DIRTY LAUNDRY & DUBBED MOVIES – Acclimatizing in Guangzhou, China

May 3, 2010 | Asia, Girls Trek Too, Tracing China's Past

If you’ve been waiting for the next installment of the search for my Chinese roots, please excuse the slight delay. As Marcia Brady would say, “Something suddenly came up.” It turns out I can’t manage a travel story every single day, unless I neglect my clients. So, to preserve my honor, and pay my mortgage, lets say I’ll post every day I can. That said, let’s return to China, where I’ve just left behind the small town of Bok Sa, for the big city of Guangzhou, once known as Canton. Once upon a time, this river port was a place where East met West. Now it is a place where the commercial power of the East is rising…

April 2, 2008
Guangzhou, China

Yesterday, Fiona and I spent three hours riding a bus from Bok Sa to Guangzhou. Green hilly countryside cut through with red-brown mud, gave way to endless high-rise apartment buildings and businesses, which gave way to thousands of cars crisscrossing tangled highways and endless miniature shops huddling under giant towers. From countryside to city, the mist hung so closely around us I felt claustrophobic, as if I were wrapped in a bubble holding the last remnant of the world.

Fiona taught me an old Chinese saying about this time of year, “Qing Ming shi jie yu fen fen,” which simply means, “It always rains at Qing Ming.” Qing Ming means “Clear Bright Festival,” which sounds like a cruel joke, as the weather is neither clear nor bright.

Qing Ming means “Clear Bright Festival,” but the weather is neither clear nor bright. This is the view from my grimy hotel window in Guangzhou.

I spent half the bus ride trying to ignore the repeated puking of the motion-sick Chinese woman in front of me. As Fiona and I stepped off the bus and into the crowded station, then into the long taxi line, where a fine mist clouded my glasses, we laughed as we both confessed we’d been worried that the puking woman would make us sick, too, through the power of suggestion.

Fiona argued with our taxi driver about the best way to reach the Furama Hotel. Then she turned to me and said, “He is a bad driver. He wants to take us a long way so he can make more money.” The way she enunciated the word “money” it almost sounded like “Munng´-ee.”

When I checked into my hotel, the room wasn’t ready. So we walked down the street to grab a bite at a Cantonese food stand. Small clay pots displayed the dishes to choose from. I asked for a variation with steamed rice, sweet barbecued pork, mushrooms, and bitter Chinese greens, all in a thin gravy. It was delicious and warming.

At a Chinese bakery, I bought pre-packaged sandwiches to eat in my room later: sliced ham and a liverwurst-like pork on white air-bread with the crusts cut off. It wasn’t as substantial as I would have liked, but a semblance of comfort food to help me deal with adjusting to another strange new environment. Next, we walked a few doors down to the Circle K, or as the Chinese call it, “OK” – which makes sense if you look at the sign: a K inside of an O. There, I bought a bottle of water and a Dove chocolate bar. As I predicted, the stress of foreign travel has brought on my period just a bit early.

Then we went back to the hotel, where my room was ready. Nothing fancy, mind you, but it seemed like the Taj Mahal after my rustic digs in Bok Sa. Fiona lives in Guangzhou, so she returned to her apartment, leaving me to spend the afternoon resting and acclimatizing.

The Furama Hotel is nothing fancy, mind you, but it seemed like the Taj Mahal after my rustic digs in Bok Sa.

I gave my laundry to the housekeeping staff, except my undies and delicates, which I washed in the bathroom sink. Then I settled into bed to watch an English-language movie on the hotel’s freebie movie channel. I think the DVDs are pirated, judging by the dark quality of the video. The only available selection was a hokey film called The Bachelor, which I don’t recommend, but it was a great way to unwind.

After that, I decided to explore the Pearl River promenade, just a block from my hotel. But first, I made a discovery that sent me out the door in a panic, to chase down the housekeeping staff and try to get my jeans back from the laundry.

“I left my money in the pocket of my pants!” I told a housekeeper.

“Your laundry ready tomorrow,” she said.

“No, I don’t need my laundry done now. I just need my money.”

She still didn’t understand. So I searched until I found the woman to whom I’d handed my laundry. For her, I used my hands to draw a pair of pant legs, and then mimed pulling something from the imaginary pocket. Miraculously, she understood my ridiculous gesticulations. She led me down to the laundry area and my bag of clothes, where even more miraculously, I found the money still in my jeans pocket.

Banyan trees hung over the walkway, giving it a romantic air, and cheerful umbrellas passed to and fro.

Crisis averted, I walked to the river, where the afternoon looked more like dusk, thanks to the low clouds. But then, in this weather, it looks like dusk all day. Banyan trees hung over the walkway, giving it a romantic air, and cheerful umbrellas passed to and fro. A small ferry carried passengers to the other side of the river, though more people drove or walked over the Revolution Bridge, passing between its soothing white arches. The Pearl River is a lovely respite in an otherwise crowded, polluted, dingy, towering, signed and posted commercial metropolis.

The Pearl River is a lovely respite in an otherwise crowded, polluted, dingy, towering, signed and posted commercial metropolis. This is the Revolution Bridge.

When I settled back in my hotel for the night, I watched another American movie, this time dubbed in Chinese. Serenity is a great sci-fi flick that I’d seen before, so I was able to follow the story. I even convinced myself that I was picking up a few Chinese words, though I suppose that’s wishful thinking.

About Cara

Cara Lopez LeeCara Lopez Lee is the author of They Only Eat Their Husbands. She’s a winner of The Moth StorySLAM and performs in many storytelling shows, including Unheard L.A., and Strong Words. Her writing appears in such publications as Los Angeles Times, Manifest-Station, and Writing for Peace. She’s a traveler, swing dancer, and baker of pies. Cara and her husband live in the beach-town of Ventura, California, where they enjoy tending their Certified Wildlife Habitat full of birds.
Cara Lopez Lee

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