismatched hooligans to trounce around the city with. I had fallen into an unlikely romance with a girl I met in Hangzhou and traveled with to Chengdu. I was confident in my language abilities and my (albeit) slight understanding of Chinese culture.  I was young and able and for the first time in months invigorated with the sense of life being there for the taking.  We didn’t go see the pandas, we didn’t go see the temples.  We slept in and lawled in the garden by the hostel where we stayed into the afternoon.  We drank beer and enjoyed each other’s company.  We got street food at three in the morning after going to KTV.  It was both alien and somehow familiar.  I felt for the first time in China as if I actually belonged there and had not ended up there as the result of some adolescent On-the-Road-thinking , as if it were some strange of version of home.


I don’t know exactly what I was thinking.  Maybe it was the slow pace of life in Liaocheng and the predictably easy-going way of Hangzhou, but for one reason or another I decided to bag my plans and head west, on a forty-three hour train, with three strangers, and a hard seat.  It was perhaps one of the best experiences I’ve had in China.

The original plan was to go from Hangzhou to Huang Shan, and then onto Yichang to get on the boat ride down the Yangtze.  Huang Shan is perhaps the most famous mountain in China, and rightly so.  It’s beauty out parallels perhaps even the Grand Teton, and as a result the horrific beast that is  the Chinese tourist industry has swallowed it whole.  And after the West Lake I was less than excited about going to yet another tourist destination.  I met Sharon, Lion (both Chinese), and Sam, at the hostel in Hangzhou, and decided to join them on a 43 three hour train ride across the country, on a hard seat.

As it turned out, we were among the lucky ones who actually got a seat.  Some passengers were standing or  lying down in the hall ways for the majority of the trip. For the first 24 hours of the trip, it was literally impossible to move down the aisle.

The trip was made bearable by the company I was with.  We drank baiju, we played cards, we played truth or dare.  We shared noodles and peanuts and shoulders to sleep on.

Max was a ten year old kid we met with really good English.  We liked him so every time the food cart went by we bought him more treats and sodas.  He played games on our cell phones and took pictures of us.

The other thing that made the trip as wonderful as it was seeing some of the beautiful scenery, especially as we got closer to Chengdu.  What with the movement of the train and the dirty windows, pictures can’t really do what we saw justice, but at least it gives you a taste.