THE ORIENT EXPRESSED: KRISTY KEEPS IT REAL
Travel Dates: July 15-16, 2011
We are back on dry land after our three nights aboard the Victoria Selina. That little excursion was very pleasant in retrospect. In spite of aforementioned feeding-frenzies and BS shore excursions, it reminded me a little of old Hollywood movies about the Orient Express. Our cabin, which wasn’t large, was nonetheless bigger than any cruise cabin we’ve ever had on a more traditional cruise ship. It was rather romantically decked out in fine wood-grain paneling (like our luggage), and because of the ship’s Mississippi steamboat style design, every cabin had a balcony.
Our flight to Shanghai leaves at 7:15pm and we disembarked from the ship at around 1pm, so we had some time to kill in Yichang. Luckily, we had the coolest city guide named Kristy who after the requisite trip to the city “museum” took us to the mall to hang out for a couple of hours. One can tell that China is exceedingly proud of her malls, and this one was no slouch. Dairy Queen, Papa John’s, Mickey Ds and KFC (which is EVERYWHERE) were all represented with menus appropriately tweaked for Chinese tastes, but best all, there was a Walmart! This is the place to go to satisfy those pesky cravings for blueberry-flavored potato chips, sweet pea crackers, or Oreos with orange/mango filling. And the teaser item near the checkout stand? Why condoms, of course! We stocked up on a few snacks for the plane and continued our stroll around the mall.
Thankfully, the people of Yichang, a mere village of four million people, are a lot more low key and polite; the stares are discreet and there are no solicitations for pictures. On the ride to the airport, Kris, whose command of both English language and idiom are impressive thanks to a steady diet of Friends, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and Modern Family, fills us in on the particulars of the single-child policy. Basically, there’s no such thing as an unplanned pregnancy if you want your child to exist here (via a gov’t ID). When you get married, the gov’t keeps a record, and couples must apply for a permit to have their one child. There are exceptions for farming families and some leniency for families whose only child is a girl. Otherwise, there’s a stiff $8,000 US fine, a fortune in China, for those who violate the law. Kris is the mother of a baby girl, and she explained that the split bottom clothes for babies in lieu of diapers enable parents to begin toilet training their children as young as six months old. Apparently, they’re taught to squat at the sound of a whistle (?).
Speaking of squatting, traditional Chinese toilets are literally holes in the ground. I learned pretty early on not to panic when I entered the stall (even at Walmart) and found a pit with a porcelain “lip” where the toilet should be; you’re just supposed to squat on your haunches and do your business. That being said, I don’t panic, but I keep looking for a western-style commode. My female tour mates and I have even developed a star rating system for public bathrooms: 5 star means it doesn’t stink, is reasonably clean and has toilet paper; 4 star means all of the above, sans toilet paper; 3 star, somewhat stinky but bearable with western commodes; 2 star means it stinks, has a western commode and will serve if you’re desperate; 1 star is all-squat AND stinky.