flwyd: (red succulent)
New addition to my travels in China: Daily Luxuries in America and China. Two lists of the little things you don't think about until they're missing.
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
A month after leaving Xiamen, my travels in China are on the web in word and image forms. There's more details I want to write and pictures I want to caption, but what's there covers most of what the mollybee and trevorbear did. Please let me know if any links are broken, words are misspelled, or the pages look stupid in your browser.
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
"You've crossed the line, bucko. Now you're dating internationally." This is inscribed in The Book [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz and I maintained of quotes, by-hand boggle games, and 88 auspicious things to do in China. It accompanies a diagram like so:
                       \.--- really complicated
                       /            portion
   Dating            te|      Not Dating
   *                 at|
International        io|
Date                 na|
                     l |.--- amorphous "it's
Monday               Da|     "complicated" zone
1-28                 te|     (on facebook)
9:30 am              Li|
Well, my four-week-long international date ended as I crossed the international date line, turning Monday night into Sunday night, which quickly became Monday morning. I got on a plane in Hong Kong around 8 on Monday morning. I spent about two hours several feet above Japan on early Monday afternoon. I left the land of ten feet above the land of the rising sun at 3 on Monday afternoon. I landed in Minneapolis (land of 10,000 ice sheets) before 11 on Monday morning. By quarter to five in the afternoon, I was having a burger and a beer at City Grille in Denver.
Time is an illusion.
Lunchtime doubly so.
Especially when you've slept like I have.
How's that?

On Saturday night I took a bus from Xiamen to Hong Kong. China has these creepy things called sleeper busses. They're half way between the stretcher busses from M*A*S*H and a regional bus. Beds are too small for big euro builds, you have to watch your stuff carefully, several dozen Chinese are coughing and smoking in the shared air space, and right when you're about to fall asleep, they stop the bus, make everyone get out, and serve a 不 好 吃 (not well eat) meal. The bus I took was nothing like that. Except the midnight meal portion. Those with money can bus overnight to Hong Kong on reclining leather seats with other folks well enough off that they can get respiratory ailments cured and smart enough to read the no smoking signs. I only remember waking up twice on the bus ride, but I got a lot of REM wakefulness with my eyes closed and song lyrics cycling through my head.

So Saturday: decent rest, but not much sleep.

At 7 AM on Sunday I passed through Chinese exit customs. Passport stamp #1. I then passed through Hong Kong customs. This is somewhat akin to going through customs when traveling from the U.S. to Puerto Rico. Except you can take a bus. Passport stamp #2.

The bus took us through the 山 of New Territories (山 is Chinese for both mountain and hill, Hong Kong's terrain fits somewhere between the two), down the Kowloon peninsula, and across to Hong Kong Island. I caught the metro to the ferry terminal and spent about an hour looking for a public toilet and following misleading signs to "Electronic Luggage Locker." Having finally found the latter (but not the former), I purchased a round-trip ferry ticket to Macau. Less than 4 hours after entering Hong Kong, I went through the exit process. Passport stamp #3. An hour later, I passed through Macau customs. This is somewhat akin to going through customs when traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands from Puerto Rico. Except the boat takes an hour. Passport stamp #4.

For the next six hours I wandered around Macau, admiring the yellow building with wraparound balconies, windy streets, and vendors selling breadlike products. There's lots to like about Chinese cuisine, but they don't really have bread down. The ethnic minorities have some tasty bread dishes (try a Naxi banana pancake) and the Muslim Chinese (physically indistinguishable from other Han except for the headgear) know how to make good breads, but on the whole, the last month didn't feature a lot of cooked non-rice flour. Ah, but the Portuguese know bread. I ate a curry fish roll, a green onion "pancake" (more like pan-fried bread circle), a beef curry and savory salad dressing crepe, and a bunch of connected round balls cooked on a waffle iron. Oh, and a mango smoothie.

Aside from tasty bread products, Macau has some good churches, a 500-year-old Chinese temple (maintained and currently used), and a bunch of hotels, casinos, and boutiques. It's billed as The Las Vegas of the East, but it's got some authentic old buildings. And typhoons instead of dust storms. If you're in that part of the world and any of that appeals to you, it's worth a short visit. Know, though, that stuff is significantly less expensive in China, so if your goal is to pick up clothes and gifts on the cheap, cross into the mainland. If your goal is to blow a lot of cash, Macao and its casinos and Hong Kong with its entertainment and shopping are good bets.

At six I passed through Macau customs at the ferry terminal. Passport stamp #5. After half an hour waiting on the ferry, they announced the boat had another problem, so we all migrated to a new one. In the intervening time, the seas in the Pearl River delta had picked up, so somewhere around the halfway mark, a hundred people started vomiting in unison. Now that is entertaining cacophony. I only felt slightly queasy and all the bread in my stomach sat firm. Maybe the others had fancy casino lunches instead of saying om nom nom nom out loud while eating US$1 clumps of carbs. Suckers.

By 8 I had cleared Hong Kong customs for the second time in 13 hours. Passport stamp #3. I reclaimed my luggage and decided to follow Lonely Planet's suggestion for ethnic food in SoHo for dinner. After riding the longest escalator in the world several stops further than I'd intended and wandering around looking for an alley with good Thai, I settled on a good Vietnamese place. A combination of the $ currency symbol instead of 元 and the menu's entree prices after a month of great Chinese food for 10 to 35 yuan reminded me that I wasn't really in China any more, but Chinatown organized by the Brits.

With an early morning flight, I didn't want to spend HK$150 or more on a bed without an alarm clock, so I walked along the tip of Kowloon, photographing the Hong Kong skyline and then walked up Nathan Rd in search of a night club. Quintessential Hong Kong moment: six Asians in a rock band ended their set with a very good rendition of Play That Funky Music White Boy. Then the DJ started mixing (poorly) disco and other 70s hits. Then another band of four or five Asians (one might have been Filipino or Brazilian) took the stage and played a really bad version of Sweet Home Alabama.

The Lynyrd Skynyrd Rule: You're not allowed to play Sweet Home Alabama unless you've lived in or visited Alabama and enjoyed the experience.

The place was called All Night Long, but I didn't want to listen to bad versions of American songs of already questionable quality, so I decided to see what else was shaking in the New York of the east. At 2:30 on a Monday morning, the answer is apparently "not much." Maybe there are more all-night clubs on the Island. Or maybe they take Sunday nights easy. But the signs on sky scrapers had been turned off, the taxis were thinner, and a higher percentage of the open bars had pictures of scantily clad girls on their signs.

I found an open entrance to Kowloon Park, where my international date had begun four Mondays before. I hear New York's Central Park is a pretty dangerous place to be at 3:30 in the morning, but in Kowloon Park it's a very peaceful time to sit by a pool and reflect on a four-week date. I saw two other people walk through the gate at about the same time I did. I saw three security guards, one of whom was napping. I took a picture of some sleeping parrots. The only other folks awake were a flock of about 50 flamingos having a late night flamingathering.

So Sunday: lots of relaxation, but no sleep.

I took the 4:10 bus to Hong Kong International Airport, for some reason chiding myself for falling asleep for a few minutes and missing the quiet city scenery. You can't really check in at HKG before 6 AM, but I felt my time with the city was complete. I quickly went through security (5th of 7th airport not to notice or care about the tube of toothpaste in my carry-on bag) and Hong Kong departures. Passport stamp #7. My sleep plan worked, and I fell asleep shortly after the Pacific ocean got dark, waking up above a cloudy morning. I told three people at U.S. customs that I'm a { computer scientist, software engineer, computer programmer }, though I'm not sure how the answer would affect anything. Would they scan my bags if I said "second assistant pig-keeper?" What about "I don't work, that's why I was traveling in China, where life is cheap?" Passport stamp #8.

Back in Denver, I saw about six guys with beards as I got off the plane. It's good to be back in an environment where, on the off chance someone were to ask "Is your beard real," I can come up with a suitable comeback. I've never seen white folks yell out "¡Hola!" and then giggle whenever they see a Hispanic person walk down the street, but I'll accept bilingual public signs in my language in exchange for amusing locals with my greeting word.

I don't usually get hit by jet lag very bad. It's 10:30 PM local time and I'm fairly alert, but will probably get some good sleep soon, even though it's mid-afternoon China time. I won't go in to work until Wednesday, though, giving me a day to unpack, read mail, and loaf about in my hammock.

So Monday: perhaps 8 hours of napping, followed by a good night of sleep. But it is a 39 hour day.

China Update #5

Thursday, February 21st, 2008 08:40 am
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
Ahhhhhhh. We've been home in Xiamen since Saturday night and it's been quite relaxing. On Sunday we wrapped up our tiring three weeks on the road with a luxurious day at Ri Yue Gu hot springs (another AAAA-rated Chinese tourist site). For less than US$30 we soaked in water infused with lavender, rose petals, lemongrass, several kinds of tea, wine, beer, ginger, and curry. (Not all at once, natch.) I discovered a new Trevor Superpower: evacuating Chinese from pools. When they saw the big laowai with hair all over his face, chest, and legs get in the pool and then squeeze the air bubble out of his baggy swim trunks they would exit as soon as they felt it would be polite. Perhaps two or three people got in a pool while we were already immersed. Maybe they think chest hair is a water-borne contagious disease. But we didn't mind the luxurious solitude. To complete the experience, we spent an hour soaking in a special pool full of Turkish hot springs fish. They think dead human skin is hau chi (good eats), and tickle visitors mercilesly in pursuit of such morsels. I kept my feet out of water or well-guarded, but the rest of me served as a tasty platter. The fish didn't seem keen on my chest hair either.

[livejournal.com profile] mollybzz is back teaching school this week. Her schedule is pretty gruelling; she gets up at 6:15 to catch the bus to the mainland. She teaches a few classes each day and takes an hour-and-a-half nap in her on-campus apartment. When she's not done early, she takes the bus back, returning home at 6:30. Add dinner and there's not much time or energy for personal improvement tasks like learning Chinese. I joined this schedule on Tuesday, talking about myself and my interests in English Comprehension class. Then after lunch and nap, I used the period designated for computer class (for which there were not yet any computers) to teach a U.S. geography lesson. The night before I'd drawn on paper a fairly impressive U.S. outline from memory. Armed with a print out, I struggled a little to get the right proportions in chalk, but it proved quite serviceable. I asked the students to name cities and universities they'd heard of. The first was San Francisco and I drew an enlargement of the bay with the city, Berkeley, and Stanford. We also covered Boston, NYC, Washington DC and State, Miami, Disneyworld, Austin, Houston ("Does anyone know another city in Texas? What team does Yao Ming play for? Yes, the Rockets. What city are the Rockets in? Yes, Houston..."), Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, LA, Yellowstone, the Mississippi/Missouri river, and Boulder. In the university/attraction color I wrote "Hollywood" under LA and "Molly's woods" in Northern California.

The rest of my time in Xiamen has been fairly laid back. I walked around Xiamen University, encountering a woman who recognized me from the fish pond. She posited that Chinese people think my beard makes me look like Karl Marx. When I asked at school, the kids came up with "Osama" and "Saddam." To be fair, Americans usually come up with those two before Marx too. Her dad took a picture of us by the lake and then pulled out a battery-operated digital photo printer, which was a nice exchange. I should've kept count of the number of pictures I've been in with random Chinese people. Yesterday a guy was very excited to see me and insisted he take a picture of me standing next to his girlfriend. Perhaps the next time I see a Chinese tour group at a national park I should run up and say "Ni hau" and motion to them, my camera, and a fellow traveler and say "Take picture girlfriend" very excitedly. I don't mind the photo requests, though. And I usually don't mind the folks who call out "Hello!" and then giggle when I say "Hello" in return (even though it's kind of like shouting "Hola!" and then laughing every time a person who looks Hispanic walks by). I've taken over 1100 pictures of Chinese mountains, buildings, signs, vehicles, and people, so the least I can do is give back my unusual personal presentation. I'm just a walking tourist attraction.

Xiamenis a pretty diverse city. It's an island across from Taiwan (and has flowed over to the mainland). As a big city in Fujian with a natural port, it's undergone a lot of growth lately. Skyscrapers are done in six months. Particulate matter from autos, busses, and factories adds to the coastal haze. Migrants from elsewhere in China seek their own slice of high income (and setting up some great restaurants as a side effect; we ate some very tasty Xinjiang-style food last night). But there's still lots of charm. Maybe its time as an opium war concession port brought some playful sensibilities. While I only saw a statue or two in Yunnan and Guilin, Xiamen is full of statues of people and books and lightbulbs and animals. There's a lovely lake on the university campus and another lake by the main city park. (The latter will be packed with people tonight, enjoying the glowing structures, fireworks, and human chaos for Lantern Festival.) Gulang Yu is a small island off the main island on which
automobiles are not allowed. It's got some nice walks among old European-style buildings, piano music playing from speakers in the park and along the sea walk, and a rediculous fee to walk to the highest point on the island. Quaint, but touristy.

I'll bus back to Hong Kong this weekend and then I fly home on Monday. It's been a great vacation; I'm very grateful that I have the luxury of taking a month without pay to fly across the Pacific Ocean and have adventures in The Middle Kingdom. If you need to do anything auspicious, there's a lunar eclipse tonight at 8:01 MST. Have a happy Lantern Festival and eat a tasty meal. You only have so many days left, you know.

China Update #4

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008 09:48 pm
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
The microscopic demons of Xishugangbanna invaded the gastralaowai systems and sat around in the lower bowel regions muttering things about the small bumps and numerous turns of the Yunnan Expressway First Grade Freeway. The road is something akin to driving from Golden to Glenwood Springs and then immediately driving back. Except with ten times as many tunnels. And with a sign that instructs "Elephant Passage Don't Blow." And toll booths at each city. We spent an hour going from the tool booth at the entrance of one city to the toll booth at the exit of that city. Unfortunately, the driver was in the blowing lane the whole way. But The Unmatchable Match was on the bus's VCD player. I knew it would be a good movie when it opened with a tow truck dropping a flaming police van off a cliff.

The next day we spent three hours in an Indian restaurant drinking sprite, chai, and banana lassi and eating vegetable curry and tandoori chicken in small increments whilst assessing our digestive abilities. We then walked thee stores up and spent 45 minutes listening to The Cranberries in a fruit drink shop before buying some fruit and big bowls of ramen for the next stage of our journey.

Two friends with a soft sleeper room to themselves is the most enjoyable way to travel, not just in China, but in the world. We cooked ramen, played boggle by hand, watched lovely karst scenery slip by, and slept better than the previous night's hostel while covering the distance from Kunming to Guilin in an evening, a night, and a morning, all 355 Yuan each (that is, transportation and lodging for less than US $50). I wish American rail travel was this good.

Today we met a guy who, in good English, complimented me on my beard. We proceeded to learn that he owns a tea shop, so we sampled the osmanthus (a local speciality), molihua (he claimed Guangxi produces the best in the nation) and oolong with ginseng. For the second time we spent too much on tea, but for the second time it was to nice people. He then lead us to the cheap (relative) place to buy river ticket cruises and helped translate the situation. I'm glad to get some kilometerage out of my fuzz face.

Have a happy Valentine's day and buy a red tassel for your sweetie.

China Update #3

Sunday, February 10th, 2008 05:20 pm
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
One area in which America has distinguished herself is public safety. Case in point: on July 4th, every city has well-organized safety-first fireworks displays. Some people buy legal or illegal fireworks and set them off on their own, but safety precautions are usually followed. For instance, adults set off anything dangerous, kids just get to wave sparklers around. But in China? Five-year-olds are handed Roman candles to fire over the heads of chaotic traffic. And when they get bored with that, they chase each other around with them. American New Years' celebrations are typically marked with a few hours of private self-destructive behavior and a short period of public nuisance. Chinese New Years' celebrations are an entire night of public nuisance followed by several days of "Oh hey, we found this pile of loud firecrackers lying around. Let's set them off in the middle of the street."

Xishuangbanna is, as expected, warm, humid, and full of fruits. We ate two fruits [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz had never encountered before. (Molly afficcionados will be impressed by this occurrence.) We then wandered around the local botanic gardens and soaked in a 24-hour hot spring pool. The next day we took a bumpy two hour bus to Damenglong, a dusty rural village in a Dai minority area. After a rough night of gastronomic revolt, we visited some Hinayana temples during cleaning time. We taught a monk some English, were fed by his mother, ate two mandarins from the temple offering, helped sort rice and fruit from the swap-meet/temple-offering event, and chatted with part of a large family living in a few shacks among the rice paddies.

Also in China? The bus driver stops to buy a lighter because he lost his last one after smoking a cigarette on the bus and he wants another. Molly paid him for the ride to Xiaojie (to which he said he'd take us), even though he took us all the way back to Jinghong saying "Xiaojie is no fun."

Tomorrow we bus to Kunming and will then take a train to Nanning, Guangxi. From there, we head to Guilin, picturesque karst capital of China.

I hope you're enjoying the Year of the Rat. If you've done anything awesome, leave a comment and tell me about it!

China Update #2

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008 11:04 am
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
If you ever find yourself in Lijiang, Yunnan, China, make sure to stay with Mama Naxi. The Chinese version of an Italian grandmother takes care of all the awesome native-and-adopted-English-speaking backpackers, feeding us family style dinners for 10 yuan (a buck and a half), banana pancakes (flatbread + banana = yum), and organizes travel tickets all over China and mini busses to Tiger Leaping Gorge. If you need a reason to be in Lijiang and Mama Naxi isn't sufficient motivation, do an image search for Tiger Leaping Gorge. Then you'll have a reason to come.

When you come to Lijiang, be sure to take a side trip to Shuhe. Like Lijiang, the streets are cobbled, and the rooves are fanciful. But Shuhe's streets are wider, their canals bubblier, their shop owners more laid back. In all, it's a more photogenic city. And it's an Oficial AAAA Chinese Tourist Site. American measurements usually only go up to AAA, but China's undergone immense growth in the last few decades, so they'va had to import some additional As from Africa.

Tomorrow night (Chinese New Year), we fly to je ne sais pas banana pancake (Xishuangbanna), a jungle region in southern Yunnan which has warm weather, diverse people, and lots of fruits for us to devour.

China Update #1

Friday, February 1st, 2008 08:23 pm
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
nuts to the shift key, the keyboard in this guesthouse doesn't like me.

i met [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz before noon in Kowloon five days after the full moon. Swoon, I'm in china! we wandered around hong kong, eating tasty morsels like curry beef donut, Macanese dishes, and fresh fruits from roadside stands (supervised by cats).

i hear there's a big blizzard all over china. we discovered the impact of this when we arrived at the shenzhen and then guangzhou train stations. thousands of chinese waiting patiently for canceled trains. fortunately for affluent tourists like us, China southern airways has a ticket office open 24 hours a day a few blocks from the southeast corner of the trainstation in guangzhou. 850 yuan and a night's sleep later and we were on a plane to kunming, capital of yunan province.

kunming lacked the chaos, cold rain, and general getmeoutahere feeling of canton. instead, it had a colorful market selling sweets and crucified ducks, across-the-bridge noodles, and pleasant busrides through streets towering with sky scrapers and trendy shops. we climbed Xi Shan to the south of town, purchasing boiled eggs and radishes held like ice cream cones sold by peasants with cute kids along the side of the trail. We had dinner full of delectible vegetable morsels we didn't recognize in a restaurant the size of a garage, tucked away on the hill. We then paid too much for taxi rides on the principle that they knew where this Dragon Gate was. Carved into the hillside are caves housing statues of Taoist deities. we then walked down through the miniature stone forest.

i've been fighting a cold the last two days, but that didn't stop me from wandering through old Dali today. It's the right mix of "preserve the quaint" and authentic locals selling wares. we bought chops (stones to stamp one's chinese characters with), countless tasty morsels for two kuai (about 25 cents, I think), and a few items not too heavy to cary for the next several weeks. The highlight of the day, though, was bicycling through rice paddies to Erhai Hu, a lovely lake surrounded by peasant hamlets. It would be easy to visit China and think it's full of cities and cars and shops like the western world we're used to, but a trip past women bent at the waist in the fields, through winding streets wide enough for a minibus to pass a scooter, and around corners where little kids shout "hello," turn and run, and then cutely throw rocks at the tall hairy white people shows a side of china that's got more of a foot in its own past than what it's got in the modern world.

Tomorrow we take a bus to Lijiang, which will probably be rather nippy, but hopefully not as snowed in as the center of the country. If Tiger Leaping Gorge isn't snowed in, we'll hike that soon.

happy new year, and may the rat bring you luck!
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
My alarm goes of in two and a half hours (which is not a 90-minute multiple, unfortunately). I hope you all have a fantastic new year!
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