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29 posts categorized "Henry Atkinson"

Weird Food Review - Wonderfarm White Fungus Bird's Nest Drink

We'll be back to our summer wrap-up in a few days. In the meantime, here's a review of a bird spittle beverage. 

(Note: Due to an editorial oversight the following Weird Food Review feature was photographed without the customary robots for scale. Our apologies.)

In Guangzhou's many shops devoted to Chinese traditional medicine, among the antlers, dried seafoods of all kinds, and dozens of varieties of dried caterpillar, you're bound to find some birds nests. These off-white nests are made by a species of Southeast Asian Swiftlet, who weave their spittle into nests for their young.

Nests go for ridiculous prices - a box of them can be hundreds or thousands of US dollars - and are said to have medicinal benefits including but not limited to moisturizing the skin, limbering the mind, enhancing the libido, and recovering the female form after childbirth. Because I desire all of these effects, I have invested in a can of Wonderfarm White Fungus Bird's Nest Drink.


Because the drink costs a dollar and bird's nests are so expensive, I don't expect this can to contain very much actual bird's nest. The ingredients don't seem to have any bird's nest listed, though there are some mysterious chemical-type ingredients. Click to zoom in.

"White fungus," though, is in the english ingredients there, and apparently refers to a parasitic yeast that grows slimy white folds and is a popular thickener in Chinese cuisine and medicine. Picture from Wikipedia.

I've popped the can open. It smells a little bit like vanilla, but not vanilla extract, more like... melted vanilla ice cream. I've poured the whole can into a glass. It's alarmingly chunky. I guess that's the white fungus? Or maybe the bird's nest? I expected it do be a little bit thick, but it's... still surprisingly thick.

The taste is... weird. The aftertaste is good, again a little bit like vanilla, but when you first sip it there's a little... menthol, almost, or that weird tang sugarless gum can have. It's also really, really slimy. So slimy.


This clearly isn't something you drink for the taste. The sugar and vanilla flavor is clearly just there to mask some horrible gamy medicinal taste. It's not super offensive, it tastes much better than cough syrup, but it's the same idea. Except the medicine in question is bird spittle, and it may or may not actually be in there. There's definitely a ton of fungus floating around in there, though.

As a food, this is a failure. This is just not what food is supposed to be. I don't think I need this in my body. It tastes sweet, but the sweetness is a lie. Good smell, though. 2/10.

As a medicine, though, it deserves a separate score. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow morning moisturized, smarter, randier, and with a slim, feminine waist! It could happen, but it won't. Maybe if I believed in it, there would be a placebo effect, but I don't. 0/10. I'm going to go pour the rest of this down the drain. For more on bird's nests and swiftlets, check out Wikipedia and The New York Times.

Guilin Redux

Welcome once more to my China adventure! We're back from summer break and have a wonderful line-up of entertaining - yet edifying - fall programming in the works. We've got upcoming posts on Hong Kong! Vietnam! The World's Best Sandwich! Tailors! Dim Sum! And More! We also have some weird food reviews coming down the pipe, including a product that proudly proclaims its high spittle content! I'm not even joking! A veritable blog bonanza awaits in the upcoming days and weeks.

We're going to start off out with some soothing landscapes. Why, here's one now.

I went to Guilin a second time in the middle of August, with Ben (my previously mentioned friend from Hong Kong) and Angel (one of my co-teachers at work).

Due to a ticketing snafu, we were forced to travel both ways in "hard seats." Because the trip is about 12 hours each way, overnight, I barely slept. Hard seats are the cheapest kind of seats, and are crowded and uncomfortable to begin with, but a lot of people with "standing room only" tickets, which are even cheaper than hard seat tickets, sit on the floor in the aisle making getting up untenable for hours at a time, and make hard seats even harder to deal with. I did take some stalkerish pictures of sleeping families, though.

I took Ben and Angel through some of my favorite trails and treks from my first visit. In retrospect I was a bit too much of a taskmaster - Angel revealed she had never biked more than 15 minutes at a stretch in her whole life, and I led them on an 8-hour bike ride - they seemed to have a good time.

One of the coolest things that happened was seeing a gaggle of Chinese kids jump from a tree into the river. We had pulled off of the main trail towards the river, Ben wanted to swim, and they arrived right when we did. Angel said she couldn't even undertand what they were saying, because their local dialect was so different. I captured a one of the jumps with my camera's action-type mode.

Right after we swam, we were caught in a big rainstorm and had to huddle in a doorway.

Here's one I snapped on the boat trip after the 8-hour bike trek: you might have to zoom on to see it, but this is a guy driving a boat with his foot while he lights a cigarette.

One thing that's really noticeable when you go to Guilin is the total difference in tourism priorities - for lack of a better term - between western and chiense tourists. It's night and day. Westerners tend towards biking and hiking, while Chinese tourists gravitiate towards rafting. On our last day, we went on a small bamboo raft, like the one in this picture, where it's just a small bench and bamboo straight on the water. You aren't in control, a dude poles you around. I had skipped this part when I went by myself on the first trip.

Angel, who had suffered through my grueling itinerary up to this point, was giddily apoplectic on this raft. Maybe it's just because I come from and island and boating has always been a part of my life and I'm used to it, but she went nuts for this raft ride. Nuts.

One thing that impressed me about the rafting was these little conveyor belts that pulled you upstream over less navigable parts of the river.

On the last part of the rafting trip, a guy jumped on the back of our raft from one of these huts they have along the river - he was trying to use us as a stepping stone to get to the next one - and dumped me in the water. I managed to save my new camera by holding it above my head and treading water until I got to one of the floating huts. I felt pretty badass.

The last night in Guilin we had a great sky to say goodbye to us. After that, it was another night of hard seats.

A few days after I got back to Guangzhou, my mom and brother came to visit for two weeks. We'll do half of that journey in our next post.

Some Wedding-ish Photos

(Due to an oversight on my part, the following post wasn't posted to the CIEE blog when I wrote it. The following dates from the beginning of August.)

I am not getting married. Let's just get that out there. 

But, last weekend, I was invited to photograph one of my co-workers as she tried out two different make-up artists and put on her wedding dress.

Here she is getting her make-up on. Another of my co-workers is laughing in the mirror.

Here's a photo of the make-up lady that I thought was pretty cool.

Here's the bride to be, again, in full wedding bling.

At the second make-up artists', I took this picture of another (total stranger) bride to be getting her make-up put on, but the make-up lady blinked, making it really surreal.


The weirdest part about the whole deal was the neighborhood. In the Chinese fashion of having themed zones - areas of the city that deal almost exclusively in a certain kind of business - the place we went to in the city was devoted to wedding dresses and wedding supplies. Both make-up artists were in (separate!) malls where every single store was devoted to wedding supplies.

Silly Pizzas

This post is ridiculously thin. But I'm stuck in my apartment because I have no money left after going to Guilin, so Here's a partial list of amusing pizzas offered by the local pizza place. You can zoom in on the picture to see the ingredients, which are frequently... counter-intuitive. [Sic] all.
  • Rural Scenery
  • Seatood Special
  • Cbacon Ham
  • Balance
  • Dragon fengto gether
  • Much super treasure
  • Agrestic romantic feeling
  • Tropical romantic feeling
  • Fragrant romantic feeling of fishing
  • Village special features
  • Profusion Fruit Queen Pizza


(Because of an oversight on my part, I forgot to add this post to my CIEE blog when it was originally written. This post dates from the latter part of July.) Last week I spent seven days near Guilin, a city 12 hours further inland. This is what the landscape around Guilin looks like.

It's the home of the classic Chinese "pointy mountains" style landscape, and one of the most famously beautiful areas in China. 

Since I was there for a whole week and giving a day by day itinerary seems stuffy and victorian, here are some pictures and some comments. 

I took the train. The trip took about 12 hours. 

The inside of the train carriage was the most chinese place I have yet been. 

Long-distance Chinese trains have four different classes. From cheapest to most expensive, they are: Hard Seat, Hard Bed, Soft Seat, Soft Bed. I stayed in a "hard bed," which are stacked three high and quite small. Here's the view from my upper bunk. 

The area of the train I was in happened to be, by chance, filled with young mothers and their squirrely children. 

My bed was so close to the ceiling that I could only extend my arms about half-way up while lying down. I was sleeping cuddled up next to my camera bag with all my valuables in it, which is what you're supposed to do, which gave me even less space. I didn't have a window, even. 

Anyway, I survived to Guilin. Guilin is the big city in the pointy-mountains-landscape-zone, and is the name you attach to the area even though Guilin itself is relatively unspectacular. I got on a bus to Yangshou immediately after I arrived, and don't have any pictures of Guilin itself. 

Here's Yangshou, the most popular base of exploration for the landscape. 

If you've ever been to a really really touristy small town, you've pretty much been to Yangshou. The central pedestrian street is devoted to colored scarves, children's toys, keychains with your name on it, jewelry, and bars. 

See that lady with a hat? In Yangshou, every 30 seconds you're accosted by someone saying Bamboo? Bamboo? by which they mean they are selling tickets for rafts down the river. 

Here's the little alley where my hostel for the first day was. 

When I got to Yangshou, I hopped on a rented bike and headed out into the countryside. I did the "most recommended" bike ride from the bike rental shop. In about 15 minutes I was in the countryside, for the first time in months. 

I started out on a road, but as I biked the road dwindled into a little dirt path along the river. 

Chinese villages are not very picturesque up close. 90% of the houses are identical whitewashed cement boxes.

At one point on the path I crossed a little causeway and took this one. Biking along the river was my idea of fun, but the main landscape delivery method throughout the Guilin area are these little rafts, especially for chinese tourists. This was on a smaller branch of the river and the riverboats are very small. People pay about 20$ US to float down the river for an hour.

The end of my bike ride was the "dragon bridge," which is a few hundred years old. This is the view further up the valley from the bridge.

I went back a different way, on the other side of the river, and got lost and almost biked straight into a reservoir. I also saw a six year old girl in old clothes, on a dirt road, carrying a farm tool of some kind... wearing sparkly princess shoes. 

The next day I had reservations to stay in a much smaller town than Yangshou, and I intended to bike there, but I got lost, so I ended up taking the bus. This smaller town, Xingping, is where the landscape on the chinese 20Y bill was painted. The town is right next to a mountain with a steep staircase up to the top. I climbed it at sunset. The view was incredible.

I took a hundred or so pictures that night, from the viewpoint, as the sun went down. Here are some!

Here's a close up of the little town.

I took some self portraits.


My hostel in Xingping was a lovely little place, with wood-fired pizzas I ate every night I stayed.

The next day I headed back to Yangshou because I had left my bike there, and wanted to re-attempt biking to Xingping. This time I made it, after 5 hours of grueling up and down. The views on this bike ride, though. Oh my goodness.

Lots and lots of rice terraces.

Part of my 5 hour bike ride took me though what reminded me a lot of Wine country, like Napa or Italy.

Then the road climbed higher and got closer to the river.

Sometimes I was on the other side of the river and was facing a different set of mountains.

If you look closely, that one mountain has a hole in it. Also there's a dude in a tree.

I finally got down to the river, but I was upstream of Xingping, so I hired a raft to take me back into town. The where I got to the river was the viewing area for this mountain:

It's called the "nine horses fresco hill," and in the patterns of white and dark you can supposedly see nine horses if you are intelligent enough. To me, there's only one thing that actually looks like a horse - in white, in the middle, a little to the right - and then you make up the other eight.

Here's the kind of raft that's everywhere on the bigger river.

Once I had my bike with me in Xingping, I spent three days exploring via bike, foot, and bamboo raft. I met a couple of other hikers my age and hung out with them for a day, and had a pizza every night.

I went back up to the top of the mountain in Xingping for three more sunsets.

The second sunset, after my bike ride, there was a big rainstorm.

On the third night, there were good clouds.

On the last day I was in Xingping there was a woman with a pink hat.

That's probably mostly enough. I explored, I ate very well, I had a great time. My kindle broke, I lost the notebook I had been suing for 5 months, and I left my driver's license behind, and the morning I got back someone stole my cell phone. But it was a great time. I'm going back in August with Ben, my friend from High School who lives in Hong Kong. (He has a blog!) Maybe I'll post more about the crazy bugs I saw, the famous pickle noodles, and about the sad state of rural chinese infrastructure in some kind of "Guilin deleted scenes" post.

Before I go, my ride home is worth mentioning. I sat in the cheapest kind of seat, the lights stayed on all night, and it was filled with salt-of-the-earth chinese types. The train provides free boiling water at the end of the car, so everybody eats ramen. I shot this one of the couple across from me with my phone as stealthily as I could.

I teased this post on facebook with, "how many constantly crowing roosters was I trapped in a tiny train car with?," but really I don't know how many they were. The stop after Guilin a woman came in carrying three large cardboard boxes, and each of them could have held four roosters maximum. Somewhere between one and 12. It was probably just one. Shit, though, this rooster did not know when to can it.

The End of a Semester

(Because of an oversight on my part, I forgot to add this post to my CIEE blog when it was originally written. This post dates from the end of June.)

My first semester of teaching is ending. Classes have been slowly tapering off. I have two more half-days of classes next week, then two weeks off, then two weeks of summer school (just two half-hour classes a day; a joke) then August off.

The last two weeks I've had intermittent demo classes, where the parents are invited to sit in on a class; each class of kids I teach had one. The kids trot out some of what they've learned and my co-teachers and I tried to make the games as cute as possible - offering their parents little paper cups of water in english, playing the seat switching game that always gets them so ridiculously excited. Some of the comments have come back and they were mostly positive, which is a relief.

I had my last class with the psycho kid who takes every opportunity to come up to me and slowly rub my nipples, my last class with Grace, the tiny, brilliant, sickly girl with an eyepatch, my last class with Sunny and Light, a very smart boy and a very smart girl who are deep in kindergarten love, and my last classes with Aubrey and Daniel, the only two students I ever considered stealing.

There has been traumatic culinary upheaval: two of my favorite places to eat have vanished or changed forever. The sushi place next to my apartment - a weekend favorite - was gutted and replaced by a different store without warning, in under 24 hours. My absolute favorite restaurant in Guangzhou, a shawarma place, has changed hands and names and has become an emaciated shadow of its former self: it claims to be the same, and still serves shawarma, but the cherry tomato salad is gone, the roasted corn is gone, the roasted eggplant is gone, the sauce has been replaced with mayo, the piping hot pita is gone, replaced by tortillas out of a bag. The pockmarked teen who cut my meat off its rotating cone and wiped my plate off with toilet paper had no idea how to cut meat off a rotating cone. If this restaurant was a dog, I would hug it close to my chest and then shoot it behind a barn.

I'm on the brink of having a previously unimaginable amount of free time: I was out of my apartment 13 hours a day most of the week for months, and my weekends were mostly filled with regular activities: frisbee on Sundays (there's an english-speaking Guangzhou team) and Hash Runs (a kind of running club; the meetings dependably dull and jocular after the run, but the runs themselves are nice) on Saturdays.

I've also been saving money, and I think I've decided on getting a nice fancy-pants digital camera, the kid you switch lenses on and wear a beret while using; expect an uptick in picture quality here as soon as I get one and figure out how to use it. I have the first half of July off, and I'm going to spend a week of it in Guilin, a famously beautiful area a 12-hour train ride inland, a broad river plain spiked by limestone mountain needles. I'm going to spend my birthday week there, hopefully with a new camera and a map and a rented bicycle and a marco lens for taking pictures of bugs and no itinerary; I will be in heaven. Expect a fully detailed account once I return.

After that I'll have two weeks of working 90-minutes a day, then August, largely free and unplanned though I'll have a visit from family at the end of it.

It's going to take some adjustment to not be pressing my sizable nose against my previously sizable grindstone; I hope to blog more and do more exploration of Guangzhou and the surrounding area. There's a big park next to my gated community outside of the city that I've never actually been to; I'm going to do some exploration there, with my beret and fancy camera. More weird food reviews coming soon.

Weird Food Review: Haw Flakes

Today's weird food is Hawthorn Flakes, also known as haw flakes.

I bought three different brands, out of the seven or eight brands and styles present at my local gorcery store. There are a couple of kinds of haw-flakes branded with children's TV characters, so I get the feeling that these are mostly for kids.

I had had haw-flakes once before, in college during a chinese new year's party, and remember liking them then. They were re-introduced to me on children's day, a Chinese holiday a few weeks ago when all of the Chinese teachers at our office brought in their kids (almost all of the Chinese teachers have very young children) and there was a smorgasboard of snacks, which included a bag of haw flakes. I rediscovered my enjoyment of them, and snuck a few packets back home with me.

Haw flakes usually come in little rolls, and inside each role is a stack of 15-20 flakes, each the size and color or an old penny, though about half as thin. The flakes can be a little bit stuck together.

This one is my favorite of the three. The brand may or may not be called Shanzha Pian, the only non-chinese thing on the bag.

The flacor of Haw-flakes is a little bit hard to describe. They're mild and inoffensive, but not boring. They're fruity, and taste quite a bit like dried apples, though there's a little bit of cherry and pineapple flavor in there too. They're slightly sweet, but in the way fruit is sweet, rather than the over-the top sweetness of candy.

Texturally they're light and flaky - it can be hard to break a flake off of a roll without snapping it in two. They're fun to peel off of the role, though, adding a little bit of a tactile expereince to eating them. They're chewy, slightly, but also manage to melt on your tongue, somehow. The second brand is this unnammed white one.

The flakes are a slightly lighter, pinker color, and they come apart more easily.

The flavor, however, is not quite as good as the previous brand. They're the same level of sweetness, but the flavor is not as strong, and the texture is a little bit sandier. Still not half bad, though. Finally we have these larger, softer, much more fruit-leathery ones.

While the flavor is good and even a little bit stronger than my favorite brand of the three, the fact that hawthorne really doesn't taste that exotic, just fruity, these pretty much feel like eating regular old fruit leather, except the texture is a little bit gummier. It's a much more conventional snack, and therefore a little bit less interesting to me. Also, it gets your fingers (and robots) all sticky. Again, not half bad, not not my favorite of the three.

Verdict: generally delightful. Odd but not alienatingly out-there, sweet but not too sweet, fun to eat. On a scale of 0 (First-degree food felony) to 10 (Food Fantasy) I'm giving my favorite brand a 7.5, and the other two are tied at a 6.5.

Weird Food Review: Milk Tablet

The idea of a "Milk Tablet" I find extremely mysterious. I haven't tasted it yet. I'm not sure what this is, even. Do you dissolve it in a beverage? In water? Am I supposed to put this straight in my mouth? Robots, as usual, provided for scale:

These are fairly popular here, from what I've seen - every grocery store has a little shelf of them with a number of brands, and I've seen them in vending machines in train stations.

Since I'm not sure how to eat these or what they are - powdered coffee creamer in a tablet? Some kind of candy? A powdered beverage?

I'm going to start with the least scary method of ingestion, namely, dissolved in water.

Well, it's just sitting there at the bottom of the glass. Dissolution is probably not its intended delivery method.

Alright. I'm putting one on my tongue. It kind of smells good, weirdly.

It's like sucking on dirty plastic.

It's starting to crumble a little bit. It's... kind of oily tasting?

I'm not sure this is that I'm supposed to be doing. It's 93 degrees out and our AC is broken and this taste test is occurring as I'm slowly soaking my t-shirt.

There's almost no flavor, and what there is tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike milk.

This is not appropriate for human consumption. I've spat it out. The color is yellowish now, and somewhat smaller.

About 20% of this is in my body now. I am uncomfortable with that.

Score: ?/10. Rating the taste of this... thing, is like attempting to rate the taste of a chair, or the french revolution. It's not the appropriate category for it to be judged on. What that category is, however, eludes me.

China Miscellany

While at dinner, I was talking with two chinese teachers, and they asked what I do when I got home. I said I usually went home and had a snack, like half of a sandwich or an apple and peanut butter - and then I stopped, because their faces were twisted into expressions of disgust and disbelief. They were incredulous that such an unspeakable combination of things existed. I explained that the apple was sweet and crunchy and the peanut butter salty and smooth, and that they went together really well, but their expressions of absolute disgust persisted. I cannot overemphasize their complete revulsion. While we were talking about it, my co-teacher Suki used the word "ugly" like 20 times. After dinner, they went back to the english room where Elizabeth, another American english teacher, had stayed - she wasn't eating - and asked her if she had ever done such an awful thing. Elizabeth speaks good chinese, and it was clear that they viewed her as less of a barbarian, and there's no way Elizabeth would eat such an aberration. When she admitted she does it, and had had a banana and peanut butter that very morning they were again disgusted.

The next day I brought in an apple, a cutting board and peanut butter to the office, and both of them tried it. Their conclusion: just ok.

The Country I Accidentally Saw All Of

Today we bring you part two of the Hong Kong trip from a few weeks ago. After going swimming on Cheung Chau island, my camera died, so I've been waiting for pictures from John Leatherman. I never really post pictures of myself here, or I guess I did in some of the teaching pictures... but, anyway, he had the camera so I ended up in a couple. John's finally back in the states, and sent them my way, and damn: do I look shitty in them.

The worst part about this picture is a three-way tie between my butt chin, my neck-flap and my rapist beard. Anyway, this was taken on the boat to Macau. So, if you think about the Pearl River delta as a triangle where the bottom line is the ocean, Guangzhou is at the top, Hong Kong at the lower right, and Macau at the lower left. You can take a boat from Hong Kong to Macau for about 20$ USD. It takes about an hour.

While Hong Kong was a British Colony (as evidenced by conspicuously English place names scattered throughout) Macau was owned by the Portugese until 1999. The city stil has a strange Mediterranean aftertaste, especially near the city center.

This is Macau's most famous non-casino attraction, the Ruins of St. Paul's. It's the facade of a cathedral built in 1602, and it's quite lovely. Behind it is a little museum with cases full of statuary from the cathedral, and a room carved into the hillside where the tomb used to be, with columns of glass niches each with a few recovered bones in it.

The texture, of you will, of the city itself is something of a middle ground between the meandering gritty sprawl of guangzhou and the mix of modern slickness and tropical vegetation that is hong kong.

Above the runis of the church, there's a fortress that looks out over the tiny nation. Well, like Hong Kong, it isn't really a country per se - they're both owned by China but have their own governments and laws. Anyway, here's a buddhist monk we saw taking pictures of a cannon.

Here's a view south from the fortress. That gold building that looks like a magic sword from a bad japanese video game is a casino called the Grand Lisboa.

Here's one of Macau's less architectural attractions, the intractable egg tart.

Supposedly a variation on a Portuguese tart, the Macanese egg tart is surprisingly sweet. I expected it to be a savory, something like a quiche, but it's really a sweet -  like egg-flavored custard, but fluffier. These little tarts are quite popular around the whole Guangzhou / Hong Kong / Macau river delta zone. There's a shop that sells nothing else right by my bus stop, for instance. The day I was in Macau was so scorching hot that a hot, fluffy, sweet flaky thing seemed much less appetizing than it otherwise would have been. After wandering around the Church, the Fortress, and some other less photogenic areas, John and I sat down to some Macanese cuisine.

Here was our main dish, which we split, roast pigeon. It's the restaurant's specialty. Because pigeons are really too small for normal humans to eat effectively with silverware, we used gloves to pick it up and pull it apart. We each had a half. It tasted more or less identical to duck, actually.

Here's John picking his half apart. It's the only picture of these I took, and I was using John's fancypants camera, which is why it's so poorly exposed. After the pigeon there was a delightful coconut curry.

After lunch we walked up to the top of Macau's only hill, which has a little chapen and used to be the site of a Portugese lookout. Probably due to brain parasites in the pigeon and / or boiling temperatures within my cranium, I thought taking the following picture was a good idea.

After this, John headed back to the ferry to Hong Kong, and I had, well, let's call them misadventures. 

My first misadventure involved accidentally seeing all of a country, which was such an odd thing to have happen that it really didn't annoy me at all. John and I split up about 4:00, and I hopped on a bus because I recognized the characters for the terminal - the border crossing, where I would cross back into mainland China and catch a coach bus home. Little did I know, I was getting on the bus headed away from the border crossing. Macau is not that large - it would take about 40 minutes to get from the border crossing at the north end to the little bit of undeveloped land at the far end with no traffic - and it took about 2.5 hours to get from the fortress, to the far end (a nice-looking beach with a few hotels), and all the way back to the border crossing. John and I had just been poking around the old, classier part of Macau, and the epic bus ride took me through the other parts, namely the part with monstrous casinos. Macau has a shocking number - it does significantly more gambling business than Vegas - and they're all gleaming, soulless monstrosities that blandly mimic venice or egypt or simply attempt to look classy but end up looking like something from one of Ayn Rand's wet dreams. I don't really like casinos. But it was cool to see all of a country. Seriously. I saw the whole friggin thing.

Once I finally got to the border, it took me about 2 hours to get through. It's a madhouse - there were straight up a thousands of people waiting in line. And there are two lines, one to get out of Macau and another to get into China. While in the second line, which had a special lane for foreigners, I was talking to a canadian citizen (of chinese descent) who explained (with somewhat embarrassing length and intensity) how hard it is to operate a business in China as a foreigner. He offered to show me how to get on a coach to Guangzhou, which I declined.

Outside of the broder crossing, on the chinese side, there was a big square. This is where my trouble started. There's a six lane highway on the other side, and an underground shopping mall that runs under it. I was told the busses were straight ahead from the border, so I went through the underground mall. I found what looked like a coach terminal, but it seemed too small and the huge LED wall of times and locations was completely unintelligible and incredibly intimidating. I had been told it was super easy to get back to Guangzhou. I wandered back through the mall, and I tried a different exit. I found another terminal with a few english labels over ticket windows, and I walked up to one, said the name of my district in Gunagzhou (Panyu), heard the window lady repeat it, I nodded, and I bought the ticket. It was about 10$.

My ticket sait "A2" on it, and there was a bus in a bay labelled "A2," so I got on. Before it left, a woman with a clipboard walked down the aisle, looked at my ticket, and said nothing. The bus pulled out of Zuhai (the Chinese city across from Macau) and took... incredibly backwater roads. That was my first flag. There were rice paddies and forests on either side of the bus. The ride also took 2 hours; I had been told it would take about one. When everyone got off, at the last stop, I didn't recognize everything.

I didn't know anything was seriously wrong, though, until I hailed a taxi. I didn't recognize anything, but my district of Guangshou is an enormous sprawl, so it was conceivable I was in the right place. But I hailed three taxis and showed them my ID card from my apartment complex, and they all shook their heads. It was about 10:30 PM by this point. My cell phone - which in the past I have used to call a teacher from my office as a translator - was out of battery, as was my ipod, which has my dictionary app on it. I had not slept well the night before, nor eaten since the scant pickings of Macanese pigeon many hours before. I realized I had totally fucked up somewhere (I still don't know where though) and I freaked out a little. I wandered around an overpass and looked at the stops by the routes on a bus stop. It was all chinese to me. I didn't even seem to be in what could be construed as a "downtown." Everything here is sprawl. I wandered over the overpass again and a terrified chinese girl said "massage?" She was absolutely terrified to approach me. It was both funny and sad.

Two more taxis said no, but finally one gave me a quote - I had started to say "Guangzhou Panyu" when giving my apartment ID - of 500RMB, but I opened up my wallet and showed him I had only about 320, and he made a few calls to his agency and put the apartment name into his GPS, and off we went.

The next hour was one of the most blissful of my life. We drove in silence (I waited while he gassed up) for about 90 minutes. It was mostly empty space outside of the car. We were driving on elevated highways mostly, and the road was totally empty, and there was nothing on either side. It was like driving through a void. I remember seeing a row of ~30 story apartment buildings without a single illuminated window. The flatness was occasionally broken by a hill. I tried desperately to recognize something. The GPS counted down the kilometers. There had been some question about the name of my apartment complex when he looked it up in his GPS - along the lines of, the characters on the card weren't in it, but there was a very similar one. I acted sure that the similar one was the same, but really I didn't know. The GPS entry we were headed to was in Panyu, so I thought even if it was wrong I could find a bank and then get another taxi. But - with 0.2 km left on the GPS countdown - I saw the familiar curving edifice in front of my complex, breathed a sigh of relief, and said goodbye to the taxi driver, who I will always remember fondly, though I don't even remember what he looks like. (Chinese, my brain helpfully suggests.) I quoted a line of poetry to him, from a poem I had been trying to remember while we were driving. I said "We drank milk from the cosmos and survived," in english, as he pulled away. He waved. I actually got the line wrong, though. Here's the poem. The poet is Thomas Transtromer, the translator Robert Bly.      

Fire Script

During the heavy months my life caught fire only when

I made love with you.

The firefly too lights up and goes out, lights up and goes out

—by quick glimpses we follow its route

among the olive trees in the darkness of nght.


During the heavy months the soul sat

indolent and crushed,

but the body took the nearest way to you.

The night heavens gave off moos.

We stole milk from the cosmos and survived.