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Monday, September 19, 2005

Hello and goodbye

Hello and goodbye: These are words that are said often and with frequent turnaround while on the road. Sometimes it is a Chinese person who only knows those two words in English and calls them out as you walk past. Other times the words bookend a single conversation or meal, or perhaps a few days of staying in a town and getting to know each other a bit better. Then there are the short stays in towns and cities which echo those human hellos and goodbyes. It is like that today in Weihai.

Weihai is a coastal town and from here one can take boats to South Korea, Japan, or Dalian, China, which is what I am doing tonight. I came up here on a bus from Qingdao, another overloaded and late bus, but at least nobody smoked on that one, and in another miraculous turn of events, I have yet to see someone light up in the cafe I'm at now.

It is dark here now and I was walking a good three hours. A pleasant and surprising three hours. Weihai is spread out. There are wide streets and traffic is manageable. There seems to be a real effort to make the new buildings going up attractive and so there are a lot of what I guess could be called neoclassical buildings that are already up or are in the process of being built. The air is fresh and the city seems surrounded by low green hills and fields. The drive in was the same, hills and fields and flowers to add a splash of color. There is supposed to be a very nice beach nearby as well, but because things are so spread out and because my time is short, there was no visit for me today.

The real surprise came tucked behind the main street which leads into town and to the bus and train stations. About a mile away, behind a row of newer buildings, an old bridge running over a narrow dirt water creek. There were people selling fruit on the bridge, and there was a path running towards some older looking houses. These houses might better be called cottages. They are like something you might see in a fairytale, deep in the woods, where a fairy or a witch lives. Many of the red tiled roofs have been covered by a thick blanket of dried straw or grass and now bright yellow flowers grow from the house. The walls are made of thick gray and black stones, and there are even gardens behind most of the houses. In this neighborhood, there were several older people and their kids. One person told me the houses are between 100 and 200 years old. I saw more areas with similar style houses, but the woman told me that in most of those areas the houses were less than 30 years old.

It would seem not many foreigners get here, just from the fact that every single person stared at me today, and as some rode past on bikes, craning their necks back to watch me, I really thought there might be an accident. I remembered a day at Cedar Point [or, a less biased presentation, and heck, let's learn about coasters--ed.] several years ago when I was at the amusement park with four friends, three of whom were very cut and were walking around shirtless. One girl, while holding her boyfriend's hand turned around to look at the guys and then fell into a full trash can.

Anyway, there were also plentiful calls of lao wai, or in a more distinct local accent, lao wei, which is what foreigners are usually called in China. It was a bit of a challenge taking photos today, as about half the people were OK with it, and half were not. I wonder if this will continue in Dalian, this trend of it being harder as I go north.

The people tend to be very tan here, and even a perma-red, from the wind and the sun. This is very true of the people I saw in the markets. However, there are a number of people, esp. women with lighter skin and almost Japanese features. I also met a woman who it turns out is from Yunnan who was almost black and I had thought might be Filipino. It would seem from most people's appearance here that poverty is not as rampant as it has been in other places, but I suppose with the climate and the location on the sea, and near to Korea and Japan, there would be money coming in.

So, that is about it for Weihai. I am kind of sad to be going so soon. The curse of having too many places to get to, and of not having the willpower to make myself stop.

As an afterthought, I drank a few ganbeis with a Chinese guy last night in Qingdao. He really seemed to be getting pissed off about America and Iraq, and at me because of my nationality, or because I was staring at him trying to figure out what he was trying to say. My most accurate impression and translation of what his main point was: Americans have very angry hearts.

No, we don't. Just a few people in our government have misguided hearts and leave most of the world thinking that we are a bad place.


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