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2004-10-12 11:35 p.m.

i am chou-kakkoii badass (beijing 2)

So today a group of seventh grade girls accosted me.

"Greyarea, do you have a girlfriend?"

"Yeah, I have lots of them." [This is my stock answer.]

"Wow! That's so cool!" [the exact phrase was "chou-kakkoii!"] "Do you have any in Japan?"

"Perhaps..." ["Saa ne."] More cries of "chou-kakkoii!" (12 year old girls, especially Japanese ones, are easy to impress.)

"Greyarea, how old are you?" [I decide I should play my role of English teacher and make them ask me in English. I answer in English, and then...] "Wow! You're a year older than [Matchan]! Do you think you and she will get married?"

I grunt in response to this.

"Hey! [Matchan] or [the music teacher]- which is more your type?" (Matchan and the music teacher are the only young female teachers.)

I'm pondering whether and how to answer this when the music teacher walks in and says, "Yes! Do tell!"

At this point I'm just shaking my head. There's no way I'm answering now.

One of the girls says, "I don't think he understood the question."

The music teacher replies, "Oh, he understands. Look at him!"

And then somehow the conversation moved on to other things. I was a little relieved, I guess. Cause you know which one I'm actually more interested in?

The music teacher.

Maybe the 12 year old girls will help me get a love triangle up and running.

...But we all know chances are good I won't do a damn thing.

Hmmm.

Oh, that's just great. Score another point for the Bush administration in their defeat of the terrorists by way of the invasion of Iraq!

Oh, anyway. I just finished reading Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. It's extremely charming. It's also an easy read, so you're left without excuses! You should read it!

I'm curious to see the Studio Ghibli take on it...

I suck at tennis.

I haven't bowled over a hundred since high school.

I wrote about 1500 words in the novel last night. That's the most I've written in one shot since last November. I may finish it yet. And I finally came up with the track listing for the theoretical accompanying CD.

Anyway, here's Wednesday from my Beijing trip:

We were going to try to hit up Maofs Mausoleum again and then cruise the shops at Wangfujin, but first I wanted to verify the bus schedules and departure locations for buses going to the Great Wall and the airport. Reading in the Lonely Planet guide, it seemed like a place called Huanghua was the best place to go to see the wall in a bit more natural of a location, without so many tourists and without the carnival atmosphere of some of the more frequently visited sections. At the bus stop, the 916 bus showed up, which the bus lady claimed would take us to that section of the Wall (I had the name written on my hand). Tprophet decided that fate meant for us to visit the Wall that day, right then and there, so we got on.

Of course the bus didnft go to that section of the wall. As it turned out, we had to change buses at a town called Huairou. Though we did get to see much of the area surrounding Beijing, which was nice (after a fashion). The environs of Beijing are as crummy as or crummier than anything in the city itself. Huairou wasnft exactly a cheerful town, either. As soon as we got off the bus we were set upon by fake taxi drivers wanting us to skip the connecting bus and drive out to Huanghua with them.

We escaped them for a while by hiding in the KFC, where the cashier notified me that the 50 yuan bill I got from the watch salesmen the day before was fake. She was also kind enough to show us several good ways to tell the difference between counterfeit money and real money. (Counterfeit money is extremely common in China, and cashiers and prudent people everywhere almost always check any money they receive. If you ever go to China, a good thing to do soon after arrival is to figure out how to tell the difference, especially if you plan on doing business with any less reputable types. Any cashier can show you how to tell the difference.)

Anyway, after we ate we went back out to the bus stops and tried to find a bus that was actually going to Huanghua. We were having trouble finding one, though, and the swarming fake taxi guys were insisting there were no more buses out there that day (I wasnft inclined to believe them).

I was still trying to find a bus when Tprophet actually made a deal with one of the guys to take us out there and back for 50 yuan. This was done without consulting me first, and as I was quite soured on fake taxi drivers, I was a little miffed about it. Ah, but whatever. If things went horribly awry Tprophet could take the fall.

So we got in the dodgy VW bus of this dodgy Chinese guy and set off. It took about 45 minutes to get out there, during which time we drove through some extraordinarily depressing little villages- muddy, smelly streets, collapsing buildings, debris everywhere... Finally we got to a section of the Wall that was very close to... well... nothing. Nothing at all. We gave him 25 yuan, and of course he informed us that he would charge an extra 20 yuan to wait for us for an hour while we went to see the Wall.

We werenft going to really argue it there, though, and he sent us down a pathway to a little shack, where a guy demanded 4 yuan each from us as we had to traverse his gprivate propertyh (do they have that in China now?) to get to the Wall. Nice. Part way up the mountain, a little old lady brandishing a big stick and a menacing expression demanded a further 2 yuan in order to let us pass HER private property. I guess Dodgy VW Bus Guy had something set up with these people and somehow let them know whenever he was abandoning unsuspecting tourists in their area. But whatever- 6 yuan is less than a buck and certainly much less than they charge for entry at many other points on the Wall (though of course if you REALLY find the right place, entry is free).

It was a very steep hike up to the wall, and there was a continuous drizzle the whole time we were there, making the pathway up a bit treacherous. We finally got up to the top and onto the Great Wall, but our progress was stopped by some workmen working on restoring it. So we had to climb around a little more until at last we found an entrance that was free from construction. When we first found an entrance upstream of the construction site, one of the workers followed us for a while until we finally stopped and asked him what he wanted. It turned out he just wanted to know what time it was (it was 4:15 pm). When he found out he got really excited and ran back to join his buddies. I guess he was done for the day.

Anyway, it really was amazing. For all the crap we went through that day, that section of the wall was exceptionally cool. It was worth all the shady dodginess. It snaked all up and down the mountains, as far as you could see, slithering on forever in between the trees and fog. The true bonus was the fact that, besides the workmen whom we soon left far behind, we were the only people on the wall that day. The (according to most people) crappy weather that day probably helped as well. It was wonderful, and the mist that enclosed everything just made it seem that much more unreal.

Near the end of our trek we rested a while in a guard tower, whose internal walls were covered with graffiti essays in Chinese, which were dated various times during the summer of 2003. Most of the writing was signed by someone called gBeer,h with a few entries signed by a person calling themselves gVodka.h (Later we learned that it was actually poetry criticizing the central government- still a very dangerous thing to do in China.) I really liked it there, somehow... I canft express how strange it felt to be in this ancient stone courtyard, with nothing but a homogenous grey out the windows and above in the sky. The whole world at that moment seemed to consist only of the grey sky, the grey stone, and us.

I was loath to leave, but it was starting to get dark and we werenft looking forward to descending a muddy mountainside at night. So, we found a path down the mountain and followed it. Eventually it led into a valley and past several absolute hovels where people were living. With such obviously hard lives, it must be difficult for them to appreciate the beauty and majesty of what they have in their backyard... The mud road widened a little bit and continued on past some small, disheveled orchards and fields.

It had been more than two hours since we left Dodgy VW Bus Guy, and we were really hoping that he would have lost patience and left while we were gone, allowing us to perhaps find a more economical and trustworthy means of transportation back. But it was not to be, and he was, almost as if by magic, right there waiting for us as soon as we got into town (by gtownh I mean the crumbling shacks along the paved road). We bought drinks from his buddy (the bottled water I got tasted like sewage) and got back in the VW bus.

We were sure he was going to try and gouge us again for the extra wait time. We were not happy about this, but instead of trying to argue with him we came up with the alternate plot of paying him with my counterfeit 50 yuan bill. We openly discussed in English how best to go about this on the trip back. Fortunately for us, he wasnft pretending when he acted like he didnft understand English. When we got back to Huairou he of course demanded an extra 55 yuan from us, so I of course gave him the fake 50 yuan bill plus a real 5 yuan bill. He took the money without bothering to examine it and we took off.

We were pretty pleased with ourselves for having pulled it off. The original deal was 50 yuan, but he then later demanded 80, so we effectively ended up giving him 30. Of course, we would have been happy to pay him real money had he been happy to be upfront with us about how much he was going to charge us. Themfs the breaks, I guess. Ifm sure he found someone else to dump it on (itfs so karmic!). I kind of wanted to keep my counterfeit bill, but that WAS a pretty cool way to get rid of it.

I should warn you that I now consider myself the biggest badass the world has ever seen for having successfully counter-scammed the scam artist.

We now found ourselves back in Huairou, also called Scam Town (though I suspect many other towns in China, especially those anywhere near any kind of tourist attraction, are equally worthy of the name). We went back to the bus stop and found (from the actual bus schedule) that we had missed the last bus back to Beijing by about a half an hour. Looking around, we also had difficulty finding a taxi that actually had a meter. Perhaps there arenft any in that town. There was a whole cluster of taxis parked outside the McDonaldfs, but not one of them had a meter. They all seemed to be working together, too, since they all gave the same price for a trip to the city and wouldnft budge on it. Tprohet made a deal with a guy to take us back to the city for 100 yuan, once again without bothering to consult me. But I was tired, and it really wasnft that much money. I had to keep reminding myself of that throughout the week. It seems like a lot because itfs a lot to them and because gone hundredh just sounds like a lot of money, but itfs really only $12.50. It would cost you about that much to go one kilometer in a taxi in Japan, and we were going sixty kilometers for the same price. So whatever. This guy we actually gave real money to (and he actually bothered to check it). We found ourselves back in Beijing about an hour later.

We went out to dinner at a restaurant near the hotel called the Nine-Headed Bird Chain Restaurant. The name had caught my eye a few days earlier, and I had decided I wanted to eat there once during the week. They had an English menu, and, in an attempt to live up to the great tradition of my maternal grandfather, I ordered the weirdest (and, coincidentally, almost the most expensive) thing on the menu: braised bullfrog. It seemed like they just chopped up a few whole bullfrogs, put the pieces in a pot and then... braised them, I guess. I tried unsuccessfully to figure out the original identity of some of the chunks. Most of the pieces seemed to be mostly bone with a little meat clinging to outside. I bit into quite a few of what seemed like crunchy little rib cages. I guess it tasted... kind of like chicken, actually. I wouldnft order it again, but itfs fun to be able to say Ifve eaten bullfrog. I donft think it quite tops having eaten rattlesnake, but itfs up there.

I also ordered some noodles, which were quite bland. Tprophet ordered two different dishes, both of which had large amounts of peanuts, which he is allergic to (though not deathly so). They were delicious. I donft recall the exact total, but Ifm pretty sure it cost less than 100 yuan for all of it. After that we called it a day.

So yeah. There's Tuesday and Wednesday for ya. We had many other adventures that week, as well. If you want the full story and haven't gotten it yet, let me know and I'll send it along.

It was really weird being back in Japan again afterwards. I actually felt this strange kind of relief, like gOh, it feels so good to be HOME! Where the people act in predictable ways and actually speak a language I understand!h That was definitely the first time Ifd felt that way about Japan.

Stop.

living in cloud cuckoo land,

greyarea

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