Monday, February 16, 2015

China, Japan, Vietnam

Oh my, I am far behind in posting. You would not believe how low the internet has fallen on my chain or priorities, but I still would like to write. And yet, I really just don't have time to type out my journal properly. But, I just wound up writing this email to my mother, and figured it's the best summary I've got of the last month, and so I'm sticking it here as a post. Enjoy!


I'm so sorry for the silence, if you can imagine how insane things are this side, multiply by three thousand and you might get close. All my clothes are dirty, I have homework that's overdue, a skirt that got ripped by a Vietnamese motorcycle that I need to sew, and three billion pages I wish I could write. The strangest thing is how the countries have started to blend into one - not in a forgetful way, but just in the way that places don't seem so different anymore. Japan was fascinating, although in all honesty it kind of freaked me out - a bit too organized and structured for my liking. From where you were meant to stand on the platform to wait for the different trains, to the manner in which department stores open in the morning, nothing is left to chance. And yes, I did (and have been, still) eating with chopsticks.

And yes, I spend my time perpetually lost. I think that time that I was the most lost, though, in Kobe, some Japanese man gave me a ride on the back of his bicycle, because I was running late. Every city looks different, but admittedly lots of streets within the same city look the same. Although, you might be surprised to hear that Vietnam has been the easiest to navigate thus far, because even in the less wealthy areas, every storefront is labeled with a full street address and neighborhood name, so you at least know where you are. The fact that they use the Roman alphabet might have helped as well... characters are cool and all, but after a week in China, I hadn't quite reached fluency... oops.

I did learn a few phrases in Japanese and in Chinese, but my Vietnamese is probably my strongest language of this trip so far. It might have helped that I spent three days staying with a Vietnamese family I found on the internet (safety first, but maybe this time it can be adventure first, safety second?). They were absolutely fantastic, although I learned very quickly to ask what I was eating after I had finished, at least, if I wanted to be able to stomach it (fish sperm mixed with snails, anybody?). I also currently have half a notebook that looks like a children's dictionary, after spending last night sitting with Xinh, a twelve-year-old girl who I was drawing pictures with, and then labeling in both languages. Sneaky child, acted like she didn't speak English, but then blew her cover by spelling rectangle and motorcycle correctly. My attempts to spell in Vietnamese started as laughable, but I eventually (to her great astonishment) got pretty good at spelling words she told me.

China was strange, just because it seemed like a "five years later" sort of thing, after the last time we were there. the section of the wall that we went to this time was much different though - no tourists, no restoration, just a long pile of crumbling bricks, stretching out onto the mountains. It was somehow more poetic that way, though. Our hiking group was the only group of people there; other than us, it was entirely deserted. It is strange though, that after walking for three or four hours, the Great Wall of China turns into any other trail - put one foot in front of the other, and eventually you'll reach the peak. For lunch, though, we had McDonald's on the wall. At first it seemed silly, but in a twisted and warped world, it's strangely appropriate. Also, you have to realize two things about McDonald's in China. First, it's fancy American food. Local food is much cheaper, and McDonald's is the sort of thing you would take a date to for a good impression. Secondly, it's what they thought that we would want to eat. So hey, we had food that is fancy here, that they thought we would like. A strange notion, though, to see a Big Mac on such an ancient structure.

Even stranger was the fact that during our entire time in Tienanmen Square, there was not a single mention of the protests and the students. Censorship at its greatest, I suppose. The other interesting censored moment was a shrine in Kobe with a plaque that made reference to "the [incident]" of a particular day, where incident was a separate bit of metal, stuck on top of the original text. 

And the strangest of all is the fact that now, I'm back on the ship, cleaning up from Vietnam and getting ready for Singapore. On-ship time is in about an hour, when everyone will have to be back, and we'll all sit down for dinner together and recollect ourselves. It's strange to be technically living together, but only see everyone for two days a week, so it's good to "be home," if a large hunk of floating metal can be that. 

With love from Vietnam,

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