Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Fight Nights and Water Streets

I'm home, safely back in the good ol' USA. Already I've celebrated my return with a visit to Carls Jr which my body promptly rejected. I had been eating a lot of non-processed foods in China. I think my body is telling me I need to keep that practice up or else it'll get all barfy on me again. Trust me, it doesn't mess around.

Despite my current non-Chinese location, I believe I have a couple China posts left in me. So here we go:

It had been pouring rain all week in Shanghai, as covered in the last post, and Ness and I were spending a lot of time in the apartment where it was dry and we didn't have to look and feel like drowned rats. Still, there's only so much internet to surf before you're all surfed out – which meant we needed to get out. A visit to Ramsey's gym was a good diversion.

The Sai Rui MMA and Fitness Club is on the 6th floor of an office building on Wuzhong road, a quick bus ride from the apartment. Ramsey started it with his business partner, another expat, several months ago, and it's an impressive facility, with a full fighting cage, heavy bags suspended from the ceiling, an aerobics/dance room, showers, massage room, weights and other work out equipment. I got to experience one of Ramsey's fitness classes first-hand as he took Ness and I through a kettle bell routine. Turns out I'm not very good at coordinated repetitive motion, especially when it involves squatting a lot and swinging a heavy kettle bell between my legs. Good thing Ramsey is good instructor, and I ended up learning a lot, just ask my hopelessly sore legs and thighs.

That night there was a brawl. Okay, not so much a brawl as a planned fighting event which brought three local gyms together to compete along with a bunch of MMA enthusiasts, their supporters, and a few small children. A fighting magazine even came to cover the event, attaching fancy cameras to the tops of the cage to capture the action. The whole thing was very multi-national, with Americans, Brazillians, Russians, Germans, and Chinese in attendance. The Russians seemed to be the most into it, shouting loud encouragement to their countryman during a kickboxing match. Their enthusiasm was infectious. One of my favorite bouts involved a guy who showed up randomly from the street. He was a portly Chinese dude, his belly hanging out and his helmet too small to fit over his chins. One of the on-lookers called him Kung Fu Panda – and it was really the perfect name, considering the crazy arm movements he was doing between punches. Just awesome.

The next morning it rained even harder, but we went out in it anyway. Ness wanted to show me Qibao, a famous water street filled with small shops, street food, and traditional architecture. It was a lovely place, but man were we drenched. Umbrellas didn't seem to stop my shoes from filling with water, my clothes absorbing every last bit of moisture, the sharp wind turning me into a walking refrigeration unit. It just didn't let up, and yet the street was packed with people. We had dumplings at a small shop in an alley, grateful to be out of the downpour for a little while, and then ended up cutting the visit short. It was just too much damned water. We fought the rain, and the rain won.

On an unrelated note: if you like cheese, don't go to China. For some odd reason it is really hard to find, and when you find it, it's pricey as all hell. $10 for a small bag of shredded cheddar. Boo! Same for sour cream. Worth it tho. My last night in China we ate tasty, tasty burritos, most everything made from scratch. Our tortillas could have been rounder (they looked like someone had dropped dough balls from a very high building) but it all tasted so delicious! I love me the Chinese food, but after a full month of it, Mexican really hit the spot.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Shanghai Days

We're in the final stretch. There's not many days left before it's goodbye China and so I'm spending the remaining time back in Shanghai, avoiding any more trains and planes save for the one that will carry me back to LA. So turns out Shanghai learned my time here is short and that I had been hoping for sunny weather in which to explore and romp about the city. Well, Shanghai says to itself, it says, “Ain't no way I'm letting that jerk off easy,” and at that very moment the clouds opened up and the rain came a' tumbling down.

It hasn't let up. A quick check on the internet forecasts stormy days the entire rest of the week. If Shanghai had a face, it would have my foot in it.

Ness and Ramsey are back to work, welcoming a new class of students who already speak way better English than I could ever hope to speak Chinese, even if a funnel was shoved down my throat, foie gras-style, and giant chunks of Mandarin were forced through. Considering it took me practically this entire trip just to remember how to count to ten, I'm not sure there's hope. Bu Hao.

I joined Ness and Ramsey in some of their classes on Tuesday and had fun soaking in that whole dynamic. My favorite thing was hearing the “American” names the students had chosen for themselves. Most students stuck to the conventional ones: Michael, Lily, Kristen, etc. Others were a little more...creative, with names like Tree, Grape, Demon, Linky, and BlackSister (yes, BlackSister). One guy so proudly announced his name, Fantasy, that we just didn't have the heart to tell him that Fantasy is a stripper name. Well, Ness, didn't have the heart. I would have told him if she'd let me.

When not at the university, Ness and I have been wandering the soggy streets of Shanghai in search of good restaurants or cheap souvenirs to bring home to the nieces. Saw the Propaganda Poster Art Center, stuffed away in the basement of an apartment complex (super fun to find!). The posters are all original prints, and there are hundreds. Upon learning our nationality, the owner, Yang Pei Ming, followed us around and pointed to the images of long-nosed crazed-looking American caricatures and chortled incessantly (It was weird, but you kind of just had to laugh along with him.) When I pointed to my own long nose and then back at the posters, that set him off even further. He spoke pretty decent English and helped us decipher a lot of what were were seeing. In the posters, Mao is always depicted as valiantly leading peasants and workers against Western imperialists, or holding smiley children, or surrounded by a village family, their modest home stuffed with the bounties of harvest (this while the Great Leap Forward was starving millions). One of my favorites was of students on a train, waving their little red books happily as they are being sent to the countryside to be re-educated through hard labor. Gotta love that stuff.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Wuzhizhou Island and the Tropical Fruit of Death

If you're going to spend hours throwing up into the sand, there's no better place to do it than Wuzhizhou Island. Really. It's a gorgeous little island, with clear waters, white sand beaches, and iconic temple-like structures jutting out in the ocean. Teddy, a cool English-speaking guy from Shanghai who we met on the way to Monkey Island, strongly recommended Wuzhizhou be part of our Sanya itinerary.

So we went the very next day. Booked a car with our hotel and sped off in the early morning light. It was on the short ferry ride to the island when it first hit Vanessa: the sickness, origin unknown. Our best guess is bad tropical fruit consumed earlier, exasperated by close-quarters inside the rocking ship. “Do you have a bag?” she asked. I did not, but I could tell one was desperately needed. Quickly rummaging through my belongings I found a small kleenex package which I de-kleenexed and handed over. She promptly threw up inside of it, sending chunks onto me and onto the floor. I next opened and emptied a package of dried plums, which she soon filled.

Then it got worse. Scrambling off the ship as it docked, we found a spot on the beach for her to continue her expulsions. Did you know the beach is a great place to vomit? It is. Lots of sand to bury the mess and soft on the knees to boot. While she recovered I searched for water and took some time to get my bearings. The pedestrian path above the beach was crowded with tourists and trams constantly beeping their horns. I found small market stands where I collected water and further down there was a bathroom. Most important, I found less-crowded, shady sections of beach where swimming was prohibited and Ness could continue to barf in peace.

When I got back, she was face down in the sand, half conscious and rather belligerent (excess vomiting will do that to a person). I had to coax her up to follow me to the shadier spot which she conceded was a better choice. Our car wasn't scheduled to pick us up until much later that afternoon, so for the moment we were marooned. I spent most of the hours that followed tending best I could to Ness, taking pictures, and walking along the shore collecting coral. At one point Ness felt well enough to go for a dip, and we enjoyed the cool waters in the swimming area before heading back to our spot at Upchuck Beach so Ness could get back to work.

On the ferry ride on the way back, the sickness at last hit me. As soon as we touched shore I raced for a bathroom. It was downhill from there. All the rest of the day, and all the rest of the night, Ness and I took turns vomiting. I have never vomited so much in my life, even during my worst food poisoning experience in Africa. Of course the vomiting was peppered with plenty of diarrhea, as everything we had ever consumed was determined to escape our bodies thorough any orifice available. (Now there's a fact I bet you wish you didn't know.)

Lest you think this was all a cakewalk, we returned to our rooms to discover we'd both been horribly sunburned. The expensive fake Avon-brand Chinese sunblock turned out to be just as useless as the face whitener. Soon we were further burning up with fever, our teeth chattering as we lay on our hard Chinese mattresses listening to the sounds of mosquitoes buzzing past our ears. At one point, close to midnight, I stumbled down the stairs to the reception desk to request more toilet paper and bottled water. Ness couldn't get out of bed, so it was left to me to try and explain our needs, mostly through pantomime. My throwing-up action, followed by flashes of fingers to indicate multiple times made the reception desk lady's eyes grow wide. It would surely have been comical to any third party passing by.

Fever does strange things to your head. While I struggled and struggled for sleep, between heavy sessions in the bathroom, all I could hear was the never-ending chorus of “Nobody” by the Korean Spice Girls wannabee group, the Wonder Girls (as seen on Chinese MTV.) I think that was the greatest torture of all. No matter what I did to try and block it out, that same insipid chorus is all I heard over and over again. Ness was similarly plagued by Shakira's “Gypsy.” I'm not sure which one of us was luckier.

We got through it. Having secured a late-check out, we slept much of the sickness away, waking in the afternoon and stumbling wearily to the airport.

But let's not choose to remember Wuzhizhou for all the stomach fluids we left there. Let's skip right past that part in the film reels of our minds and instead focus on these beautiful, vomit-free photographs. For all our sakes.