Tag Archives: customs

Shant-outings*

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*Thanks to Joshua for the oh-so-punny title

As mentioned previously, Shantou is tucked into the coastline of the South China Sea, making it the perfect jumping off point for day trips to the numerous surrounding islands. On our first weekend in China, myself and the other Canadian exchange students took the ferry for 1 yuan (~20 cents) across the Shantou Harbour and landed on the idyllic shores of Queshi island. We were greeted by a woman expertly dissecting pineapples with a machete and neatly skewering the slices onto long skewers. An entire pineapple for 7¥ ($1.5) seemed a reasonable price to pay for a snack as we walked along the island’s meandering paths.

View of Queshi from the Shantou side of the sea

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Our goal was the pagoda we had seen every morning we walked along our side of the harbour. On our way up the mountain, we explored a series of naturally formed granite caverns with such enchanting names as “Rainbow Lying Cave,” “Happy Fate Cave,” “God’s Shoe,” “The Platform for Watching Sight of Flame Mount,” and “Three-Tier Cave Toilet” (on second thought, maybe that last one was 2 separate stops…)

View of Shantou from the Queshi side of the sea! 

Terrifyingly steep steps into the caves!

Lovely lunchtime stop
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Giant Buddha (only after an entire photo sesh with G.B. did we realise we had been sitting in front of a sign that read, in Chinese, that pictures cost 2¥ each… and consequently a terrifying encounter with the giant security guard ensued)

After eating lunch in the pagoda at the mountain peak and paying our respects to giant Buddha back down on the ground, we headed back to the ferry. Before we had even landed back on mainland, we were already receiving WeChats from our host students, inviting us out for an evening of quintessential Chinese cultural fun: KTV.

KTV (aka karaoke) is more than just a past time in China… it’s practically an art form. Whole streets are lined with massive KTV buildings, each hosting a multitude of private rooms where groups can order food & drinks and custom-create a karaoke setlist of K-Pop and the newest Swifty singles. At KTV, the most stoic and shy of students suddenly comes into their own and discovers their latent pop stardom, belting out sexy ballads with no restraint or reserve whatsoever!

Post-KTV, we were up bright and early to board the bus taking us to a village about 2 hours from Shantou. Interestingly enough for a self-declared Communist country, healthcare is not publicly funded in China, and therefore many citizens cannot afford basic medications or even a simple doctor’s visit. Thanks to Guangdong-born Hong Kong billionaire philanthropist, the Li Ka-Shing foundation has instituted numerous charitable works to address health inequities across the country, including the one we were participating in that morning – Medical Aid for the Poor (MAP). Once a month, MAP physicians set up free clinics in villages near Shantou, providing free medications, blood pressure readings, and specialist consults. They also provide home visits for any rural citizens unable to transport themselves to the clinic.

My lunch at MAP won the honour of being the most interesting food I have ever eaten to date: I was so proud of myself initially for trying what I was convinced was liver, since I had never had that before. But when I checked in with my Chinese friend, she blithely corrected me: “Oh no, those are blood clots. Maybe pig? Probably dog.”

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Home visits & tour of the village temple

Since we were spending so much time in “small town” China (remember that Shantou’s population is a mere 5 million), we thought we should grab the chance to see big city China at its most iconic: Hong Kong.

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For being so close to Shantou, it was a headache and a half to actually make our way to HKSAR. A chartered car, a bullet train, a subway, a walk through two sets of customs, and another subway later, we were finally in our Hong Kong home for the weekend – an itty bitty hostel room on the 14th floor. The rule was that some part of each person had to be touching their bunk at all times, otherwise there was not enough space for us all in the room!

Hong Kong had some noteworthy features: milk tea, pork floss toast, the mind-blowing bus ride up to Victoria Peak (call me small town, but I have never seen buildings rising up higher than the surrounding mountains!!), and the hilarious experience of finding our way up to the “Highest Bar in the World” and negotiating with the hostesses and fellow patrons for rented pants so our male compatriots could actually enter the bar (because apparently, while shorts are incredibly offensive and inappropriate, ankle-skimming polyester gems passed around to 3 different gentleman in 1 hour are far, far more acceptable). However, in general, I do not feel the need to go back to HKSAR. I feel so privileged to have spent the majority of my time in “small town” China that actually felt unique, and not simply like a crowded version of any forgettable kitschy American town.

Buildings, buildings everywhere…

The day after arriving back in Shantou from HKSAR, we were again packed into a bus, this time to trek several hours to Nan’ao island, where we spent a lazy day hiking up to yet more pagodas, watching our bus driver carve roast chicken with his bare hands, and getting yelled at by locals for daring to swim in the ocean (apparently, that’s just not done).

All in all, our Shant”outings” made an already memorable exchange even more extraordinary. And after three weeks of this, I still had a week of true holidays left…
(To be continued!)

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There’s (yet another) adventure…

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When I received the email from my exchange coordinator informing me that my accommodations had been changed from a private student apartment to living with a host family, I felt like things were finally falling into place for this trip. As evidenced by our adventures through Europe, I have found that the absolute best way to travel is to plan your travels around people, rather than places. Therefore, getting to live with a family during my time in Mexico promised to make this opportunity into something even more amazing than I had originally thought!

Happy FB news

But before getting acquainted with my new Mexican family, I first had to actually make it to Mexico… resulting, like all good trips should, in a travel adventure!

Josh and I rolled into Fargo around midnight, giving us plenty of time to hit up Buffalo Wild Wings before crashing into bed with the alarm set for 4AM in order to catch my 6AM flight out of Fargo. After an unreal goodbye with mi Josué in the airport, I was attempting to nap on the plane when I was suddenly awoken by cries of, “He’s collapsed! Somebody help! There is a medical emergency!”

An elderly gentleman had collapsed in the aisle of the plane right behind me, and the flight attendants came running with oxygen. They then made that announcement I truly thought occurred only in movies, “Is there any medical personnel aboard the aircraft?” I underwent a brief panicked ethical dilemma trying to figure out if I was responsible to try to do something if there was nobody else on board, but thankfully a very capable-looking doctor came bustling down the aisle of the plane. The attendants informed the plane that the pilot was on standby waiting for confirmation from the doctor about whether an emergency landing would be required. After a very confusing many minutes, the announcement was made that an emergency landing would not be required, but upon landing in Atlanta, paramedics still immediately boarded our plane and escorted the gentleman off.

After all that excitement, I was thankful for my long and relaxing layover in Atlanta, where I ate some very salty and fried things for breakfast before boarding my flight to Mexico City. Now, generally airports don’t fluster me, not even renowned massively huge airports like D.F. What flustered me was seeing that I had exactly one hour to both clear Customs and make my connecting flight to Tuxtla… and what panicked me was walking off the plane and into what I originally thought was the ground floor arena for a sold-out U2 concert, but was actually the “line” for Customs.

I stood in this line (read: at the back of a massive room filled with a massive amount of people, with the tiny Customs officials barely visible at the far other end) and anxiously chewed my nails to bits until finally asking the gentleman next to me if this was the only “line” to be in. I got the feeling that he had been stewing over things for awhile, because he immediately launched into a tirade against inefficient Mexican airport authorities who make tax-paying residents still stand in this line because they aren’t officially Mexican citizens, even though citizens barely ever fly so having a separate line for them is a horrific waste of resources… and then told me to try just getting into the Diplomats line. I had literally nothing to lose but a possible flight connection, so into the Diplomats line I went, behind a gaggle of Aerolíneas Mexicanas flight personnel and many dignified señoras in wheelchairs.

And I confess: upon arriving at the front of the line and being sternly confronted by the Customs official, who demanded to know what I thought I was doing in this line without proper paperwork, I shamelessly took full advantage of my confused-single-white-girl status and stammered many things about flights and information given to me and -insert pleading eyes here- … and was impatiently waved through Customs with time to spare.

(You get the idea)

Except for the small fact that my flight to Tuxtla was not listed on a single departure board. The first airport personnel I asked about my flight gave me a disgusted look and told me I was already at the gate (FYI, when I asked her this, I was definitely standing in front of a bank machine). The second person I asked pointed me towards the opposite end of the airport and said it would be posted there. Upon speed-walking the 20 minutes to the other end of the airport, the third person I asked informed me that obviously, it was Gate E2… which happened to be back where I had started from. Although, since my flight was still not on any Departures board, I consider it sheer magic that this person at least knew what I was talking about.

If at this point I wasn’t yet sufficiently aware of the fact that I was in truly in Mexico, I boarded the plane to Tuxtla only to have the man in front of me turn on his iPod speakers to blast the entire plane with marimba music. When the smiling flight attendant asked if he had headphones, he replied, “Well, I do… but then nobody else would be able to hear it!”

Bienvenidos a Mexico… the fun has just begun!

Bienvenidos a Chiapas!