Thursday, November 3, 2011


Free Trip Itinerary!

I recently moved to Xiamen, China, which is an island but sometimes seems like an amusement park. The free cartoon maps at the airport spotlight the city’s ferris wheel and little googly-eyed girls drinking coffee under umbrellas. Also sometimes the rocks lining the sea by the perfectly worn boardwalk look like painted concrete.

I moved the day before a national holiday, so my college friend and new roommate, Zach, had to convince me to go traveling. What was I going to do? Get settled? That was stupid, he assured me. It’s a holiday! We’d have much more fun traveling, and even more fun traveling without reservations! Yes, we were so spontaneous, so adventurous!

If you want to follow in our footsteps through Kunming, Dali, and Hong Kong — as you well should — follow the step-by-step directions I've laid out for you below. They may also be read as the beginnings of our pilot, Mistakes with Zach and Taryn (Working Title), a traveling show and/or sit-com in which one Chinese-speaking, brooding foreigner moves in with her absurdly tall, skinny, and talkative college friend in the middle of nowhere in China after losing her job. Then they go on trips together, without any planning whatsoever. Maybe they are on a budget as well. Maybe there are digital shorts. The possibilities are endless. Here we go:

1. The day you move, buy two plane tickets to Kunming for the next day. You are bringing a friend.

2. Board the plane to Kunming without any reservations, maps, or ideas as to what in the hell you will do once you get there.

3. Decide on a mantra. Repeat this mantra at all hours for the duration of the trip. (Ideas: "We can do anything! But we can't do nothing," or "Don't ask too many questions! It will freak you out.")

4.Once you land, make your way to the airport candy kiosk.
a. Secure a map. Don't let them take it away, even if it means you have to buy it.
b. Attempt to explain your situation to the workers there, then follow their instructions. (Idea: "We don't have any plans. No plans whatsoever. Where are the bars?" It helps if you speak Chinese.)

5. Get in a cab. Pray that where you are going has a critical mass of foreigners. Repeat your mantra.
a. If there is a Rastafarian in the car beside you at a red light, continue to let him make eyes at you. Then roll down your window and ask him where the nearest hotel district is.
b. Go there.

6. In your newly found hotel district, try to find a room.
a. The first hotel might be full.
b. The second hotel might be full.
c. The third hotel might be full.
d. Think very hard and try to remember if this could possibly be a holiday weekend.
e. It is.

7. Go down weird alleys and look for another hotel. If it's hard to find for you, it's hard to find for everyone else too. They will have rooms.

8. That night, go out to one of Kunming's three clubs. We suggest David. It is decorated in a baroque steam-punk style — almost unimaginable, yes — and has three times too many chandeliers, probably because someone rosebudded too many Simoleons and didn't know what to spend it on.
a. Dance on top of the speakers.
b. Get mad Chinese numbers and offers of boyfriendship.
c. Be toasted to like a demigod.
d. Shake many hands. Your friend might eat this up and scream, "They just want to touch me!" then repeat, more softly and with wonder, "They just want to touch me." This is okay.

9. Buy a bus ticket to Dali from the counter with the shortest line, even if it's in a separate room and called High Fast. Let people reassure you that there is no difference.

10. Get on said High Fast bus to Dali. They were right; there is no discernible difference.
a. If this is your fourth city in three days, don't worry. You're not going to die.
b. If you're hungry because the cakes you bought taste like cardboard, don't worry. You're not going to die. If you were really going to die, you'd shut up and eat the cakes with a smile.

11. Find a hotel in Dali.
a. Let your friend ask for a room on the highest possible floor so he will be happy.
i. Take note that, despite being on the highest floor, you don't actually have a view.
ii. Curse the responsible party later when you are climbing the stairs with a full bladder.
iii. Curse the responsible party later when you are climbing the stairs drunk.

12. Be disgusted, in general, with the city of Dali and how dull and industrial it is. Be disgusted, in general, with your friends for claiming it was some sort of hippie haven.

13. Climb a mountain.
a. Eat bean curd and noodles.
b. Make friends with someone blonde.
i. Ask her why Dali sucks, and how.
ii. Remember to close your mouth as she explains that you are in The Wrong Dali.
iii. Upon realizing there are two Dalis, one dull and industrial, the other teeming with fun and interesting crazy people, follow your new friend back to her hostel.

14. Stay at this hostel for two nights. It is paradise, and so is New Dali.
a. Eat.
i. Eat Belgian waffles from an Indian man.
ii. Eat proscuitto sandwiches from a German woman.
iii. Eat many cakes from a coffee shop run by the hearing-impaired.
1. Debate whether they are actually hearing impaired. Collect evidence:
- They have a clock with signed numbers.
- One of them answered a cell phone.
2. Eat more cake.
b. While eating, an old woman in minority dress might approach you and offer to sell you a small gift.
i. First of all, bargain. Obviously.
ii. Buy said small gift.
iii. When people later ask you where you bought said small gift, say from a minority woman. When they ask which one, refer to her as Minority Woman with the Twinkle in her Eye.

15. Make friends with any Russians you can find, especially if you find someone named Иля.
a. Talk to him about Russian literature.
b. Talk to him about the year he spent studying at Buddhist ashrams and monasteries in India.
c. Talk to him about his time in Thailand and China.
d. Take advantage of the fact that he has not heard Russian in years and impress him with one of your phrases. Choose from:
i. My name is Tara.
ii. I am going to the library.
iii. I want vodka.
iv. I love Victoria.
e. Go out with him. Obviously.

16. Get a bus back to Kunming.

17. Stay in a hostel this time, for the love of God.
a. Wake up the good-looking bearded Brit in your communal room to pass on the small gift before your flight.
b. Accidentally have breakfast with him. Talk to him about elitism in England.
i. Also give him your extra free coffee ticket.
ii. Also let your friend forget your copy of The Birth of Tragedy on your bed and hope he's the one who finds it.

18. Fly to Hong Kong.
a. Your phone will not work here.
b. Your money will not work here.
c. Try to fix these problems, then give up and go to Starbucks to call your friend.
i. Have you heard that Starbucks is an oasis?
ii. Have you heard that Starbucks is a womb?

19. Pull an all-nighter with your friends from school. Love them openly.

20. Split up with your traveling friend so you can go home.* It's time. Also, you are poor.
a. Drop said friend off at Chungking Mansions, the only "hotel" either of you can afford. You will know you have found it when you see a dingy skyscraper crawling with people trying to sell you things. Push past them to the elevator, where you can pick a floor at random and hope for the best.
b. Go to the airport by yourself.
i. Sleep on the terminal chairs.
ii. Don't buy any food even though you are starving. It is important to save the pretty money for later, when you might look at it once and then lose it. You cannot afford wasabi peas, but you may have one quarter-can of Pringles if you can't stop whining.

There you go! Have fun! Send pictures! La-di-da, lalala!

*Home here refers to Xiamen, or a city you have only spent one night in.

Sharon Salt is doing her damnedest. She rearranged her furniture last night.

62 Comments / Post A Comment


Your show sounds awesome! It is on TV or is it a web show?




@alix_rae I didn't even finish reading - I rushed down here to scream in delight at this!!!! AAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!


@beeline96 I KNOW!

;!;!:!;!;!;!;!;!;!;!;!;!: (is that it? to get like a million instead of a thousand? i think this was the days before i knew CTRL + C and typed exclamation points and semicolons all day long)


@alix_rae This this this.


@beeline96 AHHHH OH MY GOD ME TOO! This was my life from like 2000 - 2002

hairdresser on fire

@alix_rae Aaahhh omg yessss!;!;!;!;!;!;!;!;!;!;!;!; A million likes!


@alix_rae I feel both glad and frustrated that I don't know what that phrase or the !; means...


@alix_rae All. day. long. I did the exact same thing.


@appletree that's exactly how you should be feeling... however it's not too late to start playing the Sims and bookmarking a million cheat sites.


@alix_rae I was sort of skimming this, until I came to that phrase, and immediately went back up to the top to start re-reading with deep consideration. Clearly someone with that point of reference has a profound knowledge of my soul. I will follow this advice exactly.


Being terrified about having no plans sounds like a good way to forget to be terrified about being a bad tourist. (A Small Place has ruined me for traveling.)


@figwiggin GODDDD the horror of being a bad tourist! i spent basically an entire summer in one city where i didn't speak the language (ie, PERMANENT TOURIST AHH) and was horrified, just all the time always. is it true that i am not alone in this horror? ps, i don't want to know what "A Small Place" is because it sounds like it'll only make this issue more pronounced.


@candybeans It is definitely true. I felt like apologizing every second in Germany for not speaking very good German and for being an American tourist. (P.S. You really don't. I mean, it's an important read, but also confirmed everything I was terrified of before.)


@figwiggin During a trip I took once as part of a class, we visited Antigua (the home of Jamaica Kincaid, author). But of course, first we read A Small Place. aughadfjalskjfja;dslfkjaf.


@phenylalanine Did you just stand in the middle of everything, afraid to move, feeling your very presence a blight upon the island?


Gawd, sounds like me making my way through Europe those three times. And that was only Europe! Spontaneous or slow learner -- hard to tell. I love you, I love this piece. Bon Voyage!


@Pony-girl Getting left behind by the group in Europe something like a million times has ruined me for travel in any place where they might actually let you die in the street. That trip is why I'll never see the Grand Canyon, people.


Awww! Next time you find yourself an Ilya, call him Ilyusha. He'll LOVE it! (Ilyushinka if you're feeling particularly saucy.)

Nate Jones@twitter

Waitasecond. I've literally done this trip only in reverse. Except I had a fluent-in-Mandarin brother to help me out. But new Dali is SO GREAT. We tried to bribe my bro to let us stay there forever, but he wasn't having it.

EDIT: My sister was also there! And she's right below!


@Nate Jones@twitter We should have stayed. We could both be bartenders there and mac on the local expat community.


I went to that coffeeshop run by the deaf in dali everyday i was there! They had chinese checkers and granola and my brothers would give me their complimentary cups of weak chinese coffee.

Sunny Schomaker

I feel like "Don't ask too many questions. It will freak you out." should be my everyday mantra.

Blair Dow@facebook

"Starbucks is a womb."

(long time hairpin reader, first time commenter! i did it you guys!)


@Blair Dow@facebook Oohhh it is a womb. It is a safe, expected, wifi-enabled womb with clean bathrooms that is not McDonalds.


@Blair Dow@facebook

YES. so, so relevant. so relevant that i'm also finally commenting for the first time to say so. except i'm currently living in a country without a single starbucks, so pizza hut is my air-conditioned oasis/womb. i think at this point i'd faint if i saw a starbucks.

also: "Don't ask too many questions! It will freak you out." too, too relevant.


@Blair Dow@facebook There was a good couple months when Burger King, complete with Blizzard Crunch and french fries was my womb. ohhhh the air conditioning and cold fake ice cream....


Reading this in my cubicle (at a job I love and am deeply, deeply grateful for, it should be noted) I am getting misty-eyed with intense envy. I loved every line of this.


I spent one day in Kunming in the summer of 2008. We got off the train and it was raining. All day. That night we had to get on a sleeper bus to go to Lijiang. Ok, we think, so a sleeper bus is like a greyhound where maybe they give us a pillow and a blanket? and that sounds nice! We don't have to pay for housing, but we're still going places! Neat! But we were wrong. The sleeper bus was a bus WITH BUNK BEDS ON IT. !!!!! It was great. Except maybe our neighbors didn't love the fact that our shoes and most of our stuff and most of us were soaking wet?

Also, it's worth noting, the bus kept turning on and off again before we left the station, so we got to watch the same 20 minutes of a badly dubbed movie where there was a lady undercover cop doing sexy cop detective things. I'm still not sure if this was a pro or a con.


@tea I took one of those sleeper busses from Shanghai to Beijing! It was, like this story, a result of taking a trip with no planning on a holiday weekend. The beds were about a foot-and-a-half too short for someone who was (still is, I guess) almost 6", but it was kind of awesome! Oh and the bus stopped several times on the side of the highway to pick up passengers who then went to sleep on the floor in the aisles.

Guy DeBr0'd

@xx-xx-xx Wow, they really are short on space over there, huh. (lol, "short," I kill myself sometimes..)

Guy DeBr0'd

Do I want to know what "digital shorts" are?


@Guy DeBr0'd They're what you wear in the summer when digital pants are too hot.

Guy DeBr0'd

@Georgiana Lee@twitter Yeah, that's what I was afraid of...


@Guy DeBr0'd Digital shorts are the three-to-five minute comedies SNL puts out. I think they usually play them before the show. Look up V-necks or Great Day

Guy DeBr0'd

@vonnenut Are they funnier than shorts/pants made out of fingers?


@Guy DeBr0'd No but they are funnier than SNL

Guy DeBr0'd

@vonnenut Good enough for me, thanks!


Ugh I went to the terrible Dali! The one by Xi'an, right? It is literally the most boring city in the world. I think the highlight was getting soft serve ice cream at a fast-food place, and finally finding the only ATM in the city that would accept my debit card. Glad you got to the good Dali!


Next time you go to KunMing I recommend:
1) DO NOT book a hard seat train. Even if it's a holiday and it's the only ticket you can get. It's not worth it. Well, actually, it might be worth it, because in KunMing you can BUY CHEEESE.
2) stay in a hostel. Go to the Stone Forest with a loose group of people from your hostel. One of them should be an Isreali guy called Tad, who is fluent in Mandarin, Hebrew and Yiddish. He should be travelling with his elderly father. Have him teach you Yiddish words.
3) After touring the boring bits of the Stone Forest, break off from the rest of the group with Tad. And his elderly father. Get a massage at the top of a mountain. Until his elderly father catches up.
4) Go back to hostel. Share longing glances with Tad, but do not get laid because you are in a shared room, and he is sharing with his elderly father. Who WON'T LEAVE.
5) Go buy cheese. This is almost as good.


@Craftastrophies Almost as good? DEFINITELY as good


@vonnenut I bought lots, to take back to my friends in benighted GuiYang, the land of NO CHEESE.

But I ate it all.


Gah! How many Hairpin readers are in China?? We really should organize a Zhong-guo meet-up. (I don't usually comment but I'm cool I promise!).


@ryerye yes please to a Zhongguo meet up!


@ryerye Hangzhou here! We exist! We comment at ridiculous hours when nobody else is checking! Let's do it.


@ryerye oh shit I had to run and get an account just to say: YES, China-based Hairpiners! 上海/Shanghai, anyone.... ?


@upthehilldownthehill Beijing here... but willing to travel!


@Pinhead Sweet! Just need to convince giantspider/others on a place (city)/time. This should seriously happen! Shanghai's pretty fun.... ;D And I'm fun as well?

Amy Torres@facebook

@ryerye YES! Can we do this? Except Spring Festival is the only time I will have to travel to Shanghai and I refuse to ever use the words "travel" and "Spring Festival" together unless it's in the "I refuse to ____ during _____" context. Any Beijingers here? Pinhead, where are you?


@Amy Torres@facebook Yes, another Beijinger! I'm in Chaoyang. Any more? I travel often for work so will also be in Shanghai soon.


@Pinhead Also, I agree with the no travel at Chunjie unless it's international. And I'm fun... I think...

Amy Torres@facebook

@ryerye Ohmanoman, I was in Lidu but I'm actually back in the US for a bit and will be returning right before Spring Festival. We should make this happen.


@Amy Torres@facebook Practically neighbours! I feel like we are making steps towards a potential meet up here... we need more articles about China to keep the momentum going!


@Pinhead @Amy Torres@facebook @giantspider @upthehilldownthehill LADIES! Sorry for the delayed response (I'm stateside for a few days, yay!). Getting on the google group stat. This will happen.


As someone who just spent a semester in Kunming, if you think that there are only three clubs there, you have missed out. They have a club district called Kundu (昆都) with around 20 of them. (The best one, in my opinion, is 88 (Baba), though I may be biased due to all of the bottles of whiskey a friend managed to procure from a manager each week.) (They pretty much all have like 1000 chandeliers, but if you can get past the cheesy factor, they're a lot of fun.)

Also: "without a plan and spur-of-the-moment" is pretty much the best way to travel in China. :)

Samantha Culp@twitter

The quarter-can of Pringles has gotten me through many a flight delay in random Chinese airports (though I would note for next time, if at HKG go for Maltesers instead! Same price; more decadence)

@upthehilldownthehill - I'm in Shanghai as well, if any meetups happen let me know!


GET OUT MY BRAIN!!! I just got back from a trip to kinda sorta Tibet(the TAR in Sichuan) like an hour ago. I held a monkey at the club in Chengdu. China....amiriiiight.


The 'small gift' sounds highly suspicious. . .


I honestly can't believe you winged traveling during National Week. That is some brave shit right there. Kudos, and hope Xiamen is cool! I've never been there but I hear it's pretty nice.


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