Tag Archives: Food

Bangkok by Day. Bangkok by Night.

27 Nov

Arrived in Bangkok. Had three days in this city. Three days is plenty. Sprawling. Polluted. Unruly. Word on the street is there’s over 5,500 7-11s convenience stores in this country…  And, thousands  and thousands more profiting in prostitution.  Heart the 7-11s.  But,  can do without human trafficking and sex crimes.  Yea, three days is plenty.  I’m ready to absorb the brazen seediness of this city. Bring it on baby!

A friend of mine has a friend who’s a driver/tour guide in Bangkok. His name is Kitty. I emailed him prior to my arrival asking for help to pilot this place.. Next thing I know, I have a private guide ushering me around in a big, black car with tinted windows. Well, at least I fit in.

Kitty and I kicked off “Bangkok in one day” at the Grand Palace. The present King Bhumibol Adulyadej – pushing 83 years of age – and his Queen no longer live there. They built another super-sized palace across town. The Grand Palace was the official residence of all the Kings of Thailand starting from 18th century onward.

It houses complex buildings like bodacious Buddhist temples, golden Stuppas, and Kinnon – the mythical golden creature of half bird and half man. All in all, the place is dripping in gold and largeness and scary mythical statues that give kids nightmares.

A quick background on Thailand’s govt to put things in perspective. Sum it up this way. Thailand is considered democracy to the UN and military dictatorship to the people.  They haphazardly borrow from the British style of government – a constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democratic system.

But lucky for its people, the government adds its own special seasoning. Try a strong dose of military might whose special mission is to imprison or kill anyone who speaks against or annoys the Royal monarchy. Yea, it’s in the air. I bet my pair of H&M black leggings this place is gearing up for a rumble. More on that later…

Back to a day in Bangkok. So, I had Kitty-cat and his armored car for the day. As I said, our first stop was the Grand Palace. Yes, it not only houses scary, gold statues but it also entertains the famous Emerald Buddha. I assumed E-Buddha would be large and in charge. Like Jolly Green Giant to sprout. Not the case.

E-Buddha was sprout – about 2 feet on a good day. And, he REALLY was made out of emerald. Rumor has it the Thai people stole him from Cambodia. Sprout was perched high on a stack of gold plates. You can’t take pictures. Was anti-climatic for me. *This is NOT a travel blog, so if you’re interested, google Emerald Buddha and Bangkok for more background on the little green martian.

I was more interested in the monks with shaved heads wearing Orange sheets sitting a mere 4 feet away from us. They look like Hare Krishnas hair at JFK airport. I wanted THEIR story. Kitty gave me the low down while we sat cross-legged, with no shoes in temple-land.

Me: “What’s their deal? The guys in the orange sheets?”

Kitty: “The monks? They come to pray. Everyday. Pray..”

Me: “What type of Buddhism do they practice? Can they marry? What is their life like?”

Kitty: “The Buddhism Thai people follow is called Theravada. But, Thai people have old traditions and beliefs. So, our Buddhism is different Buddhism. We use our traditions, Chinese traditions and mix with Buddhism. Almost 95% of population is Buddhist.

You ask about marry? No marry. No touch woman. No look at woman. No think woman. Can’t eat after noon. Only two meals a day. Pray. Pray to Buddha. Monks have many rules. Over 200 rules to follow. Thai people, not as many rules. Just five rules to be a good Buddhist – no stealing, no lying, no cheating on wife, no gambling, no drinking… Follow these rules, we get good life. Good afterlife. Good Buddhist.”

I never thought Buddhism had rules. Catholic church has the rules. But, Buddhist? Newsflash. Then, my American side came out. I mean, they have to do something productive, right?

Me: “Besides, praying what do they do? Give back to the community? Help the homeless? I mean, they can’t pray and not look at woman all the time…”

Kitty: “No help people. People help them. Our people make food. Honor to give food to monks. Honor to give money to monks. Give to monks, you get merits. Get better life and more blessings. Monks do ceremonies. People pay for ceremonies. Good if your son is monk because you get ceremonies for free…”

Me: “What? What? What do they do with the money then? Pay for upkeep of the temple? Reinvest? 401K plans? Mattresses? Health Insurance? ”

Kitty: “ People don’t know where money goes. People are upset, but can’t ask questions to monks. Be disrespectful. People do talk… Bad to talk about monks. The collect money. But,temple paid for by the government. Monks pay nothing. Being monk is good profession.”

Me: “Wait. They don’t feed the poor? Help children? Feed children? Nothing?”

He starts to laugh out my outrage. And, he is not whispering. He’s enjoying this conversation, yet looks around to make sure no one is listening. What he is saying is blasphemy.

Kitty: “Many monks in my country. Monks get free food. Free education. Everything is free for them. Just like military, no? And, you don’t have to be a monk for life. Get education. Food. House. Clothes. Leave and get married later. Poor families send their boys to be monks. Good investment in son. Good profession…Easier for son to get job later if monk.”

I look over. There is a huge box filled with money. Contributions. This temple is dripping in gold. And, the people outside are starving. Men sabotaging religion in the name of God to better themselves. It’s called “morality by man.” And, its a reoccurring theme in all religion – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism…And, I suspect Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism. Not one religion holds the morality card.

The irony here is man never learns. Each religion has a story of God punishing its people who use His name to self-enrich and promote their individual interests. Old Testament is full of stories. God destroying temples because the Jews were selling goods in holy places. He sent Jesus down to kick some woop ass, then we have the stories in New Testament of man getting annoyed with Jesus for calling them out on their corruption, lies and selfishness. Yet, man does it over and over and over again. Hijacks a religion or a philosophy to personally gain. Man’s pride and cowardice continue to be our downfall.

As I listened to Kitty and through my travels in Buddhist countries, I found Buddhism to be rooted in a philosophy of one gives to get. Give monks money. Prepare monks meals. Feed the poor. Turn a prayer wheel. Raise a prayer flag… With the intention of getting something in return – get more merits, get a good grade, get married or get reincarnated as a super-star instead of a slimy-salamander. Their intention is to give back to personally benefit. There’s a difference between man giving to others to get blessings rather than giving to others to be a blessing. Take a look at the verbs. To Get vs. To Be. Big difference.

I’ve been making a daily effort – though most days I fall short – where I try to be a blessing to others whether it is in the form of a smile, kind words, or just being still. It’s hard because most of the time I think, “if I’m nice, smile and wear lip gloss, passport man will give me a stamp… or the front desk lady will upgrade my room to a plastic shower curtain and two towels…” It is only those times when I’m conscious of being a blessing to others, where I can truly can see a difference. Difference in the people’s acceptance of me. And, a difference in my acceptance of them. It’s like all barriers of communications are shredded. We genuinely connect.

Tangent. Sorry. I’m writing this AFTER being in Bhutan. So, my appreciation and understanding for Buddhism has only increased. Back to Bangkok.

After Kitty-cat took a zillion pictures of me at the Palace – hate pictures of me – we bolted for the tailors. This was HIGH on my list.

Wanted to get some clothes made. No clue what, but why not? Well, three dresses and two suits later, I walked out the door. First of all, don’t wear dresses. I’m a pants gal. The shocking white legs will do it to you. But, since I’ve been wearing only three pairs of pants for the last four months, I’m on a fashion, style mission.

You’ve heard me vow upon my return to the land of the free press, that I’m going to wear styles made for 2011, not 1989.

Tailor people asked me to pick out fabrics, colors and styles. They handed me a 2000 Vogue issue and said, “You pick style. We make.” Well, maternity, wedding and bridesmaid dresses were out. So, I randomly choose three style that MAY work. And, what do I know about fabrics? Silk? Cotton? Wool? No clue. Colors too? I willed for Mom to be there. She knows her fabrics and fashions. It was good fun. They shipped the clothes back to the states. After all of this, let’s hope they fit. If not, it’s going on Ebay.

That night, I signed up for “Bike Bangkok by Moon-Light” with Grasshopper Adventures. The company claims they have bikes for Amazons – aka Tall people. The bike tour started at 6 pm and ended around 10 pm. We were to bike through the bowels of Bangkok while wearing a helmet and bug repellent.

Only three of us signed up for the tour this night. The other two were from Sarasota, Florida. Super buzz kill. They thought the same. Young couple. Early 20’s. Sold their condo and took the year off to travel the world. They are just entering week 4 of their overseas adventure. It took the other Florida gal only 15 mins to start complaining – Thai food was too greasy…hostel was dirty… and surprised by the number of creepy crawly bugs… I smiled. Nod my head and looked at the dude. Yea, this is not going to last. He looked embarrassed.

I would love to know how this little soiree around the world even came up in conversation.

Drunk one night? At a bar in Sarasota with the 65+ crowd. Looked around. Thought there was more to life than this. Both hated their job. One is a teller at a bank. The other answers phones for a bankrupt developer. Thought they must seize the moment. Live life for today…Why not sell everything and travel. Sounds super-cool. Super-fun. Can do it for cheap. Stay in hostels. Eat street food. Go where the wind tells us… Yea, super-cool… And, bamb, here they are in Bangkok. Eating street food. Staying in a bug, infested hostel for whores for $1. And, calling this “fun.” I have to smile. I give it 3 months.

The beginning of the bike trip was to be expected. Many people. Many cars. Many potholes. Much pollution. The city of Bangkok sits on a river. It is divided into two parts. The old city. New city. So, we bounced around on bridges, ferries, sidewalks and roads all covered in dirty water. It started to drizzle about 45 mins into the ride. No matter. We’re all from Florida. We know rain.

We stopped at two temples – forgot their names. Glad we did for there were NO tourists. We had the place to our selves. Taking pictures. Riding around. It was brilliant.

Our tour guide told us the temples were made by Chinese workers. Chinese were the Thai “worker-bees” at one point in history. The Chinese used porcelain from coffee cups and plates to design and build some of the temples. Very ornate. Intricate. Beautiful.

It was at temple-land, when it really started to rain. And, rain, and rain.. And, we thought we knew rain. Our tour guide came prepared and handed us over-sized, see-through garbage bags to protect our clothes. Perfecto. No worries. We’ll just get muddy instead.

Next, we peddled down a muddy road and stopped at a shack that cuts, deep fries, ferments to preserve fruits to be sold in the market and exported to China. Got to see fermenting fruit in action. We’re talking mounds of oil and sugar. Rethinking the whole idea that dried fruit is healthy. But, what do I know…

Two sons at the fruit fermenting shack are tasks with hacking the fruit into small bits using and over-sized, sharp knife.

When we were there, one was humped over on the floor. Wearing dirty socks. Smoking cigs. Unwashed hands. And, you wonder why you need Cipro or antibiotics in these countries. It starts with the sons.

Meanwhile, their mother is sitting fat and happy in the doorway watching her sons and watching the street.

I wish I remember the name of the fruit they were preserving. It was a big word. Take a look at the pictures. Keep me posted.

The rain would not stop. We biked for a little while longer. The riverfront flooded. We waited it out in a random family’s wooden porch. These people package garlic for a living. Try sitting next to a ton of fresh garlic for an hour. In the rain. The family gave us water in bottles that were already open. I politely declined due to future bowel irritations.

We sat. Watched the rain. Watched the flood for a solid hour. It was hitting 10 pm. The rain was not stopping. We’re already wet. We’re from Florida. Why not get soaked. So, off we went. On our bikes. Peddling along the flooded riverfront to the Thai flower market.

This is the main Bangkok market for all flowers to be exported around the world or sold in Thailand. Beautiful. We’re talking about two dozen, long stem roses for less than a $1. Orchids. Lillis. Daisey. Gardenias. Jasmine. Lotus. You name it. It was there.

Everyday, budding flowers come in from all over the country. They refrigerate them. Load them onto shipping containers. And, the flowers are delivered in a day or two or three. Take a look at the pictures. If I were Thai and forced to work in a market, this is my market of choice. Someone else can hack meat, fish and fruit. Give me the pretty flowers please. Scroll for pictures…

The downside in riding in a flood is drainage. I’m in Bangkok. Not known for good infrastructure or a run-off, environmentally sensitive drainage plans. Let’s just say scary floating things were moving beneath me. Stopping was no longer an option.

Our guide wanted to take us the shorter way back for we were approaching midnight. Get ready for the super REAL Bangkok. She led us to the streets of prostitution. These streets were not for the old-Western or Japanese tourists hungry for cheap girl meat. Or, where the Lady Boys dance and exploit their new and improved bodies for hundreds of dollars. These streets are for the low-life. Poor girls and boys with no options. No way out. We are talking about 11 and 14 year olds trolling the streets looking for anything – I mean anything.

My eyes would hold their eyes as I approached. Saturated in black. Hardened. I had to look away for I did not know what to do. I’m an American. I solve problems. I fix things. We’re a fixer country. And, I was embarrassed by my helplessness. I also felt like an oversized fool – biking through their streets in my H&M black leggings, pink hiking boots and blue bike-helmet – as they sell their bodies for a hot meal. I just asked my mind to remember these people. And, they are people with hearts that beat like you and me. Remember them. Never forgot them. Pray for them. Hope for them.

As we motored on, I was shocked to see the street vendors – those selling water, Thailand T-shirts, postcards, or kittens – actually live in their mini-stalls. I mean LIVE. An entire family lives in a tent on the sidewalk. Families gathered around their tiny TVs watching America’s Next Top Model or Thai news. I saw a TV turned to an infomercial where a California blond with a flat stomach was selling some ab-fat reducer. Ab-fat reducer in Thailand? My brain could not take this in. The poverty. The Shock. And, American tacky TV. It’s hard to digest. Because, what am I to do with this information? I don’t know. I’m at a loss. I keep riding on. Looking. Watching. Absorbing.

My mind kept going back to TV and toilets. I asked our guide, “Where do they use the bathroom?” She said, “streets, parks, sidewalks… Anywhere. They shower in the river.” And, to think I buy food and postcards from them. I truly will never look at a street vendor the same. I assumed they had homes – or shacks. Like China, Thailand does not have a social safety net. Monks certainly don’t help these people. The poor are on their own.

We arrived back at Grasshopper Travel around midnight. Wet. Dirty. And, nervous. Biking Bangkok by Night struck an uneasy cord with me. Something was off. The element was out. I felt it. Darkness surrounded me. Not right. I need to get back to my hotel ASAP. I asked my guide to help me get a legit taxi. One with a meter. My intuition told me if I were hailing a cab on my own – at this time of night – a dark ally and not a hotel would be the next stop. The tour guide said of course. I quickly went next door to get some bottled water at the 7-11. I was right. People were staring at me – in a way they want to hurt me. Rob me. Mame me. Saw this look in Honduras. Know it well. Yep, time to get this wet, smelly butt home.

Tour guide hailed the first cab. They exchanged words. He drove off. I asked, “what happened?” She did not answer and smiled. She hailed another cab. Same thing. The third cab, she let me in. She wrote down the cab’s name and identiy number and kept it. He saw her do this, meaning, he is busted if he tried anything. Yea, she felt it too. We both knew but did not say a word. She got a big fat tip.

Taxi driver asked if I knew Tiger Woods. That would be a BIG no. Those were the only words he knew. He did not even know Obama. Just Tiger. Have to laugh. He dropped me off. I ran upstairs to my room and took a hot shower. Thankful I’m home. And, asked God to look after the people living on the street. What else can I do? I just stood in the shower letting the hot water run over me thanking God for my blessings. And, asking Him, “Why not me? Why am I not out there, living on the streets, ogling at America’s Next Top model, bathing in rivers and selling my body? How come I am here? In the hot shower? Safe? Oh, did I say Thank You? If not, THANK YOU. And, please, what do You want me to do to help?

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…

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…

Back to Chaos. Shanghai. QuickTweet (QT)

25 Sep

Left order of the Beijing airport. To chaos of Shanghai. Harmony was short lived…

(Picture taken outside my hotel window.  Fifth floor. )

Not sure where I am.  The hotel clerk told me “no map available.  Wait til store opens at 5:00 pm.”  It’s 9:30 pm.  Hotel store still closed.  No worries..went out on my own.  Still don’t know where I am.

Was hungry.  Looking for a food market.  But, walked into a “fast” food Chinese restaurant.  Saw a picture outside.  Looked encouraging.  Stood in line.  Felt anxious.  What am I ordering.  Little, old Chinese lady points to a picture. The only picture.  I nod.  Look down. Grab 10 Yan (less than $2).  Sat down. Let’s see what I get..

All eyes on me. Felt them. Not another anglo, shocking-white, 6 foot girl in the place. Dumplings arrive. Looks like the picture.  Three Chinese girls at next table order the same. Watch them out of corner of my eye.  How do you eat these things?  I want sauce, but what type?  I mimicked them.  They giggled.

Next, chop sticks. Don’t have coordination. Never used them before.. Had to eat very, very slow.  Good for me, considering I use a fork as a shovel. Dumplings were fab. Only one dropped into my lap.  Random meat.  Random sauce.  Random chop sticks. Found my way back to my hotel.  I’m on a side street. It’s LOUD. I think there’s a moped parking lot next to our hotel.  Alarms are going off.

My new roomie comes tomorrow.  I’ve signed up for another backpacker, “I can’t afford a hot meal” tour with Gap Adventures.  Means, I share a room with a random.  It’s so nice to have a night to myself. I’ve been sharing space with others for weeks now…  I’m really  starting to hate people.  I’m in China too… Not a good place to be. Hate being around a lot of people while in China.  Not good.

Need to plan Thailand…I’m rethinking end of Oct and November…In China for 2.5 weeks and then go to Bhutan to hike through monasteries for another 14 days… Need to slow down.  Sit.  Looking for yoga, spiritual retreat in Thailand where all I do is sit in silence, stretch and ween the bod off of bread, beer, yogurt and dumplings… Any ideas out there?

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..

Eating, Shopping, Training & Sittin’ in Mongolia Hotel Lobby

25 Sep

We’re off again. I’m growing fond of trains. Living in close quarters. Sleeping on a 3 by 6 foot mini-mattress, where worn sheets and pillows are provided by the host country. Cuddling at night with a plastic water bottle, ripe bananas, noddles housed in Styrofoam, crusty bread and last night’s vodka.

Substituting baby whites for bathing and baby powder for shampoo. Sharing recycled air with four others, whose hygiene and immune system don’t match your own. And, enjoying a toilet with 36 others whose nationalities and bathroom habits range from standing on TOP of the toilet to peeing on the floor. Yes, one can see why at age 38 I’m growing fond of train travel.

It’s 7:00 am. I believe a Wednesday. The Mongolian train’s final destination is Beijing. At the train stations, herds of backpackers strapped down with their personal possessions on their backs swayed in anticipation. I’ve never seen so many of them. Can I just please do the American thing and ask, “don’t they work? And, whose paying for this?” There’s not one universal answer for their stories are as unique as mine. But, I do wonder which socialist, high taxed, low hourly work week country do they live.

Once again, I’m finding other countries vacation and work policies are short of incomprehensible. Adorable Jonah is a tram driver from Sweden.

He’s been driving trams for over 6 years and has accrued almost 3 years of vacation. Can you frigging imagine? For the next six months he’s traveling Russia and Asia to chip away at his mountain of vacation time. When he returns, he’s secure. He has a job, in which is loves. I mean LOVES. His passion for his job excites those around him.

The next big plan is to become a train conductor. Guess what, a conductor’s vacation policy – even better. But, that is not what motivates him. He loves trains. He loves driving them at night. The streets are quiet. He says, “its like meditating. It’s beautiful. But, people are stupid and drunk. Not so good. They walk in front of trams. Hitting them is not so good.” He is one of the more honest men I’ve ever encountered. His eyes look like looking at Bambi’s soul. He speaks with such earnest. Wanting to connect. Wanting to understand differences. Wanting to understand your own truth. He’s a gift. He makes me laugh.

Jonah is conservative Swed. There’s election happening now in Sweden and he wants his party to remain in power. In his view, taxes are too high and government is too big. He wants more tax cuts and make it more difficult for people to take advantage of the system.

I asked, “I’m surprised. I thought Swedes were proud to be overly taxed and overly inundated with government assistance.” He says, “Proud of Sweden, Yes. Proud of people taking advantage of system, no. We pay too much in taxes. Government not always good with money. But, Sweden taxes is not the same as American taxes. You don’t pay taxes. This, not so good… The opposing party wants to increase taxes more. Bad for people. We have many problems. Taxes not solution.”

Tell me about… But, I’m fascinated by the assumption that Americans don’t pay any taxes… I’m constantly calling bullshit on that one to my social, socialist friends of Scandinavian and Europe.

Gosh, I can’t tell you how much I love Mongolia. It’s a ray of sunshine compare to the dark clouds of Russia. I think I’ve said it before, but these people smile. I mean smile. It’s amazing how individual’s energy or a country’s energy impacts your spirit. OK. Back to the last 8 hours first. Then, I’ll write a blog about Mongolia – the land of smiles and sunshine.

I did not sleep last night. This time, by choice. Well, more or less… Once again, I’m hanging in the Mongolian hotel lobby. A lot goes down in Mongolia after midnight. This time, the 16 year old porter boy is staying up with me. Last time, it was a young girl manning the front desk. Today, we got back to Ulaan Baatar (UB) around noon time from the GER camp.

My goal was to buy Mongolian cashmere, mail the cashmere at the Mongolian post office, take a Mongolian shower that includes hot water, stock up at the grocery store on train essentials – water, diet coke, bread, jam, cheese, bananas, chips, cookies, beer, misc… – for the two day choochoo to China, lunch at a Korean restaurant with the young bucks, pick up laundry at Mongolian cleaners that use actual machines not hands…I need to get all of this done by 9:00 pm. Not a problem. Right.

It goes without saying, Mongolian cashmere rocks. We’re talking about the cashmere sold at Niemen Marcus – the expense stuff. Not, the crap-ola you buy at Target or H&M that has cashmere fibers intertwined with nylon, pollsters, cotton and dust. Pure cashmere baby.

Gap Adventures provides a country, tour manager to help the tourons (morons) like us to get around the country. Tuya was our gal. She rocked! I asked here where is to buy cashmere for Christmas presents. She set me up. Before that though, I was telling her about my head cold. It’s coming. And, we’re going to China. I had heard that the Chinese don’t let you in if you are sick – cold, TB or STDs. Nothing. So, I was looking for a Mongolian remedy to zap the sniffles. She hooked me up.

The group arrived at the San Hotel around noon time, yesterday, from the GER camp. Tuya had to kick hotel managers ass about pipes breaking in my room, a man shimming down into my bathroom and organismic screams in the hallway. I believe there were a few other issues as well. After her little chat with management, we headed down the dusty streets of Ulaanbaatar, zig zagging across open man holes, broken concrete and paint peeling buildings to a pharmacy. We hit the pharmacy. And, bellowed out some Mongolian. Little girls went a running to the shelves. They came back with little plastic packets of colorful balls and powders. This train festering bacteria was theirs to fight.

The little pharmacy girl and Tuya went back and forth and back and forth. My word, it’s only a cold. They conceded. I needed yellow balls, red balls and orange powder. It’s all “herbal.” Mongolian herbal may mean something different than US herbal. Who knows…But, I will tell you – the snots have left me. I keep popping the colors and drinking the orange. China can’t reject me now…

Commercial break. Lauren from Jersey just walked into our train compartment. She looks tired. Hell, we all look tired. “Yea, I didn’t sleep much last night. Well, you know…Yea, I was electrocuted.” WHAT! Her words were so blase. No emotion. No expression. I fear she has the Russian disease. Electrocution is a possibility when you stay in no star hotels and travel to places like Mongolia, Russia, China…

I asked, “Are you OK? What happened?” She says, “You know. Our room is really dark. We had two lamps. I went to plug one in but it had US sockets, not Mongolian. Damn, like that’s so NOT cool. So, I grabbed the other lamp. Try to put it in the adapter…and ZAP…I screamed. I mean, I really screamed. It hurt like a bitch. No, I was not near any water. So, I’m lucky about that….I mean, not being near water. So, I’m kind of out of it today…I think my brain cells are fried. Damn, I’ve never been electrocuted like that. Yea, so I couldn’t sleep. Other than that my night was cool… Oh, yea, someone stole my cell phone too…I forgot about that…”

After she casually gives us her 411, she walks off to the next compartment to tell the same story. She’s taken on herself to organize a tour to the Great Wall of China when we arrive. Now, That’s going to be interesting.

That’s the norm around here. Electrocution. Theft. Bucked off horses. Mongolian hospitals. Fake organisms. Sliced open toes… Every morning, over breakfast, we all gather to talk about what happened the last 6 to 8 hours while we were sleeping. Every morning, someone has a story – trivial or major – no matter. It can include bowl movements and strange rashes to spider bites and bats landing on your pillow. It’s part of the travels.

OK. Back to buying cashmere. Tuya’s friend has her own cashmere factory. She designs her own apparel and sells it in her beautiful shop. She’s a single mother, raising three children on her own. She was schooled in Germany and speaks German, English, Russian, and Mongolian. Prior to having her own business, she worked for the government run cashmere factor as an executive. It went private when they kicked out the Russians in the early 90s, when communism took a flying leap off a cliff. So, she decided a few years later to start her own cashmere business. A bank gave her a loan. And, Bam…She’s in business, catering to the affluent Mongolian.

Tuya was telling me that the Mongolian women are very strong. They work, support the family, raise the children — do it all. The men are weak. She said, “It’s hard to find a good, Mongolian man” OK – global THEME ALERT. Why are the men – generally speaking – so sorry. Women seem to be doing it all. Carrying all the weight. Maybe it’s always been like this for thousands and thousands of years and I’m at an age where a woman’s fortitude versus a man’s laziness is being thrown in my face, regardless of country, race, or economic status… Maybe, I’m just more aware of this growing gap between women and men. As they say at the train stations, “Mind to Gap.” Maybe us gals need to say, “Mind the Men.”

I really do try and stay away from all of my tangents when I write. But, random things just pop in the head. OK. Back to cashmere. Few days prior, I checked out the Mongolia department store, called the “State Department Sore,” and scooped out some scarfs and hats. Impressive. A green cashmere hat found its way into my hands and kept me warm at the GER camp. Tuya told us “to be careful. Department store cashmere may not be 100%. Only certain brands are 100%. You need to stick with me.” Kiki from Norway, Pat from England and I stuck with Tuya. She took us to her friend’s elegant shop off of Ghangis Khan square. Channel, LV, Prada… I was thinking. I can’t afford this. Wrong.

Tuya had already negotiated discounts. Now, this is very normal for tour guides to bring you to “friends” shops so they can get a kick back. But, this was not the case with Tuya. Gap Adventures and the other tour groups she works with cater to the backpacking set – these are the folks who “refuse to pay more than $1 for water.” Majority aren’t seeking quality cashmere. When we told the group we’re setting out to spend money and paying with what we call a CREDIT CARD, horror was written on their faces. To think VISA stands for something more than an official entry into a country….

OK. Let me set the stage. I’ve been at a GER camp for the last 24 hours – hiking mountains, hanging with four legged animals and cuddling up to an iron stove lit by wood. I’ve not had time to shower for the red and yellow balls and orange powder purchase took a priority. My jeans are brown from riding Mongolian ponies. My hair is brown from oil. My shirt is brown because that its color. I look like shit. And, I walk into an elegant, upscale store smelly and with NO lipstick. My mother would be horrified. “Honey, I’ve never….” I will say I baby wiped the pits. So, the BO was down to a minimum.

Little, Mongolian shop ladies showed us beautiful scarfs, gloves, hats, sweaters… You name it. And, it was inexpensive compared to US prices. We’re talking $25 to $35 for 100% cashmere scarves and pagminas….I loaded up. Next stop was the Mongolian post office. Tuya said – not to worry – the Russian hostility attitude was checked at the border. Hmm… We’re talking about government postal workers in a developing country. Smiles and services are not included in a stamp price. We will see….

Tuya said it was best to mail packages from Mongolia compared to Russia and China. In Russia, “they will steal or just not send it unless it is express mail. They rip you off…They don’t care… China it is the same.”

Tuya was right. I was wrong. We were greeted with smiles. Painless. Now, let’s see if the box arrives in 2 weeks… Maybe Russian Nicoli was right – “Americans are smiling on the outside and feel angry on the inside. Russians look like they are angry on the outside but are laughing on the inside…” I think Mongolians are happy on the inside and outside. This is a country feeding off of 300 days a year of sunshine.

We met the Young Bucks travel group at a Korean restaurant. I’ve never had Korean. There were twelve of us jammed in small restaurant. It’s so interesting how we all react to “imposing” on businesses, whether it is a restaurant or store. Tuya asked the Mongolian restaurant workers to move tables so we can all sit together and share the meal. The Swedes, Norwegians and English all cringe. They hate “putting people out” and would rather suffer themselves than ask a paid employee for something extra. American girl here is like, “that’s their job… to take care of customers.. if they can’t move tables, then will tell us….Let’s ask…Plus, we tip….” My European and Scandinavian friends think I’m rude and they’re embarrassed. I think they are wishy-washy and a pain in the ass… Australians and NZ are pretty forceful – or tell people what they want – like Americans. So, it’s always good to have them in a group. The Canadians just follow the group. They are just along for the ride. Yes, I’m generalizing. But, it makes me laugh how right I am..

So, the restaurant workers move the tables to the center of the restaurant. My friends are freaking. I don’t even notice. Tuya helps us order. She tells the group that we’ve ordered too much food. Our resident Korean/Swed – Hanna, who was adopted from S. Korea to Swed parents – told us that it was not enough food. Guess who was right. Tuya. Our table had stacks and stacks of food. I felt at home. In the States, we’re all about packing mounds of meat, lard and rice on plates. Overeating is our birthright. The rest of the group, were horrified again. They have not seen this much food in such a long time. But the food spurred on US travel stories where they’ve ordered at a US restaurant and received mounds and mounds of food. They talked about how embarrassed they were…. And, even more embarrassed when they ordered just one meal and asked for an extra plate. Such an inconvenience for the kitchen staff, no?

By the way, the Mongolian cuisine is all meat all the time – horse meat, cow meat, chicken meat, goat meat, sheep meat, yack meat – and random meat. If you are a vegetarian or have food allergies, then Mongolia is not your place. They drink unpasteurized milk and cook with heavy creams from cows, goats and yacks. The creams and milks are delicious…

Young bucks order Tiger beer and Tuya and the waiter have a heated exchanged. The restaurant did not have beer in the fridge, just fanta and water. Unacceptable. Tuya – I could tell – told him as such. The Mongolian waiter ran outside. Paid some street kid to get us beer. We got our beers. But, the kid brought back warm beer, instead of ice cold. No matter. Warm beer works with Korean food. It’s so damn spicy that any liquid quenches a burning esophagus.

Tuya was telling me how many Mongolian go to S. Korea to work in factories. They make very good money there. The factories feed them, provide housing and they send their money back to their families so they can buy an apartment, take care of their parents or send a kid to private school. She said that when kids get married, they can’t afford a house/apartment. They normally have to move in with their parents. That’s hard. If they go to S. Korea they can save and buy an apartment when they return. Apartment for life. Fully paid for. Sounds familiar. You see this trend everywhere. Prior to S. Korea, Mongolians would go to Japan. But, with Japan in economic crisis, the Mongolians have opted for S. Korea. She said there is a large Mongolian population living in the US west coast. And, these Mongolian BBQ restaurants are a US born phenomenon, not Mongolian. They have them in Mongolia because of the US, not the other way around. They don’t “own” it… Who knew…

After cashmere and postage, Kiki and I headed back to the hotel. It’s about 7 pm. Pat, our 78 year old traveling companion, was walked back to the hotel an hour prior. I still can’t figure out why Gap Adventures would assume the liability of someone close to 80 traveling with a tour group whose mission is low budget, no frills, no nothing. We have to carry our own bags up flights of stairs. We have to haul this our personal effects through through metro stations, onto buses, through train compartments, over pot holes….

Besides that, the trans-Siberian is a hard trip at any age. But, at that age, when you are frail – its frightening. And, it’s not fair to the group for we are very, very worried about her. Our group leader, fearless Mash from Mongolia, seems not to notice of her fragility for he rarely walks with her or helps her with her bags. That’s a whole other story.

What I really can’t figure out is why in the hell her two sons and daughters would permit her to do this trip – alone. If this was a cruise or one of those post all included trip, that’s one thing. But, we’re talking about sleeping in bacteria filled trains, making and eating store bought food in your bunk bed, finding your way to the toilet on a train hurling out of control in the middle of the night, walking miles a day, fending off thieves in markets, going to sleep at 2 am and waking at 5 am to catch a train in 20 degree weather… I can go on and on and on. This is the day in the life of Trans-Siberian travel…It’s hard.

OK. Last night. Picked up my laundry. Yes, paid $8 for someone to disinfect my clothes in boiling water. How happy am I? Washing shirts and underwear in a bathroom sink, with cold water gets old – but not only that – you never believe anything is really clean. I’ve taken to washing my pants while they are still on in the shower, then soak them after. That’s one thing I do miss – washing machines.

Next stop is the super market to buy train staples. It’s getting dark. Tuya and other say that Mongolians, like Russians, drink a lot. Especially the men. Too much vodka means too much frightening. Too much fighting means too much crime. Police are – well – they can be paid off so justice is in the eye of the beholder or the pocket book. It’s best if you do go out at night, to stay together or just stay inside. But, it’s around 8:00 pm. I have a few hours until the vodka kicks in. I make a dash for the grocery store.

By the time I returned to the hotel, the young bucks had left for dinner. I opted out. I just needed some alone time. Put myself in time out. I’ve been with people for 24/7, and like recycled air, I’m becoming ill. I don’t want to have another conservation about traveling. About packing. About what we are not doing in China. About spending too much on lunch. About rude service. About getting lost. About insects bubbling out of the toilet. About bowel movements. Nothing. I need to be quiet.

Our hotel is hidden from the street. So safety is an issue. Nice, right? The grocery store is 3 blocks away. I pass karaoke bars, a run down apartment complex, pile of human shit and a pub called NATO. The blue NATO signs offers no reassurance. At the intersection is where it gets interesting. Rarely do you have a cross walk. So, you must just walk out in front of traffic and ignore cars. If you look at the car, you have a higher chance of getting mowed over. Uh, slightly different than home. I place my foot down, and jet across the street. I see the store. One eye is closed. I don’t want to see the car that will nail me. Though, I do hope its a Renault not a van.

Got across just fine. Found the grocery store like I own the place. See, this is uneventful. Why? Because the store had a SIGN saying “food market,” unlike Russia who’s attitude is – good luck sister in finding us…we really don’t want your money or you…

The store was stocked with mostly Mongolian, Chinese and Korean brands. I did see Kellogg cereal with duct tape and Nestle instant coffee. I head to carb central. Mongolian breads go stale in hours. Maybe it’s the flour. No clue. I sit and look at the packaged breads trying to determine which one will last two days. I pick the softest one.

Kiki said she found tuna. I decided to splurge and try for some protein on this trip. One thing I vowed NOT to do is to consume plastic noodles packaged in Styrofoam cups. The smell makes me want to hurl. I was in search of peanut butter – I have not seen peanut butter since the States. I did not start looking for it until Poland. So, the Middle East could be stoked with Peter Pan for all I know. Anyway, no peanut butter. I bought some bananas, an apple, crusty bread, strange cheese, yogurt, raisins in a zip lock and three diet cokes. I did not have ONE diet coke across Russia. I believe that is one of the reasons my stomach fell apart. No Diet Coke chemicals to fry the baby bacteria…

I loaded my backpack with the foods and hurled it on my chest. I think I’m going to do that when I get back home. I’m going to go to Publix. Instead of bagging it. I’m going to throw it in my backpack. Strap it to my chest and walk out the door. Now, talk about looks — And, I’m going to pretend that I don’t speak any English. I would like to see how the high school check-out gals would treat me. Done. That will be on my return “bucket” list… That, and drinking loads of FRESCA.

I walked back to my hotel around 9ish. The place was quiet. I packed, again. It takes me 45 minutes to pack this damn bag. I’m still trying to figure out how to make all this shit fit. I’ve been discarding clothes. Discarding shoes.

But, bought boots and a sweater. But, I would have hoped that my bag would have gotten smaller. Nope. After Bhutan, I’m yanking a lot of things. I’m keeping an ugly pair of hiking pants and button down shirt for the Monk trek. After that, its gone baby.

OK. After packing. I went downstairs to the hotel lobby. Only one cable for internet. It’s around 10:30 pm. I’m updating my blog. Trying to rearrange my trip to Thailand. I want to stay longer there. I need a weeks worth of $2.50 massages. It’s now midnight. The porter dude cranks the TV. Dirty Dancing is on. I’m watching him. He’s mezmorized by Patrick Swayze. Yea, I can see that. Then, he flips to Ghangis Khan kicking ass in some fight. He’s mezmorized by that too. Get that. He’s a dude. Then, he lands on Celine Dion in Vegas. Really? Can we PLEASE go back to the Khan. I will take him over Celine. I keep my head down and continue to type.

It’s after midnight and the lobby gets into action. A man walks in the door. He’s talking loud. He does not see me. The porter boy just wiggles his head “no.” Porter boy does not look at the man. Down at the desk. Can’t look at the young girl walking into the lobby. He’s sees her before me. She has the man’s jacket over her head. It’s like she’s cold or something. Probably ashamed. The man is in a nice suit. Looks like a business man. The woman is dressed in a black skirt, tights and shirt. Once again, nothing that scrams, “SLUT.” The porter boy continues to shake his head.

The man says some loud words, grabs the girl and walks out. I catch the porter boys eye. It is vacant. I can only guess what that was about.

He goes back to TV. We’re now listening to a Mongolian show. It’s like a game show. Why do they have to put the volume on notch 100. I tune it out. Back to videos. Shakaria comes on. Porter boy eyes grow wide. He can’t take his eyes off the scream. Damn, neither can I. The woman’s voice and dance moves are amazing. I loved her when I was in Honduras and love her music now. I hear clicking of heels down the marble stairs.

It’s now after 1 AM. A young woman – about 22 – and older Mongolian male make their way down the stairs. She has dark glasses on. He looks straight ahead. He nods at the porter boy. Man does not see me, neither does the girl. The girl keeps her head down. They leave. I have not heard the orgasm screams like a few nights ago. Either these men aren’t performing or were asked to tone down the moans, screaming and rocking of head boards. My last thought is it’s a Wednesday night – so, it could be a “slow”night.

We’re coming to 2:30 am. Another couple comes in. I think its the same man with another woman. I’m not sure. I hope not. But, the porter communicates, “there’s no room at the inn…” They leave. This time the young woman looks at me. She does the once over and dismisses me. Rightly so… I mean, I’m once again wearing crayola crayon brown PJ pants, a zip up hoodie and black suede long boots. My hair is down. And, a Velcro curler is in my hair to keep my bangs down. I would love to imagine what she is thinking of me. I bet it’s good.

It’s 3:30 am and I’ve posted all of my Trans-Siberian travels. I did my last communique on Facebook, for China has shut out the social networking site. Three weeks and no Facebook. The Young Buck travelers are having a hard time of this. The thought of not being able to facebook friends for three whole weeks. I don’t participate in that conversation for either I will come across as a fuddy dud, judgmental or just a retard techie.

I head to bed. Up four flights of marble stairs. Our room is frigging freezing! We only have a sheet. They forgot a blanket. Typical. I need the GER’s iron hot fire now. I throw on more clothes and jackets. I get into bed. Set the alarm for 5:45 am and wait it out. There’s no sleep.

Have I told you how much I love Mongolia? Thank you God for sharing Mongolia with me. In a few hours, we head to China.

Land of Fat Free & Stars. Gliwice, Poland.

8 Sep

I think this what your “travel” bloggers are suppose to do, right?  Write about food and hotels.  Well, I’m going to take a stab at it…. 

For full disclosure, I’m happy eating rice, beans, popcorn, ice cream and diet coke for the rest of my life.   I love food.  But, I’m no foodie.   That changed when I arrived to Gliwice, Poland.  Take notice of the Piergo picture above… YUM!

I can sum up my Polish consumption and gluttony this way… Bear with me here …. Do you know those days where you “accidentally” eat too much breakfast. You feel full and decide a jolt of caffeine would snap you out of breakfast coma. You do the drive by at Dunkin or S’Bucks.  That little voice insides whispers “screw it,” you smile and ask the lady to throw in some bite size donuts in a to go bag – “it’s a gift for the office.”  Donuts disappear before you can get your keys out of your purse.

You arrive at work, utter another “fu–  it,” and click the heals to HR.  Smile at the ladies. Make small talk as you swipe a bag of M&Ms, candy corns and sweet tarts. It’s not even 10 AM and you’re tipping the 1,934 calorie mark. Before lunch, you hit 2,472 because you need to “walk it off” on your way to the restroom. You happen by an empty kitchen, spy the three-day old birthday cake from Costco and swipe the icing off two pieces and take another to the bathroom stall.

By this time, you realize the rest of the day is “shot.” So, for dinner instead of just water or one glass of wine, you drink the bottle, paw out some Blue Bell and convince yourself that it needs fudge and colored sprinkles. You lie in bed thinking – tomorrow I will do better.

Do you know what I’m talking about it here?  That feeling — try it for two weeks.  It’s called Poland.  I just went Muslim and doing the Ramadan thing now as I prepare for vodka-enriched meals in Russia in three days.

All I can say is thank GOD for Habitat. If this body was sedentary these last two weeks, we are talking about some major poundage. All cream. All butter. All flour. All sugar. On All meals. All the time. No Polish processed foods here, baby. It’s the real deal.


Zero star hotel provided zero star breakfast. Worst meal of the day by Polish standards. That being said, we inhaled. Our Nescafe coffee spouted bubbles. We thought the container was broken by Zero star waitress convinced us it was foamed coffee. Nothing what a little cream and sugar can’t fix.

The Zero spread consisted of ink stained hot dogs (aka sausages), scrambled eggs on even number days, cheap yogurt, hard cheeses, assortment of random meats, crusty bread, fizzy water, whole milk, butter floating in water, and a choice of wann-a-be coco-puffs, corn flakes and granola cereals.  I gobbled, gorged and guzzled. I mean, I needed enough energy for the long 9 minute stroll to the work site.

For the first few hours, our team of 14 shoveled…moved bricks…shoveled…

splattered plaster… shoveled…

picked at plaster…shoveled…walked to Shell station….shoveled…

moved dirt… shoveled…moved dust… shoveled…stomped on dirt… shoveled… looked at rotten wood…shoveled…

squatted on the Toi Toi ..shoveled…stared at hot tattoo, shirtless Polish man….shoveled…

filled cracks…shoveled…

picked-ax cement… shoveled…

dug up rocks…shoveled…moved rocks…. shoveled.. moved rocks again….shoveled… move rocks in wheel barrel…. shoveled…put rocks back…

This was our morning. So, by 12:17 pm, the Habitat team was famished. We pounded on our chest – WE NEED FOOD NOW! Thank GOD for the lunch ladies. That’s what I’m calling them because they are true LUNCH goddesses.  Boots – our team leader – Leslie, Joy and a tag along, would go to the market everyday and surprise us with fresh vegetables, fresh meat (YES, meat can be fresh), fresh cheeses, fresh bread, fresh veggie soup…

Let’s just sum it up. If it was NOT processed, we ate it. No food additives here, baby. Who knew food can taste so good?

Warren – our resident college boy – would pound 4+ sandwiches. I would only “do” two, needing to watch my girlish figure. I went head to head with Warren at night – for dinner is MY meal.

We grabbed our grub in our fancy, dirt floored, bacteria filled, open aired shack with garbage bags, plastic tarps and rocks as a roof. When you are this hungry and the food is this good, you don’t care if a little dust, dirt and mites are part of the meal.

Our last day at the site, Boots arranged for Kibosh sausage celebration. I’ve never been high on sausages, let alone smashed in between white bread and forced as an afternoon snack.

This day – our last day on site – we were to consume 4 meals, like the Polish. And, two of the meals – sausage snacks and 2 course dinner – were only 72 minutes apart. Cake was included at both meals. No matter. By the end of the week, my stomach had expanded, I was positive that I could handle more Polish food.

My stepfather does not call me condor because it is cute, sexy and “gets the guys.”  I can put away food.


Now, it’s the dinners that rocked your world. Leave to our leader, Boots, to find the best Polish cook in Gliwice.

Exactly 6:03 pm every night, the mini-van for midgets would drop off the group at the Lutheran church. Waiting for us was a three course meal.

Let me just say, I would have never believed I would heart cauliflower or beet root (barszcz) soup, fermented cabbage, minced meat goulash, potato pancakes, cucumber sour cream salad, sauerkraut with lard and smoke sausages. And, add to it, would salivate on poppy seed filled sponge cake.

By 6:28 pm, the team went into food coma. Conversation changed from nouns and verbs, to grunts and glassy stares. Polish food knocks you out. I did read later that the Polish kick-back a shot of vodka after for it aids in the digestion process. No vodka at Habitat.

Instead, we all crawled back to our dorm rooms at the Zero star hotel, curled up with the bed mites and slept for a good eight hours.


Which brings me to Hotel Lesny.

I did not coin the phrase “Zero” star. The Polish country manger greeted our team by welcoming us to the “Hotel Lesny, The Zero Star Hotel.” Sad to say. He’s serious.

I really can’t do it justice except by visual representation.   But, let me try to “t” up for you.

If you are allergic to mold, not for you. If you expect the restaurant to be open during food hours, your mistaken. If you use shampoo, seek water pressure elsewhere. If you want hot water on September 1st, take a train to Warsaw. If you want beer on tap, go buy your own keg.

If you want your room key to be attached to a bottle opener, check-in now. If you want your housekeepers to smoke cigs in your room, check-in now. If you want your sheets too short for your bed, check-in now. If like the peeled paint, window fungus look, check in now. If you want lake water substituted as pool water substituted as a skate board park, check in now. If you want a rabid dog to bark and charge every time you walk outside, check in now.

Hotel Lensa – View from the Pool

Pool Area.  With Slide.  No Water.

Water drained.  Future skate board park?

Heading out to our build.

Dorm dwelling below.

I know I’m making fun of it. But, I actually enjoyed my stay. It was perfect setting for volunteers. If we were to stay in a place with water pressure, beer and a pool, then I would assume Habitat is wasting my money. The more they can save on volunteer overhead, the more money goes to buying sand for cement and super glue to fix the pick axes. I would go back to the Hotel Lesny any day. And, I’m serious too. They get a .08 STAR in my book. Given my next habitat is sharing bunk bed compartment with no door with 4 other randoms on a train to China, I will soon be pining for those Zero star days…

Jordanian Delight

21 Aug

On a bus heading going to see the “first” map of the holy land.  Everything is a “first” around here.  The bus driver is all over the road.  We bump, we sway.  We feel sick.

Today is a rough day – we are all spent – physically.  The traveling group of Australians, Brits, Americans, East Germans and New Zealand-ers are hung-over from the heat and hiking around  one of the Seven Wonders of the World – Petra, Jordan.  FYI: Indiana Jones and Terminator II were filmed in Petra for those of the more sophisticated set.

I’m operating in a fog trying to remember these last few days.  Ok.  Bear with me here. After camel trekking and desert dining in Wadi Rum, we heading North or South to Petra.  Our first afternoon in Petra, Natalie – my new East German  living in Dublin BFFer – and I cruised around the booming Muslim metropolis in search of food. That’s what good Germans and Americans do — consume food & drink. Yes, Cleopatra restaurant called our name.  We asked to be seated outside for the delightfully parched ambiance.  They reminded us it was prime-time Ramadan.  No food outside.

Quick not to loose a $, they ushered indoors, and propped us in a corner, behind a curtain.  No matter.  If they had anything edible, they could put us in a cave at this point. Of course East German girl and American girl inhaled  – white beans, white rice, random meats – possibly camel, veggies, pita, soups – the works.  A cold beer would go nice with the moistureless dust.

Damn, it’s that Ramadan thing again.  Sad to say, but we were itching for Israel at this point.  There’s beer in Israel – year round.  We kept our mouths shut.  You don’t say the “I” word in Jordan.

Moments later, Natalie whip out a cig.  They reminded us the third time – Ramadan.  I felt like the character in Scrooge where the Angel of Death was trying to show us our sins until we finally “get it.” We got it.  We settled for the legal drug, caffeine and polished off our meal with some Diet Pepsis. Coca-Cola is seen as “too” American.  Whatever…

Earlier in the week, Natalie had hiked Mount Sinai in Egypt in her Birkenstock sandals.  Not a good move.  Her precious feet welcomed a family of open sores.  For her to”do” Petra, finding closed-toe tennis shoes was a must.

That night, we ventured out after the last Mosque music-call summoning folks to prayer.   As we sauntered down the hill of kitty litter, I noticed shoes – mounds of them – organized on racks. 

“Look Natalie!  A shoe sale! I’m sure you can find something in your size over there.”

She looked at me like I was smokin’ crack.  “Have you gone mad?  That’s a Mosque, not a bloody shoe mart.” My word.  It was the shoes, not the little butts raised to the ceiling, that caught my eye.  Natalie did score some black and white pleather SkyWalker sporties at a Muslim men’s shop.  They don’t carry large sizes in women’s…. Talk about discrimination.  NO BGs (Big Girls)  in Jordan.  Julia?  Kate?

Before going into Petra stories, let me tell you something about this Jordan.  She’s a dusty, barren, parched country with little resources, little water and little crime, yet reeks with respect and royalty.  You get a sense she is managed via a benevolent king instead of a dick-weed dictator.

Sandstone buildings rise up in what appears to be miles and miles of untouched kitty litter.  I mean, this place put the D in dusty.  There appears to be distinct classes – the haves and the haves not – which are based on locale and religion.  Christians have been fleeing the country for years – probably just thirsty – so the majority of population is Muslim.  She houses hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.



And, thousands and thousands of Iraqis, who landed here during the war.  Both have formally set up shop.  And, from the “drive-by” it appears the Iraqis are fairing much better than their Palestinian brothers.  This is based on observation alone.  Oh, our Jordanian tour guide did say that everyone in Jordan lives in harmony and peace.  I did not want to dispute it but from my other drive-by – did TWO drive-bys people – I would aruge the statement was issued from Cinderella’s castle by Mickey Mouse himself.

I would like to relay an interesting conversation with our Jordanian tour guide, whose family fled from Chechnya in the 1920s, about his take on Lebanon, Jordan and the Middle East in general.  He agreed that the Lebanese do have the BEST cuisine but are completely off their rockers.  He sees Lebanon as a ticking time bomb. (You will later find out that every country is a ticking time bomb…)  So, his solution to Lebanon’s issues, which we still have not defined, included booting this democracy notion and allowing Syria to rule the country. I said, “didn’t they kick Syria to the curve a few years ago, why would they want them back?” I really, really willed my eyes not to bug out of my face as I tried to listen.

From where he sits, he sees having one ruler in charge is better than the three stooges – Lebanese Christians, Sunnis and Shiites.  Corruption, in his view, would cease and civility would emerge.  The Lebanese, he asserts, would know what they are getting with a Syrian dictator, unlike the nuts running the place now.  Has a point, but….

It flies in the face in what we – Americans – believe in.  Freedom to vote in or boot out political leaders based on performance, beliefs, sleeping arrangement or hair color.  Our system is far from perfect but at least we have repercussions for political dudes and dudettes not up to snuff.  With a king or dictator, you don’t have the freedom to boot. Instead, their friends are the ones with the freedom to boot you from your home – let’s sum it up by saying boot you from life – possibly in 30 mins or less.

But, to my tour guide’s credit his reasoning was based on two things –  at least you know what you are getting and years ago – like 500 – all of the Arabia (Middle East) was under one rule and seemed to be “just fine.”  It wasn’t until after a couple of world wars that the Brits & French – with input from yours truly – sliced up the region like a 2-year old trying to slice up a meringue pie.  So, I can empathize and see where he is coming from, though I completely disagree.

One other little “ahh haa” moment came when our Jordanian guide made a comment about how we have to pay to get into one of the orthodox Churches to see the “first” map of the holy land drafted by our fellow Bad-Ass Byzantines.  Of course, I could not let that slip by.  I asked innocently, “How do Mosque’s keep their doors open?”  His response,

the government funds all the mosques in the country.  We – the people – are not forced to give them any money.  If we give anything, we will pool our money together and buy a flat screen TV for the Mosque or give food to a family who is struggling.  But, it is the government who pays the salaries, funds Mosque expansions, installs Temples of Relief (bathrooms)….”

Ahhh.. That makes sense.  So, I followed up, “So, Christian churches are on their own? They need to find resources to keep their doors open, right?” Response, “Yes.  Their people give money and they charge money for admission to see holy artifacts.”

I wanted to respond – Damn Straight baby.  State does not tell us what to do…. Don’t worry Dad, I kept my mouth shut and smiled like a lady.

That being said, it makes sense since religion and government are one in the same, unlike the US.  Can you imagine our tax dollars going to fund churches, mosques, synagogues, Scientology centers, temples, meditation retreats…the works?  Are we talking about unionizing priests? Long lines at the confessions?  Closed on govt holidays?  Solve issues by increasing taxes to spend more?  Hmmmmmmmmmmm

Just something to think about.  The more I travel, the more I love my country.  Thank you God!  God Bless America!