Let’s Stay In And Watch Breaking Bad

By Jane Mountain | October 30, 2013

7,055 km so far.

We woke up to rain, as was the forecast. Snug inside our soft bed in our fancy, freezing-cold hotel room, we quickly decided the best thing to do was stay put for another day. At least the room was dry and the bed the softest we have had in China.

After a few hours of writing and photo editing, we ventured outside to look for food and an internet cafe. Yes, they still have those in China, since most towns don’t have any regular cafes where you can get free WiFi.

Here’s Your Overpriced Soup

Even though I showed the waitress our “no meat” flashcard and told her “bu chi rou” several times, all of which she purported to understand with the usual nods and smiles, when lunch showed up it was a giant bowl of soup filled with several kinds of meat (mostly pork from the stink of it). It was pretty obvious she had just decided to serve us the most expensive thing on their menu.

Stephen’s note: To be fair, she did show us the item on the menu which, even if we couldn’t understand what it was, had the price clearly marked.

Stephen called the owner over, who was trailed by his wife and the waitress, and explained, showing them the card again. They were very nice about it, and took the soup away, and in a few minutes replaced it with the same bowl, this time filled with clear broth, noodles, and a few mushrooms. At least we could eat this one.

When it came time to leave, we still owed them twice what the meal would have cost anywhere else, so I guess we paid for their mistake.

Internet Cafe With No Internet

After this dissatisfying experience, we headed to the smoky, dark internet cafe, where a few young men sat around playing video games on the cafe’s computers. It soon became apparent that they didn’t deal in WiFi. I stood outside, not feeling that great, while Stephen attempted to talk with the guys inside.

They phoned one of their friends who showed up a few minutes later. He spoke English, and offered to take us to his home so we could use the WiFi. Stephen was game, but I suspected the offer wasn’t for us to come over and sit in his place for hours updating our blog. Besides, I didn’t really feel like doing anything but crawling back into bed. I communicated all this to Stephen with looks and a few quick English sentences we were pretty sure the guy couldn’t understand.

We politely declined his offer, explaining that we didn’t have anything urgent and just wanted to catch up on some work for a few hours. His quick acceptance of this explanation, with no insistence that we would be more than welcome at his home, led me to believe that I was right. He seemed relieved to be rid of us.

Still, it was an amazing offer, and we are constantly astounded by how helpful and friendly people are.

Escape To New Mexico

We had wanted to see the sights of the town, namely a unique style of stone tower, built only by the Qiang people of this region. However, with the rain coming down, and no way to dry out clothes in the cold hotel room, we decided it was better to just head back.

Tofu-making apparatus in Ningqiang.

Tofu-making apparatus in Ningqiang.

So, instead of seeing the town, we crawled back under our two heavy duvets and spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on work and episodes of Breaking Bad.

You’re the smartest guy I ever met, and you’re too stupid to see – he made up his mind 10 minutes ago.

It’s brilliant television, and I was happy to escape into another world for a few hours.

You Can Shout If You Want To

The only thing that broke the pleasure of our peaceful afternoon were the other hotel guests.

Our room is on the second floor, at the top of a staircase which leads to the reception area. As guests arrived, they yell up and down the halls at each other. People don’t knock on each other’s doors here, they just yell and yell until their friend comes out into the hall for a loud conversation. Knocking is probably considered rude.

Guests who need something from the staff stand at the top of the stairs (right outside our room) and yell down two flights. The staff then shout a response. We have seen the same behaviour in restaurants. Diners do not get up from their table under any circumstance, they just shout at the waitress, no matter what she is doing, until she attends to their needs.

There is a very clear demarkation between “help” and “guest” here, and the guest is under no obligation to be kind or polite (at least by our standards). I’m sure the staff find it very odd when we smile and say “please” and “thank you”.

In hotels, no one is concerned whether anyone else gets to sleep or enjoys a peaceful stay. Noise is the norm in China, and I suspect for most Chinese, it might feel quite disturbing when things get too quiet.  

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  1. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie November 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

    I thought you guys didn’t watch tv! ;-) Snuggling up sounds perfect.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      Oh, we watch TV, just not Chinese TV!

  2. Comment by Diane

    Diane November 3, 2013 at 7:06 am

    Try flying on an overnight flight from China. Everyone keeps talking on top of their voices even in the dark. Not restful.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen November 6, 2013 at 2:18 am

      Oh no. I can’t even imagine how difficult that would be. It is such a huge difference in cultures. Last night we stayed in a Buddhist temple and other guests were yelling to each other fork room to room, even within the same room, the whole time.

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