The City of the Peony

Luoyang (洛阳) is one of the Four Great Historical Capitals of China and home to the Longman Grottoes, with their many Buddhas, and the White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist temple in all of China. Christina and I went there, glad to get away from home for the weekend and eager to see the sights. Alas, Luoyang was not the peaceful get-away we were hoping it would be.  In fact, the trip ended up highlighting a several frustrations we won’t miss at all about China.

The City

Luoyang’s about twice as big as Anyang, with way better public transportation and quite a bit more going on. It and Anyang look largely the same, though Luoyang has many more trees, which is a plus in its column. We arrived there in the evening on Friday, out in the middle of nowhere, at the new train station only recently built, not at the other one, which would have put us a block or two from our hotel. Right off the bat, the city didn’t pull any punches: the first cab we get into meanders around the city, taking us on a scenic tour we did not ask for, until we arrived three blocks from our hotel, paying twice what we should have. We didn’t realize he’d given us quite such a run-around until we went back to the train station on Sunday to leave, discovering then what our fare should have been. We also couldn’t communicate to him that we didn’t want to go to the travel agency he had taken us to, that we wanted to go to our hotel, two blocks over. He didn’t get it, didn’t really try, so we just got out and walked.

Our hotel was OK.  “So-so,” as our students might say. But it was a budget deal so we didn’t have any complaints.  Hungry, we dropped off our bags and headed to Luoyang’s night market in the oldest part of the city, famous for all manner of weird delicacies.

Unfortunately, most of the delicacies it was famous for come from the sea, which baffled us as the Pacific is at least six hundred miles to the east. Squid, crab, lobsters, prawns, all kinds of creepy-crawlies. Even some regular-ol’ land insects. We’d been hoping for a little more variety in the choices, but thought it was at least nice for a stroll … until we tried to buy something.

We spotted some fried bread that we regularly have in Anyang and decided that would be nice to snack on. So we go over to the stall. The lady there was just finishing up giving some girls two yuan worth, weighing it on a little scale. I ask for three yuan worth. She stuffs a bit in a little pouch and hands it to me. She does not weigh it. I ask her in Chinese, “This is three yuan worth?” She assures me that it is. I look down, knowing full well it’s less than she just gave those girls. So I drop the bag on the scale: 1.7.

She actually reached for the little electronic scale, to fiddle with the numbers, before she sighed, picked up the back, and filled it properly. I snatched it away and when she reached for my money I threw the three yuan at her. We lost our appetite after that. Such open disrespect. We grabbed some fries and I had a crappy fish sandwich at a nearby KFC.

Our Hotel

We stayed at the Ming Yuan Hotel. It’s registered with Hosteling International, so we thought it would be nice. It was … passable. The room they gave us had a nice bed but the bathroom was a dump. And it was on a floor that was being remodeled. We were made intimately aware of that at 6:00am, when construction started. A few hours later, when I tried to take a shower, we discovered there was no hot water. What followed then were two hours during which we tried to get hot water for our room and then a new room. It wasn’t good enough that we said there was no hot water. The hotel had to notify every nearest hotel employee. Then they had to send for the guy who could possibly fix it. Then they had to assure us that everything would work in just a moment. Just a moment. That’s the Chinese answer to any question about time. “How long will this take?” Just a moment. “Can you call someone?” Just a moment. “It’s been forty-five minutes.” Just a moment.

Eventually, we got a new room, off the construction floor, with hot water. Why they even gave us the first room, on a floor be remodeled … Unfortunately, my Chinese wasn’t good enough for me to ask.

Longman Grottoes

The grottoes were nice. The actual grottoes, I mean. Most of the Chinese people there were obnoxious. That’s not true … OK, half the Chinese people there were obnoxious. If they worked there, then they were yelling “Hello!” or “Hey!” or “You!” or “Here! Here! Here!” as though we gave a damn about buying some stupid piece of crap memorabilia that has nothing to do with the ancient sculptures we came to see. If they didn’t work there, then they were still yelling, “Hello!” at us or staring or taking our photos. Four middle-aged fat men in particular were persistent douche bags in that respect. I tried to wave them away. I said to one in Chinese, “I am not a Buddha,” and then, when they persisted, I started flipping them off. Finally, when after one of them snapped his fifth or so picture of me, I walked up to him, screamed, “Fuck you; leave me alone,” in his face, while flipping him off, and shoved him away from me. He stopped after that.

Was It Worth It?

No…. It was a lot a grief and a lot of money for some Buddha pictures. We did get to go to Pizza Hut, where we were able to relax and have a really nice conversation. But goddamn. Christina and I were talking about it. There seems to be an underlying assumption in this country that we exist solely for their amusement. They don’t give a damn that we are our own people, with our own agendas, things to do, and right to privacy.

I don’t know if I can explain how unsettling it is. When we leave our apartment, we have to brace ourselves for onslaught. Half the time people yell at us, they don’t even care if we answer; they want (if anything) a reaction and will settle with just laughing at us while we try to ignore them. Or they take our picture, to possess us, to laugh at us later.

I was an introvert before I came here; the Chinese are turning me into a recluse. I hate going outside now, and, if I do, I try to avoid high-traffic times because the stress is just too great. Christina and I have tried to explain how we feel to our students but they don’t get it. They can’t get it, not while having lived in a country in which 98% of the population is the same ethnic group. And that’s if they don’t try to defend the treatment we get.

I really don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to be in a country whose people are always trying to rip me off because of the color of my skin. I don’t want to be in a country whose people treat me like a freak show. I don’t want to be in China. Please let this month be over….

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4 thoughts on “The City of the Peony

  1. Have you been to the Dunhuang caves (also Buddhist, along the old silk road) yet?

    My best trip within China ever.

    BTW, I occasionally hear that China blocks WordPress. You seem to be blogging just fine from there. How do you manage?

    • No! The West is the one region of China we didn’t get to. Not enough time and money. If we could do one more trip here, it would be traveling up the Silk Road to Urumqi and back. My girlfriend even wanted to hop over to Kyrgyzstan … she’s a lot more adventurous than I am. How long were you in China?

      The Great Firewall is extremely spotty and (for lack of a better term) fickle. And it does not treat everyone equally. Some things are blocked outright (YouTube, Facebook, Blogspot); others … I dunno, astrology seems to make more sense than how the internet works here. For instance, I can access WordPress, but it takes a long time for anything to load. My girlfriend, who uses a Mac, has a much harder time than me, sometimes not able to access WordPress at all (along with some other websites I can) on a computer that is literally eight feet from mine. Neither of us can see any images on Wikipedia, though we can get to the words; however, our friend Robert, who lives two floors below us in the same apartment building, can access all the content with no problem (and it loads much faster for him too).

      So, in answer to your question, I am here but by the grace of my communist overlords. It wouldn’t surprise me if other people were having a much harder time.

  2. Hmmm. Robert, two floors down: Also a lao wai? Perhaps the same helpful folks who, ahem, used to look after me have also installed a special router for you. 😉 (But you’re not a journalist, of course.)

    I was based in Hong Kong for 4 years. Went in and out of the mainland. Not nearly the same, immersive experience as yours.

    But I know enough to enjoy your dispatches here. My kids are growing up with Mandarin, German and English equally, so we have a strong connection to China.

    • Yup, he’s from New Zealand. And, heh, we *do *have a router but I don’t think we’re much of a concern for the Authority. I envy your (trilingual?) children. I’m playing catch-up for decades of American linguistic navel-gazing.

      As it happens, I was just looking through some papers written by my better students and I was reminded that there *is *a reason I stayed here for a second year. This country is a strange juxtaposition of extremes … which I suppose goes for any country. I’m just not used to these extremes….

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