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. =)