China Day 2
Updated: Nov 26, 2021
I woke up a little disoriented and wasn’t sure where I was for a moment. Then I remembered…I’m in fucking China. CHINA!
I’m not as nervous as I probably should be.
One reason I think I’m getting the hang of this world traveler (WT) stuff and the community. It’s pretty cool how we all look out for each other and stick together.
And I’m starting to feel better after all that has happened. I feel I’m starting to see the old me sneak in every once in a while.
Not to say I don’t still have long moments of sadness and insomnia. One day at a time. Traveling is a great distraction to feeling sorry for myself.
I had this strange feeling someone was looking at me and I looked over to the cot next to me.
There was a girl sitting there. “You ok?”, she asked”
“Oh, ya just a bad dream. Thanks.”
“Hi, I’m Susanne.”
An American for sure and I’m guessing East Coast. She has that vibe.
I asked, “Where are you from?”
I told her I was from Boston and we had an instant connection.
She’s was traveling with some classmates Finn and Paul from Germany. They are studying Mandarin Chinese in Beijing and on holiday (holiday is the same as a vacation in most of the world). She asked if I wanted to go with them sightseeing around Canton for the day.
I found Randy and asked if he wanted to go but he declined. He said he planned to do other stuff. I think he might be mad but I can't tell.
As we walked downtown, Susanne asked how I know Randy.
I said, “I don’t really.”
I explained that I was in Hong Kong staying with my friend Bob who happens to be from Boston and we met in Thailand a couple of weeks ago on the island of Koh Samui.
He said he had a large apartment and I should come to visit. When you visit Thailand you only get a two-week Visa and my visa was expiring soon so I thought what the heck. I have to leave any way why not go to Hong Kong.
“Oh, Randy…how did I meet him?”
Once I got to Hong Kong I realized China was only a train ride away and I really wanted to go. I went to the hostel in Kowloon and posted a notice asking if anyone wanted to travel together to China.
Bob said I could put his phone number on the notice so people could reach me.
Randy answered the ad”
“Do you get along,” Susanne asked.
“Ya, so far so good,”
We all went shopping and I found this cute box that I thought would be perfect for my good friend Sandy. Finn was standing next to me as I paid for it.
“You know you are getting ripped off?” Finn said as we walked away.
“What do you mean?” I demanded.
“China is not one to play by the rules when it comes to currency.” He said.
“What do you mean?”
“In China, they have two types of currency. One is for foreigners and one for the people of China. The foreigners money is called Foreign Exchange Certificate or Control (FEC). Foreign citizens are “required” to use FEC for their purchases.
The other is Renminbi (REM) the Chinese people’s money.
So, let’s say, that box you just purchase for $2 FEC, if you paid with REM it would have cost you something like 50 cents. They are extorting the foreigners and controlling the money.”
“Commies!,” I said with disgust.
Finn told me that I can exchange my FEC to REM in the black market and get triple my money.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by the black market but I knew it had to be against the law.
Finn reassured me that everyone does it and it’s not a big deal.
I was really nervous and I ask Finn if he would do it for me.
We all went to this tea shop where Finn had exchanged money before. When you entered the shop there were vases full of different teas you can choose from. Finn approached the man behind the counter. Suzanne, Paul, and I sat down at a table to wait. We saw Finn follow the man to the backroom and out of sight. I couldn’t help but start playing all the “what if’s” in my head.
“What if he doesn’t come back?
How do we get help? The police will want to know what we are doing and we’ll all end up in jail!”
“What if this is a sting?” We are screwed.
It felt like hours but it was only minutes when Finn returned and said, “let’s go.” We hurried out the door and walked quickly down the street away from the shop. Finn said to wait until we are in clear before handing me over my money. I was sweating with nervousness and because we were walking so fast.
When we got back to the hostel Finn and I sat on my cot and he handed me this enormous pile of money.
It was like I won the lottery.
I looked around to see if anyone was looking.
I grabbed the money and stuffed it in my backpack. The money felt like monopoly money, not real.
The bills are very small (2”x3”). About 1/3 the size of a US bill.
Each had a different image on it. Airplane, Truck, a Steam Ship, a Locomotive, Tractor, a Dam, and Tiananmen. I had no clue how much each was worth.
What’s with all the transportation images? Commies…
Finn said I can use the REM when I buy stuff and food but I can’t buy train tickets and hotel accommodations. You need to use your FEC for that.
We all went out to dinner at a local restaurant where they serve…sorry… dog. Dog is a common entrée in China.
I just couldn’t.
It would be like eating my sweet pet.
I ordered chicken if you want to call it that. It was chopped up chicken bones in broth. It was pretty bad.
One thing about Germans, they like and can drink beer. Of course, me being me, I tried to keep up.
Many Dragon Beers later I was feeling no pain.
When the waiter came to collect money for our food and drink, I had no clue what he said or how to pay with this strange looking money.
This was too complicated and I wasn’t in the mood to figure it out. I was in a happy and generous mood...ok tipsy.
I gestured to the waiter to come over and I held out my closed hands. He looked at me and then my hands. I slowly opened my hands revealing a huge pile of money.
He looked at me very cautiously like it was a trick. He hesitated.
“What’s the problem,” I asked Susanne, “please tell him to take it.
She said something to him in Mandarin. His eyes widen and got so excited. He started picking the little bills ever so precisely out of my hand.
One Steam Ship
He kept repeating “Xie Xie” “Xie Xie” “thank you, thank you” with a huge smile on his face.
Then he grabbed a Dam and another Airplane.
I kept repeating “Xie Xie” Xie Xie” with a huge smile on my face fully knowing I was overpaying and thinking
"Take that, Commie government! I guess you can't control all the money"
Yes, this is a true story. This is an excerpt from the book I’m writing based on my trip around the world backpacking when I was 24-years old. The experiences and benefits of traveling abroad are countless and last a lifetime. To say that I loved traveling is a massive understatement. Traveling will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I can truly say that I would not be the person that I am today if it weren’t for the lessons that I learned along the way. Traveling is an opportunity like no other, and I wish everyone could experience the magic, the people, and the freedom it provides. I plan to share an excerpt now and again and would love to hear back from you. How did it make you feel? Do you have a similar story? What has been your experience traveling abroad or anywhere?