Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Adventures in Small-town China

We spent the bulk of our trip in the town where my sister works. It's a small town in Henan province that most people haven't heard of it, but it still has more than a million people.

I'll try to sum up our small-town adventures into three major areas:

1. Markets

I sewed pillow covers as hostess gifts. In order to save space in my suitcase, my sister suggested getting the insert pillows made in-country. We went to local the marketplace to this little shop where they make linens and had three pillows made. 

measuring the fabric

stuffing the pillow

stuffing the pillow cover with the newly made pillow

The woman even added velcro to my envelope closure, because it wasn't staying properly. When I got home to the states, I bought velcro to use when those cases come up again. Thanks, Chinese seamstress!

I had a potty adventure in this same marketplace the next day. I really, really, really want to share details, because it was one of those "full immersion" experiences, but I won't, because the details are gross. I'll just share this: it involved a trough in lieu of a toilet.

I actually had more than one potty adventure in China. Maybe it's because of the vast difference in potty culture over there compared to here. 

At the grocery store (pictured above), I suddenly needed to use the restroom. My sister asked an employee where the toilets were, and he pointed up. I had to find the exit to the grocery store, which was a crazy maze of Chinese product-filled aisles. Then I had to figure out which floor of the building the restroom was on. The first employee on the second floor pointed up when I tried to say the word for "toilet" and pointed at my tummy. I found the public restroom on the third floor in the back corner of a high-end department store, but when I got into the stall, I realized I forgot my tissue pack. Everyone carries around packs of tissues because toilet paper isn't provided (unless it's a really nice restroom).

Luckily, it wasn't too late. I went back downstairs to get my tissues, but my sister had already left with said tissues to come find me. We crossed paths a couple times before we finally found each other. All the while several Chinese employees watched me walk back and forth and even tried to help me by telling me in Chinese and miming that my sister had already passed by. 

I just had to laugh about how something as seemingly simple as going to the public restroom becomes an adventure when you're in a foreign country, and in my case, with no cell phone. 

2. Walk the Wall

My sister works for International China Concern in a welfare center. You can find more about the organization here, but it basically goes into existing welfare centers and helps organize services like medical services, physical therapy, counseling, adoption, etc. ICC holds an annual event around the world called Walk the Wall to raise awareness and funds for their projects. We just happened to be visiting during this event and got to participate!

The event took place at a beautiful park on the Yellow River. It involved a walk around the park, speeches from the different leaders of the welfare center, and performances from some of the kids. 

Standing in front of a field of sunflowers and the Yellow River

We had a great time participating and getting lots of photos taken of us, but then again, being photo subjects was part of our entire China experience. 

3. Massage

One of the things I was most excited about when planning our China trip was massage. I had heard about 90 minute massages for $10, and I couldn't wait to indulge myself. 

My first experience was the head massage. We were out one morning and kind of spontaneously decided to get our hair washed. Zane really wanted to get his hair cut in China, so we went to my sister's favorite salon. Angela and I got the full treatment, and Zane got a regular wash and cut. 

Angela and my treatment was a luxury hair wash that included a head massage. It also included shoulder, neck, arms, and hands massage. Then we turned onto our tummies, and they gave us a back massage! It was amazing. 

After the wash and massage, we both got our hair dried to perfection. I mean PERFECTION. The guy drying my hair in this picture was a huge perfectionist, and this was obviously his specialty. The guy drying Angela's hair was only her "pre-dryer." After my guy finished with my hair, he went over and finished up Angela's. 

He's obviously very good at his job. Angela's waves were all done with his fingers. He curled the hair over his fingers and blow dried it instead of using a round brush. We were both pleased with our hair-do's.  

A couple nights later we went on a double date to get foot massages. One of Angela's coworkers watched Daisy (as in, hung out at Angela's apartment after Daisy went to sleep). Angela and her boyfriend, Zane and I went to dinner then foot massage. 

We went to this massage place that is apparently a chain and got all dolled-up in these nice robe things. I ended up changing back into my clothes because the waist band was constricting my tummy. Chinese people are smaller than me. 

My expression is because the water is super hot. 

It's a nice set-up with four chairs in the same room. We watched some Chinese animal planet show about cheetahs on TV. We had snacks and drinks. My favorite snack was the roasted peas or something like that. They also had something called glutenous rice balls, but they looked like eyeballs, so I didn't have any. 

It probably looks very luxurious by these photos, but we were in pain. Foot massage in China isn't about relaxation. It's about kneading your muscles into playdoh. They start at your feet, move up your legs, massage your stomach (!), then you flip over, and they massage your back. 

Zane had the worst time of it (contrary to his smiling face in this photo), and when Angela told his massage therapist that it hurt, the guy said, "It's supposed to hurt." 

It was still light-hearted, though painful. We laughed through most of it, and Zane and I declared we would never do that again. Imagine knuckles in your spine. Not exactly the massage I was imagining when I was planning our trip. It was a great cultural experience though. Many people have asked if my feet felt great afterwards, but all I can say is that a couple days later they hurt to the touch, as if they were bruised on the arch. So, no. 

Travel Tips and Take-Aways

1. Always make sure you have tissues when you use the restroom. 

2. Be prepared for people to take pictures of you, especially if you're traveling with kids. If it gets to be too much, just walk away. Most Chinese people were okay with use saying, "Okay, bye!" and just leaving the area. 

3. Chinese head massage and hair washing is delightful. I totally recommend it. Very cheap for a great experience. It took about 90 minutes and cost $2.50. 

4. Chinese foot massage is "enter at your own risk." Some westerners love it. Zane and I hated it. It's about 90 minutes and cost something like $10.00. 

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