Tag Archives: China

Saying Goodbye to China – Confused Communism & Controlled Capitalism.

2 Nov

Say goodbye to China. I wonder when I coming back? If, I’m coming back? Isn’t it strange to think like that. Thinking that you many never, ever return to a place. In other words, death will knock on my door before China will?

What would bring me back to China? Work? Vaction? I really just don’t know.

Do I see myself in China? Hmmm… Do I see myself in Russia? I believe Russia needs me more than China. They’ve got things cranking in China.

Russia, she just sighs. Has so much potential. I have a “fixer” soul. When I see a problem, obstacle or issue – I look for a solution. For me, China’s simple. She’s in need of an image makeover. Re-branding to describe this blending of free market and one-party government. Russia is lost. She needs to find herself.

After spending some time in China, I found day to day, communism is a non-issue. Like the rest of the world, the Chinese are more worried about holding on to their jobs, paying bills, feeding their kids, saving money for school… They are more concerned about making a better future for their children than what the Chinese government says about the currency, human rights, Tibet or climate change. For the most part, they’re a politically apathetic bunch of folks… Sounds familiar.

Unlike Sweden, UK, US or Canada….there’s scant evidence of any social safety net in China. This SHOCKED me for I assumed communist governments took care of their people to the point of putting a spoon to their mouths.

What about Social security programs? Medicaid or medicare? Welfare? Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac? Chinese are on their own. Because of this, they save and save and save and save.. To buy an apartment. To buy farm land.  To pay for having a baby at the hospital. To pay for their one kid’s high school education.  To pay to drive on a road…They pay out the nose, considering their average salaries per year hoovers around $4,000 US dollars –– depending on who you ask and who you include…

At a macro -level,  one-party rule is here to stay. There’s no tea party. No coffee party. No dumpling party. No nothing. People can’t kick out the inept. Can’t trash talk their leaders. Can’t call for change. Really, they can’t call anyone.

What you see – is what you get. Quite frankly, it’s in their culture NOT to question parents, elders or superiors.  They obey.  Did you see the opening ceremonies for the Olympics???

As a Westerner, I can NOT imagine keeping my mouth shut if I received a notice from the government instructing me to move from my home I was born and raised in to make way for a skyscraper, five star hotel or new toll road.  They do.  They comply.  For, government officials know what’s best for the collective whole.

Commercial break. So, when China Southern Airlines does their 411 on “what do do when you crash,” you have to giggle. Of course, I look around

Picture taken of TV of N. Korea Parade

seeing if anyone else finds this humorous. The plane is 98.4% Chinese. No one is smiling.

They are reading the newspaper. Front page news details yesterday’s little dictator gathering in N. Korea’s where Kim Jong-il showcased his large and in-charge son and his country’s military might on international TV.

OK. China Southern Airlines instructs us to do the following before you crash and burn. Four main rules of thumb…

  1. Take off your high heels
  2. Take out your denatures
  3. Take off your head phones
  4. Put on your flotation device.

Then, and ONLY then, can you slide down the raft. That is, if you are still alive. Never knew wearing heels and denatures were an issue during an airplane crash. Now, they are playing over the loud speaker some Latin dancing number to slow Chinese music. The woman is doing the samba to Chinese music.

Back to blog: Confused Communism and controlled capitalism. That’s how I labeled China.

Came here with little expectations. And, leaving confused.

Someone I met said China, reminded her of Europe after WWII. People had hope. People saw a promising future.  Innovation. Ideas…She said, that is how China is to her now where possibilities are limitless…  Even, a two party government? Freedom to express your differences?  Five thousands years of written history says…“not so fast lady.”

Face of China

I look out the plane window and question what is China’s tipping point?

They’ve entered a time of government corruption, a widening income gap, a decomposed, non-existent social safety net and political disinterest in favor of profits. China’s been here before – just a different dynasty, different millennium, same issues…

And, I wonder if it possible to change the direction of 5,000+ years of a culture based on Confucianism, Buddhist & Taoism?

Where respect for elders and complete obedience of your superiors remains unquestionable.

Where people have differences in opinions, yet are required to live in harmony with each other.

Where seeking knowledge to become a better person means bringing wealth and honor to your family and, once again, serving your superiors.

Where trading for profits is seen as disrespectful and self-serving. Where attraction, not force, is used to obtain what one wants. And, where humanity is seen as kind and benevolent.

This philosophy fits perfectly in this government’s one-party rule. Doesn’t fit so nicely with free markets and modern political parties. China seems to be straddling both sides.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said of China, “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she’ll shake the world.”

From what I’ve seen, this giant has stirred. Watch out world..

Next stop. Bhutan.

Buddhist country of only 700,000.

Just put in roads in the 1960s… Some towns just got electricity. Monarchy introduced democracy two years ago. Only allows a select # of tourists in per year…My type of place…

Happy Birthday at the Hilton. Beijing, China

2 Nov

Where am I? Back at the center of balance and harmony. Beijing Airport, Terminal 3. Blogging. Finally writing… Terminal 3 is my place.

Last night was a night for my travel history books. The Hilton Beijing Airport Hotel welcomed me for my birthday. After resting at the zero star hotels across Asia, I’ve realized I’m made for this type of living. We’re talking about shower heads over 6 feet tall. Water pressure strong enough to rinse hair conditioner. Springs, not plywood, for a mattress. Oversize pillows on a King Sized bed. White linens recently pressed. Clean robes falling to Tall Girl’s knees. Working hair dryer expelling heat not air. Soft toilet paper to last more than 2 days. Working lamps and working electrical sockets. Unused, recognizable brand named shampoos and soap. Hog heaven baby! Heart the Hilton.

Pure relaxation hit as soon as the Hilton’s automatic, magical doors ushered me into a lobby built for giants – Ghangis Khan would be proud. It was here, the brain shut off. Muscled crumbled. And, I exhaled. Ahhhh… Clean….Silence…Alone… I’m starting to like people again….

Getting to the Hilton Beijing Airport Hotel was not easy. When traveling via trains, planes, automobiles, boats, bikes and taxis, expect the hardest and longest path of resistance. Especially in those countries that have over 2,000 characters in their alphabet. To minimize arriving in pools of sweat, I enlisted the help of the front desk lady at the Beijing Hotel recommended by Gap Adventures. I told font desk lady where I needed to go. She never heard of Hilton. There are five or six Hilton’s in Beijing – never heard of it. This was going to be fun.

I showed her online where the Hilton Airport Hotel is located. Her only role in this was to translate directions to the taxi driver. She nodded. I assumed by her nod she relayed this information to the taxi driver.

We’re making good time to the airport. Not much traffic – for Beijing – on a Sunday. As we approach the airport exit, taxi man slows down. My internal “not a good sign” radar goes off. Here we go. Taxi man starts to mumble. Talking into his ear piece. I gathered he called a friend to figure out where the hotel is located. Lost in translation. I know where the hotel is. TERMINAL 3 – My home away from home. I could lead you to the land of order, balance and harmony in darkness…

He kept talking. I booted up my laptop. The last stop on the internet super-highway was Beijing Hilton and I hoped Firefox saved the page. It did. Thank GOOOOOD. I pulled up the map. Showed the driver. He nodded in enthusiastic relief. Yes, he had NO idea where this hotel is located. Don’t get it. Hotel lady and taxi man talked for a good 3 mins before I got into the car. What did they talk about? Climate change? North Korea’s national “I heart communism” military parade being broadcast in Chinese TV? Chinese dissident receiving noble peace prize? Overcooked dumplings?

Yes, its the Anglo that gets us to the Hilton. I would have walked at this point. We pull up. A Chinese young lady greeted me in perfect English. Another young man opened my door. White gloves on the car door, ensuring I don’t bump my head. Young lady with a tight bun wrapped in bows and rhinestones hands me a taxi card. Not knowing what to do, I handed it to taxi man. She laughed. “No. It’s for you. It has the taxi name and number on the card. If you accidentally leave something in his car, we can call him for you. He will bring it to you. I guarantee it…” she smiles. She’s wearing red. Favorite color. I’m confused by this level of service. Mind is entering into happy, calm, zone. Can feel the transition as I step from mini-taxi into the Hilton built for giants.

Commercial break. On plane. Chinese Southern Airline. Flight attendant just said. “We’re waiting for one passenger. Please be patient. And, refrain from smoking.” Shit. I hope this is a non-smoking flight. Get ready to gag. When is the last time you heard about smoking on an airplane? Oh my… Also, the nicely dressed Chinese man sitting next me opted not to shower today. Not sure if it BO or Chinese cooking grease. Flight is only 2 hours and 55 minutes. Just going from Northern China to middle China. Big ass country.

Back to Hilton.

Little lady asked me if I’m a World Hilton Member. Hell, I am now. I smiled – and said, “my step-brother works for Hilton, so…the answer is YES BABY!” Fiona – another young, smiling lady with a bun laced with bows and rhinestones- enthusiastically greets me…

“Ms. Day. We’ve been waiting for you. Happy Birthday! Today is your special day. We have a cake for you…”

If I would have known about this type of reception, I would have whipped out the red lipstick AND eyebrow pencil. Then it hit. That’s right. Guess who called Beijing Hilton Airport the day prior – my Southern Mama. She had a “lovely chat with this very friendly woman who said she will take care of me.” I can only imagine the conversation from a NC, Southern bell and the Chinese guest services manager. What Fiona heard was Mom was taking care of everything. Hey, that works for me! This is not what Mom had said. But, I’m going with Fiona.

Mark, my stepbrother, got me the family/friends rate for he works for Hilton in Orlando. ROCK STAR! I don’t even want to know how much this would cost otherwise. I’m so grateful to him and Susan – his cute wife – to help me reserve a room. I’m bringing back a surprise. Soap from the Hilton in Beijing…

Chinese bell man escorted me to my room. I walked in. Smiled. Body is entering the land of Zen… The air condition even has FREON. The other hotels claim air-condition, but they opt for the fan only. Life is getting better by the minute.

Bellman left. I just say and took it all in. The mini-fridge is not only cold, but quiet. One thing I can not get used to is their idea of refrigeration. I get why they don’t sell milk, yogurt or cheese… It is unnerving when you reach for a water or COKE Zero from a mini-market fridge and it’s warmer than hot. Fridges in China are for storage, not coldness.

The bathroom – well, I could move in. A SITTING toilet and a faucet with both hot and cold water. A tub to hold a 6 foot girl. And a bathroom window facing the flat screen TV. You can bath and blow dry while watching the BBC. Life can not get much better than this.

Wait. It can. My other goal is to mail – they use the word post – a few things back to the states. I’ve purchased a few things along the way – like Polish furry boots – and picked up a few times – rocks from Petra. Hilton has a business center on floor 2. I walked in. Greeted by a tall – five foot six – smiling, Chinese lady with a bun, bows and rhinestones. I told her I needed to mail a few items. She looked confused. Switched the word “mail” to “post.” She understood the word post, yet still looked confused. Hilton has trained her in the art of customer service – meaning, listen, find a solution and charge the customer. My type of proactive, guest service system I support.

She made a few calls to EMS and DHL. Express mail is the best way to go. Yea, most expensive. I told her, “I have a date with a spa so I’ll be back in 2 hours. It’s in your hands. You are the expert.” She smiled. I did a birthday dance. When I came back, she told me it would cost $100 to express mail. Nope. I’ll wait to Bangkok to do the 4 week pony express for much less.

In route to the spa, I pass a REAL gym with REAL equipment like a treadmill, free weights, TVs…. The works. My overachiever goal had me in there first thing in the AM. FYI. Did NOT happen. I walked into Spa room. Dark. Cool. And two overly friendly, giggly Chinese girls with buns in bows and rhinestones greeted me with flowers and tea.

First thing out of their mouth, “Happy Birthday!” Fiona – front desk girl – gave them a head’s up on my arrival. LOVE this place. Proactive baby. They both agreed before I even saw the menu that the Red Wine Spa was for me. Like the sound of this. But, wine in China is 50 to 80% proof. Are they going to bath me in it or do I drink it? Either way, pulled the American thing – need to be in control and see my options – and asked to see the spa menu. I was really just looking for a manicure. Cuticles have not been tended to since July 9, 2010. It’s time.

Cuticles will need to wait. No manicure. Just wine disinfecting. Chinese massages. Acupuncture. Facials. O’well…what is a birthday girl to do. I asked for the deep tissue massage for 90 mins and 30 min facial. Glass of wine will work too. My pores need to be drained of Chinese pollution. Fibi was my lady. “She’s the best…”

We kicked started the relaxation gig by washing my feet. I felt uncomfortable for my feet have been wrapped in wool socks and hiking boots for the last 6 hours. They are NASTY. I took off my shoes and apologized. She just giggled. The Chinese like to giggle. Meanwhile, the oversized copper bowl was filling up with steaming water. She gently placed in the water pink rose petals with three scoops of green powder. She lifted my feet and set them in the water. DAMN. Hot mama. I smiled. With an exfoliate in one hand and more grainy, green powder in the other, she worked over my two worn out stubs, mandated to hold up my 6 foot body.

Next on the docket was a shower. She requested I shower first. I had to agree. I walked and walked earlier in search of my Oba-Mao t-shirt. I can only imagine the pollution I’ve accumulated. When I washed my face, my skin felt grainy from the dust. Chest too. After showering and swaddling my body in a warm, fluffy robe, I waited.

Within 30 minutes of the massage, I was out cold. Asleep. Probably snoring. I have never fallen asleep on a massage table. Especially in a foreign country. Oh, one other thing. The face hole on the table, guess what greeted me? A warm bowl of water with red and pink rose petals. When my eyes opened, petals and fresh sent of flowers greeting me. On the other hand, in Petra, Jordan for the “Turkish” massage, I was greeted by mold and scum. Love Hilton!

The facial was interesting. I was expecting a high powered mirror to deep clean every pore. Nope. It was more of a face massage with apply every oil and lotion from “France.” She exfoliated a few times. Then, spent the rest of the time giving me a face and head massage. I fell asleep again. Who falls asleep in a facial? My body was so tired. I do this. That is, run hard with little sleep for a week or two or three, and then my brain and body shut down. I need to be quiet and sleep for 10 to 12 hours then I’m recharged. Today is recharged day.

After spa, I zombied back to my room. Within minutes, the phone rings. New front desk girl, Julie rings. She has my cake and a present. OK. Come on up!

Five minutes later, she arrives with the CHEF and three other Hilton employees with a cake in one hand and fresh purple and white flowers in the other hand. Tears came to my eyes. Am I really about to cry… Was it because of the service or shear embarrassment of imagining my Mom negotiating a cake in her Southern-drawl English? The best part was their rendition of the Happy Birthday song. Bad. None of these lads will make it on Karakee night at the local Beijing bar.

I asked them to sing it in Chinese. They all looked relieved. And, just as embarrassed. We clapped. I think they wanted to stay… Not sure what the protocol is. I led them to the door for my next stop was a tub, beer and cake. Check the box. Filled the CLEAN tub with yummy water. Drank my beer. Cut some cake. Soaked in silence. I was tempted to turn on TV for I have no had English news in weeks. Why start now? Silence.

All I could think about was my blog. How to write about the fact that my soul is made for fine hotels and customer service. I’m no longer cut out for 5th class Chinese trains, sleeping six to a compartment with no door, sheets encrusted with old food and bathrooms where you need to use a mask and gloves to enter. I had to giggle for if were ever to run for office my opponent would have a field day on my “love for fine things” – clean sheets, customer service and birthday cake. But, I’ll be brave and put it out there. I like nice things. I like nice people. Political career is now over.

Last night, I cuddled with FOUR oversized, fluffy and firm pillows. A mattress with springs. And, clean, WHITE linens. I watched Addicted to Love on HBO with Meg Ryan and Ferris Bueller Day’s Off actor. (Forgot his name). Never seen the C+ movie. No matter. Meg Ryan’s hair and make-up is what captivated me. Perfect in every scene. Her character is a “grunge” or one of those “avaunte guard” tough girls. Tough girls don’t devote an hour a day applying eye shadows and eyebrows. And, another two hours styling hair. And, Meg Ryan’s wardrobe was so cool and stylish. Man, I must be craving new clothes. I’ve been wearing the same four long sleeve t-shirts since July 11th. I also want her eyebrows and hair. I have all of these high hopes for my style upon my return. I’ve already given up all forms of instant coffee and replacing it with ground coffee beans. I guess my next “big thing” is to embrace daily hygiene and fashion. Got to love what traveling does to the soul…

Commercial Break. Chinese Southern Air is serving lunch. I’ve already got some coffee laced with heavy cream and extra sugar. I’m on a roll. What’s in store. Wow. For those that sleep, flight attendants leave a sticker requesting you ring the bell for lunch. The Chinese business man next to me is going to town on his food. He’s slurping up the rice and chicken while using a fork. I swear if he hocks a luggie, I’m going to scream. For whatever reason, I assumed slurping only happened when using chop sticks. Wrong. Lunch was rice. Chicken. Yogurt with a straw. Dried apricots. Mixed vegetable with tofu and peanuts. All good… Glad to see a fork again. Oh, and alcholog is free… All you can drink.

Back to Hilton.

This AM, woke to sunlight. That’s right. Pollution, midst, fog – whatever you want to call – has enveloped the city. Thick stuff. It rained last night. Air is clean. Sun is out. Vitamin D is in the air. Puts a smile on my face. Checked out of my favorite hotel in the whole wide world – Hilton – and headed to the airport. At airport security, I was greeting by young girls wearing bows, buns and rhinestones. They all have the same hair style. Here these young girls – wearing all black. Black jumper. Black thick belt. Black boots. White letters in Chinese and English on their back saying Security. But, THEY even have sytle. They spice it up with their buns, bows and rhinestones. Super feminine security. Why have I not noticed this until now? Julie – your Mom would be psyched to see so much glitter in one place.

Next stop is Bangkok. I have my passport photos ready. Thailand requests passport photos at immigration – or so they say. I’m in Bangkok for a few days, then off to Bhutan. Can I just tell you how much I HEART the Hilton? I need to be their paid spokesperson in Beijing… Thank you Susan, Mark and Mom. Birthday at the Hilton was the BESTEST!

Birthday at the Great Wall. Beijing, China.

2 Nov

It’s 5:40 am and I’m waiting for the Great Wall tour bus to pick me up at the Dong Jiam Mia Xiang Hotel for a 4 hour drive to a remote part of Northern China to hike the Great Wall.

Today is my birthday. Well, today in China. My official birthday is not until tomorrow. I’ve opted for a 2 day celebration, not by choice but by timezone. Today I will hike the Wall. Tomorrow, I’ll check into the Hilton. That’s the new Hilton at Beijing Airport at Terminal 3. There awaits a mattress, massage and manicure. It can’t get better than this.

What is it about hotel lobbies? Everyone is asleep. The valet boy is zonked out on the outdoor bench. The two receptionist have their heads down behind the desk. The lobby attendant is sitting next to me – back straight, face looking forward, eyes closed. He frightens me. What if he starts sliding over towards me? Come on bus…

The hotel is located only a block or so from the famous Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City. Interesting how these two historical and politically prominent icons are a stone’s throw from each other.

The hotel’s neighbor is one of the Premier’s of China. So, our street is teaming with military soldiers. Young kids. Standing straight up. Wearing Mao green. Looking forward. Not smiling. Protecting the Premier. When we walk pass, we wave. They don’t..

There is a mini-market around the corner. Chinese mini-markets freak me out. Each aisle has one to three people assigned to stare at you. At first, I thought it was about shop lifting. There is probably some truth to that. But, now I believe it is a government requirement stores of a certain size must hire a set number of workers. So far, I’ve found these people to be the street cleaners and aisle watchers.

So, at the mini-convenience store, I was assigned a kid probably in need of Ritalin. I just wanted water, peanuts, dried fruit and Coke Zero. You see, I LOVE strolling grocery stores in foreign countries. It tells me a lot about that particular neighborhood or country as a whole. Ritalin boy was breathing down my neck. No time to stroll. I took a step. He took a step. I reached for peanuts. He reached faster. I wanted to pop him one.

Where is the bus? I hope they pick me up. If not, I will walk over to T-Square and watch the soldiers raise the Chinese flags. That will be my Birthday. Flag raising. Nice second to Great Wall hiking.

They got me. Scared the shit out of the employees sleeping in the lobby. Now, I’m on another micro-mini bus in route to pick up more fellow Wall travelers. It’s a little after 6 AM. Streets are calm. Pollution is thick. Can’t see much. We’re now driving through an affluent area. Car showrooms like Ferrari and Rolls Royce line the street. Who are these rich and what do they do for a living? Confused communism. Wait, there is action at the Motel 254. Hmm.

So, it’s my birthday. From the sound of these blogs, I would assume I LOVE birthdays. Can’t stand them. That is why I make a big deal out of it. It’s a joke to myself. So, this year I’m going to do a resolution or need to improve myself plan. Not sure what all it includes but working on my selfishness and Pride is part of it. I walked for almost 2 hours because I refused to ask for help. Really? How stupid. Mr. Pride is like that – The more defiant. And, the more I place faith in my own brains, the more lost I become. Yea…. Got to love what Mr. Pride can do to you…

Now, we’re driving through a Hutong neighborhood. This was what the old Beijing looked like, until the government decided to relocate the people and replace them with hotels, retailers and skyscrapers.

In this neighborhood, people are getting the day going. Preparing street food. Walking or cycling to work. We pull up in front of the Shijia Hutong, name of a hostel. Old man with a pony tail takes a seat. I hear an accent. Can’t tell where he is from.

Fog is thicker. Sun is trying so hard to shine. What do I see? Man is jogging – not in running shoes – but loafers. Ouch. Street sweepers are out. The architecture is amazing in this city. I give the Chinese credit for innovation. Yesterday, I passed the Olympic Village. The Birds Next stadium. Truly spectacular.

I spy a breakfast place. Steam is rising from the tables. Dumplings and tea for breakfast. Bamboo steamers are stacked five feet high on tables.

We pull up to another hotel. Picking up three women. From afar, they look Chinese. Nooooot Chinese. They look Israeli. I wonder if I’m right. It frightens me to think I’m right. Guess what, I’m right. I hear Hebrew. And, they wear their annoyance with such grace.

They sit behind me. Within 45 seconds, I’m asked to shut my window for its cold. I respond, “Yea, but there’s no circulation… Foggy windows or fresh air?” Then, I smiled. She nodded at me to shut the window. I give it 30 min before she asks to open it again.

We pick up more. A Norwegian family. Some couples. We’re cruising. We take a pit stop at a gas station. The Israelis and I hit the “little girls” room. I belted out a huge laugh when I saw them tie their bandannas around their face. They were laughing too, saying – “we come prepared.” Damn, I wish I had a bandanna. This place was RANK. I can’t write about it or I’ll dry heave. Three holes. No door. No cleaning. We all looked at each other and stood guard. Decided one girl at a time and the others wait outside. Glad we’re on the same page. Get back to the bus, disinfect with every bacterial cleaner possible and opened the bus window.

We arrive. There is no one there. PART-AY. The Chinese Great Wall guide – maybe 18 and weighs 80 pounds – tells the electronic lift to take us to the top of the wall to start our climb “no work today.” I have a feeling it has never worked. We’re in BFE. I mean, when we were driving out here, we were stopped twice by Chinese police to check our papers. We were driving through manufacturing and industrial zones. Feeling that foreign businesses do not want tourists out here. And, the government doesn’t want us snooping around either. The REAL China.

I take in the Israelis’ expression about the lift. Roll their eyes and interrupt… “We were told there was a lift. We paid for it. We want our money back. We want a discount…” On and on they went. Really? This whole tour is about $25 for the day. And, we’re at the Great Wall. It’s about exercise. Walking. Climbing. Not electronic lifts. I did NOT say a word. Just looked at them in amazement. Wow…Our stereotypes are right on. That’s what international business school taught me – all stereotypes about countries are right on the money. I digress.

I let little Chinese Wall tour guide sort them out. And, I walked off. I’m here to get away. And, get away I did. I was alone. With my thoughts. Hiking the Great Wall on my Birthday. Really? Am I really here? I just thanked God over and over and over again for my health and the gift of being alive. Gift of breathing this air. Gift of being able to journey the world. Still questioning why in the world am I so blessed – why? Why me? And, grateful.

I prayed to help me understand. To help me see what He wants me to see. And, do what HE wants me to do – today and tomorrow. As am American, I want answers now. Patience is something God and I battle with – or let me rephrase it. God continues to teach. On this day, I focused on being grateful. And, asking to help prepare me for whatever He has in store for my life. It’s His life, not mine. My cup of joy is being filled – day by day. Thank you.

I made it to the point of no return. Meaning, the place where you can’t walk any farther on the wall or you will fall to the depths of Chinese hell below. It’s a cliff. I sat. Continued my long conversation with God. Attempted to listen. And, the old pony tail man appeared. He sat down next to me. Started chatting. His name is Kelly. From Ireland. Outside of Dublin. Owns his own bar. We got into the usual discussion about Guinness. He was giving me pointers on how to pour, refrigerate and drink the brown gold. Didn’t want to tell him I’m not fond of the Guinness.

After our Guinness discussion, he mentions he just left Russia. I started to laugh. Well, he was not laughing. He pointed to his pants. His pants looked like a pit bull tore them apart and he stitched them back together using bamboo roads and a needle.

Me: “What happened to your pants?”

Kelly: “I was mugged in Moscow. Took my wallet. My passport. Had me a knife point. Two Russians. Coming back from the bar late at night. Just right around the corner from my hostel. They were waiting. Surprised they didn’t kill me. Cut me up real good…”

Me: “OMG. Were you hurt? What happened?”

Kelly: “Tore my pants here. Stabbed me here. Went back to the hostel and they said I should NOT go to the police. They said to call the Irish embassy because my passport was stolen.”

Next day, I went to the embassy. They said that I needed a new passport. And, I needed go back to Ireland to get it. If I file for a new passport here (Russia), then I need to go and report it to the police. Well, I’m leaving in a few days on the Trans-Siberian. Have got my ticket. I thought I should go to the police. I can’t go back to Ireland.

Went to the police. What did the Russian police do? Arrested me for NOT having a passport. Put me in jail. I’m reporting a crime and they arrest me. I had to pay 6,000 Rubles to get out of jail. Then, they told me they are deporting me because I don’t have paper work. They would charge me more.

I showed them my stab marks. I was mugged. They did not care. They just wanted more money. I called the embassy. They said they can help me get back to Ireland. I don’t want to go back. I paid off the police.

I did not know what to do. I was sitting in my hostel a few days later and they say a woman is in the lobby. I go downstairs. And, she is holding my passport. She found it in the garbage or something. She had heard about me – getting mugged and all – and found me…..

I listened and took all of this in. Typical Russia. So damn corrupt. Syria and Iran are probably safer to travel through than Russia. None of this surprises me. Everywhere I go, people have a bad story about Russia. It is comical. On a tangent – yes, I’m editing this blog in Thailand – I was at a Thai cooking school yesterday. Cute couple from Holland is next to me. They are telling me a story about their stay at a Burmese/Thai camp on the border. They said there were NO tourists at the camp except one group. They were a very, very unhappy group.

I said, “let me guess. I bet they were Russians?” She screamed out.. “YES! How did you know??? They walked around with their arms crossed. They were angry….You have to feel sorry for them… They just look like they want to kill or throw objects – all of the time….” She went on and on with stories. Oh, it makes me laugh. Poor Russia.

After Kelly finished his story, he headed back down to the bus. I stayed up at the top for a little while longer to take in every minute. I wondered back and encountered very few people. It truly was a brilliant Birthday.

On the way back, I chatted up the Chinese Great Wall tour guide. She has been doing this SAME tour to the Great Wall – everyday – for TWO straight years. And, has had only ONE vacation day for snow… She said, “If I take vacation, I loose my job. In tourist business, there is no vacation. Tourists are here everyday.”

She wakes every morning at 4:00 AM and returns home by 9:00 pm. Her Mom told her that to succeed, she needs to be tough and not complain. It has nothing to do with complaining, and all to do with workforce protections…. Yea, I worked on the subcommittee for Workforce Protections in DC. So, I’m overly sensitive. I gave her big fat tip. It made both of us feel much better. I keep her in my prayers. So young. So eager. So smart. So tired…

Her story reminds me how thankful I am to be living in the US. Thankful and truly blessed. Once again, I asked God “Why? Why me?”

Went back to my hotel room. Showered. And, had a planned “Skype” with the family. Well, I was SURPRISED because what appeared on my screen in Beijing were the GODDESSES! Yes, the traveling goddess went to Mom’s house to wish me a happy birthday via Skype. Wow. So surprised. And, once again thankful for having friends who would take time on a Saturday to drive to my Mom’s house to wish me a happy birthday. It’s make me feel so humble and grateful. They truly put a BIG fat, red bow on my Birthday DAY. Thank YOU Goddesses!

Planning my Birthday. Beijing, China

2 Nov

This is how I imagine I’ll be talking about my birthday….

“So, Amanda…what did you do to celebrate your birthday?”

“Oh, nothing much…Jumped on a bus in China. Drove 4 hours. Hiked the Great Wall without tourists. Captured a glimpse of the REAL China..”

It will be a remarkable birthday for I only have three goals – Be outside. Be alone. Be silent. Sounds dull? You’ve GOT to be kidding. Try traveling a country the week where 1.3 billion are on holiday.

Government reported Chinese traveling was up 24% from last year.

Over 900,000 tourists were on Tienanmen Square on October 2nd. Just a tad less than the population of Orange County, Florida. And, 25 million+ were on a train during the first two days of Oct.Now, we’re talking about the population of Texas.

China was booked. Guess where I was during the first week of October – trains, planes, buses, boats to all the prime Chinese tourist attractions. Yes, birthday was about embracing my inner dullness.

One thing I noticed about the Chinese is they travel in groups. Travel with

Tour Guide. With microphone and flag...

guides. The difference between their guide and our guide – peppy, positive Olive – besides smiling and enjoying their jobs, is their tour guides ALL carry their very own karaoke machine. You don’t know noise until you have five Chinese tour guides competing for air space. It’s one big, fat, staticky run on sentence lasting for hours. I asked Olive if this annoys her. She said, “I don’t even hear it…When you share space with millions. With constant noise – or constant karaoke – you tune it out…or invest in ear plugs.” Olive carries ear plugs.

So, you get why my Happy B-Day present to me was peace and quiet. This meant locating a Chinese travel agency who specializing in Great Wall treks. This also meant finding time to jump on the Beijing metro to sign up for the tour. The agency I wanted was located near the main train station. Easy enough, or so I thought, for I entered this great country on the train. Know the station well.

Beijing metro is simple – just like walking through an open door. It’s when the escalator throws me outside – into the light – is when I become dazed and confused. The map indicated main train station was right in front of me. Don’t see it. When I’m map confused, I take to walking the streets. Always leading in the wrong direction. On this day, my legs and lungs put in a good 10 minutes. Nothing. No train station. I turned around to head back to the metro, seething with annoyance. I just want to go to the Great Wall on my birthday. Is that hard to ask?

After wondering for another good 20 mins, I stumbled upon the ginormous train station. It was on the OTHER side of the metro stop. Whatever. Found the Chinese travel agency. Booked the Great Wall trip on my B-day, scheduled to pick me up at 6 AM. Easy. Breezy.

At Forbidden City with the rest of China

Now, I have two hours to get back to my hotel. Think I’ll have time for a nap. I’m so tired. We spent the day at the Summer Palace, Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. Great day to inhale pollution, make friends and witness Chinese history.

Learned a lot. Not going to blog about it for anyone can go to Lonely Planet for tour details. Or, check out my pictures in the album in this blog. It’s big.

You can imagine what happen. I got lost. I mean real lost. I walked to an industrial district in Beijing. An hour and forty-five mins later, still walking. As each minute passed, my pride inflated. I refused to ask for help. I refused to hail a taxi. I was going to find my hotel, no matter what. Each step, the more angry I became – AT me. Was I really this directionally challenged? Why is it the more I travel, the more my map skills shrink. I later found out if I would have made a right instead of left, my hotel was 20 mins from the main train station…not 2 hours. Travel angels got me back to the hotel. I spied some tall men and followed them to a main cross road. Tall people know best. Right.

We had our final farewell group dinner on October 8th – day before my birthday. The Travel Posse surprised me with a B-day cake. Talk about surprise! I was surprised the cake tasted so good. I was very sad to leave them. Great travel group. It’s always about the people when you travel. Olive was a super star.

The next day, I will wake early and hike the Great Wall. I will be on a bus for 4 hours heading North. Heading to the area that the government has not rebuilt for tourists. Actually, very few tourist go to this part of the wall. Can’t wait. Pray for peace…no noise. No people. Yes stillness.

Cruising Down China’s Toliet. Yangtze River.

2 Nov

China's Largest River - the Yangzte.

Boarded the Chines LOVE boat to cruise down China’s largest toilet, Yangtze River, to check out the Three Gorges Dam.

Olive, our chipper Chinese tour guide, is bunking with me. The boat is oversold, given 1.3 Billion Chinese are on holiday. Because of this, tour guides are booted from their rooms and have to sleep in hallways. Not for our Olive. Having her one-on-one allowed me to hear her thoughts about growing up Chinese. More on that later.

Real fast. Let me give you a 411 on the boat. It’s not your LOVE boat or your “I support Obesity” with the all-you-can-consume – Carnival Cruise – boat.  It’s an older boat. Low ceilings. Musty carpet. Built in 1950. Needs updating. In comparison to the others, our boat is clearly a ONE or TWO star, not a zero star.

Say no to bunk beds and hello to two twin beds with mattresses. A toilet that flushes into the sea.  Lukewarm water.  And, a dusty window with pristine views of the river.

Room aboard.

The boat is to carry us down the Yangtze river, largest in China, to the Three Gorges Damn. Quick background about the Damn. I’ve never given dams a though prior, but give me a political, economic or religious angle and I will find most anything interesting.

Three Gorges is one of the wonders-of-the world for the communist. The dam is an estimated 600 feet tall, one mile wide and generates over 20,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity.

The building rationale was irrigation, flood control and power generation for millions of Chinese. The dam was the brain child of Li Peng, the prime minister involved with the communist party split that let to the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre. You can imagine there was no debate on the damn’s efficacy and the $22 billion dollar project moved forward.

It is reported Three Gorges displaced over 1.4 million Chinese living alongside the river – equivalent to the obliteration of Dallas, Texas.

Rumor on the street is another 300,000 will need to be relocated with the recent flooding and “cracks” in the surface. So, let’s add the estimated population of St. Petersburg, Florida to our friends in Dallas. Relocating in China means getting a few weeks notice to quit your job, pack your home, move your animals, harvest your fields and go wherever the Chinese authorities see fit to place you.

Relics....

Besides displacing millions, the dam ate up over 80,000 acres of land and large number of historic relics from one of the most ancient areas in Chinese history. Translation. Daming the river means higher water levels. Higher water levels means artifacts lost forever and ever. To Chinese, feeding people and powering businesses outweighs preservation of ancient civilizations and animal/plant species.

To the locals, Yangtze river is seen as the country’s largest toilet. More than 150 million Chinese live upstream from the dam. Household garbage is dumped directly into China’s largest river and it is reported that nearly three tonnes of crap is collected from the dam everyday. Imagine if that was your job. And, imagine being able to walk across the river via bridges made of trash.

That should give you a nice visual of floating along the Yangtze to the Three Gorges Damn. Water may be polluted, ancient relics lost, plants dead and people displaced, but the natural beauty is truly awe-inspiring. Photos do a better job describing it than words. Check out the album on this blog for more pictures.

This View on back of $10 Yuan. Olive and Dawn model for us.

We docked one day and took small boats through the Yangtze canals. Breathtaking. We were to do some hiking, but the entire area was flooded. So, we cruised around.

That night, we stopped at the infamous relocated town of 1.4 million. It reminded me of a slum. Or, tenant housing. The people looked happy to see us, for we now our their only source of income. Prior, they were farmers – had their own land – now they live in small apartments. We happened upon a square where the town came out to greet us. They played some rockin’ Chinese music and started line dancing. Country and Thai-Chi line dancing rocks. They next thing I know, tallgirl is out there line dancing among the young and old. It was a memorable night.

One final note about the boat cruise, rats. So, I’m rooming with Olive. She said, “we may have friends tonight….we are near the kitchen…expect friends.” I did not know what she was talking about. “What?”

Olive: “You know. Rats. If you have food in your room, they will come for a visit. I don’t like rats Can we keep the light on tonight.”

Hell, I hate rats too. The lights stayed on. I just slept with a pillow over my face. Oh, the joys of traveling…

Gearing up for the Chinese Boat Cruise

28 Oct

Traveling on a Chinese Train. 6 Bunk Beds per Compartment.

Just got off the overnight train. Landed in a town of 13 million called Wuhan. Key word here is town. As far as I know, still in Southern China. Inhaling humidity. Dancing in pollution. Typing on a mini-bus made for mini-people. Travel poss is in route to a village of 2 million to board a boat to cruise the Yangtze River, the second or third largest in the world.

Just crossed a ginormous bridge over a man made lake. When asked, the town of Wuhan is reportedly known for their rice and fish ponds. Sounds quaint and fits perfectly in the book of tourist propaganda. From where I’m perched, Wuhan is a confused community for this town of 13 million reeks of capitalism not a silly fish pond. One of the country’s main shipping ports saddles Wuhan. Big city. Big money. Bid deals.

The highway drives orderly Three to four lanes. English and Chinese signs, warning us not to follow so close. On one side of the highway you have a shacks of warehouses piled with lumber, cement bags, blue roof tiles, plywood (for my mattress), broken pipes and big boulders. The sky scrapers look as if they’ve been blown out in a recent war. Not the case. They’re actually in the process of being built. The Chinese build sky scrappers in stages. First is they mount line up three or four building skeletons. Then, they tackle the inside – electrical, floors, ceilings. Then, they wrap up the outside. The skyline looks like a cluster mess then —- whaaalaaa – concrete beauty abounds.

Crossing the Yangtze river now. I spy tankers carrying more coal. More rocks. More sand. More lumber. More oil. What look like floating drift wood are fisherman competing for space among the tankers. To my left, I count twenty-five tankers. “Must feed the beast,” I hear them chant. Yangtze transports 70% of the entire country’s shipping imports/exports.

Peering from my mini-window in the mini-bus, I’m checking out the cars speeding by. Thinking of investing in China. Rumor has it a very small percentage of the 1.3 billion own cars. I spy Volkswagen, Nissan, Toyota, Chinese brand cars I can’t translate… I see very few American cars. As much as Japan and China are seen as political adversaries, by the looks of the highways this is not the case.

When asked about Japanese products, you get mixed answers. If the elderly respond, they lean towards anti-Japan. If the youth or students respond, they lean towards pro-Japan for they have more access to cheaper luxury products. Olive told us a funny story. She said when her grandfather bought her grandmother their first TV many years ago, he bought the best – a Sony. Her grandmother responded, “No Japanese in my house.” The TV was booted to the curb. Sounds strange today to a US person who is not abreast of Japan/China history.

Now that I’m here in China, I want to learn more. A few months back, there was an incident between a Chinese fishing boat and the Japanese Coast Guard. Both sides claimed the dispute had to do with fishing and waterway rights. Little fishy incident escalated to a point where Beijing and Tokyo were talking about breaking off all future relations. Visas were being revoked. Business trips canceled on both sides. Quite frankly, this had little to with fishing but more to do with who owns the tiny islands in East China Sea. Is it Japan, China or Taiwan? Some believe there is something special under those islands. Energy reserves? Oil? Ahhh… There lies the rub.. It seem to come back to oil ’round here.

Going back to cars… Olive said the Chinese government marks up imports on cars between 80% to 100%. Sometimes, up to 200%. So, a Nissan in China may cost you double. And, what better way for the Government to keep people employed and the Chinese economy humming? Penalize for buying imports and reward for buying domestic. Chinese people are saying – “noooooooo way Jose…we want imports….brand name shows status… Chinese car? No status…”

I was in a bathroom stall the other day – yes, squatting Chinese style – and to my left was an advert for BMW. Guess how much? Almost $550,000 in Yuan for a low end BMW – Series 3 or something. That’s around $90,000 US dollars. We’re in China were the mean income per-capita is around $3,500 per year – taking in rural and urban populations. (No one really knows the per capita income in China… this is a guess).

What baffles me is the government push of this communism ideal of “everyone must be equal.” As I squatted I contemplated the following – Do I actually believe those who can afford a BMW support the communist notion of “equality for all 1.3 billion?” These Chinese work and save for years to drive an import. They get their imported car. How do they justify “equality.” Just can’t see the Shanghai Chinese believing they are on equal footing as their fellow rice picking peasants, military soldiers or Tibetan monks. Still seeking. Still struggling. Still confused.

Then, I wondered – still squatting – why is BMW pushing hard at the advert game. They are everywhere in terms of billboards, magazines, newspapers and bathroom stalls at highway rest stops. Well, even if .0001% of Chinese can afford a BMW, we’re still talking about millions sold per year. And, as US and EU pressures China on to rethink its currency and tariff strategies, companies like BMW will be poised to capture a larger market share. Brand awareness today for market share tomorrow. Invest in BMW? Couldn’t think anymore. Legs went numb from squatting for more than 2 minutes.

Last night’s train ride was much better than anticipated. I expected mayhem and chaos. But, remember, this is China. Rules and order make this country tick. As we made our way through train security, the actual station was orderly. People were seated. Staring. And, quiet. The only noise was coming from a static loudspeaker. The gals decided to make one last run for the bathroom before hunkering down on the overnight train. I was envisioning sharing the toilet hole with rats. For me, this was my last restroom refuge for some hours.

Well, it turned out to be the second worst bathroom I encountered in China. Yes, this time I had a door. But, I had to squat over a trough. One long cement ditch where running water moved bodily junk to an undisclosed location. No, Kerri, I did NOT look down. Kept my eyes focused on the wooden door, while holding my breath.

The positive…seriously there was a positive here – the aroma was not THAT bad. The restroom ladies stoked up some MAJOR incense to reduce the potential for dry heaving, vomiting or fainting. Oh, in case you are wondering, the worst bathroom by far was a truck stop. One room. Multiple holes in the floor. No doors. Risked a bladder infection on that one.

Fast forward. The micro-mini bus made it to the town of 2 million. We had a few hours to kill before we boarded the boat to the Three Gorges Damn. So, the travel posse spent the afternoon exploring. It felt more like a “REAL” Chinese city/town than Shanghai or Yangshuo. Not many tourists. Chinese were walking up to us wanting to take our pictures, practice English or just smiled as we walked by. They would stop on the sidewalk and giggle when we approached. This town – will become a tourist haven in a few years. The Chinese government has kicked out or “replanted” many Chinese residents living along the river to make way for high rises, hotels and Prada retail stores. Soon this sleepy village of 2 million will grow to a town of 10 million.

When we drove in, we passed what looked like a real US style suburb. The homes and town homes were brick, large streets and trees. It was like Pleasantville – Chinese style. Very eery. I was surprised for it wasted a lot of space. High-rises are the way to go in China. Olive said that those homes are inexpensive compared to Shanghai or Beijing. Many Chinese are moving here.

We cruised over a big bridge, shot some balloons, watched some Chinese play cards and walked the town. It was a good way to spend an afternoon. Headed to the grocery store for one final “load’em” up. Took a lot of pictures.

There is little refrigeration – so milk, yogurt, cheese, tator tots or healthy choice is out of the question. You get a lot of zip lock packaged foods. See pictures below. Oh, there is no bread in the grocery stores. You have to find a bakery, and even then, bread is limited. This has caused confusion with our group. The fruits have been amazing. Street corners just full of fruit stands. Olive pulled through and we boarded first. She “knows” people. Next blog is about the actual cruise up and down the Yangtze River to see a very large concrete structure made by men and not otters. Three Gorges Damn.

Walking across the bridge

View from the bridge

Food Market. Bus Ride. Angels in Yangshuo, China

28 Oct

Dry heave. Gag. Vomit. I mean, this could be it. Saying goodbye to meat forever. Katie Lou, I’m putting it on paper. Vegetarianism is knocking at my door. Today was a good and bad day. Love the adjectives. My brain is fried. Keeping it simple. On a train bound for another large city in China. Six bunk beds to one train compartment. I’m in the middle bunk. No head room. Starting to rethink no-class rail travel…

The day was good in that I was taught how to prepare a traditional Chinese meal by a legit, working chef. Bad, because I went to the Yangshou outdoor food market and confronted caged dogs waiting to be slaughtered. One look at the dogs and the shirtless teen wielding a machete and my stomach curled and legs shot out from under me.

Why did I look? I knew the dogs were in there. The Chinese chef-lady told us as such – “dog is in corner…you look… no look.. no care..” Why do I do these things. I mean I had issues with seeing guinea pigs in cages in Peru. And, hello, dogs take it this to a whole different level. I blame the little devil. Need to blame someone, so he’s the best bet. Little angel was whispering on side side, “no look…” And, little devil was a tad bit more convincing, “just one quick look…won’t kill ya…” Now, I’m contemplating vegetarianism. Tell you one thing, I’m reducing my meat intake.

Ok, so the food market was bad. Just down right icky. The ducks made me sad. Chickens made me hurl. The only live creature having little impact on my nervous system were the fish.

Someone told me way back when, the Chinese thought Westerners were heathens not because of our rudeness and need to rule the world but because of our meaty aroma. It’s called BO – Body Odor. It’s said vegetarians emit more fragrant smells, unlike our fellow carcass consumers.

Not sure if that is true, but it sounds really good right about now. Just another reason to stop eating meat. Save $ on antiperspirant. I have found in Thailand antiperspirant is a mere novelty. Went to TESCO and they only had 2 types among the rows and rows of soaps, shampoos, anti-hair falling creams and skin whitening gels. Bhutan, I did not see any. Maybe some truth to this.

So, besides the animals, the actual market was beautiful. Ripe with fresh veggies, fruits and random roots I’ve never heard of before. No matter. I took a zillion pictures to help me remember. So, when I walk into Publix, I will show the teeny-bopper a picture and say, “find me this, now…” Right. My goal is to cook more. So, I may have no home and no kitchen when I return, but I will have a wok. I’ll come to your house and cook for free. Any takers?

After the market, little chef-lady led us back to her restaurant where she handed us – you guessed it – a wok, gas fire burner, large knife, noodles, meats, veggies, spices and said “let’s go baby..” It was a riot. We’re outside cooking, overlooking McDonald’s and KFC. There is something wrong with that image. We rolled dumplings. Fired up bamboo steamers. Spiced the food with digestible spices. Yea…this is going to be a good blog for the cooks out there for I can’t spell or pronounce 98% of the foods. All I can tell you is they gave us the recipes in English. And, I have pictures.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it was some of the best Chinese food yet. It may be because it’s cooked by Chef Amanda — in that I knew how much oil, spices and veggies are going in. It felt healthier. So, it tasted better.

After the cooking school, we all sauntered back to the Imperial Hotel with full tummies of food and beer. Our next stop was a train station with the rest of the 1.3 billion vacationing Chinese to go to another large city to board a boat to the Three Gorges Damn.

pics from cooking:

One problem. Since Yangshou is overcrowded with Chinese tourists, Olive said we will have to walk to our micro-mini bus – “it’s just up the road.” Yea. Heard that one before. Try Siberia. Moscow. And, all of Russia. I broke my backpack/luggage after MASH – my fearless Russian tour guide – uttered those words. Remember, got lost in the Moscow metro? Thank GOD for the creator of Duck Tape.

Just as I thought. Two miles later. Still carrying a 44 pound bag as I navigate down cobble stone streets and around thousands upon thousands of tiny tourists walking, driving, smoking and cycling. Sweat dripped from my brows and pits. Yep, been eating meat for I’m starting emit a rank odor. Think positive. I’ll smell just as bad as everyone else on the overnight train.

We finally got to the bus. Olive said the bus driver got lost. Could not get through the crowds… Or, something along those lines. The American “customer-service and this unacceptable” voice entered the brain. I quickly sniffled it once I sat my sweaty creases on the cotton/polyester bus seat. Trying the Buddhism “let’s be present and in the moment” gig. And, starting to reconsider because being “present” means I’m “fu—” hot and annoyed. Being in the “future” means being clean, cool and comfortable. “Being present” is not a preferred option.

The bus ride to the train station was heart-stirring. Our group has been talking and joking about seeing the “REAL” China for days now. We’re getting the China the government wants us to see. But, not the “REAL” China. Sad thing is I’m not sure if we want to see the “REAL” China. And, what are we to do with this “REAL” China information. Tallgirl is over analyzing again.

We got a small taste of REAL China in route to the train station. Blinding poverty. Poverty does not discriminate. Change the Chinese signs to Spanish, Romanian, English, Arabic, Russian, or Thai…and she’s equally indistinguishable. Heaps of plastic bottles casually tossed. Trash burning in metal containers. Laundry hanging from trees. Moms harvesting rice with one hand and holding their child with the other. Young and old men sitting and staring.

And, then you look past the scanty conditions and your eyes are filled with rich nourishment. And, rich work. Miles and miles and miles of green rice fields, banana fields, orange fields – nourishing over1.3 billion people. Stark contrasts. Yes. Did some thinking on the bus ride. Even sprang a few tears.

Here I am, staring out the window wearing just a bra and flimsy camisole to cool off. Tears are running from my eyes. My face is blowing up like a red balloon. Fumbling for the pocket toilet paper to absorb the tears and wipe the nose. Taking all of this in from distance. More tears. Now, full fledged crying. Never can say the Day girls aren’t emotional. It’s in our DNA. Ask Dad.

Yes. I cried. I cried for these farmers. For injustice. For little choice. I cried out of gratitude and wonderment for my rich blessings for I do not deserve this abundance. I cried for the honor of living in the US and being an American. For the freedom to say no. And, for having the option to say yes. For God gracing me with a loving, supportive family and crazy, interesting, lively, chaotic friends.

I cried because I’m not doing enough to make a positive difference in this world – with the gifts God gave me. Cried because I’m working off of a God inspired plan and, quite frankly, I’m scared shitless. I cried because I was feeling a little misunderstood, unrecognizable and lost in a land of 1.3 billion – maybe like these farmers.

At the end, I cried for the recent loss of my great Uncle who had passed a few days prior. All of these thoughts. All of these emotions blasted me like a never-ending wave. Oh, I’m going to miss Uncle Tom. End to a great era. He served in WWII. The “man that knew everything.” He tended to his garden in Searsucker pants and Buddy Holiday glasses to the very end. Best green beans and Brunswick stew, EVER…

Then my sobs turned to giggles. I could hear Uncle Tom’s voice talking to me in his Southern drawl as I was calculating and debating “Chinese Equality.” I could her him in heaven getting on with my Grandmother, Cousin Ann (recently passed), Aunt Duckie, his brother (my Grandfather) and the rest of the Skinner family. I can hear them rejoicing and laughing – laughing at me and my somber mood. Laughing at me trying to simplify what “this journey means” into a digestible sound bite. I could hear all of their voices.

Grandmother was talking first. She told me to go ahead and put on that red lipstick in China. She would find way to pay for the soiled hotel linens for I “never know who I’m going to meet.” They told me that my journey was God inspired and I have nothing to fear – they are all with me – my traveling angels. And, they started to tell me about the other angels that surrounded me on my journey. Granny – my Dad’s mom who was an avid traveler – comforted me too. She told me over and over again that she is by my side every second. She never leaves me for she’s a seasoned traveler and is helping me navigate this crazy world. She reminded me about my Archangel and he’s taking care of the details. Not to worry. Uncle Tom came back and elaborated in more detail about the turbulent history between the China and Japan. Cousin Ann was there telling me about her favorite books and how I must get to India next time. I could hear them all laughing.

Southern China passed me by as I listened and conversed with my family of angels. I asked them to forgive me for I do forgot they are with me. I seem to reach out when I’m distressed and I need to work on being more aware. I thanked them over and over again for their help for I could never do this trip by myself. I can hear all them say, “Damn straight, honeychild…”

People ask all the time, “so how did you plan this?” My response. “I didn’t. Much larger than me. This trip – organization – came about in 3 or 4 weeks time…” Once I knew my house was going to sell, it was balls to the wall in planning. All of it has been divine. I could not have done this all alone. My word, I did not even have Lonely Planet guide book – the bible of all travelers. Reactions are interesting, depending on the person’s belief system.

I truly miss Uncle Tom. I miss my grandmother and granny. I miss them all. But, am comforted they are with me. Guiding me. My traveling angels. And, Grandmother, I promise to work on putting some color on my lips. You are right. I never know who I might meet and that “washed out look” is not becoming of a woman of my height and paleness. Thank you for reminding me you are there – watching over me.

Back to the bus. I cooled off. Sweat stopped. Put on my shirt. None of the marrieds even noticed I was sitting in my bra and camisole. I wiped the tears from my eyes. No make-up means no mascara running. Another reason to ward off make-up. I feel much better. Ready to conquer another sleepless night on a train and few sleepless nights on a boat to a dam. Let’s do it baby…

Cycling through China’s Countryside

28 Oct

Once again. No clue what day it is. I look at days now in terms of weather. Is it a full body SPF day? Just a SPF for the face, neck and hands? Is it the purple, PTA-style rain jacket? Break out the over 65+ floppy hat? Or, is it the entire ensemble?

That’s right. Sure to hook up with a hottie sportin a purple rain jacket, white zinc-oxide and floppy hat while riding a bike with baskets and a bell. Gosh, can’t WAIT to infuse some style into my life when I get back home. I’m having burn the clothes party. All are invited. By the way, the nub bangs are finally growing. Girls will get this. But, it’s emotionally exhausting to be this ugly and unkempt all the time. I look in the mirror and say, “Really?” Can’t wear the lipstick, apply zit cover up or eye liner for fear of buying a whole new set of hotel linens. Get me to South Africa or Australia NOW. They must have bleach there. And, no import tax on luxury goods like Hanky Pankies, J Crew or Naturalizers.

One thing that is for certain when it comes to wardrobe….is EVERYDAY is a long sleeves

Seen this before? Long sleeves..Long pants.

and long pants day, regardless if it’s raining, snowing, or polluting. My skin turns a hot shade of hot pink when exposed to rays. Yes, I even get fried when driving in a car or bus with tinted windows. Right Kate? Kate refused to believe this tale until my visit to California. I pull up. Get out of the car. Kate says, “Amanda, your skin is pink…are you burned…is it a rash?” My reply, “Yes, it’s called sun burn, sun poison, sun rash and soon to be sun cancer. Served to me via a car window.”

In pictures, you’ll always see me covered up. The positive is the Chinese, Thai, Bhutanese all cover up too. They even waltz around carrying parasols. In a past life, I was probably an Asian, certainly not a Scottish Viking naked and freezing wearing a plaid kilt. Yes. I was certainly Asian…Love rice.

Focus. So, getting ready for the cycling trip. What will it be today. It’s misty. NOT raining. And, its NOT pollution, according to Chinese propaganda. Whatever. Heavy doses of dirt, dust and diesel in air equates to pollution. No matter, I’m lathering on SPF 50+ to cycle Southern China’s countryside.

The travel posse gathered early AM to get first dibs on the Chinese bikes. As they jockeyed for bikes, I was in my own “la la” world – observing the morning rituals of this little town of 300,000. It’s 8 am. Calmness – Chinese style – was in the air. Just breathing it in.

Because of my Zen-”I need to be present” mentality and meandering through the streets stopping, watching, taking pictures…. I was burned on getting a good bike. That’s what I get for being “in the moment” and not “planning for the future.”

When I arrived at the bike-depot, only two bikes remained. Option 1: No brakes. Option 2: Girl bike, front breaks only, no cushion, seat only goes up a good three good inches. Basket is in back. Bell barely rings. Looks like the sequoia will be traversing the countryside Fred Flintstones style – using my feet for breaking and voice as the “get out of the way” bell.

Olive, chipper Chinese tour guide, gives us the 411 on “how to ride a bike in China.”

The only thing I heard was avoid being hit. One thing we must remember was all bikes, mopeds, motorcycles, motorcycles posing as cars, small cars, large cars, tour buses, public buses, oxes, kids, babies, dogs – you name it – they all believe THEY own the street and THEY have the right away. Bike depot did give us helmets – the only tourons I saw with them on – for protection. Good.

The group of sixteen, many of whom have not ridden a bike in years, were off and running. Let’s just say, even the mangy dogs avoided us when they saw us coming. I think the helmets scared them. It took about 20 minutes to get out of the metropolis into the countryside. What we encountered was purely breathtaking. The imposing mountains jutting out of nowhere. Awe-inspiring rice patties being harvested by hand as far as the eye can see. A stunning river flowing with determined force and purpose. Mud clay roads jumbled with random potholes, overflowing with murky water.

We weaved. We braked. We crashed. Such joy. I finally scooped out my MOSTEST favoritEST food in the whole wide world – RICE. Love the stuff. Give me some beans, and call it a day. The Southern Chinese rice is days away from being harvested by hand. Wish I could see that. I would join them in hacking it…Abutting up to my favorite food though was a dirty, little stream being used to wash clothes by the locals. I wanted to scream, “you can’t contaminate my rice! Call the rice Po-lice now!”

Rice fields.

Other wonderful foods I saw were oranges, bananas and fruits I can’t pronounce, but seem to eat at every meal. I’m in heaven. Let’s see… Ducks and water buffalo littered the fields. Never encountered any horses. Hope they are NOT eating them too. Biking gives you a good sense of rural China. The labor. The hard work. The need to cultivate food to feed the 1.3 billion. Damn, starting to rethink “I was Asian” past life. Not so sure if I can spend hours, days, years cutting rice with a butter knife for survival. Barely got chop sticks down.

Whenever we stopped to take pictures, old women looking around 110 but probably more like 60, would appear out of nowhere. It was like they were beamed to us from the Starship Enterprise. They just appeared to sell us flowers or rocks. Anything.

I wonder how much they rely on our $ to make it through the month. What has STRUCK me and where I’ve had to add “confused” in front of the word Communism, is the fact China does not have a social safety – medicaid, social security, food stamps, homeless shelters… Nothing. That’s right. You heard me. ZERO. The government, built on the premise of “everyone is equal,” does not have a welfare system as we know it or what I expected from a country like the indomitable China. I had no idea. I must have missed the 411 on communism according to Chairman Mao in college. I think I will dedicate a whole blog exploring my capitalism communism confusion. OK. Leave it for later. Let’s just say – The Chinese are taxed on income. Pay for all medical. Pay for high school and University. Pay tolls to drive on roads. Good news is there’s no sales tax on food/items. Phew….off the hook there.

Back to a happy place. Biking. For lunch, we stopped at Moon Hill or, was it Moon Pie, cafe. Either way, it’s in the valley of Moon mountain. Olive, our chipper Chinese tour guide, did what she does best – got us seated and got us fed and is getting us FAT. She ordered food. We nod. Open our mouths. And, inhale. Oh, need to take a moment to worship ME. This is MY blog. Guess what? I can almost use CHOP STICKS. It’s called survival if I want to eat, right? I’ve never used chop sticks b/c I’ve always opted for using a fork to shovel food in as fast as possible. Two little sticks to pick up a peanut or three rice grains does not pass muster in the world of consuming everything as fast as possible because we have something to do now. But, I’m trying.

After inhaling, we hiked up Moon mountain. Felt good to get the glands sweating again. Little old ladies walked with us carrying coolers and postcards, trying to sell us water and to remind us that their photos were much better than our shitty cameras. Can I be mean and say, HOW annoying? Don’t have patience. Is it selfish? Probably. I’m talking to my new BFFer, Sandra from Switzerland about my major crush on tennis player Roger Feder, and little Chinese lady weighing about 65 pounds is right behind us screaming her ten or twelve words in English at us. “Hello…Slow Down… Water… Coke…Aloe…Postcard…Good deal…Rest…Picture..” We ignored her and told us we have our water. She did not stop. Finally, she got pissed. Yelled. And, hawked a luggie at us. After tossing spit on us, all guilt flew out the door.

At the top, we took pictures. My other BFFers, Libby and Julian from Australia had a ghast of a time taking pictures. They crack me up. Poor things. I will be stalking them forever and ever and ever… They just don’t know it yet. Going to stay with them in Australia… Poor things.

Anyway, at the top of Moon Hill, there was this cute, young Chinese couple who asked Julian to take their photo. Julian is hysterical. He says in his Aussie accent… “Ok..get closer you two… now, Kissy…Kissy…Give me a kiss…” Well, the Chinese girl expression went from all smiles to mortification. The Chinese are normally sooooo shy. And, this may be a first or second or hundredth date, but this little lady does NOT want “kissy kissy” on a camera camera. The Chinese dude was all for it. He reached over and gave her a big kiss. Julian captured it. The Chinese dude ran to Julian..and in broken English asked, “did you get the kissy kissy?” Oh my…. Never a dull moment. Some things are the same, regardless of country. Chinese girl, not so happy.

We biked back. Stopping off to talk to more water buffalo and admire the orange trees. No one was killed or maimed, which is always a good nice. It was a nice ride.

Next stop – tomorrow, whatever day that is – we’re taking an overnight train to Wuhan where we will board a boat and head up to the Three Gorges. Again, no clue on the day or location. Just focus on the weather. The overnight train will be like the Moscow train. Six to a compartment. No door. No air condition. No sleep. They call these trains a “hard sleeper.” I wonder what they call my hotel bed made of plywood? Comfy, cushy and cozy….If that is the case, Moscow train was marvelous in comparison to what we are in for… Stay tuned…

The Yangshuo Massage

28 Oct

In Yangshuo, China – small town of 300,000. Only been here for a few hours. Jonesing for a massage. Got some Chinese Yuan to spend. Found a two hour Chinese massage for US $35. Life is good… Yes, it may be pricey for China. But, let me tell you something – this ain’t your “mama’s” cheap China anymore. Dollar is weak. Yuan is in limbo. Prices are climbing to the sky. Besides that, I had a STRONG urge to upgrade to an unsoiled, sanitary Chinese massage mill.  The $35 for 2 hours is a “good deal.”

TANGENT: OK… Where am I? What am I doing? 411 on your surroundings please. Well, tallgirl is propped up by two polyester-infused pillows, perfumed with a hint of mold. The bum is feeling heavy after sitting for an hour on a packed plywood mattress. Jaw aches from chomping on at least six pieces of Chinese sugar-filled, tasteless gum. The balcony door is open. Market chatter infuses the room. Same flute tune playing over and over and over again. Bugs doing a happy dance around the only two, 40-watt lamps. Let’s see. If you kick the flute and plywood bed, I’m channeling Florida Keys. Smell and all..

Moments ago, I just walked through the lobby with my CLEAN laundry shoved into a mini- plastic bag used for carrying prunes and raisins. Splurged on laundry for I’m trying to put a stop to the continuous sink-scrubbing of undergarments. In the lobby, I spied recent arrivals – German tourons (tourists + morons) checking-in at the Imperial Inn. They appear older. Well dressed. Nice bags. Polished shoes. Belts. Accessories. Recently showered. I see they arrived in an upscale bus with leg room. Not your Gap Adventures type of travelers…. Tick tock… I’m thinking Imperial Inn is their “plan B” for they all seemed confused. I don’t speak German, but I do speak “what the fuuuuu….”

What will be their reaction when they push their hotel room door ajar. Will theyVendors lined up outside my window be delighted by the the commanding view, smells and sounds of the 200+ vendors just a few feet away? Shocked by the loud “thump” when they place their designer bags on the impenetrable, plywood bed? Jubilant to be able to scope out their mate or BFFer showering, squatting or brushing through the over-sized bathroom window with no shades? This will be goooood…

Oh, forgot. What about the fact there’s no warm water or water pressure. Turbulent times for the Imperial Inn. In a way, the Chinese should rejoice for they’re dealing with Germans and not customer-service, demanding, this is unacceptable Americans. We would sue on the grounds of Human Rights violations for no blinds in the bathroom. We can’t even discuss the plywood mattress issue. That’s another law suit on the grounds of Environmental Protection of plywood.

Tangent over… Back to massage. I’ve been dreaming about Chinese massage and herbal medicines since I landed in the land of 1.3 billion. Don’t know why I need herbal medicines, but I like the sound of it. Acupuncture as well. Fearful of shots. But, if small needles can cure what ails this tall body, you’ve got my Yuan. My former roomie from the Young Bucks Trans-Siberian trail said she was going to find a good acupuncturist in Beijing. She’s a nurse for the Saudi Royal family. Beijing is a week away. Can’t wait. Must have a massage, now. I went to Olive, our chipper Chinese tour guide, for the 411 on massage mills in Yangshou.

Olive delivered. She led me to a store front with the word “Dr.” and “massage” in lights. Hmmm. Olive said, “this is good… no?” It took less than 2 seconds for me to decide to subjugate my body for the word “Dr” spoke to me… I scheduled an appointment for 7:30 pm. By the way, kudos on the marketing front folks…

I wondered back to the restaurant to find the China travel posse of couples. They were craving rice, noodles and meat.

I hate food. Only a few hours prior, our group inhaled ten plates of Chinese food – super sized dumplings, white rice, fried rice, random meats, tofu, random veggies, noodles, tofu, more meat and extra rice. Oh, yea..soup. Just say “NO” to food. Who goes to China and gains weight. Me. Tonight, I opted for liquids and firm hands to transform Chinese food intake into lean muscle mass.

So, I threw back a large “pint” and less than 30 mins later, there I was laying flat down, semi-naked on a plastic massage table along side eight other plastic tables. Starting to relax when I opened my eyes through the open hole of the massage table and peered at my dirty hiking boots, smelly socks and passport. Couldn’t they place a flower, odor eaters or a Glade stick there instead.  These sock fumes reminded me to buy more detergent. Forgot to get these washed earlier… By in large, the “dr” massage mill is meeting my Chinese expectation.

Little Sin Sin, Jin Jin or Tin Tin – can’t pronounce her name – worked my back over for the next hour. The girls weighs about 80 pounds and is 4 foot 10 inches on a good day. I’m G-I Giant next to her. Poor little thing. She will be working hard for her tip.

Little Tin Tin’s English words were few. But, when it came to my shocking-white, transparent skin, she found the superlatives to describe her state of surprise. “Oh, you so very, very white… Oh, you work on being white, no… you use white products… where buy white products…you tell me secret…”

Not really sure how to respond when you are laying naked on a plastic table smelling dirty socks being reminded you are a super, pasty freak. No really relaxing. My response, “skin is real. No bleach. No lotions. Just DNA. I’m a recessive gene in a family with melanin. Think of me as a mutant…Like in X-Men.. Know mutants? I’m transparent, shocking-white mutant…” Yea, like Little Jin Jin got all of that. Wrong. This is what I really said… “Your skin is better. Your skin –no cancer. My skin – yes cancer.” She understood the word cancer but not in context with no-color skin. She kept talking about whitening her skin with some Chinese herb.

Get back the massage. For the most part, the “Dr.” place was the Ritz on steroids in comparison to the Turkish bath/massage in Petra, Jordan where they throw a bucket of water on you and a lady in a Burka scrubs you with rocks. This is my second massage while traveling – so I’m only going to compare it to that. I mean, if I really looked, I’m sure I could have freaked out over bugs, dust mites, bed bugs – or whatever the bacteria rage is in the US.

Here goes another tangent…My Mom would say, “honey, if it’s that nasty then why don’t they get some sense and shock the shit out of everything with some bleach?” I’ve had this conversation in my head a zillion times and did my own investigating as to why all hotel linens, towels and robes in a zero, one, two and three star hotels give off a putty, mayonnaise hue. White, crisp linens are an obsession of mine, thanks to my Father.

Of course my explanation has to get political. Can’t talk about linens without going into the cesspool of greed and self-interest. In China, foreign imports are excessively expensive. Another way for the government to force Chinese to buy Chinese products. Let’s take a bottle of Clorox. The Chinese government adds a tax of 200% to 300% to the price of imports. This deters demand for this luxury good, even if it is a bottle of damn bleach. There’s no Chinese brand substitute, at least none that I’ve found in the general stores. Let’s take it a step further. Imagine getting red lipstick, eyeshadow or hair dye on a hotel towel in China. No amount of scrubbing or soaking with Woolite in your backyard river is going to remove the the stain. Hotel’s solution? You soil. You buy. Just one more reason NOT to wear lipstick or get your hair died in China.

So, yes, the towels and pillow cases in “Dr” massage mill exuded a lovely pantone color of grays and yellows. I assume this exposed body is relaxing along side friendly, flesh-eating parasites and bacteria bombs since no one is able to “shock the shit” out of this place. For whatever reason, I’m not phased. I rode across Russia in a train built for the dirty, grungy and deranged. Skin is becoming immune to local parasites, mites and creepy-crawlers.

Tin Tin did her magic. Her little hands found the pain parts. It hurt. My lower back and the “no pedicure since July” feet squealed in pain. I closed my eyes and forced myself to a happy place hoping her pinching, kneading and squeezing provoked memory and metabolism pressure points and not the digestion and bladder zones you see in the foot reflexology charts. Not sure if I felt relaxed or relieved when she finished. But, the beer tasted good.

I was happy to see no visitors in the massage room of eight tables. I asked Sin Sin – after we were finished – if this was a girl only room. Her expression said it all. “No…No…for everyone…” God is good for if some furry man flopped beside me there’s no telling what I would have done.

I gave Little Sin Sin a tip personally. She thanked me over and over again. I had a strong feeling her boss kept all tips. That was confirmed at the end when I paid. “So, you tip Tin Tin?” I fibbed. “Oh, let me tip her now. I handed over a few dollars – much less than what I gave Tin Tin – to play the game. Something inside of me led me to give Tin Tin some extra change. As I was leaving, Tin Tin raced by me down the street. She waved and waved and waved…And, squealed something in Chinese. I waved back and sauntered lazily through the have of the Yangshou market. Maybe she’s off to pay rent? A phone bill? Buy food for her family? I’m praying the extra Yuan went for something good…

Where is China blog?

13 Oct

Chinese Children... So cute!

Yep… Just left China.  Landed in Bangkok.  Heading to Bhutan in 2 hours.  Goal is to spend air flight to finish editing China.  Suspect Bhutan has no access to electronic -TV, WiFi, Radio – given its named “happiest place on earth.”  It’s run by Monks.

Will be back in reality on October 23 and 24th.  Will post all China then.  Bhutan, following week.  Pictures to follow.  Get ready — there’s a lot of random observations about no-nonsense  China.  “It’s not your Mama’s communism…” It’s more like… “confused Communism.” You’ll need a cocktail if/when you read it.  Happy October!

Bhutan Map below…Leaving now…for the airport.  It’s 3:35 AM…

Seeing Southern China

1 Oct

*Email to friend Julia turned into a blog…

Julia-
Homemade chocolate cake and milk sounds good. Can’t remember when the last time I drank milk. Wait. Mongolia. But, it was unpasteurized heavy cream. A sip worth 2,000 calories. From now on, I’ll sacrifice bacteria for taste any day.

A view from my hotel

What am I doing? Just woke. It’s 5-something AM. And, I’m chomping on Chinese crackers slathered with peanut butter with a wiped off expiration date. Downing it with instant coffee and sugar cane.

No doubt I’m returning to the states as a coffee snob. I’ll import beans if I have to. But, I will never, ever, never drink instant sludge again.

I have NO idea what day it is.

Where am I? Yangshuo, China. Google it. I have no idea where I am map wise. I believe it’s way south. Just know I took a big plane and small bus to get to the land of warmth, humidity and zits. Hey, getting to save on lotion costs. Getting to stave off wrinkle formation. Getting to sweat again. The body is overjoyed…

As I said, it’s early…like 5:45 AM. I like watching a city wake up. Yangshuo is considered a mere town of 300,000.  All you hear are the large locusts rocking and few birds singing. I’m waiting for the roster to kicked it in a few.

My new tour posse is mainly couples — BIG change from Trans-Siberian rail young bucks crowd.

Traveling Posse below… They rock!

China Tour Posse

We’re staying at the Imperial Hotel, butting up to the market of counterfeit non-essentials. Meaning, constant noise. Constant harassment Constant. Since tour posse is comprised of couples, I super scored on the hotel room.

When traveling solo, you have a choice. Fork over additional $$ for a private room. If not, then you’re bunking with a random. Well, no other single, white, scary female showed up to the China gig, so I gained two beds, four pillows, two lamps, two towels, two rolls of toilet paper, two working electrical outlets, two tea cups, one remote control and a plethora of cold water. No hot water at the Imperial. It’s ok. We’re not in Siberia.

Speaking of beds. Are you ready for this one? At the zero, one, two and three star hotels in China, they substitute mattresses with plywood, bamboo or some other sort of “hard” material easily found in resource rich China.

Let me repeat.  No springs.  No fluff.  Just wood. I’ll be staying at the Hilton in Beijing for one night and will report out if they swap out springs for wood too. Hilton is my B-Day present to myself. Mark, my step brother, works for Hilton and, rumor on the street is, he’s going to reserve it for me. Yeeeeeeaaaaaaaaa…. If not, then it’s back to sleeping on wood NOT with Chinese wood.

It’s not been overly injurious for they use a soft blanket for a mattress pad and a sheet for the fluff factor. Plus, I have four pillows. SCORE. The traveling posse’s side sleepers are screwed for they wake with achy joints and bruises.  Many morning conversations kick off with “how did you sleep” and “which joint hurts this AM?”

Seen from my balcony

OK. Back to the hotel. My room has a balcony overlooking the 200 Chinese street vendors schlepping everything from counterfeit Nike hats

(spelled NKE), polyester scarves sold as silk to Buddha key chains and random meats and bugs vacuum packed in Zip locks baggies. Market closes around 11 pm. The Chinese women are in charge. There’s not a man in sight.

When I wrapped up my 2 hour Chinese massage last night, I kicked back on my balcony with some peanut butter, a banana and local beer.  I was perched to observe. Around 10:30 pm, I watched these women painstakingly packed up their individual wooden retail cubicle. Folded and refolded every scarf, shirt, trinket, piece of rubble and gingerly placed these items into worn boxes. I sipped on my beer and felt gad it was not me for I would have crammed, stuffed and tossed all my goods into any box as fast as possible to get home in time for Law & Order SVU. Not them.

After diligently packing, they hoisted the poundage onto their 1950’s Schwinn bikes with front AND back baskets or their 1980s mini-moped with no muffler. Then off they went. Heading into the darkness. Heading back home to their family. Hopefully, putting their feet up on the couch. I guess its not the case. They probably are going to prepare a meal for their man, their elderly parents, their children and then clean their home. I’m feel tired for them. I needed another beer..

Damn… It’s too early in the AM. I hear the luggies launching. You know, they hawking and toss their spit on the street. This luggie thing makes me want to dry heave when I hear the flem moving in their throats and being sprung loose. Men and women do this. They say it’s to rid the evil spirits. I say get the government needs to invest in cough suppressant and call it a day.

For the Olympics, the Chinese government had tourist manners training broadcasted on the radio and TV instructing the 1.3 billion, essentially, two main things. No hawking luggies in public. And, no roaming the streets in your Pjs. For the Games, you must get dressed. Makes me giggle. I did spy a PJ wearer in Shanghai. Took a picture…

Besides confused communism, the words hawking and luggie launching are going to be added to my list for China as the word sighing was my go-to Russian descriptor. Anyway, I hear the luggies launching. The women are back reassembling their goodies for another day. My heart goes out to them on one hand and the other hand, not so much. Many vie for a spot on counterfeit row. They are the lucky ones. I watch Chinese tourist buy their goods. It’s their business. Their livelihood. They are supporting their families. They are all ages — young to very old. Retirement age here is 50 for woman and 55 men. That being said, pensions are a rarity. Savings is the only way to prepare for old age. These woman don’t want my pity — but my money. This idea of communism – they way I was taught and have understood – has been shredded after visiting China. More to come on that later.

Back to the hawkers. Ok. So last night, as I was sipping my beer I observed an interesting transaction.l One Chinese market lady is prego. Let’s hope its her only child for she will be fined if not. Chinese preggers has been on her feet all day. She packing up her assortment of goodies, in particular halter, strapless dresses — like bathing suit cover ups. For me, it would be a micro-min skirt with a large elastic waist band. Anyhow, I watched a fellow prego Western woman eye a halter dress. She wanted it. Perfect for preggers. Maybe I should buy LLL one and ship back to the states in time for the baby shower. Thoughts?

You would think fellow preggers would not rip each other off — would be patient. You know, do the follow prego bond. Nope. Voices were raised. Western preggers stormed off. Chinese preggers went running and screaming after her. I sipped my beer and ate peanut butter and watched it unfold. Is Western preggers going to walk? Chinese preggers whipped out a calculator. Western preggers waved her off. Back and forth. Walk away. Screamed. Came back. It was settled. Western preggers got her halter dress. Chinese preggers ripped it from the hanger, balled it up and threw it in an old plastic bag she found under the table. Deal done. These people really need to start practicing their bonafide religion, Buddhism.

You should see the other rooms in the hotel Julia. You would HEART the one given to Canadian Dawn and Mike. (Yes, 90% of group is from our NAFTA partner to the North.) Over their plywood bed, the snazy hotel painted two young backpackers walking into the sunset — talk about getting you into the mood. The shower, bathroom and sink window takes up half the wall. It’s INSIDE the room overlooking the bed. I took a picture. So, when you’re scrubbing or going #2 your husband, lover or hook up can watch. Maybe the Chinese believe backpackers like to watch each other take dumps and shower. No clue. Things like this just make me happy.

Went down on the Yulong or Li river – forgot name of river – yesterday.

They had me hoisted on a rusted, metal chair ducked tape to six bamboo sticks. My Chinese guide was a no-teeth smiling, cig smoking, bamboo pole paddling master. He guided us over mini-rapids – without getting a smudge of water on my pristine, prescious outfit.

I do need to blow up the picture of the Marlboro packs I photographed in Mongolia. To reduce smoking, the country forced Marlboro to put pictures of cancer ridden teeth and black lungs on the cig packets. I’ve seen this throughout Poland, Jordan and Israel too. It’s good stuff.

But, bamboo pole pusher gave my first real sense of calmness since entering the country of 1.3 billion – that is if you remove cigarette smoke and his occasional cackle to other pole pushers passing by. The river. The limestone mountains. Huts littered along the water. Mini-rapids. Water buffalo. Rice fields. Peaceful. Southeast Asia must have inspired the movie Avatar’s scenery. I shared my metal chair with Jeff, who I alluded to earlier. No, I did not jump his bones or sing  “Strangers in the Night,” Julia. If I rolled   of him, suffocation would ensue.

Wait — I hear a new noise. No, not hawking. It’s sweeping. Let’s celebrate the street cleaners. What’s surprised me is China’s cleanliness. I expected litter everywhere. Like Honduras.

But, with a Central Government whose main goal is equality for all – get to that one later – it’s their goal to find jobs for everyone. So, China has a deluge of street cleaners sportin’ orange vests and rubber boots, carrying hay broomsticks and rusted trays, walking around with heads down in search of their prey – LITTER. It’s all good. They make some dinero. Govt gives a break on housing. And, streets are always clean. Keeping with the theme job security, at the airport going through security ten agents per machine. For a two hour flight on a mid-size plane from Hangzhou to Gulin, we’re talking eight flight attendants. They greeted us. Passed out water and packs of dried carrots. Picked up the trash. And, called it a day. Job security.

I need to go. Sick of peanut butter. Need to eat some rice porridge — water, rice and gelatin stuff – and dumplings for breakfast. I’m biking to Moon Hill, Moon Pie or Moon mountain today. Biking through rice paddies and giving a shout out to my fellow Orange growers. Citrus is a big business in China. Don’t worry, I promise not to hit a water buffalo. Am I really here? The capitalism convoy?

I will be sharing more about big-city Shanghai of 20 million. I popped several sedative after “doing” Shanghai… Sensory overload.

On my way to becoming a vegetarian.  Thanks China…

Cute Chinese couple…

She’s selling beer on the river.  On a bamboo raft…

Yes, those are computers on the river.  Take our picture.  Beam it back to land.  Sell the pictures to tourists..

Pictures on the water

Transporting the bamboo rafts back upstream

1.3 Billion on 7-day Holiday. China.

30 Sep

Chinese National Holiday kicks off tomorrow.  Meaning, 1.3 billion people are off work and taking a 7 day holiday… Hoards are known to flock to all the major tourist attractions… Great time for TallGirl to “do” China…

I’m boarding a train tonight – Sept. 30th – and will arrive in random city of Wuhan tomorrow to catch a 2-night, 3 day ferry up through the Three Gorges.

My solution to potential chaos.  First, a Chinese pharmacy for sedatives and then micro-mini market for beers.  At times like this, you need to be a practicing Buddhist or opt for consuming legal, liquid depressants.  Our train has 6 bunks per compartment, with no door and no air.  Another great night aboard a Chinese train.  Let’s just hope the wheels fit on the tracks.

Just a FYI.  In 1949, our Chairman Mao declared October 1st National People Republic of China day in Tian’anmen Square in front of 300,000.  Not many people if you ask me… He waved the red flag  and the one-party government kick-started their hearts..

Laundry, Shanghai Style

26 Sep

Where is Downy when you need it. Chinese lady just returned my laundry. It’s dry but oozes with the smell of grease. The smell counters my stature… Looks like I’ll be blending in just fine.

Map – China Travel Route

25 Sep

Travel Route for China

Map – Trans Siberian Train Route

25 Sep

For those who want to check out the Trans Siberian train route.

More detailed map of the Trans-Siberian Rail below…

Balance. Order. Beijing Airport. OMG.

25 Sep

Just throwing it out there. I could move into the Beijing airport. OMG. I’m a Libra.  THRIVE in harmony, order and balance. This place is built on those principals and then add some architecture genius, high end retailers, Disney codes of happily moving people, yummy restaurants and customer service, you’ve got Beijing airport baby. Tallgirl was built for this place. OMG. I just can’t stop smiling.

Signs telling you it’s going to be a 7 minute walk from one point to your gate. Their TSA security actually moves people through in a fast, precise and efficient manner…No taking off shoes. No liquid bullshit..They care about technology.

Oh, they speak English. Have a TCBY fro-yo cafe that sells BEER. Don’t tell, just had a large peach with extra sprinkles and a beer. Sounds nasty, but I’m just smiling… Oh, the little TCBY girls, spoke English… When taxi man dropped me off, had greeters to point you in the right direction…It’s Walt Disney, Chinese style.

I’m not shocked for I assumed China, especially Beijing, would bleed with order. The opening ceremonies of the Olympics screamed that loud and clear. Actually, frightening the living shit out of me.  Focus here…What I’m trying to say is, I’m in HEAVEN.

Coming from sighing Russia and mayhem Mongolia, this is a shock to the system. My internal balance is being restored. I’m drawn to clean, straight lines. The color red. Quality. Fine things. Over sized, artsy windows. Accessible, clean water. Working electrical outlets built into the floor. Free WiFi. High ceilings, making me feel petite. Signs in English. And, no clutter… We’re talking Clean…clean…clean.. Damn… Bring it on China. My soul is waking up.

The drive here was orderly. I was expecting billions of cars. Horns. Chaos. None of it. Five to seven lane highways. No horns. Using signals to cross lanes. Where am I???

Off to Shanghai in a few. I have a feeling that Beijing’s order is Shanghi’s chaos… Yes, I’m flying.  Toss the trains for 48 hours please.

Facebook is down. So, my blog will have more random observations.

By the way, last night was Young Bucks goodbye dinner.  We had Peking duck…never had it.  I’m a fan. Add another animal with feathers to my diet…  Will be back in Beijing in 14 days….

Views from my hotel window this AM..Around 5:30 AM… Pollution Central?

My side of the room… BIG mess…Hotel in Beijing..

What do you mean the Train Wheels are too Small? Gettin’ into China

25 Sep

It’s September 23. Friday. 11:23 AM. On the train. About three hours away from Beijing. I’m sure you are so sick of another damn train blog. I’m tired too. I’m on the top bunk. Stomach pains. Smelling cig smoke. Listening to the door bang and bang and band. Our compartment saddles up next to the working toilet. They say the air condition is on – so all windows are bolted. I’m becoming desensitized to recycled cig, urine air.

Sitting here. Watching China reveal herself to me. A lot of building going on in Northern China. Then, you hit nothing – looks like scenes in Avatar. Spotted the great wall an hour ago. It was built in Northern China to keep the barbarians out – and the annoying Khan family from Mongolia…

We boarded the “to” China train yesterday AM. Last night was the highlight. Leaving Mongolian was easy. We had a two hour stop. No bathroom. No leaving the train. After the Mongols wished us well – we headed off to China border only 30 minutes down the road.

We pulled up around 9 pm and left at 1 am. Not only had they check our passports, but also take apart each car and change the wheels. That’s right. Change the wheels. The train tracks are smaller in China. They took our passports. Locked the toilets. Locked us in the train. They ripped apart each train and drove it into a tunnel where they jacked us up about 10 feet.

It was a weird sensation, watching other trains being lifted up into the air by over sized jacks or whatever they’re called… And watching the many, many Chinese changing the big wheels. (Job security) When it was our turn, they slowly lifted us up. We could not feel a thing. We were not moving. But, we were – then we here major clanging and the metal scrapping. The train jolted. Jolted. And, it was silent. They lowered us down and then they slowly started reconnecting the train. There’s a new restaurant car – selling Chinese food instead of Mongolian. Bring on the rice baby!

Next stop is Beijing.

Visiting Visas – Russia, China, Vietnam

29 Aug

Whether Maslow meets my traveling physiological needs – breathing, food, water, clean bathrooms and constant body temperature  — or not is really of no bother to me.  It is when I’m challenged by a high-school drop out or thug managing border security is when I become unglued.

Because of this, you would think securing a Visa prior to leaving would be a priority.  Nope.  Clothes and accessories were my only priority.

You see, I had planned to be in London for 2 weeks.  All the consulate offices are there so, the thinking goes, I’ll  just pop in and they’ll stamp my passport.  All will be good.  Easy Breezy.

On day two of my stay in London, I Googled  Russian embassy and mapped out its location on the subway (Tube).  Instead of going to the Russia Visa application center, I was knocking on the door of the Russian ambassador. First mistake.

Ironically, I walked right passed security and was only approached when I came closer to the ambassador’s front door. Some man said,  “Can I help you?”  Well, of course, “I’m from the United States of America and need a Visa to Russia.”  The man’s expression went from helpful to annoyance.  Not another one. He told me that I am in the wrong place and that was that

Several Tube stops later, I arrived at the Russian Visa application center – little KGB.  It is what you imagine.  Grey building.  No windows.  And, bad-ass blonds out of a James Bond movie working behind the desk. These women look violent.  I took a number and waited. My number was called by KGB agent 345.  She pointed in the direction of a computer. “Go fill out application.” And, boom, dismissed.

Thank GOD there was a young boy of 19 managing the computer.  I will flirt and he will help me, right?  The answer is yes.

When we got to the question of “what did you study in college,” my heart started beating faster.  Shit.  I studied politics?  The red head of anxiety raced up my neck.

I told tiny teen I studied the Science of Politics and asked if  that is “Ok.”  I tried to make it sound less threatening and more academic by placing the word science in front of politics.  He said, “why, yes.”

He asked me, “what organizations do I belong to?”  I momentary forgot.  Mead Garden gardening club?  Public Relations Society?  YMCA?   Tiny teen has a follow up question, “what does the YMCA stand for?”  UH NO.  It’s a Christian based organization, what if the rowdy Russians are anti-christian — boot me now?  I responded – “Young, Men’s Christian Association.”  I probed his eyes.  Did I notice a change in color.  Did his pupils dilate?

Tiny teen said, “oh, just curious.  I walk pass the sign everyday.”

I enthusiastically offered, “you should look into joining.  It’s a great organization.”  What the he—.  I’m schlepping YMCA memberships to a Russian in London.  Stop the madness.

Tiny teen went on to ask me about my terrorist activities and if I have enough money to get out of Russia. Passed the terrorist questions with flying colors.  Money?  Really?  Do you think taking a one-way train across your country to China is a red flag that I’m here stay?  This question made me laugh – I mean, my face muscles hurt from the Chester-cat grin.  “This TallGirl does not do cold.  And, Siberia and Mongolia is a little brisk in September.  You have nothing to worry about.  Not defecting to Russia.”  Humor does not translate.  His lips did not curl. His pupils DID dilate.

Tiny teen turned from sweet and fragile to stony and cold.  KGB  was kickin-in. “You need to show me that you have money in your account.  Bring me your bank statements.  Your bank must be in the UK.  And, then we can process your Visa. Oh, you can not use this computer or printer.”

First, pray that BOA has an office in the UK.  Second, I had to find a place to  use a computer and a printer.  This is what you have to embrace about traveling.  Nothing is easy.  And, it’s this inconvenience that makes the experience memorable, right?  Not up for a Russian Visa experience on this day…

Walked up to randoms on the street — b/c this is what dirty, smelly travelers do – and asked where to find a computer with WiFi and a WORKING  printer.  Some dude in overalls directed me to the YMCA.  The name YMCA twice in an hour — It was a sign.  And, hell, I was the advertising/ marketing muse at the Y back home so it’s time to cash in on that card.

Sauntered in with an air of arrogance and announced that I used to work for the Y in Central Florida and could I PLEASE use their computer/printer.  Petite girl with large brown eyes stared through me and smiled.  Too bad. Soo sad.  Our computers aren’t working.  Well, that had a familiar ring to it.  She said the shop with a yellow sign may help me.  She gave me the “make a left, make a right, make a right and around the corner” directions and off I went…

The shop with a yellow sign charged me $5 to download and print the bank statements.   It’s called extortion in the states, but I’m desperate.

Tiny teen reviews my statements and asks me to return in 10 days or so.  The part about “or so” got me.  I said, “well I need the passport by August 5 because I’m going to Lebanon.”  He said, “that should not be a problem.”

Did I just hear a conditional verb, ‘should?’  No. No. No.  We need active, definite verbs here.  Can’t mess with the passport.  Then, out of no where and with no filter, I said, “Should is not a verb I like… I need my passport…. and I know where you work….”  Then I smiled my big pearly whites… Wait, did  I just threaten, unintentionally, a Russian visa agent – possibly KGB?  Nice one.  He just looked at me.  I walked off — fast.

Fast forward ten days and a trip to Scotland, I’m back at KGB central.  The Bond ladies are  there.  They look more violent than before.  On this day, I’m to meet my friend Betsy at her flat for some celebratory cocktails and dinner. I’ve given this whole Russia Visa thing about 2.5 hours round trip, including tube stops.  It is more than enough — or so I thought.

Walk in.  Security guard with a big Russian badge offers Visas aren’t given out until 4 pm.  Excuse me?  No one ever told me this.  Nor, was this on the website or posted anywhere in the building.  Maybe it is a new rule for that day. I graciously thanked him for his bad news for it was 2:30 and I have 1.5 hours until I can get in line for the Visa pick up.  I’m to be drinking cocktails at 4:30 with Betsy.

Shiny badge guy guy handed me number #862.  I flew out the door in search of WiFi.  This time, I brought my laptop.  Now, I need to let Betsy know I will be late for drinks and to get started without me….  I spied a Starbucks.  Fab.  This is going to be easy.  Starbucks must have WiFi.  I bought some of their laced coffee with extra stimulates and and inquire about WiFi.  No Wifi in this location.  Shit.  I sat.  Stared at the window.  Exhaled.  Chugged the S’bucks. And, mentally prepared for the journey to locate WiFi in London.  I have 49 minutes.  Did I mention London is one of the financial capitals of the world?

Back to the YMCA – again.  Nope, internet is down today.  Looks like all Ys across the world are the same.   Went into a few shops run by lovely Indians and asked if they have a computer, WiFi — anything.  Nope.  Then, marched over to the yellow sign shop.  Put down another $5 and used his computer for 29 seconds.  Extortion.. I told Betsy to hold the liquor — things have changed.

I go back to the windowless building.  Plopped in a plastic chair. And,  take in my surroundings.  Where am I?  Yes, the KGB Bond girls are all blond, beautiful and exude violence dressed in fitted tailored shirts, tight skirts, high heels and tan legs.  Hair is pulled tight off their necks for severity or flowing down their backs.  The all look like they would put Sean Connery to the ultimate test. Or, win an ultimate fight challenge.  Either way, they win.

To my left are four Russian men wearing black or white t-shirts speaking in low voices and ogling over these girls. I think one KGB girl started to purr at their attention.   About a half dozen “customers” are in the waiting room, yet the place is humming with energy.  My eyes set upon the Russian propaganda of “did you know” facts.  “Did you know the Russian Federation comprises of 83 federal subjects?”  Their way of communicating Russia IS democratic and not really a totalitarian-Putin regime.    “Did you know about Southeast Siberia’s Lake Baikal contains 20% of the world’s total unfrozen fresh water reserve?”  Need to remember to pack a jacket.

The  numbers are moving.  KGB girl screams, “number 672″  . I’m 862. There are 6 people in here. This is interesting. I kick my feet up and watch.

She continues to count.  No one moves.  We hit the 700’s…next is 800’s… Finally, my number.  I hand KBG girl my ticket.  She takes it without smiling or making eye contact.  She walks to the box and quickly thumbs through the envelops, not once, twice but four times.  That is when I knew we had a problem.  She walks back.  “You have a problem.”  No, I don’t think so sister.  I smiled, “No, you have a problem.  The email sent said my passport is ready.”  She starred at me — ice blue eyes rested on mine.  I’m ready for war…Lebanon is calling.  Her voiced rang out and her counterparts all stopped and looked at her.  She abruptly turned on her heel and stormed off in the back room.  Great.  I thought, “I’m stuck in London. Journey over.  I haven’t even gotten my blog up yet…”

Twenty minutes later or so, she pushed the door open, looking even angrier.  She goes through the boxes again and again.  I was not leaving.  Finally, she pulls out an envelop and smiles and even, giggles.  She hands it to me and then says, “good bye.”  I translated her gestures as the passport was filed under Ms. instead of my name.  Who cares.  I got my Visa and passport and I was off to Lebanon.

Next Visa is China and Vietnam, which will be taken care of while in Krakow, Poland.  To make a short story longer, I’m sitting under four wool blankets freezing my ass in Gliwice, Poland praying that I will have a passport upon my return to Krakow.  It’s August, and yes, I’m COLD!

I decided it is much more efficient to Fed-Ex my passport to some agency in DC who can secure my Visas in a matter of days instead of dealing with the harassment.

So, how did I get here?  I decided to stay in a nice hotel in Krakow, Poland, feeling certain that they had access or knowledge about express mail.  Ha.  Another joke in the traveling journal.  The receptionist told me that Fed Ex just entered the market, so they know nothing of Fed Ex.  They only use DHL, which is closed Friday afternoons and opens again on Monday.   I arrived on Friday afternoon.

Next day, I bribed some kid $40 to drive me to DHL terminal in the middle of some field – about 75 mins outside of Krakow – on a Saturday so my passport and Visa applications will be sent on Monday, arriving by Thursday to passport central in DC.  We got lost.  He pulled over and asked an older man riding a bike with baskets on the front and back about DHL’s location.  No clue.  The guy appeared snockered…

We knocked on someone’s home.  No clue. Never heard of DHL.   His GPS indicated DHL was in front of us — but all we saw was a green meadow with yellow flowers.  I sat back,  Smiled.  This is in God’s hands.

Don’t ask how, but we found the place.  No one spoke any English.   It is at these times where faith in God and trust in your fellow man comes into play. Really, what are my options?  I filled out some forms.  Smiled.  Handed the lady my passport and prayed.

The goal is for the passport to arrive by week’s end.  I sent my passport to DC and while I’m filling cracks and mixing cement in Gliwice, Poland for Habitat, they are working on securing Visas for China and Vietnam.  When I arrive back in Krakow next week, my passport will be at fancy hotel – Visas completed – without a problem.

Reality is — someone in DC has my passport.   If my passport goes MIA, it looks like I will be extending my trip in Poland. Or, God will just open another door.  Maybe, I’m too marry the HOT, Polish, tattooed brick layer and, together, we fill cracks with concrete, live off sauerkraut and Vodka and have magical Polish sex for the rest of my life. God has a plan…And, I need to keep my end of the bargain of having faith…