Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Which Nanjing Is Super Depressing

These are my May/June 2010 Journals, rewritten into a semi-coherent narrative of my trip through China with the UW Madison History group. It was a tremendously fun experience that I want to publicize a little bit, so I'll be posting these here.
Around China in 30 Days
In Which Nanjing is Super Depressing

Nanjing represents the pinnacle of exhaustion every member of our Creux felt. We left Hangzhou via bus and pounded pavement 277 kilometers, only stopping at a small rest joint to use the bathrooms and maybe buy some inedible chicken part snacks. This provided me the only story that regularly gets any response aside from "Oh yeah... wow" when I talk about China--I left the restroom at the rest-stop and saw a lady holding her young son over a garbagecan so he could do something he could have done into a device built specifically for that purpose just fifteen feet away. If that's too obtuse, he was pooping. Into a garbage can. Outside of a bathroom. In a series of bathroom-related cultural horror stories, this represented the pinnacle of unpleasantness.
This is just to cheer me up for what comes next
We arrived in Nanjing, and it was immediately depressing. We picked up our tour guide, who took us to a hotel in the middle of nowhere, and then we went to the Museum and Memorial to the Rape of Nanjing. One of greatest tragedies in the second Sino-Japanese War, Japan occupied Nanjing for several weeks, raping and murdering at their pleasure, to the tune of 300,000 dead civilians and over 250,000 rapes Japanese soldiers earned a reputation for cruelty in Nanjing, and the museum was well stocked with horror stories; mothers and sisters sexually assaulted, then murdered and their corpses left nude and defiled, men stood on the banks of the river and murdered with rifle and rapier. Disturbing photos lined the walls; one featured a decapitated head left on a fence post that resonated particularly with me. It was awful.
Then we went to dinner at a restaurant that offered no reprieve. We'd become quite efficient at perfunctorily dispatching whatever disappointing foodstuffs we were offered, and then finding sustenance elsewhere, but here we could hardly be bothered to touch the food. The desperate tourist attraction that served as its facade left us despirited; empty of anything essential, it felt like hollowed out hell.
Afterwards we went to a lecture, which was as fascinating as it should have been, offered in a private museum by its curator. Apparently unaware that we did not speak Chinese, he attempted to show us a an unsubtitled movie and it took nearly ten minutes to explain that we couldn't pay attention. He turned it off and delivered the quite excellent lecture--a fairly comprehensive overview of the Rape of Nanjing, although it was delivered to a soundtrack of explosions and gunfire as apparently our lecturer had simply turned off his projector without stopping the film or turning off the speakers.
We went into Nanjing itself, to one of these huge shopping centers, and stumbled across American food--a Papa John's, no less. Then, off in the distance, we spied a McDonald's! And a KFC! Tempted beyond all choice, most of the Creux left seeking comfortable, familiar American cuisine. How could we resist? With a little fortitude, you pansies. I'm kidding you guys, it had been a month, I don't blame you. A brave few kept with Dreux to seek out more authentic fare. The Chinese chain joint we ended up at was not comforting--in some ways, it reminded me of a long-forgotten Taco John's. While we ate, a homeless man attempted to enter. One of the servers noticed as he got to the door, and immediately seized it, trying to keep him out. Another server materialized behind her, and as the indigent managed to pry open the door, the second server grabbed a nearby ashtray and struck him full in the face. After some more shouting and mutual spitting, he left. It was like someone had lifted a veil, though: suddenly, Nanjing's poor were visible as though advertised with neon signs. Embarrassed and broke, I tried to keep away from them.
The next day we visited Sun-yatsen's presidential palace. Another museum of some regard, I was excited to see it but profoundly disappointed when I learned it had a vast rock-garden maze I'd totally missed because I'd been too busy mucking about in a completely different random section of the vast complex, and also buying a new hat.
Somewhere along the line we'd driven to an art museum. In a weird mood and feeling for some reason that I had ground my compatriot's nerves a little too enthusiastically, I spoke as little as possible while we were in the art museum. This might have been a rewarding tactic were my memory more sound. Unfortunately, without someone to bounce opinions off much of the art slipped my mind once I'd given myself ample time to forget it (at the time of writing this it is some eight weeks distant). The Mood affected me considerably and so I'll blame it for my forgetfulness, engrossed as I was with avoiding my cohort.
Then we went to Sun Yatsen's tomb, the ninth or so huge mountain Sean and I raced up. I was somewhat surprised when the first person to try and scale the mountain was not myself, or Sean, or Dreux, but Z. I was proud of him.
At some point in here Krista and I went to a nearby McDonald's, but I can't for the life of me remember when. We went to a grocery store, I bought some chocolate, and as I recall she yelled at me for some reasons.
Our final day in Nanjing was meant to be a sort of restive day, and a snafu with train tickets meant we had to spend literally the whole day in the city even though we had to check out of the hotel early. We were quickly ushered into some sort of museum on the Boxer Rebellion, but we were exhausted. Not physically, but temperamentally. In an effort to be as childish and stereotypically American as possible, we immediately ditched our tour guide to play tag. Once we discovered the museum was also a massive garden complex, I think we were pacified. Sherri and I explored a back yard area with several outcroppings over a pond containing koi and Chinese goldfish, and promptly got extremely lost attempting to return--at least twice we were turned away from offices we stumbled into by mistake looking for the exit.
After that, there was just enough time to go to a local Confucian temple, where I rang a bell (and discovered it cost two kuai to ring the bell), and spent what felt like an eternity wandering the shopping complexes which surrounded the temple. Most heartbreaking were the pet stores. We must have wandered past several thousand animals, most of whom were stuffed into cages so tight they could hardly move. Roomier cages had animals added until none of them were comfortable, and most of the food and water dishes were empty. I've never felt sympathy for turtles before (smug bastards that they are) and yet seeing a box stacked three to five turtles deep, I had to work very hard not to cause an international meeting of the foot. And ass. As in, my foot, kicking this guy's ass. After walking about a half mile through a PETA propagandist's wet dream, Krista and I retreated, our sorrow glands swollen and leaky. Then it was time for a movie, and more shopping, and food, and shopping, and when all that was done, there was still six hours until the stupid train would be leaving. Sick to death of shopping districts that felt like the Walmart Corporation having an eighteen story yard sale, I elected to go with Dreux and Rachel to our meeting place to wait for the dispersed members of the Creux.
It was only after buying a hand-cut steak/hambaobao and some kind of spiced shish kabob from a girl whose mother was flirting with me on her behalf that the hellish eighteen hour time sink in Nanjing was over and we were free to board the train. The train ride itself was unremarkable; a long ride consisting mostly of uncomfortable sleep and cranky companions. The only memorable part of the experience with the Nanjing train ride using the terminal bathroom and reading what appeared to be graffiti advertising homosexual prostitutes. That or "same sex" friendship--my ability to determine euphemisms in Chinese is considerably lacking.
Our final destination was our first one. We arrived in Beijing tired, pugnacious, and doggedly determined to do nothing for the rest of the day. But that's a story for another journal entry.

1 comment:

  1. Love reading about your adventures. This one quite depressing...although, I feel, that was your purpose.