Everyone who has ever traveled or visited a place outside their comfort zone knows that at some point during that ‘away’ time, you are bound to experience some strange and genuinely funny moments.
Now, Sean tends to call me ‘goldfish’ from time to time. Some may find it quite endearing, but it’s only because I have a memory that lasts all of 10 seconds and I end up having to jot down all the humorous moments we experienced or things we found intriguing.
Below are a few moments from our time in China that I noted down because they really made us giggle. A few even had us snapping our heads back for a double take. (Some, you probably had to be there – in the moment – to find funny, but I hope you enjoy the read as much as we enjoyed guffawing).
Possibly past its best before date Ramen (noodles).
On our first night in China, we were staying in the coolest hostel in Gubeikou, The Great Wall Box. They offered us a menu to order some great smelling dinner, but Sean and I made the terrible decision of graciously declining that dinner to find something different. We wanted to check out the little village and find some ‘real’ oriental food for our first night. To our dismay, the whole village was closed. Luckily, a little bit down the road we spotted an old shop with some knickknacks and snacks inside. We weren’t 100% sure if they were open since the two people inside were lying on a sofa bed watching TV, but we decided to try our luck and walked in anyway. When they saw us, they were all too happy to help us out. So we quickly walked around and spotted a few things that would suffice for dinner. We bought two packs of Kung Fu Panda cup ramen, a 1.5l coke and 2 small packs of cookies. All of this came to 16¥ or about $2. When we got back to the hostel, we made a plan to get some boiling water and were looking forward to filling our bellies. The little spice packets inside the ramen were curious. They were sticky and difficult to squeeze out of their wrapper and sour too, but when we added the water they seemed okay, and the deliciously spicy, dehydrated beef noodle smell filled the whole commune. After more than 5 minutes of waiting for the noodles to get soft, we couldn’t wait any longer, and so we set about devouring our dinner. Three mouthfuls later and we just looked at each other and started howling, although the tartness was an odd flavor, like a type of kimchi, we couldn’t understand why the noodles just never seemed to get soft. Later we were told by Joe, the owner of the hostel, never to buy from that store as 95% of their goods are stale or getting there. Obviously sour is not a flavor option.
Dentures and change. (A continuation from the shop in the point above).
When we walked into the old store, we happened to notice that the very sweet lady who welcomed us into her store was quite toothless as she smiled. We then saw that her dentures were sitting, brewing in a bowl of water on the counter. It turns out, that was the ‘checkout’ counter where we had to pay our 16¥ for all our goodies. (Travel tip: Open up your calculator on your phone if you don’t understand the language and want to know how much to pay as well as to avoid the following situation). We paid her with a 100¥ bill, thinking it would be great to have some change on hand. So she counted up the change and slowly passed the change over the counter mentioned above. As she moved the money over, one of the 10¥ bills floated down past my hand and into the bowl where her teeth were sitting. She tried with all her might to catch it, but she just wasn’t fast enough. She looked at it, looked at me, looked at the cash again, picked it up, shook it off and then handed it to me all wet with her teeth juices. As she gave it to me, she smiled and burst into a fit of laughter, a tremendous snorting tummy roar. We, in turn, started chuckling back, and the whole store just erupted with the sound of happiness.
Not entirely entering the Palace Museum.
After standing in a security check queue (which we didn’t realize was for the safety check) for about 30 minutes, we made it to the front of the line to scan our bags and get body searched. I walked in and saw that Sean was being held up. He decided to bring his Leatherman with so we could cut the oranges we bought for breakfast. As the Leatherman got passed on from cop to cop, we followed behind like lost puppies, making sure we didn’t lose sight of the multi-tool. Eventually, one of the higher ranking officers passed it back to Sean and said, in his stern old man voice, “No!” Thinking we could hand it in and collect it once we were done inside, we handed it back to him. Confused, he looked and repeated, “No!”. This was obviously not so funny at the time, but now we can look back and see it as quite the learning curve. Eventually, Sean was told to leave the premises. Stupidly we thought it would be ok if I went in for a bit, took a look around and came back out, but no. It’s massive! There are no easy exits, and once you’re in, you’re in. So after a traumatizing escape and meeting back up with Sean, who was playing tour guide to the other foreigners, we ended up spending the day, strolling around the beautiful park right next door. Only to exit the park and find ourselves bypassing the security check that had kicked us out in the first place. We were in with no daytime left to explore the Forbidden City!
The very next day, after extending our stay in Beijing by another day, we took our time walking through the Imperial Palace Museum also known as the Forbidden City and all its glory. Man is it breathtaking!
After a full day of walking from temple to temple (the scale!), we decided that today would be the day that we would treat ourselves to some ‘Peking duck’ or as it is called in Beijing, Beijing duck. We walked for what must have been 15 minutes, all while being begged by a tuk-tuk driver to hop on his tricycle for a ride. Eventually, we bartered him down to 20 ¥ and agreed for him to take us to this well know duck restaurant since we were evidently lost and not quite sure where it was. I nearly died. Okay, not really, but I think I did pee a little. We drove up the wrong way of a one-way road, squeezed past a reversing car, sped through a narrow alleyway and took daring turns into oncoming traffic, skidding through on just 2 wheels. The driver, not too phased about the near misses with the other vehicles, kept turning around to ask us whether we were planning to eat duck or dog. After winding our way through the maze of hutongs, we finally made it in one piece to the restaurant, albeit the wrong one.
‘Goodbye’ duck restaurant.
The duck restaurant was a popular one, and so, on entering, we were given a number and told to wait 20 minutes. Just my luck, as the host came to call us, I needed to pee. Desperately. While in the loo, Sean was escorted to a small private room in the back of the restaurant. When I came out, Sean was nowhere to be seen. So I proceeded to ask the host, “Hi, where did you seat my husband?” He stared at me blankly and held up his index finger. “One?” he asked. “Uh, no, don’t you remember me?” I questioned. It pretty much continued like this until another hostess joined in and then a waiter and they all started yelling back and forth at each other. Eventually, I was down to physically miming what Sean looked like. Tall. Blonde. Uh, beard. Two backpacks. Foreigner. All I got back were clueless faces, understandably, I must have looked crazy. I gave up and decided that I would just walk into the restaurant and take a look for myself. I totally looked like such a lost fart that one waiter waved at me and started laughing, and then promptly said, “Goodbye”! And then another and another. I had the whole staff cavorting, so much so, that the host ran up to escort me out, “Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye!” Luckily, at that same moment, Sean managed to get hold of me, and I ended up eating duck after all.
We were sitting in the commune of our hostel, the Chinese Box in Beijing, trying to get some work done, when the manager, ‘BoxLee’ offers us some Japanese whiskey. His favorite. Of course, we couldn’t decline, so we decided a little whiskey couldn’t do much harm. But it never works that way, does it? The one drink turned into 3 or 4, which then transformed into all the staff members joining us at our table. This then resulted in Max, BoxLee’s mate, bringing out a 5l plastic petrol container of this warm, clear liquid. It turned out to be homemade traditional Chinese Baijiu. A sorghum wine with generally between 40 and 60% ABV. The shot glasses were overflowing throughout the night, junk food was ordered and devoured, and we made some friends for life. Needless to say, I will never again drink anything that is transparent, warm and comes in a plastic petrol canister, especially when we have a full day planned the next day with a 6 am start.
A two-year-old with assless chaps.
While walking through the Terracotta Warrior museum in absolute awe at one of the most fortuitous finds of the century, we happened to spot a two-year-old waddling around pit 2, wearing a pair of pants that had a rather unusual opening at the bottom. It was a melon-slice sized hole positioned quite aptly at his butt. His precious little bum was sticking out, mooning us, as he toddled away. We later noticed a number of other toddlers donning this new fashion sense and figured it is, of course, a superb idea to help with potty training your little one.
The Potty training.
While at a bus stop, we decided to put our daypacks down, for a bit of a break, when Sean noticed a trickle of liquid flowing past him. He followed the seep to see the aforementioned assless chaps in full use, under a tree, near the bus. When kids have to go, they have to go. All sorts of things can be witnessed on the streets here.
We were standing in the waiting area of the train station, getting ready for our train from Xi’an to Chengdu. We got there early as we had quite a few problems booking, canceling, rebooking, and getting our tickets, so we got there a few hours early, collected our tickets and waited in line with everyone else waiting to board their trains across the country. After waiting almost an hour, a few seats opened up, so we decided to sit down, rest our legs and take our bags off our backs. When I placed my bag on the floor next to one of the chairs, I saw an older lady walk up to our gate, so I offered up my seat to let her sit. As she sat down, she blew her nose into her hand, looked around looked at her hand and then wiped her hand on the chair leg where my bag was resting. Apparently, not all of it came off, so she flicked her hand backward under the chair, allowing some of her phlegm to land on the strap of my backpack. I squirmed with silent disgust. Sean thought it was hilarious; obviously, it wasn’t his bag.
The wrong stop.
The high-speed trains or bullet trains in China are remarkable. Traveling at over 300km/hour, you can get almost anywhere in China in a quarter of the time it would take you on a regular passenger train. All part of the adventure, right – we HAD to try it out. So we bought tickets on Ctrip.com for the speed train heading to Xi’an from Beijing. We got some great seats, with loads of foot room and space to store your bag in an overhead compartment. The trip was to take 6 hours to cover 1100 km, so we decided to spend our time being productive, editing pictures, listening to some great tunes and eating a ton of yummy pastries we got from the pop-up bakery down the street from the subway station. Towards the end of the journey, we started packing up our bits, getting ready to load up and go. We looked up at the LED screen to see which station was up and then listened to the lady on the announcer. Both Sean and I were pretty sure she said Xi’an, so we headed towards the door and waited for the train to stop. Surprisingly, Xi’an looked quite small. Not many people got off at the stop, and the station seemed rather empty. We figured it was because of the time, and obviously, it wasn’t as big as we had thought it was. So we made our way down the elevator and then the escalator, swiped our tickets to get out, left the station and continued to look for the subway we needed to board to get to our hostel. “WHERE IS EVERYTHING????” we kept saying to ourselves. We asked the taxi drivers; they had no clue what we were asking, so we decided to go back to the station and ask. We stood in a queue. Then asked the lady, “The train, underground, where is it?”“Huh? This is the train.”“No, another train.”
“What other train? No other train. This is the train!”
We were so lost and confused. Eventually, we were smart enough to ask the right question: where were we? The answer: we were in a small place called Weinanbu, one stop before Xi’an. So we squished back through the queue, ran to buy the last tickets out of Weinanbu to Xi’an. We made it by the skin of our teeth, and luckily enough there was a kind young guy right outside the subway station to help us find our hostel.
Man ‘releasing’ himself under a tree.
You may believe that this is relatively healthy. But by releasing – I don’t mean peeing. Oh no. We stopped at a grocery store to buy some supplies, Sean popped out to unlock our bikes, and get them ready for the ride back to our hostel. While busy, he spots this guy under a tree, just below the bridge, under his pink umbrella but thinks nothing of it. A guy, finishing off a wee, that’s all. As they do. Moments later, after buying some coffee that is so hard to come by in China, I walk towards Sean and notice the same guy, under the tree, just below the bridge, under his pink umbrella, busy. Very busy. So I cock my head back for a second look (‘Scuse the pun), “Sean, what is he doing?” Sean frowns and then turns his head to take a second look, “Is he…?”
“Yup! I think so”. Midday, in the rain, under his pink umbrella, right by the bridge you cross to the main market, having a wank. For lack of a better word.
Hope you had a good chuckle at some of these stories. I love taking note of the things that make our journeys that much more entertaining, they help to remind us that everyone can smile and laugh in the same language. We will do our best to capture these moments more on camera, it’s not an immediate reaction to snap away when you are in shock.
Let us know which story you enjoyed the most and if you’d like to tell us about a funny memory that you have from your travels, write it in the comment section below.