Viewer Poll

So, I don't know who even reads this puppy anymore, but thought I'd poll the 'crowd' regardless....

Would it be useful/helpful for you to know the most recent post I've updated?

Since I'm mostly backposting anyway, I'd hate for you to have to go searching to check... I dunno. Just a thought. If so, leave me a comment and let me know.


A Note to the Readership

So, slowly, I'm going to get around to filling in the many extensive gaps in this here storyline of my trip. But, mostly for my own sanity when I look back at this, I'd prefer to keep the tale in chronological order...

"Oh NO," you say, "then I will have to search for the posts I have not read!"

Never fear, fearless adventurers... I've come up with an excessively complex and wonderful organizational system to keep things clear, if not actually convenient.

Entries marked with a single asterisk (*) are new, or edited significantly enough that they ought to count as new. Entries marked with double asterisks (**) are old, but have been updated with active links to photos, for your viewing pleasure.

The photos are actually more likely to go up before I get around to finishing the posts, so if you have a craving to just see some photos with only minimal storytelling to go with, feel free to browse over @ my flickr account. This is the best place to start, if you're interested, as it serves as a Table of Contents to my trip photos, and links to all my other photos as I get them up.

Hope you enjoy - I certainly enjoyed the trip, and it seems to have my usual rosy touch in the retelling, give or take a rant or two for added colour, of course. Cheerio, my dears.


PS. It amuses me that 'readership' reminds me of the word 'mothership'. Thought I'd mention.


fin. (part 1)

I am back in Ottawa. I am stupidly tired. I am, however, still running on Beijing/China time, and doing mental time conversions, thinking that Van is -15 hrs from me. I am also running on China temperatures, so when the thermostat says 26C in my house, I am wearing long pants and a light fleece. I have so much to say and so little time to say it.

I have a very long to-do-list and very little time to do it in.

And I spent all of today either sleeping or talking to my mom. It was good times. But tomorrow... tomorrow, the old nose-to-grindstone thing starts up. I promise I'll finish this eventually, and the photos will come soon (there will be a LOT of 'making with the Flickr', trust me). But sleep, sweet sleep, calls first. G'nite dear kittens, it's been a beautiful adventure, and no matter my rants along the way, I say only one thing, for now:

I want to go back. :)


Suzhou - Day 4 - Like a Fourier Transform

(just a short post, me hopes)
I walked past a sex shop today, and very nearly didn't notice it. The window display had an absolutely gorgeous display of white lilies. Next to a mannequin dressed in an outfit made solely of leather straps and chains.
I don't know that I can explain why, but the window display made me quite giddy, if only for the fact that it's a sex shop with lilies. Lots of lilies. But, I suppose, when it comes down to it, what I really like is that it's this glorious superposition of entirely disparate things.
I think that that might be what I like most about China -- all the things I've seen so far keep me in awe, tis true -- but what gets me most, hands down, is something overall about this place. Something about it being a superposition of all things, so distinct, so unlike one another, yet so ... consistent. Come to think of it, this seems to describe the people I like most too, but that's a story for another day.
But, it's like walking down a small cobblestone road, along the banks of a canal, with old style small roofed buildings all around you, with a man pushing a small wheelbarrow of watermelon... Next to a guy in a business suit, riding an electric bike, talking on his cellphone. It's huge commercial buildings with name-brand fashions alongside a buddhist temple. It's street stalls with food being sold next to a restaurant with waitstaff in elegant eveningwear. It's the fact that a narrow alleyway feels as natural as an 8 lane wide street.
I can't really do it justice in description, but suffice it to say, the constant superposition of things makes me giddy. =)
PS. Speaking of sex shops, actually, there's one on my way to breakfast whose sign still cracks me up every day. It reads, underneath the large heading "ADULT" two other things in English (I can't read the Chinese... not really part of standard curriculum vocabulary, you know): "Joy gift" and "happily sex". Yeah, translation never quite carries the way it sounds in the original language, but I quite like how that last one turned out. =)


"These are not the foreign tourists you're looking for" - a star wars theme post

Well, after nearly 7 weeks in China, I admit, there are certain things I'm beginning to look
fwd to about coming home... Well, not things, per se, but more... routine, home, that sort
of thing. I'm a sucker for routine, really, the kind where you know where you'll be living
tomorrow, that you can get a comfortable breakfast every day, and not having to *always* ask
where you are and how to get places... yeah, I admit, I'm looking forward to that.
I'd also be looking forward to cooler weather except that I hear from my mom that Ottawa's
being its usual humid icky self and feeling like 40C with the humidity, so while it won't be
worse than it is here, it certainly isn't getting much better. Did I mention that I love and
will miss terribly Vancouver's weather? We shall see how Halifax treats me, I suppose, soon
enough. =)
In other news, Garrett and I have decided on a couple of good phrases to sum up this trip,
and one of them seems appropriate for discussion today, for no particular reason other than
I damn well feel like it.
"These are not the foreign tourists you're looking for..." (use appropriate Jedi hand
motions, of course)
Man, I wish I had Jedi powers - perhaps that could also fix the subtitles to the copy of
episode3 they have at the hostel here, which we realized about 5 minutes into wandering into
the lounge, was subtitled with the lines from the movie The Piano. It was rather interesting
seeing Yoda say things like "For the love of Barbara Allen" and "do you play the piano?",
nevermind Anakin's line (roughly translated in my broken mandarin) "you're very pretty"
being subtitled with something about the cost of land ownership.
Oh, and better yet, the Piano is a shorter film. So the subtitles loop. Anakin gets all
burned up shouting about piano keys again too. It's pretty hilarious, actually.
Anyway, this is all a large detour from my point - I wish I had Jedi powers. That might stop
us from getting constantly hassled everywhere we go: "do you want to go here? do you want to
buy this? do you have a hotel room? eat here! buy a map! bamboo boat? want to rent a
Egads, those last two were pretty much all we heard for 7 days in Yangshuo. "Bamboo boat!
Bicycle! Bicycle!" It gets old REALLY fast, let me tell you, and no one seems to get
deterred when you say "Bu yao" (I don't want), or even when you say things like "Wo yi jing
you le" (I already have one). Some people are nice enough about it, express a little
surprise that I speak decent mandarin, laugh, and move on. Fine, that's all well and good. I
have no problems with you trying to advertise a product or service. But some people don't
know when to give up.
WE ARE NOT THE FOREIGN TOURISTS YOU ARE LOOKING FOR. You are not going to make a sale today.
I'm usually pretty tolerant of it, and G and I have figured out that this might be largely
because I can understand the language, so at least I can get more out of the respective
seller than their two phrases of the English language -- at least I can appreciate the deal
they offer, and legitimately turn it down or not. I get when they explain things, like the
woman who followed us for 20 minutes on a bicycle -- I got that we didn't have to pay her
anything; rather she operated on commission, to try and get us to go to see the Banyan tree
LOOKING FOR. Following us on a bicycle for many kms will not help you.
Plus, they don't quite know how stubborn I am. Friends of mine from high school may recall a
certain incident where I stubbornly refused to go see star wars ep1, I think not for any
particular reason, but more because everyone was pushing me to do so.
I never said I was ALWAYS reasonable. Just most of the time. Somethings just push my buttons
though, and once you hit the stubborn switch, there ain't no going back. Unless there's
something inherently practical about it, I suppose. Practicality does tend to win, no matter
my stubborn inclinations.
Anyway... ramble ramble... Other aspects of travelling here, while looking conspicuously
foreign (read: white), occasionally include fun with discriminatory pricing, but, for the
most part, that doesn't bug me too too much, since tourist pricing is necessarily a rip in
any country... But every so often, someone pushes that idea too far too.
Last night, G and I had dinner at a little place just around the corner, nothing
spectacular, but reasonable enough -- some fried green veg, some bamboo and pork, some rice,
some tea. But while we sat and ate, some guy sits down at the next table and starts going on
and on about how foreigners should be paying more than chinese nationals - and not just
voicing a little wee opinion, but being really asinine about the whole business, his only
real fact in the whole lot being that the US dollar is worth a lot more than the chinese
dollar (though his numbers could use some tweaking too, his Y40 = $1-2 USD is a far reaching
exaggeration, with the approximate conversion these days being about 6:1=yuan:CDN$). I can't
explain it, exactly, but his attitude towards the whole thing just rubbed me the wrong way -
I held off on translating the rant for G til we'd left the restaurant, I admit, since I
figured that if the guy was enough of an ass to tick me off, me being the good cop of the
two of us, G was hardly going to be one to smile and nod about it. The only good side of the
whole business, though, was that it made me like the old man who owned the restaurant more.
As the ass went on with his rant about how he shouldn't have to pay what we pay, the
restauranteur responded with such comments as "that's a Y4 beer - he pays Y4 for it, and so
do you", and when we paid, was nice enough to break down the bill dish by dish and comment
that he wasn't overcharging us - that everyone pays the same.
Granted, I don't know that he'd necessarily have been as nice about it if he hadn't known in
advance that I spoke chinese, and thus, likely understood the entire debate (the ass reacted
sort of funny when he realized I spoke mandarin - seemed a bit taken aback by it...
jackass). But I'd like to think that he was just a decent sort of character, with a
reasonable sense of fairness to him. I like to think the best of people, even though I'm not
always the most trusting sort, until circumstances make me cynical about them.
I think I'll leave off there today - I know I haven't written much in a while; I've been
catching up on a bit of a backlog on paper, but mostly, I've just been living more than
writing, which I think is perhaps good for the soul. =)
I leave you with the following two surreal notes, however;
(1) today, I bought a hanging painting/wall scroll... from a man hooked up to an IV drip at
the back of his little store. It was a little weird.
(2) yesterday, during lunch, I played translator, as usual, but this time not for Garrett.
Rather, I helped a random chinese guy write an English text message to his girlfriend. 'Why
haven't you called?''I'm thinking of you' etc. etc. He'd write in Chinese, I'd clarify what
he meant, and I'd write on his cell phone. I felt like a very unsophisticated Cyrano, as it
were, except for the fact that I wasn't pining over his girlfriend... Minor plot snag, I
suppose. All told, it was quite the odd experience, but he was really quite thankful, and
gave us his phone number if ever we need help while we're in China.
And on that note, I say again what I've said before -- damn, I'm REALLY glad I speak the
language, even if it is really broken and requires me to often ask "what do you mean by
that?"... Still, it'd be a very very different experience without it, and hopefully, by the
next time I come back this ways (I've still got the whole West of china saved for trip #2 -
and yes, I'm quite serious about that), I'll be reasonably fluent, and be able to read a
little more too. This illiteracy kick of mine drives me crazy at times.

Hangzhou - Day 7 - Blood, Sweat, but no Tears = Awesome

A good day, one of many recent such experiences, rewarding and new.

The Adventures of Complexion Boy and Language Girl are in hiatus, as Garrett and I part ways for the rest of the trip, at least in principle (there being only one hostel in Suzhou means we will likely run into each other in a few days anyway, but, 'in principle...'). Garrett left for Ningbo (����) today, enroute to Putuoshan (����ɽ), while I stick around in Hangzhou (����) for a few days longer, tying up loose ends and seeing a few more things.

In much the same way I got nervous butterflies before G and I first left the city on our own (for adventures around Guilin (����) and area), I left the hostel this morning a bit a jitters. I'd fallen asleep last night unsure of my plans today - out of town daytrip or musical instrument shopping being the options - and only settled on my final decision as I walked out the door. Really, what settled it was that no one at the hostel knew where else I could look for the erhu (����), the two stringed gorgeous piece of chinese musical instrument, that I wanted, as I'd already ruled out the fancy-looking, but snake-skin and ugly and tourist-oriented, ones I'd previously found in the area.

So, off to Anji (����), to find me some bamboo. It's funny; I wouldn't say I was nervous about getting lost or anything -- that fear seems to have dissipated with the sheer number of out of town trips ("adventures", often) that G and I have been on. After all, our trip together didn't faze me at all, despite my saying to G in the morning, and I quote, "so, just so you know, after we get off the bus in Pingyao (ƿҤ), I have absolutely no idea where or how we go next."

It's just that, despite being the one with all the research in my head for this trip, and despite being the one with the awesome language powers of awesomeness ("uhm, what do you mean by that?"), there's something more nervewracking about the idea of being dropped off by a bus at the side of the road, at a highway onramp and told to hail another random passing bus, WHEN TRAVELLING SOLO (oh, I suppose I haven't told you folk about those adventures yet, but suffice it to say that it took us FIVE different buses to get to our destination yesterday, and FOUR coming back... NOT even the same 4. sigh).

So, I was a little nervous going into another out-of-town trip that I basically had the first stop on my route planned out, and absolutely no information other than "I'm looking for some sort of large bamboo forest... Could you help me out?"

HOWEVER, that being said, it worked out beautifully, all told, and makes for an unbelievably and almost stupidly self-satisfied me.

So, I take off reasonably early (only around 8:30-9) for the north bus station, and take a long-distance express bus (���) to Anji (more about Zhejiang (�㽭) province's buses later -- a big contrast to everything else we've seen). Get there around 11, have a little lunch at the bus station for super cheap (bonus seaweed soup of goodness), and then ask the restaurant folk how to see some bamboo.

Literally, that's about what I asked. "I'd like to see some bamboo. A forest, maybe?" You see, I knew that somewhere near Anji was the largest bamboo forest preserve in China (apparently where they'd also filmed some of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, if you're into that sort of thing - not a movie high on my list, rant rant), but that was basically it. No name, no town, no anything.

They direct me somewheres out front of the bus station, and I steer clear of all the cabs and pedicabs, and find myself at a loss. I ask at another restaurant, and she says I have to take a "medium" bus to get there (�а�). Still confused, I ask at the bus station, and the ticket lady is singularly unhelpful, but directs me to the bathroom (which, ps., was definitely in need of better plumbing). I notice in my wandering a tourist/tour booking building, and wander in. It seems no one is in. At all. So, I leaf freely through their selection of pamphlets and pick, nearly at random, a destination: The Big Bamboo Sea (����), thinking that 'big' seems like a good way to see a pretty awesome bamboo spot.

I finally find someone, travel-agent-esque, and ask, through multiple questions, how to get to this sea of bamboo -- apparently I take this bus from inside the bus station, but buy a ticket ON the bus, not at the ticket window (hence why the ticket lady was shooing me off). I wander inside again, back through the area that's supposed to normally be 'tickets only', and find a big orange public-transit looking bus (#205, if you were wondering) that has my destination on it -- I ask again, and yay, hurrah, after some waiting, we're off (and for only Y4, no less!)

The conductor-lady is wonderfully helpful, and tells me to get off the bus at the last stop, where I have to change buses, but, wonderfully enough, don't have to pay again (this is very NEW to me). Getting off the bus, I'm a little sketched out by the empty white minibus I'm supposed to get into, and definitely pointed at it and asked her again, "you mean, this one?" - thankfully, the conductor of that one, a sweet and very skinny old chinese man came over, and all problems were solved. Again, some small amount of waiting, and we're off! I figure out where and when the last bus leaves to go home, having learned an important lesson from the TWO last buses G and I missed, and I wander into the bamboo sea.

More accurately, I scramble through the chinese tour group sea, and finally get to some paths through the bamboo. Gorgeous stuff, as always, and going backwards through the paths, I find that I manage to avoid more of the tourist hordes... Lots of pretty to be seen.

Only two troubles.

One, it is afternoon now. It is 37 degrees out. It is sunny. I am sweating BUCKETS. Like dripping freaking sweating, bandana now being used as facecloth/sweat-absorber kind of sweating.

So, why not flee to the gorgeous shade of the bamboo woods, you ask?

This brings me to, Two, freaking mosquitoes. HORDES OF FREAKING MOSQUITOES. As I tend to be a tasty enough individual that I seem be the only one to get eaten alive even when there's only one moustique and 6 other people in a room, HORDES = BAD.

Hordes = killing lots of mosquitoes, splattering my blood and probably others in little star-patterns all over my legs, and itching like there's no tomorrow. Wishing I'd been smart enough to bring bug spray to the WOODS. I somehow forgot that bamboo FOREST still means FOREST still means BUGS.

Anyway, so, I didn't really get to enjoy the woods so much, between the heat in the sun, and the "OMG I can't stop moving for even a second or I'll be eaten alive" in the shade (I'm not even exaggerating one bit. I swear), but it was pretty while it lasted, and mostly just very rewarding, the getting-there-all-on-my-own.

Anyway, to top off my wonderful day, I had dinner at an old fave, a noodle place in the neighbourhood that does GREAT soup, and then saw a SPECTACULAR sunset reflecting off the West Lake waters.

And, as an unexpected bonus, I even got my long-awaited scooter-ride, though the scooters in this city are all not only electric, but have bike-pedals, being sort of a bike-scooter hybrid. Scooter in appearance/design, electric bike in practice. I didn't get to drive, though, which is sad, and I did have to fend off the somewhat over-enthusiastic "oh you speak english, and understand when I say things in chinese! what are you doing tomorrow? can we hang out? I'm free. I'll walk you home." reaction of the guy I met on the bridge at West Lake to get it. :P But, that's the price I seem to pay for scootering. So be it.

Indie me begins here, I say. AVAST. YARRRRRRRR. =)


Hangzhou - Things and Thoughts

Funny, this is the first time in a while that I've really had a craving to blog, despite the fact that the past few days haven't been especially eventful in any touristy sense.

However, feed the craving, I say...

I'm in Hangzhou now, and it's a lovely place -- in fact, despite the rain, I've been loving the weather, as it's been relatively cool, which makes 6hours of walking bearable, nay, wonderful, along the shores of a willow-lined lake, lotus-blossoms everywhere. Worlds of pretty, indeed, though I admit, I wish the mugginess would lift just enough that I could see the opposite shore now and again, hm...

One of the campuses for Zhejiang University is right nearby, and I think, for the first time, I may just have found a uni campus that can compete with UBC in terms of gorgeousness. I hear SFU has a joint compsci degree with said uni, and am admittedly tempted by the possibility, despite having no interest in a compsci degree (sorry my sweet wonderful compsci friends -- just not my kettle of fish, at all).

Anyway, spent the whole day at the lakeside today, and loved every minute -- well, okay, exaggeration perhaps. Some less perfect moments included:

- lunch, where we were first told that they were out of the pumpkin biscuit things I wanted to try (fine, whatever), then told in 10 minutes that they were out of the two kinds of noodles we'd ordered (though ALMOST everything else was still available... we do pick well, I know), and then told in another 10 min that they were out of noodles ALTOGETHER. At this point, we left, and found another place to eat, where we got freshly made noodles in about 5 minutes or so. Much better. At least the folk at the first place were apologetic enough, though, and our waiter even sent someone else back to our table to tell us the bad news the third time around -- I think he was a bit worried about our reaction (and rightly so). This was still a vast improvement over the place in Yangshuo, who waited 40 minutes to tell us that we weren't going to get the main dish we'd ordered, though we could still have the veggies, 40 minutes after the fact, and NOT A SINGLE APOLOGY for this snafu. Fools. We were thoroughly unimpressed with that place.

- the guy who asked me for change - now, I should note, this is a very common occurence in China, and I've yet to fully piece together my opinions on the matter (that post is coming, eventually, I promise), but this one was more 'interesting' than the usual, from a moral dilemna/philosophical debate perspective. The guy began by telling his story, unusual, certainly, and more so, because his story, apparently, is that he stole someone's bag at some point (stole all of Y5, he says), got caught by the police, and ended up in jail for 6 months. He apparently was just released yesterday, and has since then, only had two buns to eat. Hence, the asking for change for food. Now, first, you might notice that I say 'apparently' a lot, since I'm rather cynical of most stories I get (unfortunate, really - I don't like things that make me cynical). But more than that, it brought up an interesting idea, morally speaking, of who is more 'deserving' of assistance, shall we say bluntly.... While I like the idea of forgiveness, of second chances, in principle, I am still less inclined to be sympathetic to situations brought on by oneself - nevermind the able-bodied vs. elderly or crippled debate, which needn't even enter the picture here. I don't know - I find it hard to put into words, and I wonder whether it is more valuable to help someone 'able', in the hopes that they will return to being a fully-contributing member of society, or someone less-so, who has no options available to them, but also will never be able to give back in quite the same manner. Evolutionary survival of the fittest, or a society that can care for the weak, one that can keep the monsters out, as someone once said.

I don't really have an answer yet, but I'm working on it. Not on an answer, per se, but simply on piecing together where I stand, or at least where I wobble. =) You know, what'll break principle and where the grey lines are. Important things to think about.

Anyway, I should get going, get some sleep, as tomorrow I think I want to do a little day trip out of town, which means up early early, methinks. However, I leave you with my incomplete stories to ponder, as always, including this tidbit: Someone said to me this morning, "I won't leave without saying goodbye", and true to dramatic movie form, that's of course the only time it doesn't happen. Boo. I wouldn't even have minded in the least, I think, as dinner and Little Mermaid lyrics late at night were quite enough for me, but with a cheesy statement like that, kitten, one ought to follow through. Silly of me, I know, especially with a youngling like that, but... You know. Me. Cheesy. Goodness me. =P =)



Let's see if third time's the charm, shall we, as my previous computer decided to go toast on me...
I'm back to feeling normal, human, again, after the oddity that was Yangshuo's Vegas-feel, after being sick, after cursing cramps like a drunken sailor (more on this in another post, I promise - I swore like I've never sworn before, believe me), after heat exhaustion and after the surreal experience that was Monkey Island (yeah, it was EXACTLY as surreal as the game might have led me to believe. More so, perhaps, because it was *real*. Very thoroughly weird.)
But, still, though I'm back to feeling like myself, we're into a different sort of limbo here, today. We'd been out of the cab all of 15 seconds before Garrett's camera was stolen out of his backpack -- a couple of girls spotted it happen, but not enough to get a helpful witness description or anything, and they helped us call the police, though they were very nervous about the whole thing, being not locals themselves. Everything seemed a little jitters, a little hush hush, a little nervewracking and backhanded. Nothing proper about it.
Language difficulties of mine aside, the police officer was as helpful as he could be. He drove us down to the police station (so, now I get to say I've ridden in a chinese police car), and there, We filed a report, one written by my hand, in English, and one document detailling our 'interview' with the officer -- who was even nice enough to put out his cigarette. He kept saying how he felt bad about how this reflected on his country, for us to visit and have such things happen.
Playing translator, though tiresome at times, is a practical thing to be able to do, even though I'm not necessarily great at it.... Anyway...
More paperwork, this time for insurance claims should we need it, and some sorting out of how to contact us, email being not always the most familiar thing to everyone here -- call out the younger officer, he'll know what this is.
And then he took us out to lunch. Offered to buy Garrett a beer (to drown his sorrows, indeed). And then he decided to take us to dinner, at 7:30pm. I've tried every means I know to say that this is hardly necessary, that this is too nice, that we don't want to trouble him at all. But he seems to not take no for an answer. Politesse is difficult at times, almost more so than language.
So, I think we're going to dinner with a police officer tonight. It won't make up for the lost camera, nay the lost photos, irreplacable items that they are... but it is still a story to tell, and so I will tell it. I will tell many stories, you might just have to wait until I get home to hear all of them.
Tomorrow, we leave the sea behind for the mountains, and though the sea was pretty, and the salt air fine, I admit, I'll be glad to be somewhere new.


Backposting - Jun30-Jul 3 - another transit blog for an out-of-city experience

The wheels on the bus go round and round...

We bought our bus tickets to Sanjiang the day before leaving, and man, was I ever happy to be able to see a written schedule that I could refer to prior to purchasing - even though I still don't know what all the different columns meant, and why they have variable pricing on them. Maybe some are non-stop? Who knows. There certainly aren't classes of ticket the way there are for trains. Anyway Y27 to Sanjiang, plus Y2 of insurance I accidentally bought (this be when language snags tend to bugger you up), made for cheap tickets on what was supposedly ("but the Lonely Planet guidebook said...") about 5h by bus. We had seats 5+6 on the 7:10AM bus, as the later (last one in the morning), more preferrable 7:40am bus was already sold out.

We get on a small-ish greyhound-sized beast in the morning to find ourselves separated by the aisle, and, fools that we are, sit dutifully in our assigned seats. G's big bag fit above the seat, and our two daypacks underneath, but there ain't much in the way of what you might call "leg room", so even when we pulled out of the station mostly empty, G stayed put in the aisle seat, next to a random chinese man (a furious smoker, unfortunately... despite the no smoking sign, which NO one, anywhere in China, ever seems to listen to). We pull up for gas bfr leaving the stn, and our ticket/money/conductor guy hops onboard. We have our numbers counted as we pull out of the stations, presumably to ensure that the bus doesn't claim more $ from the station than the stn collected for them, and we're OFF.

The driver of the bus yells 'move on back'...

Or so we thought. IMMEDIATELY after leaving the station -- no, no, literally, not even 5m from the parking lot -- we stop, and about 5 more people get on . This process repeats until we leave Guilin, pulling up at random non-bus-stops to pick up passengers, shouting out the window as we roll past city bus stops "Longsheng! Sanjiang!" and stopping for ANYONE who'll flag us down -- us = a BIG ol' long distance bus, NOT a taxicab, people! We even had a guy and his friend on a motorbike hail us, and had the ticket lady (a new one, now, who we'd picked up on the way) shout out as we drove past "meet us at the next intersection!", at which point we stopped, the man on his bike hopped off, unloaded his boxes and crates of baggage and got onboard.

'move on back'...

Did I mention that since these buses tend to stop in a lot of smaller towns and villages, people tend to bring a LOT of VERY large baggage? Did I also mention that we picked up enough ppl that the aisle was filled with people sitting on small wooden stools, or occasionally on barrels or cooking oil drums, just for kicks. I don't quite understand why ppl don't just GO TO THE BUS STATION, but hey, the chinese don't queue (except for Mao), so who says they should get on a bus BEFORE it starts moving. At least the chickens didn't get on the bus (at least not on THIS bus) -- a woman we picked up had a large rice bag, with holes in it, with her -- just wear and tear, I figure. Then the bag moved. Then, I realized it was "chickens in a bag", which I've since come to realize is the best way to transport small livestock in China, apparently. The only more entertaining alternatives I've seen are, (1) chicken in a small plastic (LDPE) grocery bag, with head and feet poking out either side. However, this is only effective for shorter, non-bus distances, I suspect, and (2) just strap 'em onto the back of your bicycle and go. I saw a man cycle past with 2 in the basket on the front of the bike, and I suspect at aleast 5 strapped to the back -- no, no, not in a box, or crate or anything. No, no, just plain tied to the back rack of the man's bike, and cluckin' and movin' about. If you thought strapping milk crates to the back of a scooter was a challenge, you ain't seen no chicken bike.

Anyway, this woman's chickens wind up in the side compartment of el autobus, she sits on the baggage at the front of the bus, just behind the driver, and we're off again. Pit stop for food and bathroom about 1h out of Guilin, which we probably hadn't actually left until 8am at the earliest. Lots of smoking (thankfully sitting next to the window made it much more bearable). Lots of spitting out the window at high velocity. Especially the bus driver. Man, that guy must've spat at least once every 15 minutes, on average, and I don't evne think I'm exaggerating. He must've drank some of the green stuff by accident (MI2 reference, kids. And that's monkey island, NOT mission impossible. ew). Get to Longsheng around 10:30am, and the bus mostly empties, though not for too long, as we continue to pickup at middle-of-nowhere village/highway "stops", more akin to hitchhiking that bussing. Variable fares are paid to the conductor once you've sat down, which, admittedly, is mostly impressive because, as I mentioned before, the aisle is FULL of people, so the ticket guy getting to you to take your money is sort of an 'adventure'.

The people on the bus go up and down...

HOWEVER, here's the real kicker about this bus ride... about 10 min out of longsheng, the road turns into absolute crap -- ABSOLUTE worst "road" I've ever been on. This is why the short distance between Longsheng and Sanjiang takes THREE very painful hours, and we arrive at 1:30pm, about 6.5h after leaving the bus station in Guilin. This road is more mud, dirt and rocks, and LANDSLIDES, than actual road, and is approx. 1 lane wide the whole way, along a cliff's edge, which makes for some very scary bus passings, esp. when what you're passing is a fuel tanker. There was definitely more than one occasion where I was seriously scared that the bus would get totally stuck in the mud/puddle/ditch (like Lola, but bigger, and bus-ier), and we'd be stuck in literally the middle of butt-nowheres.

Speaking of butt-nowheres, some of the people we picked up/dropped off... I have NO idea where they were going -- sometimes, you'd spot a village on the other side of the river, but other times, it really made me wonder... "why are you HERE?"

up and down...

Anyway, point being, this was the worst EVER "road" and, thus, the slowest, most painfully bumpy THREE hour bus ride EVER -- at least until the ride back, but I'll get to that soon enough. For now, suffice it to say, we were tossed about like so many rag dolls and we were lucky enough to be sitting near the front of the bus -- reminded me of the old school bus days, when we'd race to get the back seats s.t. we'd be flung well and up in the air when we hit the inevitable post-winter-in-Ottawa pothole -- yeah, THIS was not at all one of the times where that would've been a "fun" idea.

This also made me extremely glad that I don't get motion sickness quite the way I used to as a kid -- else it'd have been me throwing up out of the bus window, instead of just chinese men spitting.

The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish...

Finally, we get to Sanjiang, ask about the bus to Chengyang. Apparently, they get this one from foreign tourists often, so they throw a slip of paper out @ us that reads, "for buses to Chengyang, go to the other bus station" -- I ask for directions, and we grab lunch at a nice enough little place next to the bus stn bfr heading out: "take the main road, turn right, walk across the bridge, it's right there" which we also reconfirm with our friendly noodle restauranteur, and off we go. AVAST. Have to ask again once we've crossed the bridge, as the bus stn is tiny and hard to pick out in a crowd. Buy tickets @ Y3.5 each, and hit the bus to Linxi, leaving in 0.5h, which will drop us off on the way. Again, we appear to be in the minority, getting on at the ACTUAL bus stn, as we fill up IMMEDIATELY outside the bus station. Again, I fail to understand why people wait literally two steps from the station to get on -- I wonder a bit about issues of legality and the like, but, honestly, it makes me happier that buses always leave the city FILLED (to the brim, as it were) -- better for both owner and earth.

Am thankful, truly, for the paved road. Narrow, single-lane, cliff's edge, sharp blind corners which we take at full speed -- the sonar method, as it were: we honk loudly as we speed around the bend, listening for a response, but never once slowing down. Still, it's paved, and I love it. Dropped of at Chengyang in the pouring rain and the adventure begins.

The wheels on the bus go round and round...

On the way back, we stand poised in the bend of the road, in front of the tourist sales stalls, and the bus comes whipping around the corner, early -- I wave it down, and am admittedly quite pleased with myself for doing so. I actually quite enjoy this whole flagging-down-passing-vehicles business.

Standing room only, not unexpected. I'm standing next to the front stash of baggage, clinging 1-armed to the top luggage rack, not ideal to grip, as we whip around curves at ~60kph (though, I suppose I can't be certain of our speed, what with the broken spedometer and all). We paid Y4 a piece, it seems that buses are ALWAYS more expensive on the way back -- because you have no options, buggers.

Standing on this bus, I was reminded of Brian's comment and think to myself, thankfully I have a lower centre of gravity (woo, physics!) - Brian would've fallen over for sure -- maybe I'd make a decent snowboarder.

Never again will I complain (not that I ever really did) about standing in public transit in Canada -- it's easy to stay standing in city buses, and cdn. buses could never be this crowded. Anywho... with the occasional bit of building up that right arm muscle when we rounded a corner especially quick, we were back in Sanjiang in a record 25min.

Skitter to the other bus stn to find out when the bus to Longsheng leaves -- in 10 min, the bus girl says, buy your tickets on the bus. It was lunchtime, but since the the girl says it's unknown when (if) the next bust leaves, I con G into just buying snack food, and hopping on the bus just as the driver revs his engine to go.

The people on the bus go up and down...

I didn't think it possible, but the bus ride back to longsheng was definitely worse -- bumpier, way more $ (Y20 ea), and, though the bus was half-empty for much of the ride, all I could think was, can we PLEASE get there already?!?

In longsheng (AT LAST), we hit some lunch bfr finding out 5pm bus to Ping'an -- glad we didn't wait for another bus in Sanjiang, or we'd never have made it to this, the last bus out to Ping'An of the day. The Ping'an bus is fully tourist decked out - English maps, English service - even though we're the only tourists on the max.16-person capacity minibus. We leave the station and... can you guess what happens next?

The driver of the bus yells 'move on back'...

Yes, kids, that's right, right outside the stn, EVERYONE (and their kitchen sink, or at least enough baggage to legitimately qualify) awaits. We load up (at least no cat-in-a-bag, as was bumped about on the last bus we were on), and G and I help a woman protect her poor breakable boxes of stuff (glass, methinks) from being sat on multiple times. Wow. I think after all the pit stops, we fit 45-50 people on that bus -- granted, about 7 of those were kids, and therefore, take up less space, but let's not forget the boxes, the baskets, the veggies, the glassware, the chicken-in-a-bag, and best of all, the stop where we pull up by the river and wait for the 3 people wading and fishing in the water to climb onboard -- as G put it, "just what we need" -- wet chinese men and 2 buckets/baskets of fish to leak all over the floor of the bus.

Actually, though, I really loved it. Everyone was laughing, smiling, chatting, taking care of someone else's kid on their lap, eating, whatever. Everyone knew everyone, or at least acted as if they did. And though I couldn't understand much of it (dialects! I shake my fist at you!), every so often I pick up a phrase or word -- half cantonese, half mandarin. Never thought it'd be so helpful to know both -- though it messed with my head a lot to know both, since sometimes I get confused hearing things that I understand, but being unable to figure out what dialect it resembles, and why I understand it.

That bus ride (Y6.5, 2h) was absolutely one of the highlights of my whole trip to China. Especially the fish. Awesome. It was the first time I'd actually seen a bus driver be picky about where you put your baggage ... fish water is not so easy to clean out of carpet, hm.

... all the way to town....

The way back was less of an adventure, less new, fewer entertaining people, but I mention it briefly for different reasons. We hopped the bus from Ping'an, the only folk on it a couple of locals and 3 canto speaking tourists, our age-ish, who I laughed at for doing a full analysis of which direction the sun was going to be coming from on the way back -- the beauty, though, being that I understood cantonese, so caught that they were off to Guilin, same as us, but were planning to hitch at the intersection of the highway, instead of travelling all the way back to Longsheng. So, I decided to get off with them, and again, hail a passing bus into Guilin -- saves time and $ (30 min, Y5 + 1.5h, Y15) -- plus, I got to hitch a bus from the highwayside. Awesomecross. Truly.


Yangshuo - Day 3 - The word of the day, kids, is SWEAT.

Perspiration. Freaking perspiration.

Forget that. Freaking weather. Remind me not to travel in China in the summer again, if I have any choice about it.... I really hope I can come back next time in the fall or something. C'mon PhD to postdoc transition.... Let's see you work some magical timing skills there.

Anyway, though I may have made some unpromises to folk in the past to never complain about the weather, I rescind this temporarily as I'm not in the gorgeous 19degree Vancouver climate.

So, I don't want to hear any of this "hah, your complaining it's cold in Vancouver was so funny -thanks, the laughing helped me defrost my frostbitten face" out of you. Especially as you're in Vancouver, and I'm in 32C PLUS humidity Yangshuo county.

So, 32C, not actually so bad, but as all my fun friends and family in Ottawa know full well, it's the humidity that makes it OHSOFREAKINGBRUTAL. And the humidity is worse here, my friends.

Allow me to demonstrate, with a short series of bullet points:

1. When washing clothing here, the water comes out brown. This is not only from the dust. This is also a wonderful mixture of dust and sweat.

2. This is 'apply deodorant at least two to three times per day' weather.

3. Immediately after showering, approximately 5-10 minutes of sitting in a non-A/C room, with a fan, results in enough sweating that you feel obviously sticky and gross, to the extent that I would choose to avoid vinyl furniture at all costs.

4. It only rains in short, thunderstorm-esque POURING bursts. This breaks the humidity. For about an hour.

5. When going out walking, very slowly, in the shade, along the riverbank, at 8:30AM... one can sweat through the back of one's shirt in under an hour. We're talking about "I can wring the sweat out of this garment because it is dripping" kind of sweat. Enough to soak my bag as well, if carried on my back. Enough to give shorts stains. Enough that you can tell on my front where exactly my bag was sitting, because there's a shoulder bag strap SWEAT stain. Enough to be DRIPPING with sweat. From walking. In the EARLY MORNING.

6. When eating dinner, outside, at 7pm, 10 minutes of sitting may produce a significant amount of sweating. Dripping, sweating.

It feels sometimes like all I do here is sweat. I lose count of how many litres of water I drink in a day. It is absolutely disgusting, and as ABSOLUTELY gorgeous as this place is (the scenery, AB-SO-LUTE-LY GORGEOUS), I wouldn't live here if you paid me.

And, oh look, we leave on Tuesday to go to Hainan Island (mostly for some Monkey business), where it is supposedly EVEN HOTTER.


Anyway, I have to go drop an obscene amount of money on a plane ticket now, as I did not plan ahead quite enough to know when we were leaving... So, I bid you adieu, until we meet again.

As you might be inclined to say, "smell you later". =P


* A Scalene Triangle...

...the smallest dimension being its height.

This is the part of the trip where I learned that (a) being cheap is definitely not always worth it, and (b) if I ever ever ever pick anything ever again based on the fact that it has character I must immediately rethink this decision. (granted, this is part of how I picked my apartment for May. Oooh. We'll see how this goes, no?)

When we first arrived at Lisa's, we were shown a standard four-person room, with shared bathroom and A/C, but when I asked if there was anything cheaper, the girl showing us around said, essentially, there was, but... uhm... I should warn you, the ceilings are quite low... (translated, of course)

she wasn't kidding - this was the scalene triangle, where except at the immediate entrance, there wasn't enough ceiling room to stand up straight, or really, to stand up at all. Actually, come to think of it, at the narrow end, you couldn't possibly have done anything but lie down... Plus, the classy hanging ceiling lamp, which, of course, was hung almost at knee height. Instead of A/C, we had a fan that didn't rotate. Oh, but it gets better...

The ceiling, being nothing more than the underside of the roof itself, shed random crap on the mattresses everytime it rained. The walls were a fantastic display of electrical wiring (even in the bathroom!), which, of course, led G and I to a hilarious, and completely not serious, discussion: "what? how's hanging wet clothes to dry on electrical taped wires a BAD idea? but look, they've thoughtfully given us hangers!"

In the bathroom, where the ceiling was, in fact, high enough to allow us to stand while showering, though not wide enough that you could stand anywhere but directly next to the toilet as you showered. The hot water took forever to heat up (not so much a problem in Yangshuo's sweltering heat, mind you), nevermind having an actual handle on the tap. A toilet that once again made me appreciate squat toilets where you never actually have to deal with the sketchy seats. And plus, who doesn't appreciate cobwebs and bare concrete?

Oh, but, look, what a nice view it has, of the touristy West Street. Oh, this view? Through the window? With its two panes of unfinished glass? Which, we found out the hard way, weren't ACTUALLY large enough to cover the full area of the window, that is, if you don't break it or accidentally slit your wrists attempting to close it. The drape (read: towel) did an even more fantastic job, covering about 50-60% of the window area, with a wide gap at both the top and side.

The best part was meeting other tourists who were being shown the (and I'm not kidding) "special room" or the "Mao room" as they also called it. I appreciated at least that the girl who showed us the room didn't try to dress it up as anything - she warned us fair and square. There wasn't any spin, like for the others' being shown the place, and being told, oh, that's no problem, we can fit THREE more people in a room that isn't even big enough to stand in. Surprisingly enough, no one else decided to take the room and join us for the evening. In fact, one girl turned it down rather brutally, and then, realizing we were there unpacking ourselves, turned to us and politely joked, "sorry to dis your room" - I laughed about that.

Because, when it came down to it, as horrifying as all that was, I could've lived with all that. It was, to me, anyway, more hilarious than anything else, and, hey, you really couldn't argue that the place didn't have character. ahahahahah. Yeah, I'm a risk to myself and others sometimes, I know.

BUT, what made the place ACTUALLY unliveable after the first night... So, that beautiful view of West Street? Yeah, did I neglect to mention that West Street is not only a tourist street, filled with shops and bustle during the day, but a BAR and CLUB street at night? OH MY. As G said, "I feel like a carnie" - even with earplugs, it was like living INSIDE the speakers of some horrifying street disco dance party, nevermind the really bad karaoke. Feel the music? Oh, yes, we FELT the music.

That, more than any of the other stuff, made us move house after one night. Yangshuo really wasn't our cup of tea as far as housing went. When we told Lisa we were going to move because of the noise, and told her we'd found a cheap place that was quiet, she counteroffered, and moved us into a two-person room, which was actually decent. The fan was fine, the bathroom reasonably sized, and the ceilings at sane heights. I'm pretty convinced that smell, though, was mold, and the lizard in the bathroom wasn't really the keenest thing, so after three nights there, we moved again, this time to the backstreet HI, which was FABULOUS, as far as cleanliness went. Trouble was, though, we hadn't reserved a second night there, and so they asked us to swap rooms for the second night, to accomodate a group of four coming the next day. That's cool, said we, only to find that we were expected to move into the now flooded upstairs room, which, oh, did we not mention, is connected to the open hallway balcony that floods everytime it rains. Oh, did I not mention that it was raining now non-stop, such that even the Li river itself was flooding it's banks (cancelling our opportunity to go see this on-the-water-light-show and dance extravaganza directed/made in some way by Zhang Yimou), so this meant guaranteed room flooding? Not cool.

So, once again we were nomads, woo, wandering (feverishly, as a bonus, as I got sick the same day we got booted out of the HI) in the rain to find new digs. We tried the West Street HI, which not only was likely to be noisy, as it was on West Street, again, and above a restaurant/bar, but offered us a nine-person, one-bathroom dorm room, in drastic contrast to the quiet 4-person dorms we'd loved at the backstreet HI (which, by the by, I do actually recommend if you stay in Yangshuo. Just make reservations, and the place is actually wonderful). I think somewhere around this time, G compared us to Mary and Joseph seeking any sort of shelter for the night. We finally ended up back at Lisa's, at higher prices than we left (understandably so), where I got right and proper ill. But that's another story entirely. :P


Back in city, stars in my eyes, gorgeousness and things (from Guilin)

Life in Incomplete Thoughts and Phrases:

Spent the past two nights in one of the most gorgeous places on earth. Said 'wow' a whole lot. A WHOLE lot. Saw a LOT of rice. Will write about it later.

Think I'd make a good peasant. Yeah.

Had a LOT of bus-related adventures, some involving livestock and VERY bad roads. VERY freaking bad roads. Also, some hailing a bus from the side of the highway (quasi-hitching, yes?).

Am beginning to lose the distinction between canto and mandarin. Messing with my brain. Dialects cause great trouble for me. Can't understand a bloody thing. Glad just about everyone speaks mandarin, or close to it. Though it's a mixed bag. Love it and hate it.

Only one complaint to speak of... Managed to freaking break out in hives while I was there. Who knows what I'm allergic to, but I'm itching like crazy, and look like I've got a terrible pox. It's fun, really. More fun stories soon, promise, even if soon means when I get home.

Halfway there, and not really wanting it to be so. Happy to be here. My adventure.


More use of the Avast key...

Well, we leave the city for real for the first time tomorrow, venture small towns and village like places for a few days. It should be about 4 million sorts of absolutely beautiful, but there's a part of me that's absolutely nervous-like-twitters about it.

My city girl stripes be showing.

Still, we leave tomorrow, bus out of town @ 7am, and don't quite know the exact details of where we'll end up. Adventure, neh? After all, if you don't do a few things every now and again that scare you, how will you know any better?



We arrived today in possibly the most beautiful place in the world, at least that I've ever seen, and from what we hear, the surrounding area is exponentially more so.
You have NO idea just how happy I am right now.
This is like some childhood dream come true or something. I mean that in a most literal fashion, as my mom used to buy these instant chinese Lo Han Kuo drinks, and each would come with a scenic photo of China. EVERY single photo was from this area. And I'm here.
Remember how I said that I hadn't had it really hit that I was in China, that it hadn't felt anymore 'real' being here than before I left. Oh, on the bus into town this morning, it definitely hit. I'm really here. It's real. I'm not dreaming.
And it's ABSOLUTELY freaking GORGEOUS.
*eeeeee* :)


Before I leave Xi'an

Xi'an has been absolutely amazing, and I can hardly begin to describe in this little box. But I will start with today, and wait til I get back to write about the rest -- I wouldn't want to waste the day, with this working internet, and my returning ability to compose reasonable English sentences.

I spoke a lot of mandarin yesterday, along with a little cantonese when need arose, in real conversation -- not mere directions or food ordering or purchasing -- and it was thoroughly wonderful and mentally exhausting. So, today, I didn't speak much at all. If you asked me to sum up my last day in Xi'an, in a minimum number of words, if you asked me "What did you do on your last day there?", I think I would respond:

"I walked."

I doubt my sandals will last much longer than just this trip -- but they were more comfortable (by leaps and bounds) than any of the more expensive varieties, so I can live with the short lifespan if it means I don't break myself. =) But seriously, I think I walk about 5-6 hours a day, so maybe three times what I would on a normal day, nevermind such activities as hiking the Great Wall. So, if my shoes last only for the duration, it won't be that much shorter than my standard shoe lifespan. Did I ever mention that I wear out shoes in crazy short time? :P

Anyway, I awoke early, and headed out for breakfast buns (one red bean paste, one mushroom) just a block or two away. Forgot my watch, but thankfully, not as dependent on it as I once was. Weaned, am I. So, don't quite know when I finally reached the city wall, about the middle of the East side, and headed up for a walk. Xi'an is one of the few cities where the city wall, around the old city, was still mostly intact, and has since been restored, so you can now walk or bike an ancient wall around a once ancient city, about 20m off the ground. In the 35C + humidity heat. The breeze was nice, thankfully. But, despite the weather making me feel like I could stick to furniture VERY easily, it's a lot of fun. I walked the wall, backwards, apparently, since EVERYONE I saw was walking or biking in the opposite direction, including the mini golf-cart style electric cars for tours and the like. The first person I ran into at about Heping Lu gate entrance, who told me it was 9:10am. Don't know how long I'd been walking, but I just kept going. Meandering along. I love walking. I think biking would have been fun too, but I'm not quite totally comfortable with biking yet, having been out bike-riding all of once (thank you Kaili! teacher extraordinaire), so my feet still serve as my preferred mode of transit (love of public transit inclusive, even).

Anyway, as you walk along, there are periodic signs near each major gate that say things like "Nan Men" (South Gate) 1050m, telling you the distance to the two gates on either side of you. These distances ranged from about 1000 m to 2600m or so. Oh, did I not mention that the old city walls form a rectangle of about 3 km by 6km? So, about 14 km around the perimeter. And I walked it. Okay, not entirely true. I walked all the way to the North Gate (about 3/4 of the way), when I decided to leave the wall to walk in the city. Mostly because the popsicle of fun I wanted to buy cost 5 yuan on the wall. And when I left it, the first corner store / stall sold a better one for 0.50 yuan. That's worse than beach prices, even, and there are fewer stairs here, though the price of admission to the wall constitutes incentive enough, I suppose. I even ran into Garrett before leaving the wall, as he was biking along, and was shocked that I'd walked nearly the whole beast. What? I said I liked walking. I could walk nearly forever, and often do, even at home, to clear my head, or just because. =) In the end, though, I wasn't quite stubborn enough to walk the whole perimeter, though, in distance, including the walking in city, I did probably much more than 14K. Unsurprising, really.

Went back to the Muslim quarter's infamous snack street for lunch, for another rou jia mo (meat in a hard bread biscuit thing -- fabulous, and cheap), and tried something sweet as well -- I think it was some dough made of rice flour (like those sticky rice balls mmm.), with a filling that looked like dates from a distance, but when I asked, the only part of her explanation I understood was "black sesame" -- gotta increase my food vocabulary in chinese, I know. I asked only if it was sweet before buying a small portion, to which she added more sesame, black sesame paste, some sweet plant material (unidentifiable), and a big scoop of honey. WAaaaaaaay too sweet, but interesting to try. Totally couldn't finish it, but was carrying it around for a bit... Then when this old woman came up asking for money, I gave the rest to her. I figured at least it wouldn't be going to waste. Plus, it made me feel a little better overall (more on this near the end of the trip -- still mulling, as I am wont to do).

Bought a donkey, which I didn't really want to carry all the rest of the way, but really wanted to have. No, no, not that kind... This one. Wandered a lot, saw a lot of interesting food, found overpriced souvenirs to not buy, and generally really enjoyed myself. Xi'an's been really good for new food -- both interesting to taste local dishes, as well as for the way things are served. Lots of takeout, like noodles, made fresh and mixed up in stalls on the street, are mixed in a bowl lined with a plastic bag, along with sauce and seasoning. Then they just pull up the plastic bag, tie it up, and hand it to you. So, you're likely to see lots of people in the neighbourhood with bags of loose, cooked food, a meal in a bag, hanging off their handlebars. It's hilarious, and awesome, considering that takeout, back home, tends to get packed then bagged. Anyway... I've more to say about food, as I've tried more interesting things here than anywhere previous, but I think it will wait til another day. Just thought I'd give you a taste of it... aHAHAHAHAH. That was an excellent quibble. Not a pun. =)


Short and Sweet from Xi'an

Just a few thoughts -- less of a tourist blog than my usual fare, but I hope you won't mind.

It's funny how I expected this trip to be a huge eye-opening experience, to show me new things about the world -- and it certainly continues to -- but it actually turned out to call out more strongly to things already a part of me.

A call to bring bits of my cultural heritage to bear. I don't know why I didn't see that coming -- I should've, really -- but between language and childhood memories and little pieces of family tradition coming into play, this trip is hitting parts of my brain in unexpectedly powerful ways. We shall see what comes of this, hm?

I don't know that I'll blog much from here on in... Not that I haven't much to say, but I've been writing a lot, by hand, of late, and somehow, it feels more right. More myself. Also, it tends to prevent me from becoming oh-so-easily distracted by unexpected things from home -- I got two emails that hit odd nerves when I got to Xi'an, and haven't shaken it off yet (never mind that it's deathly humid and gross here too... Ick. Just glad it's not the 43C it was last week. I think we'd just have collapsed at that) -- one that asked for my shoe photos to join a real-live-honest-to-goodness exhibition (ohmygoodness) and one that said, in more words, an 'I miss you' that I hadn't expected to hear.

Distractions. Off to play with the hostel's kittens instead of you folk, methinks. Avast, from a VERY old town.


Xi'an - Day 1 - Thru the coal and out the other side

Well, hotmail's decided that its servers are too busy today, so gmail is my reliable fall-back. Thought it'd be terribly slow out here, like google.com once was, but... I suppose at least it's working.
We've hit Xi'an, after a 17 hour train ride, and I absolutely love this hostel, so far. It's very quaint, all 'round, tucked away in a little nook next to the old city walls, with awesome people, free internet in the afternoons, a free dumpling night on fridays, kittens, birds, open courtyards, lovely showers, a big energetic dog, LOTS of helpful info on other hostels in China, helpful tours and maps posted all about, a blue guitar, and a surprisingly high percentage of foreigners who speak mandarin. Very cool. It has character. It's beautiful. I will take photos before I leave. But, I highly recommend it if you drop by Xi'an, ever. The Shu Yuan HI hostel. I know; you all think HI is the devil and all, but this place is super wonderful. Did I also mention that our 5th night here is free?
Anyway, after 2 and a half days in coal country (will post about the AMAZINGNESS that was Datong later, perhaps), I did my laundry today while Garrett napped off the beginnings of illness. The wash water, usually a dirty sandy shade, even in Beijing, was a deep deep grey. Unsurprising, considering the heaping piles of coal everywhere, the mines, the roads, the stations, the power plants pumping out clouds of smoke as high as you can see. It was... like nothing I'd ever seen. And yet, amidst all that, such beautiful things.... 1600 year old buddhist carvings more than 25m high... A monastery built on the side of a sheer cliff in one of the most gorgeous rocky valleys I've seen. Other treats a plenty. But more on that later, I suppose.
I think I'd rather go play some blue guitar now, or wander about the city. Give someone else a hit o' internet. =) Loving every bit of this so far. Hope you're all doing well on the other side of the earth.


Beijing - Getting from Point A to Point B - an ODE TO TRANSIT

Well, I thought that since we leave Beijing tomorrow morning, it would be a good time to wrap this city up with a little ode to the transit here. I should first mention, though, that we did finally get train tickets to Datong today (woot. Apparently, FIFTH time's the charm), so that's where we're headed for the next couple of days. Though I'm sure there's readily available internet somewhere nearby in town, I probably won't go looking for it, so you're likely not going to hear a peep out of me til we hit Xian by O/N train.

It hasn't been quite long enough here to really feel settled in, but it's been wonderful. Any longer and I think I'd want to be living here proper instead of living quasi-tourist-like in the hostel.

Oh, and before I begin, I should also add a disclaimer... This is probably going to be an almost stupidly detailed post, so if you have no interest in things like buses and transit and traffic and the like, you might just want to stop here. For those of you with keener bus-love like me, and enjoy detailed description (ie. this is for you, Lap Kei, you with your "and then the door opened, and there were two steps, and I walked in, and the door closed with a whooshing sound"), then... hoorah. It begins:


So, much of my time in Beijing has been spent as a pedestrian, and having lived in Vancouver and complained heartily about the silly non-jaywalking that goes on there (being a proper skittering sort of Ontario pedestrian myself, and not assuming that traffic will stop at unmarked non-intersections for me), Beijing has been quite the experience.

You know how I've complained about the disorderly non-queueing that exists here? Crossing the street feels a little like that. Although vehicles do follow traffic signals, that's about the only actual rule that seems to exist. That is, NO ONE has the right-of-way. So, when crossing an 8 lane street, it's up to you and a veritable sea of other pedestrians to negotiate with the right-turning AND left-turning bikes, pedicabs, taxis, and buses to cross. You see that green "walk" signal ahead of you? All that means is that orthogonal traffic is stopped. It does NOT in any way mean that there is no traffic. In fact, sometimes, it's easier to cross when it's a red/don't cross signal.

Being used to reasonably strict right-of-way rules myself, I wondered when I first got here how no one seems to die while crossing the road. Or at least why no one has yet lost any toes.... But somehow, with a large amount of honking from the motor vehicles and hearty bell-dinging from the cyclists, everyone manages to get across the road. In one piece. You just start walking until honked at (translation: "I am about to run you over if you do not halt so I can turn in front of you"), then slow down or stop briefly, and then continue to swim through traffic. It's not unusual at all to see a veritable SEA of taxis, bicycles and pedestrians just stopped in the middle of an intersection as everyone negotiates who's turn it is to pass. After two weeks here, I think I'm actually quite comfortable with it, and have found myself in the sea, alone, even, from time to time. Back home, I'd never consider crossing the street with a bus turning 6 inches away from me (you think I exaggerate? No, no. It's actually close enough that I would probably have my foot run over if I put one of my feet in front of the other.), but here, it's completely normal. Sort of a weird feeling actually, having a moving bus half a foot from your face, knowing you can't move backward because there's another bus or cab turning behind you.

The streets themselves have quite a neat design, at least the major ones do -- The middle lanes are through lanes, but then there's a small median or divider, and then the two curbside lanes are for right-turning vehicles and cyclists (cyclists being the curbside lane). There are usually, on the very large streets, underground pedestrian crossings (lit generally only at night, which is occasionally a little eerie) or bridges as well, which may also be another reason why pedestrians seem to survive against all odds. There are also traffic guys at some of these big intersections, who wave red flags and have whistles to blow. But people don't seem to pay them much attention, unless very specifically being yelled at (as in the case of the cycling woman I saw going diagonally across the 8 lane 4-way intersection), and they don't seem to be consistently stationed at given intersections, so I haven't entirely figured out their purpose in life.

The sidewalks are wide and wonderful and treed on most main streets, with a few detours where the sidewalk mysteriously ends, and the alleyways are always nifty to wander through as a detour. But, Beijing being the huge city it is, walking will really only get you so far... Which brings me to...


Currently consisting of 3 different subway lines (Y3 for line 1 and 2, which go east-west and in a big loop, respectively, and Y5 to transfer to line 13, which goes in a big loop up to the north of Beijing -- suburbs-ish), the subways are fabulous. They announce every stop, go speedily everywhere, fit tons of people, and ... well, they're subways. I love them almost inherently. The only real 'adventure' involved herein is (a) getting on or off at a transfer station is always a fight to get through a CROWD of people shoving their way in/out at the door, and (b) figuring out which exit (of 4) to get out at is sometimes more of a challenge than expected, as each exit lists major roads and landmarks, as well as a couple of bus routes found there, but as the exits aren't always at the readily predictable 4 corners of a main road, sometimes, poking your head out of the subway is super-disorienting. I've spent a reasonable amount of time after each subway ride asking the random folk around where the bus stop I'm looking for is. Because it's never RIGHT there.


Mostly single-decker (only the #5 seems to have a double-decker consistently), but of really nifty design. There are some trolleys as well, but sort-of hybrid trolleys, which run on wires where they exist, and detach and run independently everywhere else. I've yet to see one reattach itself (though I did spend a good amount of time walking up and down a particular block trying to witness this event, since I saw detached buses at one end of the street, and attached ones later on, so they must have some transition!), so I'm unsure if this is a conductor-assisted task, or if the buses can do it themselves. This would be something the Translink buses might love, considering the number of times I've been on a Van bus that's fallen off the wires during a turn, forcing the driver to exit and reattach the poor de-electrified trolley.

For most buses you get on at the front, and off at the rear, just like in Canada -- but with the expanded accordion buses (you know, like the 98 or 99 B-lines in Van or the 95 or 97 in Ottawa or whatever equivalent you choose), there are three doors, none of which is immediately next to the driver. The middle of these is where you exit, while the other two are both entry doors, and both have a corresponding conductor associated with it.

So, that's another thing about Beijing buses. Every bus has a driver, who drives as well as opens and closes the front and rear doors, as well as one or two conductors, who collect fares, call out stops (on buses that don't do it automatically, or for smaller stops in between), and mostly keep track of the passengers. The conductor has got his or her (usually a her -- I'd say 90% of the time, if not more) own little seat, as well as a small walled-off (with metal poles, like the kind you hold onto when standing, but horizontal) area that they can walk back and forth in to take fares and call out things. When the bus isn't packed (which is rare on the main routes, especially during rush hour -- if anyone complains about how packed a given 99 or something is back home, I invite them to take Beijing transit sometime.), they sometimes come out of this little cubby hole and walk to the back of the bus as well, allowing you to sit down before you pay. Fares are variable, depending on the bus, but most are Y1 or Y1.50, and some actually vary depending on how far you travel on a given bus, so you have to tell the conductor what stop you'll be getting off at.

I only actually figured out this variable fare thing because we took one bus that we had to pay Y1.50 for to the Summer Palace... But the neat thing about that was that I then learned that their bus/transit passcards must also be some sort of declining balance system, instead of an unlimited monthly pass. They have to scan their card when they get on the bus, or enter the subway station, but on variable fare buses, they also have to scan again when they exit, thus tracking how far they went, and subtracting the appropriate amount from their card.

The conductors also tend to lean out the window as the bus pulls up to stops, shouting out where the bus is going, answering questions before folk actually get on. No one actually talks to the driver. They also shout out once everyone's on, or once everyone's off at the back doors, telling the driver to close the doors and leave. It's funny hearing the differences between different people doing this, as some just shout out "men" (literally, "door" -- though with the Beijing accent, it comes out sounding somewhat more aking to "mehr"), and others say "zou le" (as in "go"). There are no bells to ring for passengers to say when they want to get off. You just sort of get up when you're near your stop, and the conductor tells the driver to stop to let you off. Or sometimes the conductor will shout (or in a normal, quiet speaking voice) about what stop is next, and ask everyone if anyone wants off... If no one answers, we drive past without stopping.

The buses, at least the single ones, are designed to fit almost entirely standing passengers, with room for about 12 seats in the back (back row, plus two rows with a double and single), and then a row of front-facing singles up the side, and then two sideways facing benches of three at the front. This leaves enormous amounts of aisle room compared to canadian transit, and the poles are well spaced for holding on. There's also a horizontal bar across the windows at about chest height, which is designed to allow one set of people to hold on very close to the seated passengers, while a second layer piles in behind and holds onto the higher ceiling bars (like those in Canada). Granted, all this design is somewhat moot in rush hour, when there are enough people in the bus that you wouldn't be able to fall over even if you wanted to. Personal space is not an option.

Because buses are so packed, conductors tend to announce the next stop immediately after leaving a given stop, to give people lots of time to get to the back doors to exit. Some buses also announce this automatically, as well as saying "move on back" and "if you don't have a card, buy your ticket", over and over again. During rush hour, the major stops also have conductor-type ground-crew at stop, that flag down buses, and wave them to leave once everyone's on board. I suppose that the conductors are otherwise occupied at the time.

Finally, the last highlight, which is a big one for me, having ranted about this in Vancouver for some time now... The bus stops are WONDERFUL. Unlike Vancouver stops, which frequently give no information other than "BUS STOP", leaving you no idea of what bus is coming, when, or where it will take you, or even unlike Ottawa stops, which occasionally list an out of date schedule in addition to route numbers.... Beijing bus stops (I mean ALL bus stops), have separate signs for every bus that stops there. The sign states the route number, the fare (and whether it varies, and what distance or stop the rate increase occurs), the first and last bus (although no frequency info... they seem to all run exceedingly often though), AND, best of all, EVERY SINGLE stop that the bus makes. There might be a few along the same road that aren't listed explicitly, but essentially, you can look at a bus sign and decide if it'll take you where you want to go. Very cool.


So, that's pretty much all I've taken. There are also SEALOADS of taxis, pedicabs (motorized three-wheeled bike-like things with a single backward facing seat on the back of it, which will fit one, or occasionally two people), bike-rickshaws, scooters (Brook, I even saw a guy in a tux scootering through the city... Not perhaps a traditional 007 mode-of-transit, but I can see it happening. ;) ), and bikes. Lots of bikes, mostly with baskets in front. Actually, I saw an excellent sight this morning -- a middle-aged man, cycling past on a yellow and pretty pink bicycle, wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt and aviators while talking on his cell-phone and smoking. Except for the smoking bit, I thought it was pretty cool. Actually, come to think of it, I think the cell-phone was a bit stupid too, but somehow, it (and the cigarette, I suppose), made the image that much more brilliant. I never thought of pink bikes and the grateful dead as much of a pair.

Anyway... that's getting around Beijing for you. =) It gives me much glee. Now off to much smaller cities than this (basically everywhere until I finally hit Shanghai at the end of the trip) -- I'll let you know how it turns out. Cheers, m'dears.



Funny, I haven't felt much like blogging of late... Except possibly when I've been on the bus to and from places, when I've been planning out all the important details that I mustn't leave out when I finally get around to discussing transit in Beijing (ooh, excitement!)... I've been writing a lot, still, but somehow, when I've sat myself down at the computer, to check up on email and look into hostels, and all that jazz...

I just find that I don't want to write. I don't know if the backlog of things to say is beginning to get to me, that it's appearing much too daunting... I dunno.

I'd like to think that it's more that I haven't been feeling especially talkative and sociable of late, and, as blogging tends towards that end of my spectrum (especially travel blogging), I don't feel much like sharing. I promise that it's not for lack of things to say.

Either way, hopefully this shall pass soon enough. For those of you keeping track, I leave Beijing on Tuesday (train tickets pending, so I suppose that's not yet entirely certain) for Datong for a couple of days (don't know if I'll bother looking for internet while I'm there), then *hopefully* managing to hitch a hard sleeper bunk on the train (17h) to Xi'an from there on Thursday night. As I've mentioned, I don't quite know the train ticketing system yet, so I don't know how lucky we'll be in getting sleeper tickets (I really really hope so), and I have a suspicion that the one train we have to take overnight has no A/C. Oh good. At least it's night, so it won't be too bad.

Unlike today, where I walked up a mountain in 37C heat with minimal shade. Largely stubborness and idiocy on my part, but still... I don't think I've ever sweated quite so much in my life. Like, you know that feeling you get in the dead humid heat of an Ottawa August? When you stick to plastic furniture, and have to peel yourself off? Imagine, instead, that you don't stick to anything, because you leave pools of sweat behind. That's more like how it felt on the bus ride back. Ick.

Anyway, tonight Garrett and I are finally going out for the ever-famous Beijing ("Peking") duck, which should be lovely. I'll let you know how it is, but we expect to spend a fair while in line to get into the restaurant, so hopefully, it'll be worth it.

PS. Transit post coming soon, I promise. Hopefully "soon" will not mean "once YY gets back to Ottawa and regains sanity and has time to spare", but we'll see about that.

PPS. I hate internet explorer. Crash. Crash. Bleah.


Beijing - Day 12 - And the willows did not weep

So, today was spent at the Summer Palace (Yi He Yuan, all 2nd tone), and I absolutely loved it. How can you go wrong with willows, lakes and gorgeous bridges to boot? I can just tell that Hangzhou's West Lake (Xi Hu) is going to absolutely take my breath away. I'm just going to want to sit there everyday...
Garrett was significantly less impressed, being more the buildings/intricate design/museum sort, but I think I've more or less had my fill of all of the above. Yes, it's gorgeous, but a building is just a building (as I may have mentioned before) after a while. Yes, I suppose you can argue the same for bridges (or lighthouses, as my previous obsession seemed to be when I visited the Maritimes), and for hillsides or other such treasures. But to each his own, I suppose. This is my paradise. Even in the 35C weather, I was perfectly happy to meander around the lake right up until they closed around 5pm. Blissfully so, in fact. Admittedly, I was absolutely hiding out in the shade of the willows for as much of the day as possible, and near the lake, the breezes were absolutely heavenly... but still... 35C is still brutal, and I definitely was dripping with sweat (you think I exaggerate, hm?) by the time I came home.
WHICH, btw, I should point out, takes about 1.5 hours, all told, with about half an hour in the subway and then another hour to get there on a bus. It was, however, my first chance to see variable fare buses in action, and so, I was pretty giddy about that. I think I shall have to write a post specifically about transit around Beijing, as I've much to ramble on about there. Eeee! Hurrah!
Other than raving about the gorgeousness of the scenery, I suppose I have few other comments about yi he yuan...
If you (ever) go, I'd personally vote for buying the cheaper (park admission only Y30) ticket, as opposed to the Y50 ticket that includes admission to a few other sights in the park
1) the gallery (Y10 if bought separately -- I wasn't too keen on it, but, as I mentioned, I'm sort of done with the generic old relics bit... Though some of the Han dynasty and earlier (ie. 200BC-ish, or early as 11th century BC) bronze work was pretty awesome. I'm just sort of done with seeing MORE pretty things from the Qing dynasty (1600-1900ish, though most of it is from the 1700s, typically), as all of it begins to look the same to me.)
2) the "garden" (aka. museum, another Y10 -- neat if you're up for another museum, but definitely worth it if you're willing to wait around a bit -- every 1/2 hour, they have a live performance on this old stage where the Empress Dowager CiXi (like, the Queen Mother, essentially, in monarchical terms) used to listen to Beijing Operas -- so I got treated to a neat concert on traditional chinese instruments (PS. SOOOOO tempted to buy a Yi Wu while I'm here, perhaps when I hit Shanghai... It'd be so much cheaper than getting it in Canada, and I've always wanted to learn. I don't really know how I'd go about learning, but... From what I hear, they're not too pricey -- one guy in the hostel picked one up for Y30 -- around $5CDN. Granted, this was off some random guy on the street, so maybe the quality is questionable, but still.... ) -- plus some dancing (which, of course, made me glad I'd learned some as a kid, and made me sort of want to go back to it (again, it being a group dance, and more performance than social, I don't really know how I'd manage it, but the thought persists) -- egads, I'm begining to actually APPRECIATE my years and eons of chinese summer school and saturday school. I didn't think it even possible.)... Enough brackets for you? (sorry... I'm a bit flighty today)
3) Suzhou Street - bleah. Y10 if bought separately, but SOOOO not worth a penny. Besides the fact that we're going to the real thing (Suzhou is a small city about an hour or so west of Shanghai... It's like China's version of Venice, canals and gorgeousness abounds), and that this imitation can't compare... Besides that, you walk around this little canal, and all they do is try to sell you stuff. But you can't walk away, since the path is only wide enough for one person to fit. So, basically, I paid money to have people hassle and solicit me with goods that I could purchase elsewhere, probably for cheaper, with wider variety. I get enough hassling from sellers on the street. I don't need to buy it. Though, admittedly, I'm starting to learn to tune much of it out. Especially with the number of ticket scalpers I pass on the way into the train station (never thought train ticket scalping was a big business, but it REALLY is.... At least 10 or 20 people at any given street corner near the station constantly saying "mai piao" or "fa piao", and trying to sell tickets).
On that note, today was our 3rd venture into the Beijing train station (which, thankfully, is just across the street from us) AND we still don't have train tickets. If I learn how the Chinese train purchasing system works, it will be no small miracle. Perhaps nearer to the end of my trip, I'll post about what I've learned. So far, it seems some tickets can be bought 5 days in advance, some only 4, some only the day before. So we keep going back to try and buy tickets in advance, but keep leaving empty handed. We almost bought today, but the VERY HELPFUL WONDERFUL ticket lady who was about to sell us tickets had her computer crash. Two reboots with no success. So, we said we'd come back. I think we're going to hold out til Monday in the hopes of getting tickets on the 11:40 am train, instead of the 3pm. It saves us from not only having to find the Beijing West train station (a city with 4 train stations!), but also gets us into Datong early, which makes me rest a little easier about finding a place to spend the night there. Since we're only booking seats, hard seats at that, it shouldn't be a problem. After all, the tickets for that train don't even seem to be available (only sleeper seats can be bought today). I'm significantly more worried about being able to book a proper sleeper from Datong to Xian once we arrive there. Funny how the more in advance I try to plan things, the more things seem to fail. The system is not designed for my degrees of planning, I suppose.
Other than my whole "I don't understand the train ticketing system" rant, which is adventure and a half in many ways, my only other real rant of the day is that I hate that this country doesn't QUEUE. I've probably mentioned it before, but you can be at the ticket window, ASKING a question, and have an arm reach around and shove money under the window. There's no concept of "I was here first", only "I can get in". It's incredibly frustrating, and I'm still far too nice about it. I've started shoving back, though. Just a little. I've learned to shout out what ticket I want while shoving money under the window, without caring what other people are doing. I'm really not a fan of it, but "when in Rome..." Besides which, if I don't shove in, I literally would NEVER get a ticket to anything. I'd never make it onto the subway at all. Grr. I didn't think I'd ever say this, but...
As a bonus, it's a really cool word. And with that, I think I will stop rambling at you and go to bed. Hoping for a sweet and dreamless sleep. =) Gnite kittens (or I suppose, good morning to most of you). It's passing by all too quickly, but seems just right.


Beijing - Day 9 - Observer and Observed

Bloody hostel and its uppity rates. *grumble grumble* It seems silly that booking online, service fee inclusive, is somehow cheaper than even the member rates here. *grumble* we could always move, but I really am a fan of the place, for all its conveniences, so here I am, in the internet bar, making a booking for a hostel I already live in, so that we can extend our stay at the same rate we've been paying already. Fools. *grumble*
In other news, today was hot and sunny, unlike the predicted thunderstorms, so I think tomorrow, we'll hit the great wall for a fun 4 hour hike of goodness. Gah. Hiking in 33C weather seems like stupidity, but at the same time, it's not getting any cooler (except yesterday, at 25C or so, which felt really cold. I wore pants. Long pants. And a long sleeved shirt. When I turn on the A/C to cool the room down a bit at the end of the day, I feel like its too cold if it's any lower than 24C. I'm going to be really cold when I get back to Canada. Oh boy.), and at least it's not thunder and lightning and other such goodness, which would be even less fun to hike in. Tomorrow's a sunscreen kind of day. Plus, it should be a little cooler outside the city, out in the hills and things.
Today was an excellent wandering day... I even managed to find a real market -- one for food, just tucked in a tented alleyway area of one of the main roads. I love markets. I love grocery stores, and markets are just a cooler version of them. Didn't really buy anything, as I have no need for raw meat or veg, and the fruit wasn't really any better than what I've found near the hostel -- plus, I wasn't in any mood to bargain, so, just wandering around the rows of veg made me happy enough. I love (food) markets.
I didn't realize until I was walking around in there how much my trips to HK with my mom when I was younger had an impact on my perceptions of the world around me. As much as I'm still very much a born-in, raised-in, Canadian kid and all, there's a lot about how I see the world that was fundamentally affected by things like going to the market near my grandmother's old house on Po On Road, by the crowded streets, the roosters crowing, the morning congee... The smell of fish... It's familiar without being really a part of my actual life.
Travel is important. Profoundly so. (PS. Thank you, Ma Zi)
I took photos of the math/physics bridge as well today, and while I was geeking out with my camera over that, a middle-aged chinese man came over to chat. The conversation was a little stilted, as always, since I had to get him to say things a different way a number of times, since I didn't oft understand what he was saying at first. I got confused about whether he knew where Canada was when he asked something about what language we spoke in Canada. But, it was pretty cool, all told, considering that he didn't speak a word of English. This was a contrast to the conversation I had with the photographer I met waiting for the ticket window to open @ the old observatory. He spoke a little English, and a little more Cantonese, and so, a little wee three language (dialect, technically, I suppose) broken conversation ensued. He had a very pretty camera. With a very very pretty telephoto lens. ... Drool..... Anyway, he offered to take a photo for me at the top of the observatory, and I think they turned out pretty well. It's always neat when the person taking your photo is a big photo geek too, since they're all at neat angles and stuff. Not your typical "pose with the famous statue" tourist shot. Very happy.
I also hit a photo contest exhibition on the way home (most gorgeous great wall photo I've ever seen -- gorgeous dark royal blues, wall in the lower 1/4 of the frame just snaking back across the scene, and AWESOMEly beautiful lightning bolts covering the rest of the frame.), and while it wasn't really the typical "defining Beijing" tourist fare, I really like photos. I think a lot of you folk would've loved it too.
I really like Beijing. I don't know necessarily that I'd be overly interested in moving here to live or anything, though I don't necessarily think I'd mind either. But it's a nifty place, and I feel surprisingly comfortable here. I've mostly gotten used to some of its quirks (toilets (there will be an ode to these later on in the blog, because there's so much to say about them), transit (packed, but oh-the-love), trepidatious crossings -- I'm sometimes suprised that I haven't been run over yet while crossing the road. No one has right-of-way here. There's just a lot of honking, some stopping mid-way through the street, and a lot of looking over your shoulder to make sure that LARGE bus doesn't run you over -- because they really will. Adventure every time. =P), and don't even notice the few things I don't like about it (spitting, smoking, smog (mostly blown away today), squatting (again, ode to toilets), soliciting LOTS of soliciting -- although sometimes that's character...)
Even the heat isn't so bad. =) It feels like I've been here forever, that so much time has passed back in Canada, even though it's only been days here. At the same time, it feels so short, as we leave Beijing in only another 5 days or so, and then do a few much shorter stops. This trip will pass by in the blink of an eye, methinks. But I suppose it's all relative; depends which one of us is observing as to which one of us is moving. =) I know. Profound. Deeply Profound.
Don't forget to double your muffinage, kids.


Beijing - Day 7 - Functionally illiterate

I'd never really had any concept of what that meant. Functionally illiterate. But how can one be functional if you can't read, I thought, what with all these words and signs and papers around us?

Well, I'm finding out. And it's not nearly as hard as I suspected. My spoken mandarin may be broken, but my written mandarin is far worse. I'm getting far better at menus these days, and signs, but really not much else. Even sometimes, I know what the words are, what they mean, but can't figure out how to say them, and try to go with some butchered cantonese -- which usually seems to work. That, and some degree of pointing.

The question "what is that?" or "what's in that dish?" has been my friend, oh yes it has... I don't always understand the answers, but I can usually pick out enough words to decide if I want to eat a particular dish.

On that note, I've found my new absolute favourite eatery in Beijing. It's right across the street, and while it has the appearance of a fast food joint, it has all (well, almost all) my chinese comfort foods. It's got congee, it's got those sticky rice lotus leaf things, it's got soymilk (mmm), it's got bbq pork buns, other buns, and lots of simple dinners of rice/noodles and stuff. It's called Fieldhome (I can only read the first character of three, which does, indeed, translate as field... the rest, I can't tell. Like I said, functionally illiterate). It's not really special in any grand way, but it's great low-risk easy breakfast/brunch or late dinner after a long day. AND IT'S NON-SMOKING!!!!! This is most unheard of in China, and makes me so happy I could cry. Except not really. Since my eyes water enough with the smoke. Anyway, it's great Anytime that easy is preferable to new (not that I'm squeamish when it comes to food. More cautious. I've had food poisoning enough times from things that ought to have been easy peasy and safe in Canada, that I daren't risk things like scorpions or starfish, though both look quite exciting. But that's something I'll talk about another day... As it was a while ago... Back on track...). Plus, I've never been a big fan of eating out lots (unless eating out means picnic, for I am a large picnic girl) -- not just for price, mind, since it's super cheap to eat out here... More... I just get sick of it really quickly. I'm a big fan of plain food, ordinary food, simple food. With highlights of other fun things every now and then.

Picnic skills, however, came in handy today, as Garrett and I spent the day @ the Palace Museum (more commonly known in English as the Forbidden City), and, as my mom (who, PS, is the coolest person ever) warned me, the best you're going to do for food there is ice cream and instant noodles. Lots of instant noodles. But I'd brought lunch. So, no need to eat either yellow salt flavour or brown salt flavoured noodles. Though Garrett did say they weren't too bad. The rehydrated vegetables were not nearly so unimpressive as one might expect.

The day itself... well.... I walked around that place for... a good 5.5 h, and I didn't even see everything. Garrett stuck it out and chipped in the extra Y10-20 to go in the extra section(s), and so stayed about another 2.5 h after I left to pick up some plane tickets (from a lovely travel agent who wishes she could travel to Xian with us -- her hometown, which she very much misses. I love being able to semi-communicate in mandarin. It makes me happy. As did booking these tickets. Being able to sort out this, with the only English words having been used in the 3 times I've gone to pester her about times and prices and available flights being "passport" and "email" -- I'm pretty damn proud of that, actually. I still have to go back and ask her one more thing or two, but... I dunno. Something about that exchange today - tickets, conversation, and all - made me infinitely happy inside, so much so that I was nearly torn between glee and a tear or two as I walked down the street to my hostel. Right.).

I have very few things to say about it, and fairly few pictures (though, Karim, m'dear, I may actually give you a run for your money... I didn't think it was possible. I've taken nearly 400 photos in 7 days, and I haven't even hit the gorgeous scenery that I've been waiting my whole life to see. Admittedly, some of these will get deleted as soon as I put them on a computer and figure out which of the 3 shots is actually properly exposed, and has just the right DoF that I want -- I've been doing some serious exposure bracketing, since I don't trust me not to underexpose, and I've had a lot of weird lighting, and a LOT of backlighting. Blah blah blah *geeking out about camera*), but that's mostly because nothing I could possibly say, nor any photo I could possibly take, no matter how postcard perfect I might be able to get it (difficult to get postcard perfect photos because of (1) smog today, (2) construction aka. restoration work on portions of the palace, and (3), most importantly, TOURIST HORDES. It takes almost infinite patience to acquire people-free photos, and sometimes is legitmately impossible to do. Especially once the tour groups really pack in. Oh chinese tour groups, with your crazy matching hats and vests. If I join one of these things, where we all match like sheep, or more like lemmings, bright red vested lemmings, you have my formal permission to have me committed.), nothing I can do can possibly convey what this place is like.

The sheer scale cannot fit in a paragraph. Cannot be squashed into a photograph. Now I really know what the word palace means. It was imposing and gorgeous... and IMPOSING in its grandeur, but more so in sheer size. Its bigosity, as Jon Lam might put it. It makes you feel very ant next to giant ant hill, except that the ant hill is incredibly ornate, hundreds of years old (at least -- even the most recent stuff is Qing dynasty, which is mid-1600s), and filled with museum exhibitions. AND IS HUGE. Did I mention I walked around for 6 hours? And that wasn't covering all that was open to the public, not to mention the HUGE sections that aren't public access?

Emperor = Excess. Enough said. I feel very... grain of sand by the sea. And I'm happy.