When I Saw China

From Hekou to Kunming, September 13th 2010

The procedure in the Chinese Immigration Office took even much longer than at the Vietnamese Immigration Office. It was like that the officer had to check every single letter on our passport and visa. In general they were kind. An officer was so kind as to correct the forms we had filled in, but actually made it incorrect instead. He must have thought the Chinese way of writing names where family names are placed in front. So he changed our given names into family names and vice versa.

Since there were 8 of us, it took 8 times as long to be able to proceed to the bus station which was only several meters away from the immigration office. It was also an 8 times stress. Every time a friend stepped into the check in desk, I held my breath. I examined the officer's face trying to check if there's any dissatisfied look in it. When that friend finally moved on, I sighed for a second, and then start to hold my breath again watching the next friend checking in. I just couldn't imagine if the officer found something wrong in just 1 of us, then the whole next trip would be in total chaos.

When my turn came, it did take rather long. The officer in front of me talked to the officer behind me. And then another officer approached him. They were apparently discussing about a page on my passport. But when the officer behind me said something again, the officer holding my passport nodded several times and returned the passport to me. Was it because the mistakenly corrected family name and given name? Or was it because they thought there were too many Vietnamese stamps on my passport? LOL

Luckily there was a (young and handsome) officer who could speak English pretty well. He showed me the direction to the bus station.

At the bus station, Hendro did most of the dealings at the ticket counter. I actually planned to take the 8:45 bus. But, the 8:45 bus had already left. At first I was wondering how could it be. Hendro reminded me that China is one hour ahead.

Oh! Stupid me! I had planned my itinerary so carefully, but I did not count the time difference at all although I knew very well that China is 1 hour ahead of Vietnam.

We had to take the 10:30 bus. Anyway, still lucky that there was a second bus. That was the last. There're only 2 buses in one day.

Can you see that white sign far behind? That's the Chinese gateway which is written "China Hekou" from the International Friendship Bridge on China - Vietnam border. So here we are now in China.
The photo and story from the other side of the border, Vietnam, can be seen here.

Although it's just several meters away from Vietnam, I felt an immediate different atmosphere. Except for the people's look, it's not at all like Vietnam. Maybe it's the streets, or the trees along the street, or the shops, I can't tell exactly, but I can feel it.

Again you can call me silly, but I was really, really, excited. It was as if walking through a wardrobe and finding a wonderland at the end. Only several minutes ago, only several meters away, but now everything's so different.

That was something that I could only share with Mom when I returned home. Of course if Dad were still alive, he would be even more excited than myself.
I found public vehicles like this almost everywhere I went in China. Mom's question when she saw this was, "Won't you get wet when it rains?"
This is the bus from Hekou to Kunming. It looks good from the outside. It looks even better than the tourist buses I had been on during all my previous three trips in Vietnam. But let me mind you, "it looks". The inside is far from the tourist buses in Vietnam. Well, this bus wasn't a tourist bus anyway. The seat where I was supposed to sit on had a broken seat back. The tiniest touch on the seat back will cause it to fall back. I, Dina, and Hendro, tried in vain to adjust the reclining hook.

I felt uneasy not only because it wasn't comfortable, but because the guy behind me appeared to be working on his laptop. So every time my seat back fell back, his laptop flapped half closed. I had to apologize again and again. I said, "I'm sorry." He did not answer, but through his face I could tell that he wasn't mad at all. I bet now that he is use to such things already.
(not in this map) = Ho Chi Minh City - Nha Trang --> Done by train.
Blue Line = Nha Trang - Hanoi --> Done by train.
Green Line = Ha Noi - Lao Cai / Hekou ---> Done by train.
Orange Line = Hekou - Kunming ---> now moving by bus.

 From the bus window, on the way from Hekou to Kunming.
 Thrilled, thrilled, and thrilled...!

Quoting from "Insight Guides China" page 108:

"Rice is the staple food for most Chinese... Soybean curd ... provides important protein in a country where the majority available land is given over to crops rather than grazing. ... Cows and sheep, which require pasture lands, are not as common as poultry and the ubiquitous pig. Without doubt, pork is the most popular meat."

You ever guess why Chinese cuisine is often so "porky"? That's the history. And look at this, can you grow crops on these? Certainly not. Therefore, a piece of land that can grow something will be prioritized for growing crops rather than for cows to graze on.

 Well, mountain rocks like these, although can't grow something to eat, must not be a total disadvantage. It must be able to have something that can turn into something to eat.

This is one of the points where we got stuck and jammed. I just wished if only we could get jammed on a each beautiful spot so that I could take a better picture of the scenery. The fact was almost every time our bus stopped, the scenery was just so and so. But when the scenery was fabulous, the traffic went smooth ;-)
I am still wondering what they are making with this. Dina said that it's a chocolate-factory-to-be.

This was our stop over. Before this, we stopped awhile at a place that served me my first and biggest shock culture of my ancestor's country. So when we stopped here to have late lunch, I could not eat.

I saw how the Chinese people threw away their food remains e.g. bones, just like that on the ground or on the table without placing a paper or something beneath it. I didn't appeal to me. But since I already got my biggest shock therapy when we stopped to go to the toilet, I couldn't be more shock to witness how "my people" ate. I just couldn't eat.

Conclusion: I can't declare myself a backpacker.
This is how the noodles were served. You can choose what kind of noodle you want, rice noodle, egg noodle, etc. You choose and a lady will pour hot boiling gravy into your bowl. When all guests are served, she will roll that white cloth over the bowls. It looks clean. Yeah, "it looks".

It's coffee from Vina Milk. Knowing very well that China is no country of coffee, I spared myself a can of coffee from Vietnam. The Japanese expats in my office said that the best coffee only comes from Indonesia and Vietnam; and don't expect good coffee in China.

I became more "cautious" with this coffee after experiencing my first but biggest culture shock at the public toilet where our bus stopped. Drinking too much of this will cause me heart attack. Not because of the caffeine, but because of the frequent shocks of the frequent-inevitable-toilet-call.

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