Getting back to civilization…means having a Big Mac and realizing that watching MI3 dubbed in Chinese does not mean you miss anything of the brilliant plot and dialogue….
Today Vanessa and I left for Yichang. I got up around 6am and the bus left around 6:30. The driver took a different route than I remembered. During the drive I introduced and converted Vanessa to Metallica – at least the mellow side of Metallica. We arrived in the steaming hot town of Yichang at about 12:30pm. With its humidity and heat this town is like a sauna. Yichang is probably the biggest town in Hubei between Wuhan and Muyu. We met a tour guide at the bus station that the reserve had arranged for us. She had our tickets to Beijing on the next day and was going to take us to our hotel for the night, after which we’d catch a tour bus to go to the Three Gorges Dam. Our 3-star hotel was fantastic. We each had a room for 120 yuan, could have split but the reserve had arranged for two rooms and we didn’t want to cause a fuss. The beds were soft, a/c was powerful, lots of channels, a bathtub, towels provided, and most importantly there were toilets!! The toilet made it all worth it. Our guide said the tour bus would be leaving in an hour. It was probably in the mid-90’s, both temperature and RH – so for the hour wait Vanessa and I sat in our rooms and cranked up the a/c (mine down to 19).
On the drive into Yichang we had seen a golden arch signifying McDonalds. We made it a point to go there sometime that day or night, or both. Around 1:30pm we headed down to the main street to meet the bus. Seats were sparse on the bus and as I was looking around for an empty seat I saw five “Americans” – and by that I just mean Caucasians that could pass for American, but for all I knew could be English, Australian, German, Russian, or from any number of European countries. One Chinese guy gave up his single seat so that Vanessa and I could sit together and the bus was on its way. We listened in the back for any languages other than Chinese and eventually picked up some accented English.
The first stop was kind of pointless and I didn’t really understand why we were stopped, but we took the time to ask four of the five where they were from. One couple was from Holland and the other was from Switzerland. The group was touring all over Europe and Asia and has been for about two months now, starting in Russia somewhere and moving south and then west. The fifth guy wasn’t with them and we later found out he was from California and was in China for two weeks on business and today was one of his days off.
The guided tour had several stops in and around the dam. I wasn’t particularly impressed. The day was overcast with a slight drizzle which just added to the ugliness of the dam and surrounding area. It was certainly big and all, but there just wasn’t any beauty to be found anywhere. Granted I have yet to tour any US dams, but I am fairly sure the Hoover Dam is considered a scenic and beautiful spot. There were some cool and interesting features though. The dam gas a place where it is able to stack ships – huge cruise shops. The ship pulls into an area and a wall is raised behind it, the water is then allowed to fill the “container.” Once the water is high enough, the ship can move to the next “step” and then the process is repeated. The guide says it takes about three hours for a ship to move up a step. The dam is also supposed to contribute about 18% of China’s output.
After the rather disappointing tour that was certainly not worth 130 yuan, we headed back to our hotel to think about our next plan of action. As we drove back into town I tried to memorize the McDonalds location. It was maybe 8 or 9 blocks from our hotel; not having much else to do we decided to get dinner. Walking down the street we passed an outdoor menu that had pizza and spaghetti posted on it. I stopped Vanessa and asked her if she thought it was real. She said it probably is pizza, but pizza in China. She had told me stories of pizza occurring in Beijing and I was fairly sure the pizza in Beijing would be up to par, but I wasn’t sure about Yichang. I suggested we eat lunch at this place tomorrow. Continuing along the road, Vanessa spotted a Haagen-Dazs restaurant and said we had to stop by there after dinner.
When we finally arrived at McDonalds, the place was packed – it also offered a tremendous refuge from the oppressive heat outside. We took a look at the menu and I quickly realized Vanessa would be making the orders. She suggested I grab a table somewhere. That I could do. I went up to the second floor and grabbed the first table I saw, which happened to be right at the top of the stairs. I sat and just glanced around and saw about a dozen Americans basically right next to me. Mostly adults, but a few youth. As I sat there one of the fathers of the group was bringing up a tray of 12 large cokes. He must have seen the look on my face and just said “we just spent 10 days in the mountains, I’m pretty thirsty.” I smiled and nodded. After depositing all the drinks to various owners we went back downstairs for another round of substance. His next return had him carrying a dozen orders of large fries. He reminded me very much of David Morse (the major from “The Rock,” also in “Proof of Life” and “Bait”).
Vanessa finally came with the food. I had order just a double cheeseburger (no onion), fries, and a coke. She ordered a chicken sandwich. I tested the fries first and was pleased to find them identical (minus the salt, which I don’t like anyway). The big question was going to be the cheese on the burger – since dairy is almost non-existent in China – or at least used to be. The cheese passed the test as well. The entire burger was extraordinary. I’m sure the only reason I was thinking so highly of McDonalds at the time was because for the past months I hadn’t had a single western meal. Sandwiches don’t exist in Muyu. Vanessa’s chicken sandwich was real chicken, slightly teriyaki style, so basically it was better than any chicken sandwich you could get in the States (at McDonalds). The burger also had ketchup, another long forgotten gem.
As we ate one of the ladies from the group asked us where we were from and what our story was; “I teach English, he’s studying snakes.” The group was from Massachusetts and was teaching English, but you could tell it was basically a mission trip. They were talking about how it has been so long since they’ve had western food, about 10 days. I smiled and told them it’s been about 70 days for me. Before we left I wanted to test out the chicken nuggets as well and Vanessa wanted a burger too – so I went down to make the order. The nuggets passed as well – except instead of BBQ sauce it was sweet and sour sauce, but still very good.
We talked about neither of us ever went to McDonalds in the states because it was so horrible. After leaving, the next plan was ice cream. As we were walking I saw a big poster that had MI:3 on it and asked Vanessa if she thought that was a movie theatre and whether or not she wanted to see a movie. We basically had three choices, Mission Impossible, Superman, or Chinese movies. Travis had warned me about Superman, and MI3 was starting in 15 minutes so we decided to see that. Two tickets = 50 Yuan. The theatre was pretty small and had a slight stadium seating arrangement. The rows were quite narrow and the seating was pretty uncomfortable on the knees (the seats on the bus were the same way). Vanessa asked me “what if it’s in Chinese.” “I’m sure it won’t be and will be subtitled,” after all when I went to see Crouching Tiger and Hero, they were both in their original languages and subtitled in English, so I figured it was a fair assumption that the same would apply here. We saw a couple of trailers, both in English – some run of the mill horror film and then Garfield 2. The fact that these trailers were in English was a good sign I thought. Mission Impossible 3 finally starts up and the opening scene is taking place at a party in a house and Cruise starts speaking in Chinese and my jaw drops…
Vanessa laughed and asked if I wanted to go. I told her no and that it was probably a mindless enough movie that I could probably still follow it. Vanessa had already seen it and I just asked if she would translate the critical aspects. The movie was fine and I was able to enjoy it despite not being able to understand it. It was nearly 10pm by now so we headed towards Haagen-Dazs. Vanessa was worried that it might be closed but it wasn’t. The little cage was not very Chinese-esque inside and actually reminded me of a little bar in Italy – off thing was that the place was called “best Italian coffee.” We thought we ordered two chocolate milkshakes, but it turned out to just be a couple of chocolate scoops. The ice cream was exquisite as it should have been at 70 Yuan for the two of us. Vanessa calculated it out to be roughly $4/scoop. After the ice cream we were ready for the hotel rooms. That evening was especially special as I got to watch Eraser in English. Back in Muyu a few days back Terminator 3 was on, but in Chinese and a Chinese Arnold just isn’t the same. Not having a thing to do the next day I had all intentions of sleeping in and enjoying my “vacation” to the full extent possible.
Slept in till about 10:30am or so. Vanessa was already out. She came back around 11. First thing to do was get lunch for her and breakfast for me. We decided to hit that restaurant that had the picture of the pizza and spaghetti outside of it. Vanessa ordered a curry dish with beef and rice. I have never had curry before and she let me try some. To me it tasted very similar to the chicken dish we had in Muyu with cinnamon and star anis. As I looked over the pizzas in the menu my hopes of a true pizza were diminishing. The menu read: “seafood pizza, capsicum beef pizza, rice and cheese, margarita pizza” – none of which gave me a lot of confidence. How is it they did not simply have pepperoni?? I decided to hold off on the pizza until Beijing and ordered the spaghetti instead. The sauce was pretty odd; the closest similarity would be the canned sauce from a gas station. On top of that it was served with an over-easy egg on top and some kind of spinach-like vegetable. To say the least, I’m glad I held off on the pizza.
After our meal we only had a few items on our “to do” list before 6pm when we had to be at the train station. We were going to look at some MP4 players – Wang Jing’s fiancé had one with a pretty large screen, external speakers and could store two full length movies and it only cost 400 Yuan ($50). Vanessa wanted to get one for her sister. We wanted to check some emails, and then last on the list was McDonald’s ice cream. I knew the ice cream there wouldn’t cost 70 Yuan. We got through all the items fairly quickly and before we knew it we were at McDonalds again. For the moment we just got the ice cream; 5 Yuan for two cones. We headed upstairs again to try our luck. No westerners, but there were about eight or ten of some of Vanessa’s friends that she had met in Muyu. A bunch of students from Ching Wa University (considered the best university in China); the students were going around China talking to children about college and being successful, etc, etc, and while back had come to one of Vanessa’s English classes to talk to the children. They were all hanging out at McDonalds until their 6pm train to Beijing as well, so Vanessa and I decided to do that same. We spent the next five hours in McDonalds playing cards and talking with her friends. I eventually got hungry again and decided to order dinner before the train ride. A double cheeseburger, large fries, and large drink cost 17.5 Yuan (about $2.20). After dinner we headed back to the hotel to get our stuff and hire a taxi. We boarded the train and started the long ride to Beijing.
Previously in this series:
Snakes On The Plain: Kevin in China
Kevin in China, part 2: Three Kinds of Natural Beauty in Jiuchong
Kevin in China, part 3 – The First Westerner in Town
Kevin in China, part 4 – Snakebites as a Daily Hobby
Kevin in China, part 5 – His Legend Preceeds Him!
Kevin in China, part 6 – The Mystery Snake
Kevin in China, part 7 – Bit By Snakes? Get Used To It!
Kevin in China, part 8 – The Dance and The Snakes
Kevin in China, part 9 – What Really Happened That Night, or, The Night Of Too Many Toasts!
Kevin In China, part 10 – “the poison of that snake, is not dangerous to people?”
Kevin In China, part 11 – How to avoid getting married in China, or, women are more complex organisms than venomous snakes