Culture shock

Trip Start Jun 17, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  ,
Saturday, September 3, 2005

Culture shock. Although it sound like something happening acute, is actually is a slow process.
Initially when travelling one feels excited, euphoric even. Everything is new and interesting. I definitely went through this phase in Mongolia. After a few months those roaming the planet are affected by travel fatigue, though. Feelings of hostility towards the host country, and irritation by the cultural differences that at first seemed to be so exciting are common at this stage. And that is where I might very well be at this moment. I've been on the road for 11 weeks now, packing and unpacking my backpack on average every two to three days, hopping on and off trains and buses, absorbing impressions, chatting with locals and eating foreign foods, planning and organizing my trip while I'm going, which takes up more of the day than I realized beforehand. And although this is a holiday, travelling turns out to be quite tiring. Nights are often short when sleeping on trains or in noisy hotel rooms. Communicating with the help of phrasebooks and picturebooks consumes a lot of energy. Getting off the beaten track in China brings a traveller to the center of attention making it impossible to quietly sit and observe the country and its people. Being stared at by hundreds of pairs of eyes and being made fun at is something that I can take for some time but not days on end. Besides, I am not used to heat combined with high humidity. All of this I experienced the last couple of weeks, and it was topped with an experience that would not have left a big impression if I had not been alone, dog-tired and in the middle of the night in a place I did not know.

What happened was simple. After a tour of two days in Wulingyuan nature reserve, which was beautiful, the guide all of a sudden put me on a train one day earlier than expected, pulling me out of my hotel room, giving me four minutes to pack my things. Literally four minutes. For those of you who don't know how important it is to pack a backpack well, I never considered four minutes enough to do so. Once at the train station it turned out they bought a standby ticket for me, which means I would only get a seat when they are not sold out. Luckily I could get a seat for the nine hour, partly overnight journey, though those seats are not comfortable. Travelling this class nine hours at night.. well, take it from me this is very uncomfortable. Of course I once again got stared at by a number of men, which naturally made me feel even less comfortable. I had walked in the nature reserve that day, so I was tired when I got on the train, and after midnight dozing off on those hard benches seemed the only logical thing to do. Not according to the patrolling police officer and the train attendants though. Each time I dozed off they woke me up with a pad on the head or shoulder. I did not understand this at first until later someone made it clear to me I had to keep an eye on my backpack. So I struggled to stay awake until I arrived in Sanjiang at 3.30 am. I had planned to sleep in the train station until dawn, and then catch a bus to Longsheng, a 2 hour trip. However, the platform was completely dark when I got off the train and the train station was not lid either. So, before I knew I sat in a small van that would take me to Longsheng for a price we had agreed on. However, I never got there, they dropped me off at a nearby hotel and wanted more money than we had agreed on. The hotel owner did not know how to deal with me or the situation and started to write things down for me in Chinese. Looking back it was quite an amusing situation, a woman shouting in my ear for more money and a hotel owner who did not seem to understand I could not read Chinese and who kept on writing things down for me. Eventually I agreed on a price to sleep in the hotel for a couple of hours, gave the woman the money we had originally agreed on even though the ride was only worth one fifth of that, just to get rid of her, and went to the hotel room leaving her and her shouting behind.

I was tired, but I felt so bad about the whole situation that I could not sleep. I think at that moment my travel fatigue hit rock bottom and I changed my plans. Instead of continuing my journey off the beaten track I decided to treat myself to a few days in a town more accustomed to backpackers. So here I am, in Yangshuo, in the middle of the Karst mountains, eating foods that are not alien to me, being able to walk around without everybody staring at me, in short, I am recharging my batteries.

I must admit that once on the bus this way, after that long night, the beautiful scenery took away my sorrow, restoring my enthusiasm somewhat. And of course I met my travel-friends Dennis and Monique again here in Yangshuo. Seeing friendly faces helps forgetting a bad experience, and I feel a whole lot better now. I am almost ready to continue my journey, but before I do so I plan to get a Chinese massage..
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