WARNING: This is gonna sound whiny and entitled, but until you have experienced expat life in Asia you can't understand the struggle. It's real, yo.
This whole debacle all started when I got roped into doing English Corner in exchange for tasty dinners. I don't have a problem doing conversation classes in exchange for food, no way. But in my experience, the deal is NEVER explained at the outset. People pretend to be your friend and then they ask you to do them a small favour and reciprocate by giving you something a little more expensive than you'd normally buy for yourself. Congratulations, you just made a business associate, not a friend. Anyway, I'm not a fan of the way Chinese people go about it, but I AM OK with the arrangement of conversation class for food. I'm a cheap date like that I guess.
This time, at the conversation class, three young women found out I would be travelling alone to the Shaolin temple over the upcoming weekend. They were shocked and valiantly determined that they would protect me and come with me. Knowing that people say things a lot and it never comes to fruition I agreed, kind of hoping they wouldn't show up. I told them when my bus was leaving and secretly hoped that it would be sold out on Saturday.
On Saturday morning, it wasn't sold out, and they bounded on the bus with big smiles and excitement. Wow, entertaining a foreigner for a whole weekend! One of them even said "This is a challenge!" Thanks, I am now no longer a person, I am a "challenge" to you.
We passed the four hour bus ride pretty much in silence, because I realized that NONE of them could understand or speak English past a "What are your hobbies?" type of interaction. Shit.
We got off the bus and they immediately shoved me onto a bus going to the temple. "SHAOLIN SHAOLIN!" They yelled at me. Through the chaos I was trying to tell them... "Buy ticket home! Now! TICKET FOR SUNDAY, HOME, BUY, NOW!" But, they didn't understand and they just pushed me onto the bus. What would a foreigner know about traveling in China that they didn't? Amiright???
So, in an attempt to be zen about the whole thing, against my better judgment, I got on the bus. They started giving me a lot of addictive snacks. "Wow, delicious thank you!" Is all I could say. If you refuse something, it's a personal insult.
We got dropped off at a small, cheap hotel, which I am totally cool with, but I really needed a shower, and our shower was LITERALLY a drip. IMPOSSIBLE to get anywhere near clean with that shower. I don't know how they managed to find this place, but already I was getting a little grumpy.
They bought me lunch, and refused any attempt I made at paying for the whole thing, or even my share. That's really sweet, thanks guys. We walked on down to the temple, all the while, taking five THOUSAND photos of me and exclaiming "We'll be best friends!" Sigh.
The Shaolin temple is just like any other temple, except it's a lot newer and has been restored a gazillion times. There was a kung fu show which was exciting and entertaining.
From there, I wanted to see the bodhidarma cave, which was about 1000 steps up a mountain. A guy from India came to China to try and spread Buddhism. He meditated for nine years in this cave until he died, amazing right?
The whole way up, two of the women were WHINING so much. How could you whine when something so amazing was waiting for you at the top! I did my best to encourage them with "YOU CAN DO IT!" etc., which made them laugh every time. I was getting sick of these people.
We managed to make it back without anybody falling down the mountain, and then they spent about an hour haggling for beaded buddhist bracelets and necklaces. I received three of them. Very nice thank you, again.
I paid for dinner. I said they could order whatever they wanted and I asked them if they wanted beers, they said yes, so I got two. In fact, they didn't really want the beers, so I drank them both and then they ordered some shitty cheap noodles for dinner, probably because they didn't want to hurt my feelings or something. Sigh, even more disappointing.
"What do you want to do tomorrow?"
"Uh, go home?"
"No we'll go to more temples!"
"Uh, we don't really have to. I'm done, I'd rather just go home."
The next day, they went back to the temples, I don't know why. So they talked the security guard into letting them use their tickets for the second day. They didn't know what to do, so they hiked to the back of the park to a trail up a mountain. I looked in my guide book and it said it was a SIX HOUR hike. We had to get back to the bus station by 1 p.m. in order to make it back to Jiaozuo for Sunday night. There was no way we were going to be able to finish this hike. I tried to tell them but they still wanted to go up the mountain. All the way, whining and complaining (the two younger ones). Finally we made it to the first peak, beyond which, was a 700 foot rope bridge and a temple that looked like freaking shangri-la. But alas, we had to go home. Then I got even more cranky, because when you see amazing things, but can't go there, you wish you had never gone half way. We would have been better off just going home in the morning like I wanted to.
But it was a good workout and I was happy I did it, really. Just disappointed that we couldn't finish it. Had I known they wanted to go up that mountain, we could have rearranged our schedule and done it on Saturday instead. Anyway, whatever, to the bus station.
At the bus station, of course, there were no more tickets to Jiaozuo. We had to go to Gongye first and THEN Jiaozuo. After that, I was done. Oh really? You didn't listen to me again and now we have to go home on crumbling dirt roads instead of a nice clean smooth toll road? Perfect.
I was silent again on the way home, and said goodbye to them as soon as we got to the station, thankful for the effort they put into trying to extract English out of me, but relieved it was over.