September 3. Arrive in Beijing
China is a crowd. Crowd gets off the train and hurries to get to immigration control. There are new buildings everywhere. Trucks, many trucks. Brands. All Chinese. All unknown. China is a bad taste city. It is what it has. China is smog. Is order. Uniforms. This is the new prosperity.
September 4. Beijing.
Every time I pay attention, I´m eating or with a bottle in my hand. I cannot stop consuming and I have already spent more than what I have thought. Who said China was cheap? Communism here means that everyone must be able to consume equally.
September 5. Beijing.
We went to the art district in Beijing. Until the last minute I didn´t find what I was looking for. Finally, by chance, we got into an exhibition of technological interventions, where the artists of the works were in person, and we spent some time talking about Internet and the new technologies.
September 6. Beijing
The cloud which floats over Beijing – to say it smartly- is like the most unwavering whim of an idiot millionaire. You cannot see beyond a hundred meters, buildings are just the base; the rest is covered by the cloud/whim that hides it all. It´s hard to breathe, as if each block would be a fag (cigarette), a long fag that gets into the lungs and saddens everything. There is something metaphorical in that cloud, because in China, as in Beijing, you cannot see anything but China. The experience is always conditioned by the overwhelming obligation to think in China, because of the cloud/whim that captures you and forces you to roll your eyes inwards. It’s like the internet censorship: you can do whatever you want, while you don´t escape from its cloud.
September 7. Beijing.
Scorpion: a chip more fried than a chip, but with the peculiar charm that if the insect would be alive the relationship would be entirely different.
Snake: the revenge of the traumatized child. It’s pretty ugly, elastic, and better not to talk more about it because they scared me and I really don´t want to play with my luck.
Flying Cockroach: crispy, slightly oak reminiscence, the antennas have the subtle spicy of the Burmese chili, the legs are the most unfriendly to the palate but with some imagination they can be used as toothpicks.
September 8. Beijing.
It was good to insist the boys to go today to the Wall. It rained in the morning but afterwards the sun rose. We went to a remote part of Beijing. Luckily we escaped from the Chinese tours that burn your head. The Wall is amazing. Thousands and thousands of kilometers to avoid the arrival of the Mongols. How absurd, if they had known Bayna they would have become friends.
September 8. Beijing.
We were walking down the street and we met a street artist. A sort of opera that hypnotizes and depresses you at the same time.Gastón
September 12. Beijing.
Internet is a crap. It’s all blocked. I had to talk to a hacker friend in Buenos Aires who lent me a rogue server. All our information goes through a tunnel and avoids Chinese censorship. I still don´t know if I did it for our addiction to Facebook or because we had to load the episode of The Jenny Pascal. Doesn´t matter, the two things are guaranteed.
September 13. Shanghai.
I’m in the future. Shanghai. There are some kinds of flying rings on top of the streets for people to walk. Thus the traffic flows. It’s like the Jetsons, but the other way round.
They say that in fifty years, there will be over 300 million people. They are all connected to their iPhones or Samsung Galaxy S3. Anyway … I, a technology human being, enjoy this show that anticipates what will come.
September 14. Shanghai.
We played football with some Chinese who work in a restaurant. It had been two years since I touched a ball. I felt myself Maradona for a while. Even I made a goal.
I ended up cutting my hair in a shopping fashion hairdresser´s salon. I had to show the hairdresser pictures of models to explain him what I wanted. Now I´m said to be a hipster.
September 15. Shanghai.
The dRummer went mad to know the park where Avatar was shot; he took a train to who knows where. For seven days we are free to enjoy sophisticated coffees or a simple Coke without someone accusing us of being capitalists.
September 15. Train to Changsha.
The train departs from the station bound for Changsha. They say Avatar was shot there. This is its letter of introduction. This is the impulse that brought me to the station without my two accomplices.
A snoring keeps me awake, but this time Hipólito is not the culprit. The Chinese looks are digging like a thousand spears throughout my body and I cannot find allies: again in the arena, alone.
The smoke of the prohibited cigarette in the car lies on top of me and I still don´t know why I returned to the lines of this book. Maybe it´s the awful but soothing music that comes so loud from the speakers in the train, or maybe the Chinese that took my seat as ignoring everything, and who tells me to get my feet off the next seat … Or maybe it was excitement to reach the train just 80 seconds before its departure. Or simply because I have no one to speak with, and worse, I know that this, what I’m living alone, will be known only by me and the 116 anonymous Chinese with whom I share the car.
September 18. Shanghai
We went for some massages at midnight. They take us to different rooms and the session starts. Back, hands, legs, oil, spine, back again, chest, head. After forty minutes the Chinese begins to work the abdominals. She is cool. I perceive her intention to seduce me. And I´m right, five minutes later she moves her hands towards my boxer or underwear and says, “Special massage?” And I cannot help laughing, and I think in what Tito might be saying in the room next door. But not only to save money but to avoid going too far with this journal, I say no, thanking and promising her that next time I come to this neighborhood I will be visiting her.
September 19. Train to Hangzhou.
Another hobby of the Chinese is the street trade. After each stop the same woman comes always with a new product, first a cloth that dries in three minutes (aprox. 25 sold), then a DVD player with visor included, later a portable battery charger with more than 7 adapters to avoid running out of phone, tablet or whatever (I don´t buy anything, but remained unsatisfied. In Hong Kong I will take my revenge …). Anyway, I don´t know what else I miss to buy. The kid in front of me buys everything, the cloth, the player and the battery charger. For the next fifteen hours I will fuck over for not having bought those amperes much cheaper. Thanks to them, his favorite song coming out from his cell phone speakers will not turn down during all the trip, nor him. We called him “Manija”, and although he is another Chinese we will never forget him. I guess he dreams to be a pop star or a bolero singer, I don´t know. As he travels, I imagine he is refining his movements. Someday I will tell my grandchildren: yes my little boys, I traveled by train with “Manija”.
September 19. Wulingyuan.
I spoke by Skype with Lu, my bosom friend. It was her birthday and I could greet everyone attending her party. It was not yet 12 and I went to find another hostel because I had no room to stay that night. After settling I toured the village. I could not stop taking pictures. All the time I found things that were worth photographing. The river, the houses, the roofs, the sellers, the food, the bridges, the stands, the shelves, the doors, the pagodas. Everything was worthy of a postcard.
After climbing up a hill, I prepared to continue with the shooting session when a Chinese stood behind me (typical of the Chinese, who come to look what you are shooting or filming). But as he didn´t leave, I started to get impatient. I took off my headphones but he did not flinch. Until I turned round and glared at him. He was an innocent boy with glasses of about 17 years old. He seemed to be admired for something, and he said, “Your hair is so cool” … I burst out laughing. I thanked him and finally he left. I had my hair tied to the front not to be disturbed by my bang in my eyes, nothing else. That same night, I received the same compliment twice, with exactly the same words (cool hair). Definitely, the phrase “less cool than a Korean bang” is applicable to the Chinese.
We went to the mountains of Huangshan spectral fogs. Wake up to see sunrises is one of the things I hate most in the world besides making massages. We had to do it if we wanted to shoot a bit. It was five in the morning and there were already three hundred unbearable Chinese screaming “woww”, “uhh” and “ahh”.
We hurried up, to stay ahead of the tours, and met Wuan Chowfan and his friends. He invited us for breakfast: rice with sauce cooked in a plastic box. They put some chemicals and the box began to boil. Within fifteen minutes the rice was ready. It only costs 2 dollars.
September 20. Wulingyuan.
One day after seeing monkeys in a cage, I found them in their native state while I was walking through Wulingyuan Park. I had seen signs saying “do not tease the wild monkeys”, and I guessed that tease meant feeding or something like that. Honestly I had never done such a thing. But when I was in one of the lookouts I saw a Chinese tourist offering a candy to a monkey that snatched it from her hand and with more skill than a magician, unwrap it, threw the paper and ate it. I felt terrible. I didn´t understand how someone could give a candy to a wild monkey. I that moment I remembered I had a banana in my backpack, and suddenly what I never thought to do became an act of rectification of the human race, as a compensation for the poor monkey.
I saw one monkey resting on a railing, looking cute, and chose it. I opened my backpack and, while searching the bag with the banana, two other monkeys approached me. I was just pulling out the bag when one of the thugs took it, then threw the bag, peeled the banana and started eating it too calm, while the one looking cute was watching with surprise and another six monkeys were also approaching me. The next thing I knew was that I was struggling with a monkey that was pulling my backpack hard. Unnecessarily I was trying to say that I had no more bananas (yes, I’m an asshole), and the red ass stopped pulling to stick his hand inside the backpack (I only have a package of Oreo, and I will not give it to him, I thought). I kept fighting; already terrified –there were posters with warnings to prevent scratches-, and three monkeys in front of me. The cute looking one only watched the scene. I turned round to avoid them and to my surprise (or rather terror) I found another monkey, standing perfectly upright on two legs like any human being, looking straight to my eyes, something that intimidated me greatly.
I decided to go away, first walking quickly, then with a brisk trot and finally nearly running, not to show my fear (I assumed that, like dogs and horses, they will feel it). I went into another path down the mountain on the back side, practically abandoned. Two monkeys followed me along the way and many others pursued me through the trees. After 70 meters, I thought they had abandoned me.
The road was desolated, not a human being and the moss on the stones indicated the lack of walkers in a long time. There was no view to the karst peaks, only thick vegetation. After 30 minutes I met again with monkeys on my way down, but they were not the same, of course. For a moment I played with the idea that maybe they were already warned of my arrival (yes, again, what an asshole). I remembered Caro (my former girlfriend), that with no reason had a huge appreciation for the monkeys. “If she likes them, being so fearful, I will not be frightened,” I thought trying to trick my conscience. No case, I was still afraid. Finally I got out of the way; the last monkeys only saw me pass and went away. I breathed. When I got into the van I remembered Guybrush Threepwood and his expeditions to the Monkey Island. He was indeed a courageous pirate.
September 21. Fenghuang.
I woke up and went to the Yellow Dragon Cave. Very nice, but not more than a walk in the dark with a “pingorochos” of up to 17 meters and more than 20 million years old illuminated as if they were in Las Vegas. I went back to the hostel, discussed with them because they wanted to charge me a late checkout (when at 8 and a half in the morning, when I went to the cave, everyone was asleep) and went to the bus station, after having lunch in the street (pasta, obviously). When I got into the buss, a Chinese in perfect English asked me to change the seat, and I agreed without any problem. When we reached Fenghuang five hours later the same girl asked me if I had a reservation at a hotel, and as I said no, she and her boyfriend offered to help me. We took a taxi, which they didn´t let me pay, and invited me for a beer once we settled at the hostel.
We went to a quiet place in a town full of Chinese tourists, but with the most beautiful sights to shoot I´ve ever seen in my life.
They ordered chicken, beef with a kind of a bitter cucumber, tofu and rice. I simply eat; tell them about my trip and talk of life. Beer never stopped coming to the table (I was start suffering for the bill) and Juehi´s boyfriend, a friendly bald guy but somewhat silent, took the stage and armed a karaoke. Much Sting (they forced me to sing English Man in New York, imagine) and Chinese songs. After two hours and something like 14 beers, they paid the bill while I was in the restroom (I swear it was not intentional) and again forbid me to give them money. We agreed to meet the next day.
September 22. Fenghuang.
For the second day on a row, one of the hostel owners drove me crazy. Everything started one noon when he left his table with already 13 beers and wasn´t 12 yet – and started saying quite gay things, as ” iu ar biutiful men” and “iu jav gud soul ” . Then he said he was Korean but lived in China for 10 years. He invited me a beer, he spoke about Korean dances, of how unfair the world was, of his hate for wars and religions, and never, but never stopped touching my back and my shoulder.
I tried to keep him quiet, drunks are not easy to handle and less at noon. At night he reappeared. “Gud traveler”, he said now. He was drinking as from the morning, but seemed calmer. He spoke about a woman, his children, that we should do something to change the world and kept throwing kicks and punches to the air shouting “iah, iah”. Then he wanted to teach me a Korean dance and I think that for a moment he cried. I stopped paying attention to him, and spent his days sitting at a table-full of beer bottles, inviting different people and screaming like a wild. Ah, it rained all day.
September 22. Train to Yangshou.
We traveled by train to Yangshou in the cheapest class. The only difference I see between different categories is the amount of people who travel. In our car, the last one, we are a lot, no idea how many, more than one hundred and fifty people. Every half an hour we stop at different stations and people, desperate God knows why, leave the platform to buy all kind of meals.
With the train moving the dynamic is different; most play with the cell phone, read a newspaper or watch the nearest screen (there is always a close screen). For instance, a while ago we took the computer and started to watch a movie. The guy in front of us already intrigued took our computer, turned it, and stood for a while watching the movie we were watching… It’s weird, as if in the field of screens, private property does not exist. And really it does not exist. They are available for those who are nearby, is a vested right, a sort of blessing high definition that burns their brains. And me, too. And I remember a story by Fontanarrosa in which a character said that the famous Aleph by Borges was actually a 14-inch Hitachi TV brought from Korea. I start to take it seriously.
September 24. Yangshou.
Today I went to buy a t-shirt and they asked me 30 dollars. I offer 1 and close the deal for 3.
September 29. Macao.
We arrived at Macao. We came because my brother Rodrigo basically ordered me to visit this city, he didn´t say why. And I obeyed him (nor do I understand why). So I’m in a semi-independent city that is part of China but that was a Portuguese colony and of which my brother is a kind of unintelligible fan. And I walk through the streets trying to understand more about Rodrigo´s fanaticism than about the heart of the city. All I know is that they are not the same thing.
There are two official languages, Chinese and Portuguese. People speak only the first one but the signs are in the second language. They have their own currency, Macanese dollars, and unlike China, here you find the Catholic presence (although today that presence is only on the semi destroyed facade of what once was the largest Christian church in Asia). From the Portuguese blood there still remain the egg cakes sold in the street. But the data is of little use to me: my brother is not Christian or knows about pancakes, so this does not explain his fanaticism.
Maybe, I think, because Macau is the only place in China where casinos are allowed. Hence the nickname “Las Vegas of the East”, more than one hundred casinos of all sizes and colors that move more money than the original casinos in Las Vegas. But neither may have to do with it, Rodrigo barely knows the rules of the “Truco”.
I give up and look for a bar with internet. I call him by Skype and ask him directly why Macao? Which I loved, which I found very crazy, but why Macao? … He laughs and says, “Oh, you went there?” And then, so to speak, he replies, “the thing is that Orson Welles said that Macao was the strangest city in the world”…
Finally, if at this point I don´t know him….
October 1. Hong Kong.
I’m overwhelmed. Too much technology offers. This is my paradise. I can try any gimmick and go away. I have an infernal fever, I want to buy everything. And rumors were true; prices are very cheap, like in the United States.
Video: Expreso a Oriente
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