iguazu falls
7th December
written by Ilana

Yes, we know.  We are irresponsible bloggers who have not written in quite some time.  We are sorry, but we have been busy traveling around and making plans/booking flights that will cover our travels through Pesach.

This is not meant to be a very detailed post, just a preview, and to let you all know what we’ve been up to, and where we will be over the next few months.  A more detailed post including feelings and reactions to China will come soon.

We are currently in Yangshuo, China.  It is a beautiful small town in southern China.  We arrived in Beijing on November 10th and have been slowly making our way south since then.  Here is our route:

Nov.10:  Landed in Tianjin.  Took a high speed train (334 km/hr!) to Beijing.  Planned to leave after a few days, but we loved it and stayed almost a week.

Nov. 17-18:  We then took an 11 hour sleeper train to Xian to see the terracotta warriors.  I was really into them, but Xian itself was an absolute hole.  We stayed there only one night.  It was fun, because we finally hung out with other backpackers and met an Australian couple who we liked and who supports (Australian way of saying ‘roots for’) Collingwood, Bloom’s grand-final winning Aussie Rules Football team.  There was much talk of ‘footy’ and Seinfeld.  Good times all around.

Nov. 19-22:  At the last minute we decided we would go to Shanghai for Shabbat, since according to their website, Shabbat davening and meals were being held at the old shul, so this seemed exciting.  We knew we would arrive somewhere on a Friday and figured it would be best to arrive somewhere with a Chabad to take care of us.  We signed up for meals online and booked a hostel near the shul.  We took another overnight train from Xian, this time 16 hours, and arrived in Shanghai Friday morning only to receive an email from Chabad telling us the shul was closed.  After writing an angry, possibly passive-aggressive email to the rabbi we were invited to a “small gathering” at the rabbis house, which was thankfully close to the hostel.   This “small gathering” was at least 25 French ex-pats.  I had one of those moments where I was beyond ashamed of my outfit–dress over pants and hiking boots–and wanted to hide under the table away from all the well dressed, diamond wearing French ladies.  Ok, I exaggerate, it was really only one fancy lady who gave me a blatant dirty look, but still, the others were also dressed well, but they were not ALL in diamonds.  On Saturday the rebbetzin’s sister approached me and said “I heard you speaking English, are you not Israeli?  I was SURE you were Israeli!”  “That’s because I look like a dirty backpacker, usually I look a bit more put together and American,” I responded, and immediately felt guilty for saying that out loud to a stranger.

Anyway, Shanghai was amazing.  I love big cities.  It felt like NY covered in haze and pollution.  We stayed longer in Shanghai than planned, but we had a great time wandering the streets, eating amazing vegetarian food, and generally appreciating city life.  All the ex-pats told me they “love” living in Shanghai, and, since I am easily swayed, I decided I too wanted to live in Shanghai, so I guess we have a back-up plan if we are still jobless at the end of the year.  Move to Shanghai and hang out with Jewish French ex-pats while eating and possibly teaching English or something.  But I digress…

Nov. 23-26:  Zhangjiajie Village and Wulingyuan.  We said goodbye to the cities and took off for the next leg of our China trip in rural villages.  We took a 21 hour overnight train to reach our next destination, a national park that we had randomly come across in the Lonely Planet book that sounded like a nice place.  This was much more than a nice place, and was probably the most beautiful place I have ever seen, or at least it would definitely be in the top 2 with Iguazu Falls.  They re-named one of the mountains in the park “Avatar mountain” because allegedly James Cameron Pandora was based on the mountains in this park.  The park was all about putting up posters of Avatar next to posters of the park to show how similar they look, and they’re right, they do look very similar, other than the fact that the mountains in China don’t float.  All in all, it was amazing, and totally worth the horrific train ride.

Nov. 26-29: Fenghuang.  This is a small minority village that we decided to go to for Shabbos hoping to find food.  In Zhangjiajie there was definitely no food for us other than Snickers and instant noodles, and the occasional find of chestnuts, and we were hoping we would find something more substantial in Fenghuang since we heard it was touristy.  Yes, it was touristy, but it was filled with Chinese tourists, not Western ones, so nothing was in English, and most of the food contained pigs.  The villagers were especially fond of hanging pig faces from the rafters to dry.  The village was nice and we liked strolling though the alleys and on the river.  It would have been nicer had there not been millions of Chinese people yelling into megaphones, and screaming their heads off at karaoke.

Dec. 1-3:  Ma’an.  You may notice that Nov. 30th is missing in this outline.  That is because we spent that entire day in transport hell.  It involved taking a taxi to a bus station outside of Fenghuang.  Trying to communicate where we needed to go next, being pushed in opposite directions to different buses, and finally picking a bus, which we sat on for over an hour, waiting for it to depart.  When we finally got to our destination, where we were meant to catch an afternoon train, we had of course missed it, and booked the next train, which left at night, 6 hours later.  This city, Huaihua, was an even bigger hole than Xian.  It was dreary and bleak and there was mud all over the place.  The bus had dropped us off in the middle of the city somewhere, and we luckily found some people in backpacks to follow to the train station, though the mud.  The people were from Hong Kong and spoke good English.  After posing for a picture with one of them, he told us to be in touch when we get to Hong Kong.  So that’s one good thing that came out of the misery of Nov. 30th.

After 6 hours of listening to an Audible book on my iphone (seriously, baruch hashem for Audible and for my mom for allowing me to download books from her account), and holding my hands over my ears to try to block out the yelling ladies with megaphones making announcements every 40-70 seconds, it was time to board our train.  Imagine the running of the bulls, or a Long Island Wal-Mart on Black Friday…I’m guessing that those mobs are nothing next to a bunch of Chinese people trying to get on a train.  People were running and pushing each other over, and shoving and yelling.  It was complete chaos.  I felt pressured to run too, but then I realized that it did not make any sense to run, since we had tickets and seats.  I still have absolutely not idea why every person was running as if his/her life depended on it.  We knew this train would be awful since we had booked hard seats, the lowest class, since that’s all that was left, and we figured we could handle it for 5 hours, a short train by China standards.  When we got to the door of our train car it was as if the whole running mob had congregated there.  There were tons of people trying to shove into the car at once, and many of them were carrying large bamboo poles over their shoulders with massive bags hanging from each end of the pole.  at first I was ok with the shoving, I’m a good shover after living in Israel and New York., but then I became genuinely frightened as the pushing got more aggressive and I realized I was not in control of my movement.  I thought I would get stabbed in the face by bamboo, or maybe get shoved and plummet to my death on the train tracks.  In the midst of this I suddenly felt a distinct grab on my boob.  It was definitely not part of the shoving, and I knew it.  I jerked my head around to see a middle aged man pull his hand away.  I was absolutely seething.  “DON’T YOU TOUCH ME!”  I screamed.  My eyes narrowed and I looked at him hatefully and pointed my finger in his face and yelled again, “DON’T YOU F—ING TOUCH ME!!”  Obviously, he did not understand a word I said, but I figured the finger pointing and swearing and look of pure rage on my face possibly got the point across.  I tried not to cry, as I eventually grabbed on to the railing and simultaneously jumped/shoved my way onto the train.  The pushing did not end here, and I was now being shoved into the carriage and tried to find my seat.

I looked around and realized that Bloom and I did not have seats next to each other.  I then noticed that someone was sitting in Bloom’s seat.  I looked across the aisle and saw that someone was sitting in my seat as well–it was none other than the sexual predator from 3 minutes earlier.  “You have GOT to be kidding me!!”  I cried in frustration.  I saw down across from Bloom, neither of us in our seats, until I was physically pulled off the seat by an angry looking lady who proceeded to yell at me in Chinese.  I showed her my ticket and Bloom’s, and she yelled at the people who were in his seat and made them move.  I tried to communicate to the guy next to Bloom that we should trade seats.  I was in no mood to sit by myself in this hell hole of a train, and I was definitely not going to try to have any form of communication with the sexual predator.  I kept looking at him and giving him dirty looks, until eventually I was scared that maybe he was actually dangerous and would chase me off the train and kill me,and I was just so damn tired,  so I stopped.   Finally the man next to Bloom got the point and went to my seat, but did not kick out the sexual predator, just shoved next to him, almost sitting on his lap.  I then started crying a little over the fact that I felt completely violated by this man, that I couldn’t do anything about it, and that I was on a crowded, loud, smelly train in the middle of the night.  I eventually fell asleep on Bloom’s shoulder and tried to ignore everything else.  We had no idea where to get off the train, since we could not see through the filthy windows of the train, and most of the time, when we did try to see, there were no signs.  Bloom frantically showed everyone around us our tickets asking when to get off.  Eventually we were motioned toward the door, and got off at 1 am in the middle of what appeared to be a forest, not a train station.  A lady pushed us into a taxi and we showed her the name of a hotel listed in Lonely Planet.  She took us somewhere, there was no English, so we don’t even know where we stayed, but we checked in and immediately went to sleep.

But wait, we had not even reached the village of Ma’an yet!  We were in a city, Sanjiang and had to find a bus to the village in the morning.  We could not find this alleged bus station, and ended up taking a motorcycle rick-shaw to the village.

The thing is, after all that awfulness, the village was worth it.  That’s the thing about China, everything is difficult, but somehow, against all my better judgement, it actually ends up being worth it.  Maybe the difficult journey makes me appreciate the nice places, I don’t know.  But we hung out at a very quiet, relaxed village and wandered through the rice paddies and surrounding hills for two days, until we traveled south to Yangshuo, where we are now.

Oh my, I did not mean to write so much here, and now I realize that I could not resist, and as usual, the only stories I told in depth were the most traumatic ones.  I will write up some of the nice ones next time.

In conclusion, our visa runs out on Thursday, so we are taking a night bus Wednesday night to Hong Kong where will will hopefully get our visas to Burma.  We fly to Burma via Bangkok on Dec.14-15, where we will be until Dec. 31st, when we fly back to Bangkok for Shabbos.  We will travel around Thailand, and maybe Laos if there’s time, making our way back down to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where we will fly to Kochi, India on February 1st.  We will be traveling around India and then into Nepal, flying on April 17th from Kathmandu, Nepal–Qatar–Amman, Jordan.  We will spend the night in Amman, unless we can miraculously hitch a ride to Israel that night, and then we will hopefully, cross the border into Israel on April 18th.  We will be in Jerusalem for Pesach, and it will be glorious.  Unless we get stuck in Qatar or Jordan, which would be glorious in a different way I guess.

It’s crazy to have all of these flights finally booked.  We booked them over the past few days, since we have finally had some time to relax here in Yangshuo, so we have been making plans for the rest of our trip, which is of course why we had no time to write earlier!

We will not be able to post anything while in Burma.  I am not sure that we will find any functioning internet there at all,  but Bloom and I both plan to write some flashback posts to post before we go to Burma, so you will have something to read.

And there you have it.  My version of a short version of our China trip.  In conclusion, China is a bizzaro world in every way, and sometimes it is absolutely horrible, but for some reason I love it here.  More on this later!

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