Yesterday, Jeremy and I went out on a dinner date with some local Xiamen gals. Well, before the date, Jeremy suggests we arrive fashionably late. 10 minutes beyond our initial rendezvous time, we walk into a steamy Sichuan restaurant. Apparently, our gals decide to leverage their waiting time with their desired current appetite. So before we got there, they order a massive bowl of ma la (numbing spice) frog and a side dish of goose egg yolk tofu that arrives to our table the moment we arrive. The frogs weren’t French style with massive amounts of taste-enhancing butter and garlic. Instead, they were pulverized bits, each bit of chewy meat plauged with shards of bone and cartilage. Lesson learned: Don’t show up late to dinner dates in countries where they eat everything for fun.
After dinner, we all go out to a cool bar, and after that, we all go dancing at La Bamba. But La Bamba is dead tonight so instead about 10 of us go to a small night market down the alley and the drinking begins. I guess we are are too noisy because the waiter is complaining about the noise and asking us to keep it down while simultaneously contradicting his wishes by constantly forcing us with more and more bottles of beer. A bit paradoxical indeed, but then again what isn’t in China?
After about two hours, I get hungry. At least 3 food stalls surround us, and I pick the closest. You know, you would think the culinary-adventurous Brian would have found at least one thing to look good in the drunken state. But no. Nothing. I almost give up, but in a last-minute stroke of humor, I opt for the variety plate. $1.50 and three minutes later, a waiter serves our a table a huge plate of duck brains (in the skull with the beak), chicken feet, duck feet, bird organ medly, pork fat-n-skin, pork feet, snails, and highly fermented bamboo shoots. It was a laugh, and I thought the food would go to waste, but no sooner did some of us start devouring the food. For instance, a British expat grabbed a chicken foot and said this is how you do it: He plopped the entire thing in his mouth, toe nails and bones and all, and just starts grinding away. (Chicken toenails are nasty and nutritions, I guess.) A few minutes later he spits out a bulbous ball of mush on the floor. Some Chinese girl picks up a ducks beak and begins slurping the brains out of the skull in a very similar way we eat artichoke flesh from the leaves. She even gets the eye ball. Yucky. I try a bit of brain, and I have to say, it is a bit like foie groi. But the idea of eating “duck thought“ (as Jeremy calls it) grosses me out to shivers and gags. Nonetheless, the entire plate gets devoured. Moments later, some amused drunk Chinese guys invite a few of us over, and they have a whole plate of duck brains. They motion to us. I take a defensive step back but the same British guy that was eating chicken feet, runs over and devours like three duck brains as if they were artichoke leaves. The Chinese guys laugh, offer more beer and all I can think is oh God.
Luckily I make it home that night.
Well, that’s the latest installment my typical life here.
In China, blind people often give massage. It is a great idea and one the we decide to utilize tonignt. But instead of a relaxing massage, I was given thorough medical therapy to the point where I had to say “too strong“ at times. This is something I never tell other people. Without even telling the blind massuer, he knew I was a lefty because he found more muscle knots in my left shoulder and arm. “Ni shi zuo piezi ma?“ (Are you left-handed?)
At around 10:30P we head out to go to our usual Thursday hangout at the bar affectionately called The House. It is actually a great bar in an old Portuguesse colonial house with free pool and 10 yuan Sam Adams — an incredible deal at a bar considering the shit Chinese beer is triple at most other places and I can’t even find Sam Adams at any other store in town. Before we go, we decide to eat some chuarn. As we are ordering, a group of Chinese guys sitting down at a table invite us over. We join the three locals and they begin pooring us beer while ganbei-ing us nonstop. More food is ordered including BBQed fish, octopus, ginko squares (bai-guo), eggplant, grassy onions and lamb. One of the locals informs us that he has won 3rd place in the Tsingtao drinking competition and subsequently won 50,800 RMB — a hefty sum. He then begins ganbei-ing us with a pitcher of beer. For every glass of beer we consume, he drinks a pitcher of beer. It is amazing. What is even more amazing is that at our table is a mini-keg of beer that cost 40 RMB (or about $5 USD.) After another hour, 5 more cups of beer on my end, and 3 more pitchers of beer on the champions end we dust the keg. We decide to go bowling, but the bowling hall is closed so we end up at a pool hall with young Chinese girls racking up our balls (Please, no pun intended.) After about 5 games, we call it quits. It is, afterall about 3:00A.
The great thing about verical white-tiled buildings is when you are looking at one, you are most likely in the heart of China. Such is the case in Xiamen, which is an open-air museum for white-tiled and blue-tinted window masterpeice buildings. Most people find them quite ugly, but these survivors of Chinese 1980s architechtural history provide some insight into the way China thinks about things. First off, why tile your building in the first place? The most simple answer I’ve received from the question is: face. The owners and renters of buildings that are tiled gain face by linving in and owning tiled buildings. The reason for this is because tiles are somewhat expensive. Today, I bought 10 white vertical tiles for 2 RMB. But look, an entire building would cost thousands of RMB in tiles alone (and then installation costs) because some buildings could contains hundreds of thousands if not millions of tiles. The tile game goes so far as som buildings having tile only on the sides of the building that are facing the public view.
Today we met with the founder of Koryo Tours and watched a new movie called Crossing the Line about American defectees to North Korea during the American/Korean War. It was very interesting and a good slice of the Xiamen expet scene showed up.
I left Yangshuo today after eight blissful days there. My next stop in Guiyang did not have a direct train today, so instead I opted for a four-hour train layover in Liuzhou, an industrial provincial town in central Guanxi. On the train to Liuzhou, I met a goofy girl name Danny. She too was waiting in Liuzhou, so together we explore the bustling street life of the city. In one market area, we find a butcher with two cute dogs in a cage out front. I do the math and gasp. These dogs are to be eaten, soon. I ask Danny if she eats dog. “If you eat the dog in winter, you don’t feel cold.“ I nodded. The problem here was these were not mangy barking ugly stray scar muts. These were real nice whimpering real licking dogs with dog feelings for a warm home with kibbles ‘n bits. What is even more alarming is that dog butchers are usually hidden off to the side in the same place where other contreversial aspects of society take place. But these canine butchers were proud and in plain view for everyone to salivte over.
I don’t quite make it to Fenghuang, but instead end up stuck in some small 4th-tier Guizhou town named Tonsgren. The town is quite pleasant, being situated on a large river. I am able to get a great room for 80RMB at the 3-star Clean Mautain Hotel. (That’s Clean Mountain for those of you not fluent in Chinglesh.) The funny thing is, no matter how nice the hotel the difference between the hot and cold in the shower is the same. What unit of measurement is smaller that a millimeter? Well, whatever that is, that is the amount you have to turn the shower faucet to go from scalding hot water to frozen slush. It sucks because it is next to impossible to find that perfect showering temperature. Oh well, at least the room is nice.
Here is an exerpt from the hotel’s serivce directory:
General Manager’s Address
Ovation you come tongren ,thanking you to come the jingshan hotel!
Provided our service item that wine shop have in this guidebook, and facilities inside the wine shop.
The heart of ai hopes you during the period of wine shop over of delectation.
If you return additional information in demand or helps, please with the wine shop the big an assistant maager contacts.
We believe you would at here pleased degree over fine time, and the ai heart heat slices the anticipation you to come the jingshang hotel again.
General maager: Zhao Ping
Clean Mautain Hotel
English aside, the hotel is great and the staff is helpful. Next time you find yourself in Tongren, please visit. But, don’t come expecting a wine shop. I never found one.back to top
With summer upon us and my contact job at ING over, I hopped an Air China plane to Běijīng for a quick 2-month stint in Zhong Guo, as the Chinese call it, or translated literally, the Middle Kingdom. Last time I was in Běijīng was a mere 18 months ago, yet the changes were remarkable. Olympic fever has taken over, and now Běijīng is the new construction capital of the world. Hi-cranes and cement trucks were everywhere, scrambling to get the capital ready for the massive sporting event in 2008. I decided to visit my favorite dumpling place and my bike rental place, but there were gone. In fact, the entire block was gone, replaced by one massive construction pit. Luckily, a lot of traditional Běijīng exists, and once a found a bike I could cruise for hours in ancient hútòng 胡同 alleyways passed old men playing cards, as the always have done, passed young children playing around, as they have always done, and passed the ubiquitous Pekinese, the typical small whitish, funny looking dog that 1 in 3 Běijīng people own.
World Cup was underway when I arrived to Běijīng and the local bars set up massive projection screens on their grass lawns and patios. My local friends in Běijīng (Luke, et al.) spent many hours sitting under the stars, and trees, and screaming cecedas, watching teams from around the world trying to score that one vital goal. I love the damn game and I wish it would be more popular in the US.
As some of you may know, I have always had a bit of a fascination about the Great Wall. In fact, I have visited the massive monument in four different places. However, I never thought much about what lay beyond the wall, until this trip. I learned it was the 800 anniversary of the coming to power of Chinges Khan (Genghis Khan). I visited the Great Wall (chang cheng in Chinese) for my fourth and fifth time. It was massive and impressive as usual. But as I was walking along the ancient ramparts I thought about what the wall for and whom it was meant to detour. The Mongols, or Mongolians, throughout history, have been China’s greatest fears. And rightly so, because the Mongols, under Chinges Khan, as the locals call him (or Ganges Khan he is known in the rest of the world) once held the largest empire humanity has ever known. And it was the Mongolians that spurred the Chinese into building the most massive structure ever built, the Great Wall. So I decided I had to take a deeper look, and travel behond the wall, and meet the people, firsthand, who are on the otherside of wall.back to top
A nice evening at the Bund with a mediocre fireworks display. What really gets us going is the bottle of báijiǔ Jason busts out in the taxi on the way there. And then we buy a bunch of Roman candles, and Jeremy has the nerve to pull a 180 and begins firing them at walking peoples legs. Funny as hell, but we could have gotten in trouble.
Facial hair on men will never really be in in a country where the men really can’t grow that much facial hair (until they are well into age.)
You haven’t really been to a country until you’ve had diarrhea. In my case, the Běijīng belly hit on day 9, Jan 1, 2004. Happy New Year.
Subject: Live from China
Yo, ni hao 你好 everyone,
Been a while, but I am alive and keeping the vibe. Right now, in Yángshuò, at one of those noisy Internet/bar places that you find all over the world these days pumping out the latest in Euro-techno Yángshuò (pronounced: yang + shwow) is a definite highlight of the trip. It is a karst masterpiece in all senses. I can’t explain really, you just gotta come here. Trust me, do an image search on Google. It is basically these plant covered limestone outcropping that jut 1000 feet out of the valley and rivers. The weather had been gray for the last 2 months, and I prayed in Shànghǎi at all the temples for sun. I mean I really prayed, threw money at all the Buddhas. (I also prayed for you all as well.) Well, I can’t say if it the miracles of Zen, or whatever, but literally, the moment I left my hotel room at 2:00 PM (yep, Shànghǎi put me on a bad schedule) the sun came out for the first time all year. It was epic to say the least, and magical to say the most. Anyhow, it has been rayz ever since. Took about a billion photos, but none will go on the Web site, ’cause I don’t have that ability now. (I miss that hi-speed-conect that Jeremy has in Shànghǎi.) Again, just do a Google images search for: Yángshuò or Guìlín. I will roll around SW China for the next month and then onto Nam, Cam, Thai and then to India. I have to say that I was worried about getting around this wild country, but in reality, it has been nothing but a pleasure. I am learning Chinese and all the locals are wild about helping me. This place is now in the prime time. China is more open now than ever. Go visit Jeremy and then come visit me. I expect to see all of you. The only excuse not to have your butts over here is if: you just bought a house, or just had a kid. You know who you are. Everyone else, come on. Just do it. You are only 30 once.
Anyhow, been eating a lot of that food, and yep, I gained a couple. That is OK, though, ’cause it will be gone soon enough. China is a culinary masterpiece and the new year here and excellent beer really is putting a demand on my belt, but whatever. If the vegans of the bunch knew what went down my esophagus, they would never talk to me again. Any how, eel rhymes with real, and lamb is never damn. It is just the pork that Moses would worry about, but if he was alive today, it would be the cow that would bring the most pout. And on that note, everyone go to the store and buy a Qīngdǎo beer and think of me.
I miss you all and think of you. Keeping it real. Say no to Bush in 2004. It is time we, as Americans, stop expecting and start accepting.
The great thing about building a freeway in China is that they let you drive on it whilst under construction. And so, I witnessed (as did my kidneys) first hand, the building of monstrous new road from Kūnmíng to Dàlĭ. The drive would make a Kenyan cry!
And so I’ve found a tranquil place where there is traditional Chinese architecture everywhere, where you can bike thru endless tea and yellow flower fields, and where smiling toothless old women in aqua head scarves feed you food that numbs the mouth.
Kunming 6 -7 :: Dàlĭ. 8 - 9 :: Qiaotou 桥头 10 :: Tiger Leaping Gorge 11 - 12 :: Lìjiāng 13 - 16 :: Dàlĭ. 17 - 18
The Kūnmíng long distance bus station — not one of the most pleasant places on earth — a place with stench that equals perhaps Suez. Anyhow, I find myself somehow on an overnight bus sleeper to Hekou 河口 so that I may gracefully cross the China/Vietnam border. The bus is jammed with people: envision a can of sardines rolling down the highway at 60 MPH. Dehydration is the name of the game as pit stops are as rare as a foreigner here. Once we get going, there is no stop for five hours, where everyone shuffles out with a communal shitter which is nothing more than a white tile trough partitioned by three-foot high walls. Six men squat simultaneously and shit together for seems to be ten minutes. I, being the odd one out, opt for a more private section in the back. I latter learn my positioning mistake when a splash of water forces all the refuse my way, underneath me and into an oversized drain beneath. The big flush. This is hell, I think as I wipe and exit. The funny thing is is that I am expected to pay for this enjoyment. Yeah, right. No RMB for you!
* * * * * * *
My last two weeks in China were groundbreaking. Yúnnán Province (SouthWest China) was superb in all rights: The weather perfect, neon-yellow flowers were in bloom everywhere, the spicy food tantalized and numbed my taste buds, and the peoples’ smiles were brilliant. I was so inspired that I even wrote my first guitar/vocal song in five years. ( G G D C C D ) It was mostly colorful Chinese tribal minority tribal folks in these parts and a sharp and healthy contrast to the paler Hàn majority found throughout the rest of China proper.
The fun began in the ancient historic town of Dàlĭ. On the first day, I took a 25-mile bike ride throughout endless villages, along cobblestone alleys, and passed 1000-year old stone Táng dynasty stone pagodas. All the time I was surrounded by huge snow-covered mountains to the north, blue Dàlĭ. Lake to the south, and neon-yellow flowers and tea gardens all over the rest of the place. An international contingency of one Japanese (m), one Chinese (f), one Canadian (m), one German(f) and myself(m) took it upon ourselves to traverse the landscape and together we trekked the steep trails of the 23 km Tiger Leaping Gorge amidst jagged 13,000 ft mountain peaks and mile-deep river valleys. It was, as Mark Segalman says, “EPIC!" The trip ended in the historic town of Lìjiāng and featured an old-city of traditional Chinese architecture — mainly what I thought all of China looked like before I got here. To my dismay, most of what I thought was China had long since been torn down and replaced with their version of modernity — white tiled square buildings. All in all though, China ranks at the top of the list; and I have seen >1% of that massive place…
China, China, China. What is it about China that continually shows me a good time and makes me want more? Certainly it is not the chronic pollution that chokes the cities; nor is it the traffic jams and lingual hurdles I face on a daily basis. And it’s definitely not China’s infamous Big Brother bureaucracy that requires five wasted business days to extend my tourist visa. Nope. It must be something else. Perhaps it is the people and the smiles they offer every time I wander some forgotten alley. Or could it be the adorable kids screaming “Ní Hǎo!" and “Hello!" at every turn? Possibly it’s the tantalizing food that tastes with endless delight. Most of all, though, I enjoy the optimism found in China of today — the sense that anything can and will happen. It grabs me. Like it or dislike, all of the above are abuzz right now in the Middle Country and this feeling emanates the cities and consciousness of the people. And now more than ever the Chinese are rediscovering themselves and all that life has to offer — an East-Asian renaissance of sorts. Whatever way, after three months of traversing the Sino landscape, all I want to do is see more of the damnably huge country. I can’t say that about most places…
My Chinese adventure begins on a smooth 25-hour ferry cruise from Seoul to Tianjin (pop: 10.4 million.) My ship, the Tian Ren, chugs along and soon we enter Tianjin’s harbor. I never heard of this mammoth city before, but judging by the size of it’s port, China is thinking of Tianjin in a BIG way. Afterall, this is the place where all those “Made in China" things are shipped the world over. My hopes of disembarking soon fade as my harbor tour continues for hours. We pass hundreds of new and rusty ships awaiting their load. Next to these boats are “Empire Strikes Back" Imperial Ice-Walker freight cranes lifting, pushing, pulling and loading this universe of cargo. Then there are archaic industrial complexes: oil refineries, electric plants, and storage facilities all plugging away in a racket of noise. Something illegal must be going on here. Thankfully, our captain eventual finds a parking spot and we dock. Disembarkation is easy after a quick wedge and soon I am a slo-training to the China’s heart.
Grand and historic Běijīng (pop: 13.8 million) is located in the same place I last left her in 2001. Not much else seems the same. Upon arrival, I try to find my old hostel, but to no avail. Instead, a taller building stands with gleaming lights and a pyramid on the roof. A tempting Mercedes dealership is next door and beyond is a Boeing office (just in case any passer-byer wants a 747-400.) “Heavens!" I yell. “I didn’t know China is changing THIS fast." My taxi driver, in limited Chinglish, quickly responds, “hostel no more." I suddenly accept fate: Běijīng is growing and transforming in a BIG way and 2008 Olympic craze isn’t helping matters. Personally, I happy about this prosperity for China and believe that improvement is good. However, I soon realize that among all the dust and high-rises, an ancient and mystical era of China is disappearing forever. Well, that is exactly why I am here now, to see Běijīng before what comes next.
My ten productive days in Běijīng are spent touring the never ending cultural relics of the country’s last thousand years. I hike the Great Wall for three days, laze around the Míng Dynasty Summer Palace and find love at the Temple of Heaven. At first, Běijīng seems like a belching and unforgiving monster. Soon, though, I rent a bike and am simultaneously given the key to the city. Whomever planned Běijīng’s municipality deserves an award and should consult in the West. True, Běijīng’s main drags are a bit wide, but this allows for tree-lined side roads where bikes are king. Běijīng is the PERFECT city for biking; and in fact, a recent study suggests that bikes beat both taxis and buses during rush hour commutes across town! It’s no wonder there are hundreds of others with me as I bike and bike for hours and days discovering temples, parks and the disappearing hútòng 胡同 — Běijīng’s feng shui alleyways famous for neighborly vibes and family life.
Larry Harvey (Burning Man envisionary) would be highly impressed with Běijīng and all of China for that matter, for I think he would agree that China is Burning Man 24-7-365. For those of you who don’t know what I mean, let me explain. Foremost are the are the bikes: Again, they are everywhere. Folks are constantly peddling whether the weather is baking, freezing, shining or snowing. And true enough, some of my most favorite Chinese times have been peddling about the wondrous urban and natural sights that spot the country at every turn. Secondly is the creativity. Like Burning Man, anything can and will happen in China. Wacky inventions are everywhere from motorized chili-pepper crushers, to the guy on the street refilling disposable lighters, from the three-wheeler, smoke puffing tractors, to automatic chestnut roasters, and flying, battery powered Frisbees. Things of beauty and ugly are built, fixed, and destroyed in the blink of an eye. And finally, and most of all, there are the lights. Like at Burning Man, the moment the Chinese sun goes down, the whole place become a kaleidoscope of flashing, blinking, and strobing rays. Las Vegas might become jealous. The high rises are especially interesting and provide hours of glimpsing pleasure. Look out Black Rock City…
Běijīng nights are spent with my old university pal Luke and his lady (Flora.) Together they help open the door to Chinese cuisine as we sample many of the countries diverse foods. One nights its Guangxi Hot Pot, another its Sìchuān fare, next its Běijīng duck. Damn good. The long lost pounds begin to return and I am thankful again to lug around a bit of a belly.
After 10 fun-filled days Běijīng-ing I don’t want to leave. Still, I reluctantly hop on a train headed south and enjoy a night’s rest in hard-sleeper luxury. China is a “communist" society is therefore a classless society — so instead of 1st, 2nd, and Shit-class, the convention of hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper is implemented. Hard-sleeper is second best and good enough for me. As the train rolls on, I sip tea with five others and romanticize the Chinese statistics that while I am rolling down the tracks there are 10,000,000 other Chinese souls training around the massive country with me. That’s a lot! And on the subject, I love Chinese statistics. They are biggest and badest around. Try this one on your lungs: One out of every three cigarettes puffed on the planet is done so in China. Good thing China has banned smoking in the train cars. This nasty habit is reserved in the connection corridors. Or how about this one: China has more than 100 cities with populations above 1,000,000. In fact, the newly formed Chongqing municipality has more than 32 million souls! (Bet you’ve never heard of Chongqing — I hadn’t.) Well, when you have 1 out of every 5 humans on the planet, a lot happens — and if you calculate it, chances are China will top all scales.
6:30 comes too soon and I am jolted from dream land by a pushy steward. “You stop here!" I roll out of bed on off the train and into the era of China’s past.
My first thought when I arrive to Píngyáo (pop: 40,000) is, “My God, they finally did invent the time machine!" Píngyáo, unlike the rest of China, seems to have escaped modernization and instead seems stuck in the realm of the Míng Dynasty. Rumor has it that Píngyáo is the only remaining Chinese city that is still enclosed by a complete Míng dynasty wall. Very impressive. I walk the ramparts of the city walls one day and am really digging the Míng Dynasty flavor. Every structure within the cities wall is the same blue-gray color: The cobblestone roads blend right into the brick houses which blend into the tall walls which blend into the guard towers and arches overhead. Suddenly someone yells and seems to be shooing me away. “Now what?" I ignore him, but the man runs up and tugs me away. Apparently I am in the way of a Chinese Míng dynasty period-piece movie shoot. Faux-warriors and peasants are waiting for the camera to roll, and when it does, all the actors spring to action. It is classic. What is even more funny is that about 500,000,000 people will be watching this scene in about six months on one of the many CCTV channels — China’s state run television.
Píngyáo is also chock-full of temples and the first bank in China. I visit many historical sites, each more impressive than the previous. The only reminder of the 20th century is my camera snapping away. Unfortunately, time runs short in Píngyáo, and I am soon on another hard-sleeper heading south on an all-night run. Why do the Chinese snore so much on trains? Where are my earplugs?
Xī’ān (pop: 6.6 million) in Shǎnxī Province was the center of China — and therefore the world — 2,000 years ago. Today it seems like the center of an exhaust pipe. Coughs aside, this bland industrial looking city has tons to offer hidden among the ubiquitous white-tiled rectangular buildings. Quoted as “The Eight Wonder of World" the 2000-year old Qín Dynasty Terracotta Warriors opens eyes wider than the local opthamologist As one Canadian friend asks, “How could you forget about these things?" But sure enough they were… treasures forgotten under tons of earth, these thousands of life-size and lifelike warriors stood and crumbled for 2,000 years until one fateful 1974 day when some humble peasants found them again while digging a well. Amazing. Upon discovery, the Chinese cultural ministry went full swing and deservedly so, elevated Xī'ān as one of China’s top tourist attraction.
Xī'ān also has a (mostly) intact Míng wall as well. The 16 kms of wall are bike ridable and I ventured around them one day, but I was turned back at kilometer 12 because “wall closed, you go no further." What a buzz-kill when I have to break my number 2 rule of travel, never return the same way you arrived.
Ah, Chéngdū (pop: 11.3 million) center of the Sìchuān world and home to the Giant Pandas and China’s spiciest cuisine. While pandas eat bamboo, Sichuanese eat HOT POT. And it is so hot, that the food actually numbs the mouth. I was eating Hot Pot one night, when I became quite concerned. “Man, they must not have rinsed the pesticides of these vegetables — my mouth is numb!" The locals laugh. The simple say “Ma La!" I repeat “Ma, what?" I soon learn the culprit of my I spent several an evening torturing my taste buds with such local delicacies as Ma La Tofu and Hot Pot. I bought a little bit of the ma peppers and wait ’till my next dinner party. When your mouth goes numb, you will know that it is not the pesticides.
One morning, I try to wake up to visit the Pandas. But it is 8:00 AM and still dark out. No chance of me getting up. And the further west you go, the later it stays dark. The culprit: Běijīng Time. To further its grip-hold on the country, Chinese officials insist that the entire country remain on Běijīng time. So when it is 8:00 in Běijīng it is also 8:00 in Kashgar, 2500 miles to the West, which really should be 3 hours behind. It is kind of cute in a weird way. I guess I will have to try the pandas again tomorrow.
Today I am successful. The hotel staff repeatedly knocks at my door. Visiting the Great Pandas should only be done in the early morning, during feeding time. Afterwards, the fall into a deep slumber for the rest of the day and look more like a hunting trophy than a critically endangered species. Only 1,000 of these bad boys are left in the world. Luckily for me, autumn is baby season, and I get to see several young-ins. The are adorable and play and roam and fight, but all too soon, the fade, and fall asleep. A sign in front of some panda informs “Do not eat wild animals." I am thankful for the words of warning.
One interesting aspect of Chinese travel are the affects of crash-course English learning. Affectionately known as “Chinglish" this form of communication is everywhere from museums, city signs, menus. For instance, at an inter-provential bus station, a big electric-light sign lets me know that “NIFORMATION" is this way. Lucky for me though that there is an English at all. In most stations, there isn’t even this much. Along the road, I see another sign for “CLINIC OF TNADRITONAL" as if it would really mean anything even if it was spelled correctly. Engraved in stone at a city park is the following: “The ducks wewe afraid and try to away. A famous Shànghǎi landmark, The Peace Hotel, offers its visitors this bit of niformation: Susiness Hours 5 - 9 Free Soft Drink With Enter. (How thoughtful, and its the least they can do considering their patrons are paying $100s/night to stay there. Chinglish is not a derogatory term as even the Chinese themselves call it that. And I am not one to tease — you should hear my Chinese, but on this note, it really allows otherwise menial times to be quite interesting. Sure, for the menu it is OK, but you would think that before a museum engraves something on stone, it would at least overlook its pride for a minute and have a fluent speaker look over the contents.
And then there are the tones. As one courteous Aussie once put it, “Your tones are off Mate!" And he ain’t kidding Chinese would otherwise be a simple language to learn if it weren’t for these bastardly tongue twisters. Chinese lacks tense, plurals and articles (a, an, the). Instead though, it adds those tonal sounds that elevates it to an almost impossible language to master if you. Here is an example. In the center of China you will find the Shānxī 山西 province. Next door, it is Shānxī 山西 province. Try saying them one after the other. I sure can’t tell the difference. But to the Chinese, the difference is as clear as California and New Jersey. And it is the tones that do this. And when I ask for water, I have to be careful, because who knows what will come out of my mouth. Instead of a glass of sustenance, I may get a punch in the nose because I have just called my waiter’s mother a fat cow! Nonetheless, I have found Mandarin to be a fun language to learn, and moreover, the pictographs (Chinese characters) I love! I can already read many words including China, Beer, Gas, Man, Woman, Internet. The first hundred or so are easy, but after that is an uphill battle, and considering that it takes 2,000 characters to read a newspaper, I have a long way to go before I can get any real good Chinese propaganda!
One night at a Chéngdū bar, I met a local named Dave and we speak Chinese politics. The subject, the one-child policy. For years we have been hearing of Chinese preference for males, as they are strong, and can work hard, and can carry on the family name. True enough, there is now a shortage facing Chinese males: a lack of dateable women. It is a tragedy. But Dave informs me that the tides have turned. Now, many urban parents opt for a female because maybe “they can marry a rich Chinese business man, or if not, attract the attention of a foreigner." I stroke my goatee as I think of one of these hot Chinese babes stalking me. Hmmm.
I take a brief trip down to Lèshān (pop: 3.5 million) to see the Grand Buddha. Grand indeed, as this 71 meters (233 feet) tall Buddha is the largest on Earth. It is so big, that my extended family of 30 or so could picnic on its left foot. And grand he is, as his gaze looks out upon the confluence of two rivers, banks of temperate jungle and the sprawling town of Lèshān. I hike for hours among trees, temples, bridges, and finally set my gaze.back to top
I arrive at the airport, but there is no Jeremy. Just tons of Chinese people. Everyone states, but no one is overly annoying.
I begin formulating plan II. If Jeremy is a no-show, I will have to go to a local hotel and email him. But for now I am patient. Hawks notice that I am by myself and begin offering the hotels. But these people are nice, not pushy. Eventually a Chinese guy walks up to me. I expect the usual “Hotel? You want hotel?” but am startled when this guy says “Brian, where have you been? I have been looking for you?”
“Jeremy?” I respond. “Good God man! You look Chinese.” We laugh. Jeremy grabs my backpacks and hails a taxi. He speaks in Chinese to the driver. After several exchanges, the volume increases. My jaw drops as I hear Jeremy arguing (in Chinese) with the driver. I mean here is a guy that some 12 months prior didn’t even know how to say hello is now fluently arguing over the petty price of a taxi.
After several more exchanges, Jeremy starts walking away. “We are walking out of here; these guys are all going to rip us off.” I am exhausted from the 20 hour journey to China, but excitement overwhelms me. I can’t wait to explore the city, whether on foot or by car. And so we walk out of the airport to the surprise of many people.back to top
Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors 三皇五帝 Sānhuáng wǔdì —
ca.2852 - 2205 BCE
Xia Dynasty 夏朝 Xiàcháo — ca.2100 BC – ca.1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 商朝 Shāng — 1600 BC–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty 周朝 Zhōu Cháo — 1045 BC–256 BCE
Qin Dynasty 秦朝 Qín Cháo — 221 BC–207 BC
Hàn Dynasty 汉朝 Hàn Cháo — 221 BCE–206 CE
Three Kingdoms 三国时代 Sānguó shídài — 220–280 CE
Jìn Dynasty 晋朝 Jìn Cháo — 265–420
Southern and Northern Dynasties 南北朝 nánběicháo — 420–589
Sui Dynasty 隋朝 Suí cháo — 581 to 618
Tang Dynasty 唐朝 Táng Cháo — June 18, 618 - June 4, 907
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms 五代十国 Wǔdài Shíguó — 907–960
Liao Dynasty 辽朝 Liáo Cháo — 915–1125
Sòng Dynasty 宋朝 Sòng Cháo — 960 to 1279
Yuán Dynasty — 1271 to 1368 元朝
Míng Dynasty — 1368 to 1644 明朝
Qīng Dynasty — 1644 to February 12, 1912 清朝
Republic of China — 1912 to 1949 Zhōnghuá Mínguó 中华民国
People’s Republic of China — 1949 to current 中华人民共和国