Thursday, July 27, 2006 at 5:42 a.m. | 0 comments
There were various sources describing the length of the walk between Jinshanling, the small town where we'd be spending our night on the tour, and the distance to Simatai, another small town, that we'd be traveling to.

My Uncle said it was 10km. He didn't know if that was up and down mountains, or 'as the crow flies.' David insisted on asking as many people as possible this question, using crude hand gestures to stand in for the crow.

All in all, it was a four hour walk. Up and down mountains. Thirty towers on the Great Wall stood between us and our destination, and to even attempt any kind of description would do the sight itself injustice.

A wonder of the modern world. Mountains all around us and this huge, snaking wall improbably standing along it for hundreds of kilometers.

We arrived early evening last night and got our first steps on the wall out of the way. Our guide was obviously used to this and had no problem going up and down and a break-neck speed. All three of us were wheezing and sore and it took less than half an hour. We didn't say anything last night, but we were all sure we were screwed.

Dinner at our hosts store was fantastic. More than 10 dishes were served up, a 'Farmer's Meal' they called it, and insisted we eat as much as possible. If we stopped, they'd say 'eat, eat!'

When we first arrived, our guide called out, in Chinese "foreigner's are here." His wife came out of the back, took one look at him, then pointed at him and said 'you're drunk!'

Because it had been raining earlier and there was a threat of a storm, we stayed in one of the lower towers that night with an older American couple that we got along quite well with. Catherine, David and I stayed in a building on the tower while the American's opted for a tent on the battlement. Our guide went below to sleep in 'solider's quarters.'

I woke up around 4 and struggled out of bed at 5. I had to go to the bathroom, which in this case was a small grassy field. Squatting is not fun. Though it can be funny. The night before David was squatting over an open toilet and was balancing his flashlight in his underwear. One bad move and he dropped it into the toilet.

We didn't tell them about the lost flashlight.

When I say up and down, I mean up and down. Catherine compared herself to a mountain goat more than four times that day and it was apt. Some sections had us pulling ourselves up hand and foot to make it. When you see the pictures and the distances between the towers, you'll get just how tough a walk this was. Parts of the wall we were on haven't been renovated and the sides have long since crumbled away. To call it treacherous at times is putting it mildly.

But four hours and 10km later, we made it. What an incredible feeling. To cap it off, David and I took a zipline down to a boat on the far bank. The boat dropped us off at the parking lot, where our driver was waiting. He's been waiting for us since he dropped us off. He got a hotel room less than a km away and was sleeping when we walked up to him in his car.

Catherine got stuck with the bags and had to walk down. David and I just relaxed.

That's the way to do it.

This was the best thing we have done in China, even David agrees and he's been here for 14 months. This is possibly one of my most unforgettable things I've done in my life. Thank god for my uncle. As soon as David gets back, I'm going to call him on his cellphone to thank him.

I'm damn tired now. I rewarded myself with a 'great wall baguette' here at the hostel that was terrible. But it was called 'great wall', so I figured I had to.

I'll be home late Saturday. 10pm for sure. Don't call me until Sunday on risk of death.
Posted by Parallel
Oh, what a crazy trip this has been.

It's hard to believe that Catherine and I are now in the final stretch. We've taken so many planes, trains, buses, taxis and everything else that it's hard to believe we'll be back in Canada on Saturday.

Part of me is ready to come back. The part that enjoys NOT being stared at, cheated, or smelling the horribly polluted air is ready for english signs and a variety of television programming.

Another part doesn't want to. This has been such a fascinating experience that you don't ever want it to end. Within a day or so, I"m sure I'll settle back into old routines and I just don't want to do that. There's something about expanding your horizons that the prospect of limiting them again kind of hurts deep inside.

Will it be that bad? Well, if I was going back to my job for an indefinite amount of time, then yes, it possibly would. But I have teacher's college, more time with friends, and hell, even a new Nintendo system coming out. This has been an incredible year and it's far from over.

But for now I'm in China. I've been really enjoying it despite the pace that is threatening to push me over the edge towards exhaustion.

We were in Shanghai just a couple of days ago. I was accosted by a child beggar there who would kneel at my feet and bow to me to try to get me to give him money. I kept saying no and trying to walk away, but he would headbut my stomach or ram me and try to push me with his head. A few times when he charged, I'd step out of his way and he'd fall down. It was just crazy. I kept saying 'boo' to him, which means 'no', and he'd shout 'yes'! David and Catherine just kept walking ahead of me. Loads of help, they were.

Still, Shanghai is China's answer to New York. Old architecture mixed with neon that gives it a seedy yet hi-tech glow. So far it's been my favorite city. We were in Nanjing before that, and that place is a shit hole.

We were trying to conserve money this week which meant having to change our plans of sleeping on the Great Wall. We called the guy who arranges the trips who told us it would be 400 rmb per person, which is around $60. Not much in the grand scheme of things, but it adds up. We'd have to take a train out of Beijing to the village and back, putting the total much closer to 600 or 800 per person.

Then the most unlikely thing happened.

I had dinner with my Uncle Paul last night, an overall nice man but not someone that I think anyone could really feel close to. He has a factory here which means he's well off, but exactly how well off is not something I would ever ask.

Before we met for dinner, he told me he was looking into the Great Wall thing for us which was nice, but I wrote him yesterday or the day before and said that it was just looking to be too much so we were going to do a day tour or something similar instead.

At dinner, which also cost more than any of us were prepared for, yet he paid the bill as though it were nothing, he then handed us an envelope of money and said that he was treating our trip. Not only that, he was providing us with our own driver to take us to the village and that the driver was going to stay there over night and take us back whenever we wanted.

Floored is too minor a word to describe my reaction. There was enough for David, Catherine, myself, and THEN SOME. I just didn't know how to react. I'm quite pleased that we had at least bought some flowers for his girlfriend before we arrived and gave her a Canadian pin. Even then, I think we should have bought her a ton more.

So, that's what we're doing tonight. Our own driver will show up in about three hours and take us out there. Then it's sleeping on the Great Wall for us.

Not a bad way to wind down the trip. Not bad at all.

My Uncle kicks ass. I don't know of a way to thank him adequately enough.
Posted by Parallel
Monday, July 17, 2006 at 10:35 p.m. | 0 comments
One of the things I loved best about living in Jasper was waking up in the mornings and seeing the mountains outside of my windows.

The mountains of Yangshou are completely different. It would be like comparing apples to oranges. They are high, jagged peaks, completely covered in trees and some have houses built into the face of the cliffs or on top of them. There are hundreds of these mountains, some with clouds clutching to the faces, and it's impossible not to stop and stare in awe every five minutes.

It's a paradise. One of the few I've found in the world.

Yangshou creates a massive difference on my impression of China so far. Beijing and Chengdu are in a perpetual state of destruction and creation. A wrecked building can stand beside a brand new skyscraper. The pollution chokes you and we never saw clear blue sky until we broke through the clouds on plane trips.

It's been raining here, but it's possible to take a deep, fresh breath and this morning, for the first time in China, we can see the sun and sky easily. We've seen the sun before, but it looked like an angry red-orange dot in the sky.

We've been busy here. Catherine got to pet a panda, I've gotten to talk with cab drivers, and yesterday, after meeting up with David (hard to believe it's been more than a year, but within a minute it felt like he hadn't been gone at all), we rented scooters and drove through the countryside.

It was fantastic. David and his girlfriend, Ting Ting, managed to come to a full stop in a muddy path only to tip over a second later. I helped by taking a picture. Catherine and I had our own scooters as well and managed to avoid making such a mistake.

Later that afternoon we went to a water cave. Huge, deep, and with many places to crouch and scrape along, it ends with a mud bath. We have some pictures of that as well, though someone else took those photos. We even went down a slide. Ting Ting refused to take off her miner's helmet because she didn't want her hair to get dirty.

On the drive back it rained still. David got a flat in town and had to push his scooter the rest of the way while Ting Ting rode with me. Scooter lady didn't look happy, but only charged us $3 for the wrecked tire.

Good times.

Soon we'll leave Yangshou, but I don't really want to. It has been the past part of the trip so far. Maybe we'll go to Nanjing next, maybe to Shanghai. That's the great thing about having the freedom to travel and have fun. David will be with us, and all of his luggage, so that could dampen things, but I doubt it will very much.

All of you should wish you were here. It's incredible.
Posted by Parallel
Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 2:21 a.m. | 1 comments
You blog.

Or at least that's what I tell myself. For those of you I emailed, this will be a bit of a repeat. There's a small internet cafe in our hostel that I'm making use of at the moment. It's 2:18pm our time, meaning it's 2:18am last night for any of you reading this.

Most of you are probably in bed. Maybe not Jamie.

Getting your first impression of China and in particular Beijing when you're exhausted isn't the best idea. The place is hot, crowded, and you get stared at. A lot. Earlier today when Catherine was off visiting Chairman Mau's grave site, a group of Chinese tourists, all in their young teens, were slowly edging towards me. I figured out that they were trying to snap a picture near me, so I just opened up my arms and a timid girl came and stood next to me. Then another girl. Then a guy came over and we crossed arms and tried to look "tough."

Getting stared at is hard to get used to at first. Just about everyone does it and more than once I've seen them take pictures. There are a lot more tourists around here than you'd think so I'm not sure why they get so excited. I suppose many of them come from small cities or villages where tourists are very rare so I suppose we're an interesting sight.

What a city. There are shantys, skyscrapers, half-torn down buildings and fast food joints. And people are EVERYWHERE.

Our little hostel in the middle of a hutong is quite interesting. A hutong is essentially a small, crowded market street and there are dozens all over the city. This didn't stop my Uncle Paul from just driving right through one in his very large van. People either get out of the way or get hit. No one seems to mind these cars driving through. It's quite a strange thing to see.

And a little bit scary. It took me at least a day or two to get over all the strangeness around us. I don't notice people staring as much and things are very cheap. Whatever you eat, though, just wait half an hour and go to the bathroom before you head out. Call it a precaution.

Also, don't make eye contact with anyone. This is just going to get you bothered to no end. Just say "no" to everyone trying to sell you something or get your attention. If they think you're on the fence, they'll do everything they can to stop you from leaving. One man was convinced I wanted a wallet and tried to burn it with his lighter to prove it was authentic. Then he pressed the heated surface against my arm. I tried to leave and he halved the price. I tried to leave again and he cut THAT price in half. Finally, he got frustrated and thrust a calculator in my hands to get me to indicate how much I wanted to pay. I wasn't even looking at the wallets in the first place.

Everything has a different texture here. The smell, the heat, the city. There are some truly impressive sights here and some truly devastating ones as well. The city is half under rubble as it gets torn down and built up as often as a kid playing with lego. Nothing stays the same here for long. You also see people who were victims of some kind of protest. They're badly burned with chunks of flesh missing as well as limbs. We steer clear of those.

After day one, people bother us a lot less. We shed the Canadian politeness as soon as possible and that seems to make things go easier.

We're about to go out for a walk now. I had a hamburger and Catherine had some sprite. You need lots of fluids to walk around in this city. Hot doesn't begin to cover it. I've already lost 10 pounds from sweat.

But it's good. It's strange. It's China.
Posted by Parallel
Friday, July 07, 2006 at 6:35 p.m. | 0 comments
goneThis was going to be a post of tearful and drawn-out goodbyes as Catherine and I board a plane tomorrow morning at 9:45am for a three week trip to China. Then I thought about it and realized that I'm only going on vacation, not moving away.

Despite this, it became quite apparent how deep and thorough my connection to this place is as the week went on and I informed countless people of my intinerary. You'd think that I was moving away, quitting a job, or having some other massive event happen in my life, but I'm just going on vacation.

Maybe it was my mother. She's very concerned and emotional about the whole thing which I love and appreciate about her. Aaron wrote last night to say that he wanted to see me again before I go, not realizing that my departure was much sooner than he thought.

I called my dad, saw my uncle, talked to people at karate, and many more people at work. All of whom were genuinely interested in where I was going and what I was doing.

It felt good. Still does.

In fact, it leaves me feeling that no matter what else happens on this trip that I left everything in the best shape I could. I went above and beyond for work and though today is Sandy's last day, which is sad in of itself, she's also doing me a huge favor by coming in during the evenings to do work and ensure that I have a job to come back to.

I left lots of instructions for my mom who will be apartment-sitting and wrote a three page manual for Catherine's parents about caring for Truffle. I think I've done everything I can.

Now I don't want to go. Nah, I do, but this is an experience that I've never had. No one I know, except for David, has gone on a trip like this. At least on the bright side, over there, I'm exotic.

I hope to find internet access over there so I'll pick up email and do a bit of blogging.

Here we go.

Deep breath.

And just like Keyser Sose... I'm gone.
Posted by Parallel
Wednesday, July 05, 2006 at 2:33 p.m. | 1 comments
party pooperNo matter where I go or what I do, I seem to wind up talking about poop. Degu poop, poop talk with co-workers, and now I've even discussed it with a Sears optician.

Last week I got new glasses for the first time in years. Though they look great, they were sliding down my nose often enough that I went back in on Monday with Catherine to get them adjusted. A very nice Indian lady was there to help out and she laughs at all my jokes, though she clearly has limited understanding of English.

"You are good with the words," she said during our first meeting.

This time, shortly after her assistant/daughter returned to the store, she and I were discussing my upcoming trip to China. I told her I had mastered the language already which consists of talking slowly and loudly while gesturing wildly with my arms. She thought this was amusing and while I was joking, I assume this communication mode will come into play sooner than I think.

I told her that I was going to have a good time and that over there, I was exotic and looking forward to being regarded as so. She said not to get into trouble and I told jokingly told her not to be a party pooper.

"A what?" she asked me.

"You know, someone who stops the party from being fun. You're having a good time and someone ruins it," I said.

"Oh," she replied. Still looking confused. I decided to help her out by breaking it down.

"You know, it's two words. 'Party' and, well, 'poop,'" I said.

"Poop?" she asked, clearly not understanding. At this point I was trying to get my point across without using words like 'shit' as then it becomes quite disgusting rather than just an everyday phrase.

At this point, her assistant/daughter looks at her and chimes in. "Poo poo," she says, laughing. The woman's eyes lit up with understanding as she happily repeated "Poo poo!"

Relieved, I continued to explain. "Yes! You're having fun and then someone comes and poo poos. And you look and see the poo poo, so then the party is over."

"I get it!" she says, laughing. "That's a good one. Party pooper. I will remember that."

God help the Chinese when I get over there.

27 actual days at work left.
Posted by Parallel
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