Wednesday, October 31, 2012

China's Vacation

Unrelated to my travels in China earlier this year, this article was shared with me by ChinaJon. I thought it was crowded when I was in China... well bad gets worse when China itself is on vacation. Do enjoy these suffocatingly densely populated pictures. And excuse all the German.

Article: China Goes on Vacation (with lots of pics)

Holy crap.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Barcelona

Rather, Bar-the-lona. They don't do the letter "s" like we and our Mexican neighbors. They lisp (lithp) it every time. Which takes some getting used to. Grathias means thank you, not gracias. (It's spelled the same, of course, you just say it super lispy.)

Barthelona was rad. We had a great time in Valencia (especially due to the company), but, if you're looking for a real international city with, like, good cafes, restaurants, shopping, and stuff to see and do, you're looking for Barcelona.

Me. Mala. Barcelona. Good.
We stayed in a hotel just off Las Ramblas, the main drag in the tourist downtown area of the town. We were immediately impressed with the number of people shopping, walking, eating, and generally filling up the streets and squares in this downtown area. It always felt like an eerie ghost town in Valencia, we were really happy for the change. Like, REALLY happy. We were so excited to be here.

Our first task: find good food worthy of our elitist San Francisco palettes. We found Montiel and made a reservation online the day before we arrived. Mala powered through food poisoning and we ventured into the pouring rain to eat a 10pm dinner at this establishment on the day of our arrival. Totally worth it. Even with the 115 euro (~$150) tab. Go big or go home, that's what we say.

Chocolate mooooose from Montiel. Yum.
The following two days we took it easy around B-town. We strolled through the city stopping at La Segrada Familia and up to Parc Guell, both Gaudi projects worthy of the admiration they draw. Especially the cathedral -- that place was totally rad. And I've seen my share of cathedrals. I'm usually kinda "meh" about it, but this place was amazing. Highly recommended, even though it totally cost like $40 to go in.

La Segrada Familia - eta for finishing it: 2027

Inside La Segrada Familia

Me! Smalls!

View of Barcelona from Parc Guell
Day two we headed to the harbor and beach, mostly just walking, looking and enjoying the sunshine. We searched for way too long for this gondola that we could see floating from the Olympic hill to the harbor somewhere, but couldn't find how to get on the thing, and didn't feel like looking it up or asking for directions. So, scrapping that, we went to the beach for "bevs" as we were thusfar calling it. And then we found Larry Lloyd McGee.

LLM, as we named him, was a street dancer. Or something. Actually, we have no idea what he was or what he was doing, but he entertained us for a solid half hour, about ten minutes of which Mala got on video. Along with our ridiculous commentary. Enjoy.


Mala basically fell in love with the place. I had a great time as well. It's just such a fun and vibrant city. Two thumbs up, for sure.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tomatina Video and Pics

In case my previous post about Tomatina left you wanting more, here is a really good video about the festival showing exactly what happens.

And, my decision to bring a disposable, waterproof camera was not in vain; I love love love my grainy, crappy Tomatina pics!

Mala, Lloyd, Jeremy, Marisa, Patrick before the madness started.

Me and Mala waiting for the tomatoes!

Mala on Jeremy's shoulders as the first tomato truck comes by us.

Mala and Jeremy

Tomato truck passes by, but is all out of tomatoes by the time it gets to us. :(

Tomato madness.

Toward the end of the fight -- crowded alley.

The streets will flow red with... tomatoes.

We made it through the fight. Lloyd and Mala exit.

All of us after the tomato fight.

Tomato covered shoes, FTW.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tomatina


Yesterday was the Tomatina festival. This is our experience.

Before:
Mala and I had done minimal research about the festival, which mostly consisted of reading accounts on other people's blogs. Mala watched a few videos. I went to the festival website to look up the rules. (I love rules.) We had prepared thusly:

In USA:
  • Bought/brought crappy shoes, shirts, and shorts just for this event that are essentially disposable. Thanks H&M and Old Navy.
  • Packed swim goggles to wear to protect our eyes. These were superseded by woodworking goggles brought by Patrick which were far superior to the ones I brought.
  • Bought a disposable, waterproof camera

Morning of:
  • Brought no cell phones, wallets, passports, or other essentials to the actual festival; only a few of us brought money or credit cards in plastic bags shoved into shoes or buttonable pockets. I brought nothing but gave 50 Euro to Mala to hold.
  • Brought two towels between the six of us. We left the towels in the cabs we took there which also took us home.
  • Hair up. Sunscreen for the white folk. Disposable cameras strapped to arms.

And so we were ready. We took a before picture at the apartment. We left the house at 7am.

Tomatina Morning:
We opted to take taxis to the event. We hemmed and hawed over it, but after realizing the train station was probably a half hour from our place (by subway), and that a bus may indeed make me carsick, we booked taxis using the concierge at the hotel across the street. They didn't have any van taxis available, so we booked two cars. Bus would have been 16 Euro round trip per person, taxi was 30 Euro. Totally worth it.

We met our taxis at 7am outside our place. The sun wasn't up but it was light out. We were pretty amped. The drive only took about a half hour. We were told to get there early, and that traffic might delay us, so we left plenty of time. The actual tomato fight starts at 11am.

Our taxis dropped us off a bit outside of the main part of town. They parked on a small cul de sac off the main street. We walked the additional half hour or so into the town square. I imagine this was not a typical Wednesday in  Buñol, Spain.

Buñol is a town of 9,000 people. It's tiny and run-down and kinda dirty. There are nearly as many empty lots of dry weeds as there are decrepit businesses along the walk into town. On Tomatina day, vendors line the streets. Not, like, Heineken stands, just people cooking sausages and other assorted meats and serving sandwiches and drinks. People are selling cans of beer out of plastic bags for a Euro each. Hand-drawn signs indicate that you can leave your belongings with someone and pick them up later for a small fee. Music blasts from various locations, all hip-hop/techno/dance music that has the morning people bouncing around and the rest of us smiling.

The crowd is decidedly, and not surprisingly, young. Probably majority college kids. Lots of Aussies. Probably at least half the people or more seemed to be speaking English. Some people were in silly outfits like onesies or tutus. Most people were in shorts, crappy shoes or flip flops, and t-shirts or tank tops.

As we entered town with the rest of the influx, the sun was up. It was probably 80 or 85 in the sun before 9am. We followed the masses down a road on a large hill, meandering through the residential part of town. Houses and small apartment buildings lined the streets, some on cliffs above; the landscape was quite steep in some parts. There were few trees; the housing in this part of town had no yards. We passed Buñol Castle from across a ravine, with run-down houses built right up to it on one side. We passed the police station, ambulances poised to receive the carnage of the day.

We reached the bottom of the hill – downtown. The city is small, the streets are narrow. Small businesses and apartments line the streets on both sides with no setback from the sidewalks. Windows are shuttered, only select businesses are open to cater to the Tomatina-istas. I made that word up and I like it. I should have sold t-shirts.

It was probably only 8.30am by this point; we had time to kill. After walking around and scoping the lay of the land (and finding the center of the upcoming festivities), we found a quad to share a few drinks and sit and wait. We established said quad as our meeting spot in case we got separated, which we saw as a likely possibility.

We sat for a few hours, drinking, people-watching, and wondering what was going to happen. It seemed to be the general consensus that people did not know what to expect. There were locals around, and surely this wasn't everyone's first time, but the people we spoke to and overheard had all the same questions we did: Where were the tomatoes dropped off? Where should we stand? Why was this and that road being blocked off? What time is it?

At about ten till 11am, we decided to head into the crowds that blanketed the streets. We had seen the center of town hours earlier and it had already been packed at that time. We decided that none of us had any interest in trying to get back there; it was going to be the center of the madness.

Instead, we stood in a moderately crowded T intersection of two streets. Six-ish story apartments surrounded us on all sides. A short bridge lie behind us, leading back out of the town center. People on the surrounding balconies dumped buckets and emptied hoses of water onto the crowd. Said crowd squealed with delight and invited more. It was hot, the water felt good.

Then we heard the cannons that started the tomato fight. The crowd roared.

Tomatina, a Tomato Fight:
For the first half hour or so (no one had a watch), we stood in that small street with hundreds of others. We got water dumped on us intermittently from all sides. We dried almost immediately. It was probably close to 100 degrees in the sun. Our major tomato focus during this time was one particular balcony of a few men who had tomatoes to throw into the crowd. Everyone within a block radius was focused on them as they pelted people with tomatoes at a leisurely pace. People tried to throw the tomatoes back at those gentlemen, but they were on the fourth floor and were hard to hit. Lloyd was the sole success; he chucked a perfectly aimed tomato and whacked one of the shirtless men straight in the chest. Congratulatory high fives were exchanged by strangers and friends alike. He later smacked a person on another balcony with a tomato. Good aim, that one.

This is when it occurred to me that it would be pretty easy to get hurt. We had goggles on (Marisa's boyfriend, Patrick, had actually brought nice woodworking goggles for us all to wear, so we were saved our sad swimming goggles), but being pelted in the head with a fast-flying tomato was a real possibility. At least compared to my normal life.

I spent most of that half hour looking around vigilantly. Smiling, but watching. Ducking randomly and not really at the right times. My first hit was straight in the mouth. It wasn't a hard throw, considering, the tomato wasn't huge and my mouth wasn't open. But it was startling, and I learned something very important very quickly – the tomatoes are gross. Do not let them get in your mouth. We learned to despise the smell right away.

Then the first tomato truck came through. It came from in front of us, from the direction of the center of the festival, and continued past us down the bridge behind us. It was supposed to bring tomatoes, but it had already run out. The truck itself was a large dump truck with people in the bed who were charged with throwing tomatoes out into the crowd as the truck scooted down the street at a snail's pace. This truck was empty except for the people who were completely covered in tomato remnants.

The second truck came about ten minutes later with the same results. We were disappointed. We decided to head toward the action.

The six of us formed a line, holding hands and shoulders and waists to stay together. Jeremy, Marisa's British friend and the tallest of all of us, led us through the crowd. We weaved and snaked and managed to stay together. We approached the T intersection of the next street just as the third truck was coming through. Though we had only moved forward a couple hundred feet, the situation was entirely different.

The crowd had thickened to a suffocating density. And, as the truck inched through the street, the people were displaced to either side making it that much more crowded as the truck passed. Seeing the truck was about 50 feet in front of us, Jeremy and his friend Lloyd took it upon themselves to shove all six of us into the heaving crowd that was bulging from the side street of the T intersection. This was done with great difficulty, as there was nowhere to be pushed. It was like those Japanese subway cars where the guards just grab hands and mush people closer and closer together until there is literally no more room.

It was fun though. Most people were smiling. Yelling. Laughing. The crowd swayed uncontrollably – where were we trying to go exactly? You could nearly raise your feet off the ground and remain just where you were. It was lung-crushingly, heart-poundingly mad. The six of us made an amoeba-group with Marisa and Mala in the middle-ish, and the four of us surrounding them, all with our backs facing out. We had arms around each other and hands held tight. We moved together with the crowd, all keeping our footing and keeping together. It was awesome.

After a few minutes the truck finally came parallel with us. It still had tomatoes. The only problem with our six-person amoeba was that there was no defense against flying foods (and clothing). Not that anyone else had better access to defenses, really. The tomatoes came down like rain. They weren't whole tomatoes, more like tomato mush. As though the people in the truck had stepped on the tomatoes first, mushing each tomato into a dozen pieces of juicy, seedy, tomato skin.

Tomato pieces flew everywhere. They were in your hair. Your mouth. Your sports bra. The truck was loud, diesel. The crowd was screaming, cheering, rabid. Twice, Marisa was pelted with an article of clothing in the face. Lloyd yelled “Gross!” before grabbing the clothing and flinging it elsewhere into the crowd. A boy mushed a tomato-covered shirt into Mala's hair for some reason. She yelled in disgust. Patrick's goggles were ripped off. The rest of us were extremely thankful to still have our goggles. We struggled to maintain our amoeba. Which became more difficult as I realized we were ankle deep in a rushing stream of tomato sauce on the ground. The gutters were literally flowing with tomato juice and tomato pulp. It was incredible.

The canon sounded to end the fight. That's one of the rules – when the end cannon sounds at noon, you can't throw tomatoes anymore. This rule was not followed. The fourth truck was just about parallel to us when the cannon sounded. The people in the truck made no move to stop and hurled tomatoes at the crowd just as the truck before had. We decided to head out and amoeba-d our way down the side street into which we had pressed ourselves to escape the path of the tomato truck.

The crowd quickly thinned as we proceeded down the alley. We took stock as we walked down the road, still densely crowded, but now you could walk without having to hold hands. We were covered. Our hair, arms, legs, clothes. We looked like you had tried to make pasta with us. Our shoes were the worst, the tomato paste just perched on the tops of our feet like bruscetta. We smelled like hell. We spat out seeds. We picked mess out of our hair. We, finally, removed our goggles.

Getting Out of Tomatina:
Many  Buñol residents take to hosing off the tomato-covered visitors after the festival. We stopped at more than one person with a hose to get cleaned off. We ladies stripped to sports bras, the boys to bare chests. We carried our smelly, stained shirts and tank tops and goggles as we talked and laughed our way out of the town.

Our taxi drivers were supposed to meet us at the same location where they had dropped us off. Some of us were skeptical that this would actually happen. We had paid them in advance. Some of us had left clothing in their cars (not me). Would we be able to get back to them in time? Would we be able to find them again? Would they have indeed waited for us? Yes, yes, and yes.

We retraced our steps after only a small amount of inter-amoeba arguing about which direction we were facing, and were back to the taxis after about a half hour walk. We weren't totally clean, but we were far better off than many people who had apparently left with no rinsing. They were disgusting. I kept thinking someone might accidentally rub up against me and was dreading the possibility.

The festivities continued on the streets upon our exit, much as they had been earlier that morning. Many people were stopping to eat, drink, pee (in a port-o-potty or not). Tour buses lined the streets waiting to take their charges back to the nearby town of Valencia where most everyone was saying (us included). Aside from Lloyd stopping to buy some chips (Really Lloyd, chips? Not water?), we made it un-rushed and un-hindered to the taxis with plenty of time to spare.

Our drivers were there. They shook our hands and kissed our cheeks as though we were friends. They had fitted the seats with plastic bags so that our tomato filth and stench wouldn't get in their seats. They drove us back to Valencia as we all dozed happily in the air conditioning.

After Tomatina:
We got back to the apartment, payed homage to the gods of air conditioning, and started alternating shower usage. We stripped our filthy clothes off and lay things on the balcony to dry. I showered. It was heavenly. The tub looked a bit like I was making a marinara sauce, flecked with tomato peel and seeds from my hair, arms, legs. I didn't want to see another tomato again for at least a week.

We napped. Then we reminisced. We agreed that we had a perfect Tomatina experience. We got there with plenty of time to spare. No one had lost anything, not even each other. We started in the “beginner” area on the outskirts, which let us get used to the situation and not tire ourselves out, then we moved into the action for just the right amount of time to have fun but not so long that we got tired, hurt, or claustrophobic. The taxis were a godsend – the perfect way to get there and back. The day was hot and sunny, but the water being dumped on us had kept us cool for most of the time. None of us even got a sunburn.

The only issue I had was that the tomatoes seemed to provoke a reaction from my skin. I was itchy the rest of the day and the following day. We were trying to deduce why I was so itchy (new soap? something i ate? bug bites?), but I concluded that it had to be the tomato juice or acid. I was itchy starting only after the festival, and only on my arms and bottom half of my legs – the exact parts (besides my face) that were covered in tomato goo. I am very glad my face was spared from the itchyness; I assume that's because I wiped my face more often than the rest of me during the fight. Also, this is an ailment particular to me – no one else in our group felt any ill effects from the tomatoes. Weird.

So, that was Tomatina. It was mad fun. The group of six was absolutely perfect, in quantity and quality. It was as smooth an experience as possible, I'd say, and I'm very happy we went. Pictures to be posted upon my return.

Next up... Barcelona with the Smallster (Mala)...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Spain

Hi. I'm in Spain. Did I not tell you? Well I'm here. For a week. All jetsetter and shiz. You know it.

My friend Mala has a friend who wanted to go to Tomatina. This friend, Marisa, booked a six person apartment in Valencia, Spain with her lifelong family friend, Jeremy. Jeremy lives in London. Marisa brought her boyfriend, Jeremy brought his friend Lloyd, and Mala brought me. So, there are six of us -- three boys and three girls -- in this pretty nice three-bedroom, two bath apartment north of old town Valencia for a week.

Except that Mala and I aren't going to stay here the whole week. We're gonna go to Barcelona on Thursday after Tomatina on Wednesday. Then we head back home on Sunday. Just in time to kick back for Labor Day. Yeah, planned that.

So, Spain. Valencia. It's on the Mediterranean and is like the Florida of Spain (geographically). Actually, now that I look at it, it's probably more like the North Carolina of Spain. Forget it; stupid analogy. They use the Euro here, although you may have heard about some of their problemos with that on the news. Nothing to notice here on the ground, of course.


This town is ok. Not hecka nice. Kinda dingy. But the old town has lots of restaurants and bars. Even though the restaurants don't open for dinner until at least 6pm, and the bars don't start to fill up until 11pm. Or so I've been told. We didn't make it that long on our first day; it was all we could do to stay awake until 10.30.

But today is our second day, Monday, and we're mildly refreshed. We went to the aquarium which is a huge complex of weird buildings. There were some fish there, as you might imagine. A few penguins. Sharks. It wasn't the greatest place ever, but we had a good time.

It's about a billion degrees here. And humid. Not deathly so, but I'm certainly not used to it. I keep trying to complain about the heat, but my muscle memory starts to say, "it's so goddamn cold" and I have to correct myself every time to say "hot". San Francisco in August isn't really wonderful. I'm not sure which I prefer, really.

This group of people is funny. I love British people. They really get my humor. And vice versa. The six of us are having a great time together so far. It makes this mildly sub-par city totally worth hanging out in. But I'm glad we're going to Barcelona after -- I think that will be a more world-class city. I'll let you know.

In summary: Spain. Vacation is awesome. Valencia isn't the nicest, but whatever. Throwing tomatoes at people on Wednesday. It's hot here. British people are funny. That is all.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Terracotta Warriors

The terracotta warriors are one of the major tourist attractions in all of China. When they tour some of the life-sized clay warriors to different museums around the world, they get turnout like they do for Tutankhamun. I realize that sentence contained an unclear pronoun, but I don't care.
Jon and me inside Pit #1.
So, the deal with the terracotta warriors is, essentially, that people are crazy. I will elaborate. In the 200s BC the first emperor of united China took over. He decided at some point that he didn't want to die like the rest of us and roam the afterlife unprotected and without anyone to boss around. So he mobilized 700,000 people* to build him an immense army of warriors made of terracotta clay to be buried with him.

The estimated 8,000 warriors were built in an assembly line fashion, each individually carved with unique faces, hand painted and provided real weapons to hold. Then they were carefully lined up in huge ditches in the ground, covered with wood beams to form a roof above them, and buried underground near the tomb of the emperor they were to guard. In the afterlife. Yeah.
Terracotta warriors: always willing to lend a hand.
Most of the weapons were pilfered shortly after the warriors were placed, at which time many of the warriors were also broken and the tombs set fire. (Early form of "going postal", perhaps?) Then, over the next two thousand years or so, they were mostly forgotten during which time the wood roofs above the ditches degraded and collapsed, breaking every single soldier into a zillion pieces.

Then some farmer found them while digging a well in 1974, and excavation/restoration has been taking place ever since. That farmer was signing books at the site when we were there. Or, I suppose, it could have just been some dude, I have no way of knowing.

Jon and I flew to Xi'an, the ancient capital of China (now just a regular small-ish city), stayed overnight, and then took a tour to the warriors the following day before flying back to Beijing. Our tour consisted of a bus ride to one of the shops where they supposedly make the replica warriors, then to the pits where the warriors reside.
Creating warriors in 2012.
There are three pits, and an enclosed building has been built around each for tourists to view the pits. The area surrounding the pits has been made into a nice complex with foliage and well-kept pathways/quads.

The first pit is the largest and coolest. It has an estimated 6,000 warriors in it, only a few hundred which have been excavated and re-assembled. I think this was the most disappointing part of the visit -- I expected to see a sea of thousands of warriors, but there were really only a few hundred assembled. But it was still cool.
Pit #1
The second pit was the second largest and has not been excavated at all. It's just a building built around all the caved in pits where soldiers still remain broken inside their 2200 year old tombs. One reason they haven't ripped them all open is because when the painted clay is exposed to the air, any remaining paint falls right off. They are trying to develop some method of retaining the paint while they excavate before they take them all out. Plus, it's a huge task that will cost lots of money and take tons of time.
Pit #2 is unexcavated. There are warriors in there!
Pit three was the "command center" of the army and is the smallest pit. It has been fully excavated and the figures re-assembled. Which wasn't as difficult because there were only a few dozen figures here.
Pit #3: The Command Center.
This attraction wasn't super easy to get to (2 hour flight from Beijing then an hour bus ride outside of Xi'an), but it certainly could have been worse and I'm glad we went. Plus, any trip with Jon is fun!

*China probably didn't have quite the population they do now. This is a ridiculous number of people to have doing any one thing (except, like, breathing) 2200 years ago.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blonde Hair

As you might have guessed, blonde hair is not terribly common in China. Like most countries that aren't the United States (and Australia), the vast majority of the country's population consists of people originally descended from that country. And since we all know what Chinese people look like, you can imagine that I was a bit of an outlier.
It's true: I have blonde hair.
Due to the unspoken rules that China has regarding staring -- namely that it does not appear to be a rude thing to do and that people of all ages just go right ahead and do it at their leisure -- I was often stared at. I'm sure my American travel-mates were stared at a good amount as well, but I believe it was the hair that put me over the top.

It wasn't like I was a freak show. But a large percentage of people old and young, male and female would simply stare at me for way longer than is socially acceptable in my country as I walked by/sat on a bus/ate dinner. It was totally weird. I would consistently consider if I had something on my face or if a goiter had spurted from my neck since the last time I had viewed a mirror.

I found it most strange that the women were staring. It's not terribly uncommon for a man in my country to take a gander at me; I'm not delusional, though I am often oblivious. But to have women checking me out and not even trying to hide it was especially weird. And I would say I was nearly as popular with the ladies as I was with the men in terms of staring. I kept picturing them thinking, "oh hell no, girlfriend, go back to your country".

One man did ask to take a picture with me outside the Forbidden City. I thought he wanted me to take a picture of him; there was a bit of communication reconstruction required to establish his actual intentions. I took a picture with him and tried to smile real pretty. (Later in the trip someone asked to take a picture with Elijah on the Great Wall. So it wasn't just me; we're all white freaks, apparently.)

Another woman in an elevator picked up a lock of my hair as I stood in front of her. I slowly turned to give her a kindly "what the hell are you doing" look; she said something in Chinese that Jon's girlfriend translated to mean "pretty". Thanks lady, now stop touching me please.

So, if you feel like donning minor celebrity/freak status for some amount of time, dye your hair blonde and head to China. Note also that this was my experience in Beijing, the capital. I've heard it's far worse in the rural areas.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chinese People

Jerry says it well, doesn't he? He does. I'm sure he could do an entire routine on Chinese people if he's actually been to China, and I would laugh at all of it.

Ok, so, how do I write this post without being offensive? I mean, it sounds racist to be badmouthing a culture of people. I'll try to be gentle. More gentle than a Chinese person trying to get on the subway.

Stereotypes. Are based on fact. Usually. Have you been on a bus in San Francisco? I'm sorry. So have I. Did you get hip checked by an elderly Chinese lady? Did someone stand inappropriately close when there was plenty of room? Would someone not move out of your way even though you said excuse me and you clearly have only seconds to get off the bus? Yeah. It's a cultural thing.

The theory: China has over 1.3 billion people. The USA has 300 million, less than a quarter of the population on roughly the same size land mass. But forget that; if you spread all those people out evenly it probably wouldn't be too bad.

Consider, however, that our urban inclinations as humans have led to cities like Shanghai -- the largest in the entire world -- which has nearly 18 million people in it (although, Mumbai has more than three times the population density, holy moly). Beijing has nearly 12 million people. (L.A. has 3.7 million, S.F. a mere 800,000). With this quantity of humans, a culture has developed that is noticeably different to our own.
Hecka Chinese people.
As a Westerner, parts of these cultural behaviors can be interpreted as a lack of manners or lack of concern for others. It's true, I never was able to ask anyone why they were shoving me to get on the escalator first, all I know is that they were. And they don't respond to the evil eye AT ALL.

So, the theory goes that there are so many of them, it's almost a survival thing. You push and shove to get where you need to be and forget about everyone else. Is there some form of politeness or chivalry that I'm unaware of as a person not fully immersed in their culture? I'm sure there is. Did it still upset me to have someone blatantly cut in front of me at the ticket counter for the subway? Yeah, it did.

If we're laying it all out, let's discuss two major categories of actions that were disconcerting and mildly upsetting.

  1. Rudeness
    • Aforementioned pushing/shoving -- occurring in public gathering spaces such as subways, tourist attractions, or anywhere where a line forms.
    • Line jumping -- this appears to be the rule rather than the exception; be on guard if you're in line, people will just shuffle in next to you and suddenly be in front of you.
    • Staring (I'll do another post about this later -- there is generally little hesitation about staring at another person for whatever reason)
    • Personal space -- they have different personal space rules than we do. We were habitually bumped into, pushed up against, and generally in closer quarters than is acceptable in America.
  2. Manners
    • Loogies -- they are ubiquitously hocked and spat in public. Watch where you step and hope you don't get hit by one on its way down. Men and women perpetrate equally.
    • Covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough -- I saw plenty of cases where grown up people neglected to do this. Ga-ross.
    • Loud talking - prevalent. Disruptive. Irritating.
    • Nose picking - seems to happen in more than just your own car.
    • Ear picking - personally witnessed more than twice one person picking whatever out of another person's ear. The second time this happened (it was a couple!), the girl spent like five minutes trying to extract something from her boyfriend's ear with her fingernail. Then proceeded to continue to hold his hand. GROSS.
I could go on. Especially if I spent more time there. Or, I suppose, I could just go kick it in Chinatown. But, alas, I do not like being shoved. Or stepping in loogies. Though, I will say, toward the end, I was better able to hold my ground getting on an escalator. Only 5 people would get in front of me instead of, like, 50. Sigh.

To end on a more "truce" note, I'm sure Chinese people think plenty of terrible things about Americans. I'm sure that not all Chinese people partake in or approve of the aforementioned habits. And I'm relatively certain that none of these witnessed acts were perpetrated with ill will or for the explicit purpose of being discourteous. I think they grew up one way, and I grew up another. So, I try not to judge too harshly, to recognize that there are certainly things of value within this culture, and understand that this is just my perception as an outsider and an American. Basically, on these select items, we will have to just agree to disagree. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Weather

On our first day out and about without Jon in Beijing, it was supposed to rain. It wasn't hot, but it was overcast, humid and by no means cool.

Carissa (loosening the shoe laces on her hiking boots): "My feet are hot. And this is supposed to be the coldest day."
Elijah: "What part of 'hot as balls' didn't you understand?"

Indeed.

The weather was a bit all over the place when we were there. It's was generally warm, but it's definitely cool at night. Except in Jon's apartment, which seems to have an entirely separate weather pattern that consists solely of being ridiculously hot and stuffy. Open the windows, you say? Then the particulate streams in and covers every surface including our throats and lungs. I'll settle for the put-put of air conditioning that is available, thank you very much.

As mentioned, the pollution in Beijing is other-worldly. It varies greatly, but on a bad day you can't see across the street clearly. When we were there, it mostly wasn't too terribly bad, and it eased up after the first couple days. But, Elijah was noticing minor breathing problems that he remembered from when he was a kid living in the polluted Central Valley (California). He didn't realize until he moved to the coast that his never-ending sighs were an environmental factor. 

View from Jon's apartment: Pollution on a good day. On a bad day, you can't see past those buildings on the right. On a really bad day, you probably can't even see those buildings.
If there weren't so much pollution, Beijing is a relatively "normal" city weather-wise: hot in the Summer (painfully so, in fact), and cold in the winter. Jon says that the government doesn't allow the heat to be turned on until a certain day -- yes, the government is in charge of when people can start using their heaters, like how our government is in charge of when national parks open for a season -- and that last year a bunch of people died due to an unexpectedly early cold front. Yeah, wow.

We chose to come in May because Spring is the most (historically) pleasant time weather-wise in Beijing. The winter cold has worn off, but the brain-melting heat of the summer hasn't yet set in. I wouldn't really call the weather we experienced pleasant (mostly becasue of the pollution, but also because it was sorta hot and humid, and also sorta because I'm a big baby), but it certainly wasn't terrible.

Until we got to Shanhai. At which time, conveniently, I had left my jacket and rain jacket in Beijing. Typically, Shanghai is hotter than Beijing. So I packed some shorts, a few shirts and moseyed over to the coast. The first day was beautiful. Sunny, not too polluted, warm: beautiful. Jon checked the forecast for the weekend as we enjoyed the pleasant dusk by the river. Rain. Both days. Note to self: it's more effective to check the weather before heading to a place rather than just once you're there. Grrr.

Fortunately, the rain wasn't too terribly bad. It rained all of Saturday day, but we borrowed an umbrella from our hotel and it fortunately wasn't cold or windy. It was overcast Sunday, but neither cold nor rainy. Plus, it gave us an excuse to sit in our uber-plush hotel room and watch Major League without feeling too terribly guilty.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

China Pictures

As you may have realized, I'm back Stateside now. I got back yesterday morning (Monday 5/21/12) four hours before I left Beijing. Time travel is amazing!

And by amazing, I mean it consists of a 12 hour flight crammed next to two Chinese people. And somehow I forgot to check the vegetarian box when I booked my flight (or they messed it up?) and I had to eat a regular meal (gasp!) and just avoid the meaty items. Ugh. I then proceeded to stay awake for 33 hours straight in an attempt to kick some jetlag butt. Fun. Times.

Anyway, my point is, now that I'm in a country that allows photos (partially kidding), I've posted them to Picasa. Witty labels and all. They can be found here and include my 12 days in Beijing, Xi'an (where the terracotta warriors are), and Shanghai. Enjoy!

As I did not have a chance to blog quite as much as I would have liked while I was there, I have a few blog posts in store for the next couple weeks where I'll talk about Chinese people, terracotta warriors, and possibly things like airports, restaurants, vegetables, and how blonde people are regarded in China. All of which I have first hand experience with. Please do continue to tune in.

The Great Toboggan of China

The Great Wall of China was originally constructed in the 200s BC, though the wall we see today mostly consists of reconstructions that took place in the 1300-1600 AD timeframe during the Ming Dynasty.



Side note -- I love the word "dynasty". It sounds so rad. And majestic. And not oppressive at all. I digress.

It hadn't occurred to me before we went there that there are multiple entrances to view the wall. I thought there was one place where you go and that was it. Since the wall runs 5,500 miles through northwestern China, there are, obviously, many places where one can view/walk on the wall. We went to one about an hour and a half drive outside Beijing.

We rented a driver for the day for about $140. He picked the four of us up at 8.30am, drove us to the Wall, drove us to lunch at a nearby (awesome) restaurant, over to the Ming Tombs (blah), briefly to some path of statues, then returned us back to Jon's place at 5.30pm. A good day.

---

Being that we got a relatively early start, the entrance at the Wall wasn't a complete madhouse yet when we arrived. Thank goodness. Our guide showed us to the ticket counter, told us what to do, and where to meet him after.

The wall is way up on the hill (mountain?), so you take a gondola for a few minutes to reach it. Riding a gondola in China had me a bit worried, but we made it. On the way up, Jon told me that you ride a toboggan to get down (he had been there once before). I laughed and said, "that would be awesome". He claimed he was serious. I insisted that he was pulling my leg. He insisted that he was not and proceeded to describe the toboggan in detail. Then he pointed out the metal half-pipe toboggan run from the gondola. I was a believer. And I couldn't wait.

Toboggan track among the trees as viewed from the gondola ride up to the Great Wall.
We got to the top of the wall and walked the wall until the maintained area ended, which was maybe a half mile or so. Note: the Great Wall is never flat. You're either walking up or down. Sometimes, it's so steep that I was on my hands and knees crawling up it (I'm afraid of heights). The tourist stretches of the wall are relatively well maintained and look pretty good. The unmaintained areas are overgrown with weeds and plants and have huge areas where the stones have fallen away (or been stolen/moved).

It's that steep. Yeah.
It was very beautiful, but also terrifying. I quickly realized two very important things:

  1. They sell beer at the many little snack stands along the wall. How is this a good idea? Elijah partook, as expected.
  2. There's no easy way to get down off the wall and no way for help to get up to you if you somehow manage to hurt yourself. Which would be extremely easy to do. Ex: falling off the side, tripping over the cobblestones, falling down an entire flight of stairs, falling off the single-story watchtowers, etc, etc. I thought about this extensively. We decided that if someone were to get hurt it would have to be Carissa since she's the only one the three of us could hope to carry all the way back down. Better option: everyone be freaking careful. And stop drinking beer.
Also, watch my video:

---

After traversing the wall for a distance and coming back to the entrance, it was time to take the famed toboggan ride back down to the parking lot. The toboggan apparatus consisted of a black plastic disk that you sit on. It's roughly two feet wide and four feet long. It has no sides, front, or back. It's just a thing that sits under you and is mildly shaped to fit your bum and your feet. Your legs straddle a lever with which you control the speed of your car. The lever automatically springs to the braked position. You have to push it down to release the breaks to go faster. Then you just let go a bit to apply the brakes again. 

Jon advised us to proceed in order of who (we estimate) wants to go the fastest and to leave space between us when we leave so we don't get too close to each other on the run. Think of a water slide where you can control your speed. He said when he did this last time, he was stuck behind someone going really slowly and it was a bummer.

We proceeded: Jon, EJ, Me, Carissa. I caught up to EJ immediately. I then hung back to get some distance between us, and he decided to stop being a baby and speed up (kidding, EJ). Brakes be dammed; I pretty much held the lever all the way down for most of the ride. While there were no railings and we wore no safety gear, I didn't really feel like I could kill myself. Unless I didn't lean into the turns or was going so fast that I flew off the track completely, which I didn't feel was likely. I thought I was pretty good to go. So I let her rip and feared only the bugs flying into my gaping grin all the way down.

It was amazing. The run was very long with lots of turns. I was flying. I didn't die. The dudes who stand on the side to monitor people as they go down yelled at Jon to slow down. But he thought, "What can they do about it?" and proceeded to fly down the run at light speed. It was pretty much the best thing ever. Watch this guy's video of it to get an idea, but imagine going much faster.

At the bottom, Jon came flying into the end run followed closely by Elijah who was followed closely by me. We all dismounted, discussed said awesomeness, and looked back at the run for Carissa. We waited. And waited some more. And then we saw Ms. Clark ambling down the run at "a perfectly reasonable speed", followed by about a dozen perturbed patrons. I wanted to snap some pictures of the run at the base, but I figured we better mosey on lest we become the victims of some sort of riot, or at least angry glaring. 

Carissa was characteristically unapologetic. After all, she was keeping all those people safe. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Toilets

I feel that, to some extent, one can judge a country based on their restrooms. China, you're not getting good marks from me.

It's prevalent in Southeast Asia, in my experience and verified by the internet, to have squat toilets as the standard waste receptacle found in public places. If you have never had the pleasure to see or use one of these toilets, thank your lucky stars.

I've done the squat in Thailand, in Japan (in public parks and places that weren't hotels and the like), and now China. It's a truly wonderful way to experience the richness of the Chinese culture. So much so, that I make a b-line for the handicap toilet wherever possible since the Chinese allow the convenience of a "Western" toilet only to those who are physically challenged, apparently.

Whatever, I'll take it. Let's discuss the makings of a good squat toilet restroom.

1. The entire restroom must smell like hell. Think of an outhouse at the County Fair at the end of a long, hot Saturday. The toilets flush, so I have no idea why this is the case. Alas, breathe through your mouth.
2. There is no toilet paper offered in any of the stalls. As in, there is no receptacle for toilet paper; it's not just that they're all out. Sometimes there's a central roll of toilet paper at the entrance near the hand driers that you need to make sure to consult before you make your way to the toilet. Otherwise, you better bring a little packet of tissues or learn to wiggle really well (ladies only, of course).
3. No hooks or ledges are provided in which to place any purses or belongings. Good luck.
4. There are no handles to hold onto as you make the attempt to straddle a porcelain hole in the ground with your pants simultaneously confining any movement of your lower legs while discreetly obstructing the view of whatever it is you're peeing on (listen for the tinkle; you don't want to hit your shoes). I'm not sure what kind of gymnastics habitually occur in these stalls as I watch people ages five to 95 walk in, but it must be magical.
5. Sink faucets are habitually intermittent and often out of order (with no signage to indicate this, of course), there is rarely hand soap available, and the hand driers are as powerful as a cat's yawn. Honestly, this isn't terribly different to that which can be found in American public bathrooms.

I will say the one upside is that the Chinese are good about public restroom availability. While they are not fun to use, they are everywhere. And I would rather pee in a hole in the ground in an enclosed room rather than in my pants on the street. So, there's that.

Also, I have only been forced to actually use a squat toilet one time on this trip (oddly, it was a (faux) gold-plated one in a night club -- go figure); otherwise I've always been able to either snag the handicap stall, wait for the hotel or Jon's house, or creep into a Starbucks/McDonald's. And don't even get me started on the logistics of trying to do a #2 on one of these things... some things are best left unknown.

But get this: Jon said that when he was traveling in Malaysia last year, they saw regular Western toilets with footprints on the seat. Like, people (and not just one person, it was, like, ingrained footprints) get up on the toilet seat so they can squat-pee into the toilet. While I cannot understand that, I can understand the need for familiarity. If squatting is comfortable to these people, more power to them. I am just fine with my good old American Standard, thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chinese (and other) Food

Yep, they have food here. Yeay!

So -- think San Francisco when you think Beijing food. Don't think Chinatown. It's not all crappy Chinese eateries and street food. It's a huge array of food types -- Japanese, Indian, Pizza, Italian -- and a vast range of prices and quality.

Being the "rich" white people that we are, we have definitely gone high class on this vacation and stuck with the fancy restaurants. Which are not reserved just for white people by any means -- they're totally full of Chinese people for the most part -- but they are pricey, fancy, and, yes, delicious.

Since I can't post pics yet (I'll have to do it from home, sorry), I will just do a brief run through of the highlights thus far.

-Thursday Dinner: Japanese. Good sushi, not cheap. Nice decor, large restaurant (think Elephant Bar sized). Very similar to an American restaurant in pretty much all respects. Except that the servers don't speak much English.

-Friday Dinner: Pizza. Jon said this place had amazing pizza. And I always love pizza, so we tried it. It was delicious. The pizzas are immense (maybe 30" diameter) and we got half cheese half veggie/white sauce. It was really good. Also: deep fried Oreos. Don't judge us.

-Saturday: Saturday was the first day we actually had Chinese food. We ate at a crappy little place in a strip mall for lunch and a big fancy place in the expensive shopping district for dinner. Both were amazing. Some dishes: Wood ear mushrooms -- fabulous; eggplant in a bread bowl with cheese -- can't go wrong; homemade sake that tasted nothing like normal sake (and hence was awesome); yak's milk yogurt with some sort of honey for dessert -- my surprise favorite.

-Sunday: We really outdid ourselves Sunday. It was Mother's Day. We wanted to eat at this hotel that overlooked the Olympic Park. Jon warned us that all hotels will be catering to Mother's Day for foreigners. We did not listen. We splurged for a $70 per person Mother's Day buffet. Highlights: sashimi bar, half-lobsters, beer bar, dumplings, cooked meat bar (you tell them what meat you want and what table to deliver it to), ice cream, and, ahem, a chocolate fountain.

Later that night we somehow managed to also fit in (as in, into our bodies, not time-wise) dumplings at a really good dumpling restaurant. Tofu skin salad as an appetizer was ridiculously good. Fab-u-lous.

-Monday: Lunch at a former school house made into a restaurant. Beautiful stone patio, umbrelled tables, beautiful day. "American" food. EJ and I had trout melts and fries, Carissa had mushroom soup and salad, Jon had a burger. Milkshakes and brownies for dessert. All very good.

Dinner Monday was the famed DaDong Duck restaurant, known for their roast duck. I didn't partake (except a small taste -- I thought it tasted like chicken), but the rest of the food (Chinese) was really good, including some incredible stir fried bamboo shoots. US$200 for the five of us. 

-Tuesday was Car and EJ's last day and we did a market tour and cooking class during the day and had dinner at a Russian nightclub in the evening. Cooking class was fun; we made a traditional stir fry dish of carrots, cucumbers, egg, wood ear mushrooms and lily flower. The Russian place was cheap and delicious: cabbage schnitzel was the highlight for me. 

-And tonight (Wednesday), Jon and I had dinner at a Mediterranean place in our hotel compound in Xi'an (where the terracotta warriors are -- we see them tomorrow). Not bad for Mediterranean, but not the best I've ever had.

In summary: delicious food, American prices, no food poisoning (so far). Also, Jon knows enough Chinese to get by at the places where they barely speak English, which is nearly everywhere. Pictures will come next week!


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Beijing Sites

Friday we started off our trip on Friday by visiting Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. These sites are both toward the center of Beijing (actually, the Forbidden City is the original center of the city, I believe) and take about 40 minutes via subway and walking to get there from Jon's place.

Neither were particularly exciting, to be honest. Tiananmen Square is literally just a huge (the biggest in the world, apparently) flat stone paved area with a couple unexciting monuments scattered around. There's nothing to do, you have to put your bags through a security screening upon arrival, and the place (like most places here) is crowded as crap. We tried to go see some site in the middle of the square (I think it was some tomb or something? We can't read any of the signs.) that everyone was flocking to line up for, but got booted from the line (via megaphone announcement about three feet from our heads) because you can't carry bags into that area. Yeah. Whatever.

Across the street from the Square is the Forbidden City. This is the old area of the city built for royal people back in the day. It's a relatively large area of very old buildings and plazas that was once only available to VIPs. Now it's just a huge sightseeing attraction that draws approximately a gazillion Chinese visitors. 

The facility itself is in disrepair. The cobble stone plazas are uneven and have many stones missing or broken. There are weeds growing out of the walls. The paint is peeling on the structures. The signage is minimal and the crowds are overwhelming. Which was unfortunate, certainly, and unexpected. I was thinking that they might not upkeep their landmarks as a rule and was a bit upset by this prospect.

Saturday, we visited the Summer Palace and found that this is not the case, thankfully. The Summer Palace is a huge park area with a variety of buildings, bridges, and pagodas situated around a large man-made lake. Some princess wanted this place built some hundreds of years ago and -- voila -- new lake and beautiful surrounds.


Which, of course, was only allowed to be enjoyed by royal people and the like for a number of years but is now open to the masses. And the masses do flock, holy crap. SO MANY PEOPLE. 

The day was beautiful (sunny, the "fog" had receded a good amount) and everything about the Summer Palace was serene and pretty. Unlike the Forbidden City, the Palace is very well kept and clean, and the arrangement of the foliage, buildings and water was picturesque. You can rent a paddle boat to paddle around the lake (we're lazy, didn't do this), or walk around the lake to the different structures and trails scattered around.

We stayed for a few hours just walking, taking a ferry across the lake, and enjoying the day. We were going to hit up the Olympic Park afterward, but instead we stayed too long, ate food nearby, and headed back to Jon's place to rest and then go to dinner. 

Up next... THE FOOD. (It's good, by the way.)

China Living

Jon's apartment overlooks the north-east part of the city from the 12th floor of a high rise building in a gated "compound" (as he calls it). There are many of these compounds throughout the city (and the country, apparently) that house rich Chinese and foreigners. Not unlike any other country, the majority of the population isn't so fortunate. They often live in small homes, sometimes behind (or in the back of) a small shop they own, or just in crappy housing communities or apartments.

The weird thing here -- at least around Jon's house -- is that the poorer areas are just across the street from his compound. In the States, we certainly have a stratification of economic prosperity among citizens. Whether it's as large a disparity is debatable (I'd say it probably is close), but I feel that you can live as a middle-class citizen in the Bay Area nearly your whole life and keep sequestered into your fine middle class life pretty well. 

The way the neighborhoods meld different classes of people together here is what strikes me, I suppose. It seems that this is something common within the third world.

Speaking of third world, this place isn't nearly as third world-y as I had expected. While the city is generally dirty and there are obviously lots of poor people, there are huge communities filled with large, interesting buildings; beautiful, well-kept parks; fancy, Western-style restaurants where you can easily pay Western prices for a meal; nice hotels; etc. I have seen more than a handful of Ferraris and Mazerattis intermixed with the Mercedes, BMWs, Volkswagen, Toyota and other "normal" cars. So, while there is a third world thing going on here, we, as Westerners, essentially operate in a completely separate universe (along with a whole bunch of rich Chinese people) that somehow runs right alongside another, very different world. 

It's odd. And interesting. 

I feel like people want to experience "the real" place they're in. People always say that when they go on vacation -- "I want to hang with the locals, see what they do". But in this case (and in probably lots of cases), this is the "real China" for me. Just as I wouldn't be hanging out in the ghetto in America (because I'm an educated, middle class white lady), I'm not with the factory workers or eating street food here in China. So, even though I'm not experiencing the China that so many millions of other people do, I am experiencing the only China I probably can.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Welcome to Beijing

Hi. I'm in Beijing. 

Which is slightly more exciting than Delaware (please get my Wayne's World reference). We arrived Thursday afternoon Beijing time and made it pretty effortlessly over to Jon's apartment. We were greeted at the airport by one of those cab drivers holding a sign with your name on it. But this time it had my name on it. Weird.

The drive was about 30-45 minutes through freeway traffic. Since I was expecting Thailand driving and Thailand traffic, I was pleasantly surprised. Which doesn't mean these people are great drivers or that the freeways are safe, necessarily, but Thailand was certainly a whole different beast. 

The driving method here: stay generally in the lanes but feel free to float between lanes at your leisure with or without signaling. Go ahead and drive on the shoulder if you are so inclined. Honk at other drivers for any reason at all just as long as it's with great frequency. Nudge pedestrians or bicyclists out of the way with your car if you so choose. Generally don't give a crap about anyone else, but be more passive/aggressive about it than, say, a New York driver. Dad, I think you would like it.

The main complaint we've had in our 24+ hours here is the pollution. It's nuts. Officially known by the government as "fog", the stuff is ubiquitous and relentless. You are literally walking around in a cloud of soot all day and all night long. If you clean your house, all surfaces are immediately covered in a layer of gross (if you've opened the windows). The cars on the street look a bit like they've driven through a volcano zone if you get close enough. And it certainly inhibits the views of what would otherwise, I suspect, be a relatively beautiful city.

Ok, my friends are starting to get savvy to the trend of waiting on me... more later. Off to the Olympic Park today!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

3-1-1

Ok. YOU STILL CANNOT BRING LIQUIDS ON AN AIRPLANE. What is up with that? I really thought that was totally just a fad and it would go away. It's not, apparently. Planes are liquid-free for eternity.

The only way you can bring liquids (or gels -- what qualifies as a gel, exactly, besides sticky hair stuff?) onto the plane directly (you can have all the liquids you want in your check bag) is by using the 3-1-1 rule. Which makes it sound kind of like an emergency. 

"OMG, she has a water bottle, call 3-1-1!!!"

3-1-1 means you can have as many 3oz bottles that will fit into a 1qt baggie, and each person can bring only 1 of said baggies. And you put this baggie into one of the x-ray bins by itself -- don't get all sneaky and try to put the baggie into your carry-on luggage. So, having a plethora of Ziplock sandwich bags and Ziplock gallon bags, I was mildly upset (like, to the tune of an eye roll) to find that I had to purchase another breed of Ziplock product: the One Quart bags. Which is, incidentally, nearly exactly the size of a sandwich bag. Who are the communists now?

So now that my liquids and gels (does a stick of deodorant qualify as a gel?) are safely stowed into a burstingly full baggie of appropriate size, I had a glance over the prohibited items list on the TSA website. Just a few items that I had to double check I wasn't bringing (which are, surprisingly, not allowed):
  • Sabers
  • Meat Cleavers
  • Spear Guns
  • Cattle Prods
  • Nunchakus (um, more surprised at the actual spelling of that word, to be honest)
  • Dynamite
  • Vehicle Airbags
  • Gel Shoe Inserts
So, I will, unfortunately, have to leave my dynamite-filled nunchakus airbags at home. And I will have to forego the added comfort of my gel inserts. Harumph.

Flight tomorrow, weeeeee!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Oh, Right -- They're Communists

Just after emailing my friends and fams yesterday about my plans to blog all about China while I'm there, Jon mentioned that China -- like, the country -- blocks this website. I will not be able to post while I'm there because in China, this website does not exist.

So, along with Facebook, YouTube, and select other forbidden websites, Blogger, in all its evil glory, will be beyond my reaches. My counter move: I'm just going to write whatever I was going to post in emails and send those to anyone interested. Then I'll just post the entries when I get back.

If you want to receive my "blog" entry emails, shoot me an email. I'm not about spamming. Except for some of you, you're on the list no matter what. You know who you are.

In a barrage of questions to Jon tonight over gmail, this tidbit arose:

Me: Will I be bigger than everyone there?
Jon: Elijah will be feared as some sort of giant god-king
       You will be taller than most
       Carissa will fit right in.

Yep, that about says it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

China

Hi, remember me? I used to have a travel blog. It was this travel blog. Dormant for over two years, it will now be resurrected for my upcoming trip to China. And now, I will continue this post in subtitle format:

Why China?
My BFF Jon lives in China. He's lived there for a year, and he's contracted to be there for another year. He works for Amazon.com and does programming things. Carissa, Elijah and I have chosen a date, purchased tickets, navigated the horror that is the Chinese Consulate to obtain visas, and will be flying for 12 hours directly to Beijing this Wednesday at noon.

Getting Ready
What have I done to prepare for this trip, you ask? I told the people at work that I'm going. That's about it. Go me! Yesterday I took my cat to my mom's (thanks mom) and unearthed my suitcases from under mom's house. Today I bought some shoes* and shorts. I went from zero to four pairs of shorts within one hour at Old Navy. Would you call that wardrobe shock?

Luggage
I think I'm going to try to pack everything in a carry on. Honestly, I wear the same clothes over and over on vacation, Jon will have laundry facilities, and we're not exactly going to be dressing up. Plus, the weather forecast is "hot as balls", as Jon puts it, so I won't need to be packing my standard snow defenses (which I use against 60 degree weather). We'll see how it goes.

The Plan
Car and EJ will be there for one week, while I'm staying for two. They want to mainly stay in Beijing, which is fine by me. We'll see the Wall. (You know the one.) And other stuff that is yet to be researched. I want to go down to the Terracotta Warriors. It's a two hour plane ride from Jon's, so it's a bit more than just a simple day trip, but I'd like to stay the night down there and put in the effort to see these things. After Car and EJ leave, Jon and I might head to Shanghai for a couple nights. In short, we have No Real Plans.

Summary
China. Two weeks. Jon, Carissa, Elijah. Hot as balls. New shorts and shoes. No checked luggage. No plans. Let's do this.

*Apparently I did not learn my lesson in Japan: I have once again bought shoes to wear for the first time while traveling. It's a risk, but I'm a spaz and never have appropriate and/or new clothes/footwear for seemingly any occasion. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Template!

Blogspot is offering new templates for blogs, so I went ahead and updated my Travel Angie and my California Dreaming sites...what do you think? I think they're purty.