The Trip Part 3
Well, it’s a while since I wrote about my travels and it seriously has been a rollercoaster of good, bad, bizarre and crazy situations mixed amongst fractional moments of normality.
After arriving in the north of Thailand from Laos, I settled into Thailand’s second largest city Chiang Mai for a month where I was studying a TEFL course at Chiang Mai University. That was a great month, I taught in a Thai school and also in a monastery, which was a surreal experience.
When teaching you often use props to make the lessons more fun, perhaps I might use a ball and have it being thrown from one student to another with the receiver answering a question from the thrower. But… how was I to know that you can’t throw anything at certain kinds of monk, in fact they can’t even be handed pieces of paper by women, the paper has to be placed in front of them to accept.
Anyway, I enjoyed it and Chiang Mai was an awesome place to stay. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a thriving city surrounded by lush rainforest and mountains? The night markets and street food are seriously out-of-this world. Every Sunday the main street called Walking Street (that runs right through the Old Town), is turned into a market. It’s a hustling bustling hive of energy enhanced by strong smells of spice emanating from the food stalls scattered along the sidewalks. When Thai fishcakes and Pad Thai are on sale for 20p each you can’t help but stuff your face!
Whilst I was there I stayed in a brand new serviced apartment building recommended by the University. It was perfect for that month, approx. £180, a big clean air con room decorated in a typical Thai style and came with an en-suite. The funniest things were the signs they’d often put up in the building, as you can see a lot got lost in translation
We qualified with our TEFL certificates at the beginning of August and I wanted to head in to China. A guy on my course (called Guy) was also interested in heading that way, so we decided to go together and fly into Macau (near Hong Kong) because the Air Asia flights were cheap, 100USD each. The only thing is, I didn’t know anything about Macau. I certainly didn’t realise it was the Las Vegas of Asia, earning 25% more revenue every day than Las Vegas! Yep, this was high roller country.
So, arriving at 10pm at night without having booked accommodation, or even looked at it on the Internet was probably not the best decision. We were taken into a town rammed full of casinos and skyscrapers covered in shimmering neon lights, where we desperately wandered between hotels searching for a room to be told that the cheapest one we could get was 350USD for the night! Damn, that was quite seriously not an option having been travelling for some time. So we headed back to the airport as I suggested we just sleep there, then get into China the next day… it might have been 1 bad night, but that would have been more than do-able… nope, too many security guards, there was no way were going to be able to stay there.
We expressed to a travel agent that was still open that we needed a cheaper place and someone told us they knew somewhere in Zhuhai, which is on the border where you cross into China. We said, ‘cool lets go’, it was still £100 but it was the only option. Well let’s just say that when we arrived it was pretty obvious that this was a brothel, but you know, needs must, we needed to sleep and this was going to have to do. So yep, I have to say that was one of the most bizarre and weirdest nights… having to listen to a room full of Japanese guys next door doing whatever the hell they were doing to whoever the hell they were doing it to, shame I didn’t have earplugs!
We were keen to get moving the next day so we headed to the border control where you literally walk over the border through departures into arrivals and you’re in China. Immediately it’s a different world. Little or no English is spoken and it certainly isn’t plastered on the signs. With a little international sign language we managed to find a bus heading to Guangzhou and jumped on. We’d heard it was the wholesale capital of China so thought it’d an interesting place to check out.
Wow, well we made a massive mistake from the start by getting off the bus near the bus station and checking into a hotel close by. It was just so intense, dirty, grimy and filled with the amount of people you’d find at Glastonbury Festival. If we’d got on the tube, which is excellent by the way, we would have found ourselves 2 stops away in a much, much nicer area. Because it was all such a shock we were just trying to find the first place to put down our bags and escape the craziness for a second to gather our thoughts.
To be honest it’s a really interesting place with entire roads filled with high-rise buildings all wholesalers of shoes, clothes, jewellery and whatever else you might possibly want to send to the rest of the world. It’s set up perfectly with little stores everywhere who organise your shipment back to wherever you’re sending it, so the process is easy… bar the language barrier, to do business you’d need a translator without a doubt.
I spent a week there and added yet another tale from the book of odd hotel stories. We moved from the hotel near the station to one in nicer area, a bit calmer and away from all the insanity. If you want to see how hectic it gets watch the documentary called Last Train Home. So we checked into this hotel, which seemed like a standard business hotel and then headed out for a few beers. When we got back about 12pm and got into the twin room we were sharing, the phone rang… , er, who is ringing at this time? I picked up the phone and said, ‘hello…’
The voice on the other end was a woman, perhaps the receptionist saying ‘hello, good evening.. you want lady, we send you lady to your room’
Needless to say that was declined but it was an eye opener into how some things work in that part of the world.
I jumped on a plane a few days later up to Shanghai where I decided I wanted to stay and see if I could find work. I had a couple weeks just enjoying the city, hiring a bike and cycling around with a friend that I made at the hostel I was staying at, called Le Tour Rest. It’s highly recommended at £7 per night for a dorm room and a rooftop bar with an awesome view.
There’s also some great cultural things to see and I don’t just mean Chinese historical stuff. I even went to a Mario Testino photography exhibition for free which was pretty good. I think my personal favourite though was the Propaganda Museum which is hidden in a basement flat somewhere near Peoples Square. Here’s a couple examples of the hilarious pictures.
Having settled in, I turned my attentions to looking around for teaching jobs but at the same time kept an eye out for writing or editing jobs. As you may have guessed I enjoy that type of work, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this would I?
I went for an interview to work at a place called Clubbing Shanghai where they needed an Editor and Writer for their website, conducting interviews with international Artists and DJ’s and managing the content direction. That sounded perfect. I got the job and got stuck straight in and interviewed Infected Mushroom, Zombie Nation and reviewed Digitalism and a load of others. It was great and I was putting in some serious hours to help out and generally working 10-12 hours a day.
At that time I found an apartment with 2 girls I met at Le Tour Rest. We paid 2 months rent and 1 month deposit upfront as is usual in China approx. £750 per month for a 3 bed, 11th floor apartment. That’s amazing compared to London, and as I looked at our view of a football stadium I was sure this was going to be perfect.
Little did I know that the football stadium played host to school kids every morning from 7am, who were marched around in true communist style to the very loud and repeated shouts of a female voice amplified through a mega-phone. Her screams in Chinese of ‘harder, faster, stronger, quicker…’ woke me up every morning. That’s not great if you’ve been working late, it could drive the sanest of people round the bend… I felt like I was slowly turning into the Michael Douglas character from Falling Down!
Having just started work and paid to get myself set up with the apartment, I was keen to get my visa situation sorted as you can only stay in China for 3 months on a tourist visa and you shouldn’t work although many people do. My employer promised a visa trip to Hong Kong whereby they’d pay for my business visa and I’d be able to stay in Shanghai for the next year. I’ll leave that there as I can only say that visa issues and some financial stuff didn’t happen and for that reason I had to make an exit out of China when my tourist visa expired. I’m still trying to work that stuff out with them. I ended up staying in Hong Kong with friends, Lorna and Eugene and sons. I have to say a massive thank you to them for their hospitality at short notice and helping me out when I needed it! The view from the bedroom they gave me offered an excellent vantage point to take stock of things.
For financial reasons regrading flights and changing flight details, I had to book a flight down to Thailand. I’m now residing in the lovely area of Khao Lak, a place that was massively affected by the Tsunami in 2004 where approx. 10,000 people died. It’s been rebuilt, thanks to hard work and a lot of volunteering. It’s gorgeous and I’m catching up with my good friend Alex who I met up with at the beginning of this trip in Bali.
I can honestly say that I’ve learnt an incredible amount from this trip so far, a lot about the world from seeing so many places and an incredible amount about people in general. Of course I also learnt some things about myself; what I miss, what I don’t miss and my reactions and actions to situations and surroundings. It has also given me a lot to think about and write about. I know that when this trip ends, and it can’t be indefinite I’ll have many, many stories and ideas from real life to draw upon for future endeavours.