Monday, July 31, 2006


I am in the Chinese pod studio, the Chinese learning site I have recommended many times. I am actually really nervous as I am going to make an appearance on their Saturday showing with my, dear god, Taiwanese. Rebecca!? Where are you!?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

More photos

Again, these photos are way behind where I am now.

A whole new cultural experience

Climbing Emeishan, walking the Bund, crossing Hong Kong's bay, walking through the bamboo forest, cool stuff sure, but Pudong's Hooters? Now we are talking some of that culture stuff.
No one goes to Hooters for the wings, but at least one guy has gone there for their wireless. It did not save my life, although a Hooters has saved my life (Jake you really should read this damn blog), but it did finally let me stop walking.
So this is the first time I have really gotten to explore Pudong, and my thoughts are a bit mixed actually. Mind you, this is only towards Lujiazui (the financial district and the "face" of Pudong), but it simply lacks a personality. Its a cool face, I find the buildings at least entertaining (their artistic value, umm, ranges, but they are surely interesting), but the are itself is annoying.
The first problem, its infrastructure is too expansive. Everywhere are eight lane roads. Walking around is painful (literally, my legs are simply rocked right now). To get from one building to another it feels like going from two distant vegas casinos (Jake you best be reading some of this), you know where you are going, you can see it, but it just takes forever. Except you can't take little breaks to throw some bones and order drinks.
I have a lot of problems with Hong Kong, having skyscrapers lining two lane roads seemed idiotic to me until I saw the opposite. Sure Hong Kong is too crowded, but Pudong is freaking lonely! Even when a bunch of people are out, you are distanced from them and its impossible to have any interaction. Those French architects pointed out this line of thought to me and it seems totally true - adequate infrastructure can really destroy the heart of a place. And this place really seems to have no heart.
Most of my day inside was spent in the Grand Hyatt, a place I have wanted to go to for ages. I love going to Hyatt's (they are classy but they stay fashionable and trendy). I also love going to richy places where I don't really belong. In this case I went all around the building (seriously, outside of going room to room I went to every cafe and bar in the entire hotel). I talked to a bunch of staff but was shocked at how boring their stories were.
That said, the architecture inside the Hyatt was what I had heard: really incredible. You can see straight from the 52nd floor to the 87th floor's huge stabilizing ball along an beautifully designed interior. The Hyatt was also just generally well done and although not necessarily that interesting, they were all very nice. I also like that I got to see views and the beautiful architecture for free, rather than paying to go to the observation deck (floor I could reach - 87, observation deck - 88).
Other than the Hyatt I basically lugged from building to building, taking huge amounts of time for each visit. Anywhere that might have wireless I asked. I even found a connection on the street, but never tracked down the source. I did not have it long enough to do anything and then I could not find the origin.
However leaving one various mall I was struck by a Hooters on the horizon and figured it was worth a try. As the rule seems to be, to find wireless, follow the foreigners. And there are a mighty lot of foreigners here, and there is a great wireless connection. Oh and the beautiful Chinese girls in skimpy clothes, but that is beside the point. That and they like to play little thinly veiled games like riding on stools which are shockingly perverse.
Tomorrow will hopefully include visiting Chinesepod (, my main source for Chinese these days), Shanghai's art museum, and seeing my friend Alice for the first time in two years of talking online. For now, I will be walking back up the Bund and surveying the land before probably waking someone up in the awkward dorm that I am in (I am staying in an amazing hotel, but they just converted an old suite into a dorm room by jamming beds into it).

Returning to Shanghai

I feel like Pudong is right behind me, a feeling I am used to; however, Pudong really is, which is not something I am used to. I actually did realize how excited I was to get to Shanghai until this morning when I finally admitted to myself Shanghai is not just another Chinese city for me.
For those new to Matt related information, I put my heart and soul into my honors thesis about the Pudong area of Shanghai. It was a huge factor in my life for a year, and I think in some ways a factor in who I am today. I had never worked that hard in undergraduate, but now frequently tirelessly over casual pursuits, like Chinese was originally. I had to start from scratch with Chinese economic history in order to write my thesis, and I think I did far more background work than the average thesis student (having picked a topic that's most basic fundamentals I had to start with).
First thing to be said about Shanghai is the first thing I noticed - man there are a lot of white people. Damn near Hong Kong levels of white people, which is just crazy to me. In fact, at the sushi bar (revolving sushi!!!!!) I am writing this in, Chinese people only make up about half of the customers.
My first impression was pretty negative, as I tend not to like white people. This is not to say that I tend to like Chinese people more than white people (that boat ride really disproved that notion), rather, based on the conditions we are under, I have something inherently in common with every white person I meet here. As such, if I meet a jerk that is white, I know he is representing the prejudice that I will convey to people here. The more white people - the more likely I will meet a jerk.
It also means there is an economy for hassling foreigners, so along Nanjing road I got "hey mista"ed, "DVD"edm and "you buy shoes"ed from one end to the other. However, the hassle did not stop me from walking to the end of Nanjing road and hitting the Bund. More to the point, hitting the image of the Pudong skyline. I actually had to stop for a second.
It was the second time the skyline brought me in my tracks. The first time was that I was not expecting it. The first time I had spent so much time reading about Shanghai history I had no idea that it had a present that was so intensely visually interesting. When I was expecting classy old and got hit by crazy new I was brought to a stop. That was the start of my thesis.
The second time I was forced to stop was again the shock of hitting the Pudong. This time however it was like running into an old friend after a two year absence. I knew what Pudong looked like. I knew so much about it. But I guess I was not really prepared to have it hit me all at once. Hundreds of photos, countless articles, a number of books and some 117 pages all rushed up to me at once.
Shanghai is really just a city, but its a city I know more about than all other cities combined. Yet I still don't know so much. I have little interest in the West side. I don't know much about the plight of the poor. However the things I do know about, I really do know. The problem is that this is a human city and the more I am here the more the gold paint will chip.
All of that said, I am here now, enjoying one of my favorite foods in the world, revolving sushi (if you revolve it, sushi gets better), and I hope to get a room to stay in one of Old Shanghai's main hang outs. I have a lot of goals tomorrow, but today, I am just going to stroll the rest of the Bund until I fully "get" that I am "here."

PTI: Even going to the bathroom is like going to the bathroom on history. I am staying in the Astor hotel. Back in the day this used to be one of the main swinging sections of the Bund. Giving Pudong so much love, I forgot my love for the Bund. The Bund is the old section of Shanghai, its composed of beautiful foreign architecture, and it really plays with your senses of being "in China."
Whereas Hong Kong also has an imperialistic history of enforced poverty, genocide proportioned slave labor, and foreign riches constructed from the spines of broken Chinese backs, the symbols of this glamorous and elegant era are largely built over by "B-" architecture projects. However in Shanghai, the symbols of foreign imperialism are dashed gently along the Yangzi river. Thus, I am pretty excited to be staying in such a place.
It really is nice, and the bathrooms all have western toilets, a feature that goes pretty far into my heart. The place has clearly been reconstructed, but it retains its old charm of a time in which the elegance inside of these buildings truly contrasted with the stark poverty outside and Nanjing road was not sponsored by Pepsi. However, without further ado, its time for me to jaunt to Pudong and maybe find a café to waste away my day as the leisurely foreign gentleman I really am.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

More Hangzhou

Hangzhou has been good to me, although I am ready to go to Shanghai, in fact, very excited. I plan on leaving tomorrow morning.
My second day in Hangzhou started with me cleaning my clothes, something I have not done since a bygone era. As such, I now have very happy clothing, and I get to stop smelling (always a bonus).
Early on I met a young lady living in the hostel. For the sixth or seventh time in China I ended up hanging out with one person for something like eight or nine hours straight. Apparently that is just what I do when I am traveling in China, who knew?
She is a fiancé to a nice sounding owner of an internet bar. She really knew her internet bars too, and we ended up hanging out in one for a couple of hours this morning. It was cool, with the help of neighbors I made an account on a basketball game they were all playing, and I am proud to say that I rocked hard at it (it helped that I ended up with a really good guy on my team, but I did well).
After the internet bar we went to an old street, which was mostly a street that sold "old" stuff. However it was really positive. Most things had prices and I was able to find rough prices for many things I was interested in. I think I will find a similar such street in Northern China (like Qufu) and now how much things should cost. There I can buy gifts right before I leave.
The girl I hung out with today, Michelle, was good at correcting my Chinese. Whereas all my friends agree, at first it sounds like I can really do this Chinese thing, the more we talk the more it falls apart, she was good at saying what I could do better. What was nice is that we, like most of my sudden guides, spoke no English. Even though my Chinese has tons of problems, I can say that I can easily make friends in the language, and I think that is pretty important.
Hangzhou is doing well for itself, I stumbled upon yet another Zegna here. Again I went in and asked a bunch of questions. The girl there was not as forth coming, but I ended up talking to a customer who lived in America for seven years. He was very interesting and revealing.
One last thing of note. I don't know if it is because it is her job, or if it is a Chinese outlook, Michelle attached an inordinate amount of deal on getting online. This morning her goal was clearly hit the internet. When I told her this evening I was going to pop over to a cafe to get online, she seemed to take this as an event. She kept staying like "oh, if you want to get online, thats cool." Getting online being clearly as opposed to sleeping, reading, or zoning out I guess. But it was clear that this was a clear verb of something that you do.
I have a very different perspective. For me I am always online, I just check what's going on whenever I can. However my email address is running when I am gone. My site is up. These things are extensions of myself in a way. I don't see getting online as much of a jump, in places where I have wireless, it requires me opening my computer (not even hitting a button in the process).
I don't know if this is because her life is internet related through her fiancé or this is a Chinese way of thinking. How do you American readers think? Should getting online be an action verb of similar consequence to reading or eating? For me it conjures up the idea of "surfing the web."
Although I "surf the web" I think perhaps my connection to the internet is a bit too broadband, for me saying I am "surfing the web" as an answer seems to me like being asked "What are you doing?" and answering "breathing." Sure you are "breathing" but that is not really what I am asking right. There are times where I am "surfing the internet" as a committed thing, but usually its the sort of constant background of any number of activities.
That said most of my Internet usage is "Web 2.0" fashioned. The best example of this is my addiction to podcasts. Even when I am not online, my iPod likely has something I have not heard yet, originally coming from the internet. Blogs are similar, I often read them offline. Furthermore, while traveling I have been writing my blog offline, but for online purposes. Even in this nation where internet can be, frustrating to find, I still don't see the line as that distinct. This whole thinking needs more though, I realize that, I will try to refine what I am saying later.

Friday, July 28, 2006


To answer some comments. I do have a weird passion for Ermenegildo Zegna. I always thought they had the best stuff in Esquire, and their prices are simply laughably high, just outrageously so. Beyond most of the truly expensive brands. I really like them because they always have at least one piece of clothing in their stores that is laughably terrible priced, something like $500 US. I respect that they can still push products. Furthermore, most of the tailored clothing I pick up in Shenzhen for $10 looks basically the same as theirs with worse stitching.
The Chongqing Zegna was an especially cool experience. I talked to the manager for a solid hour. I found out how much product they were pushing, what Chinese customers were interested in, how the area had developed over the last twenty years (from farm land to luxury mall shopping), what their employee wages were, what her wage was, what the employee turn over was, her feelings on Taiwan (typically harsh), the Chinese structure of Zegna profits, raises, and business.
She also told me the weirdest understanding of the Tiananmen massacre I have ever heard. Apparently newlyweds kissing in public is involved (I believe this is about Li Lu who suddenly got married at the square apparently), kissing in public being a cultural no no strong enough to cause the government to start firing. She mentioned the she only knew of one person dying.
To Allison's comment about beating up trees, have you seen Crouching Tiger? Those trees take a beating! I had to really.

So far Hangzhou has been a breath of much less polluted air. I got here in the morning and ate WAY too much. The problem was that I ordered two things I did not really end up liking, one thing that was okay, and one thing that was VERY good. As such, I gorged heartily on the one thing and felt guilty about leaving a good portion of the others. This caused me to have devastating heart burn throughout the day, forcing me to walk for five minutes and sit for five minutes for a good while.
The main point of the day was to go slowly and just relax. I found a great dorm style hotel (my first). It really does rock. The locked wardrobes are huge, there is a gym, there is a washing machine, and the place is clean, nice and polished. Its expensive as far as dorms go, but being that I have yet to stay in a dorm, its my second cheapest room on this trip (the cheapest being basically an out house).
I slowly walked up to the West Lake, Hangzhou's claim to fame, a huge lake romanticized by countless Chinese artists. I spent most of my time with a girl I met that initially looked very plain but friendly, and upon glasses removal revealed herself to be truly very beautiful. I gave her a free English lesson, something I might do with friends (I really want to know how much I can teach in an hour, I sort of miss English teaching), and her English truly was terrible "How many..." was like pulling teeth and I missed the iron trap mind of my students.
On the way to the lake I found a very good milk tea stand (which helped my heart burn absolutely zero but it was very good) and a book store. At the book store I found an advanced English dictionary that had a bunch of Chinese words I have been looking for vainly like "frustrated" and "gross." The book, which in the US would have unquestionably been expensive was $1.50 (US) new, so I had to buy it, despite increasing my luggage load (ugh).
The lake was great, but mostly just big. Its hard to put it all together and appreciate its majesty although it is a nice lake. I met a very cool Chinese heritage family who lived in Canada. I also relaxed and did not care how long it took me to do things. I hope tomorrow to be the same, and then the day after to shuttle off to Shanghai where I will be for five days if I can.
Now I am in a hang out like that one in Taiwan, lots of card playing and the like. The connection in here is terrible, and I will try to find a new one tomorrow, but most importantly - it is wireless.

More pictures

I will try to put up ten photos from each place I can blog as long as I am able to do so. This connection is so spotty its a bit more troublesome here. Most of these photos are from pretty far in my wake actually (most of these photos are back in Kunming for those following at home).

The world's largest dam through my day

From the end of the last blog entry, things got so bad, interesting, awkward, confusing, and generally annoying - it deserved its own blog entry. After that blog, we ended up getting to the big boat. From the big boat, we whipped through the three gorges. To be honest, the mini gorges were more impressive for me, as I was closer to them and seemed more personal.
The more talkative of the French guys actually slept through much of it, I listened to my Podcasts and just sort of watched. That said, I can safely say I get the gorge thing (between this and Taroko in Taiwan). I liked looking at the plates and thinking what my dad would tell me about the formations, but I still don't share his passion for rocks.
Returning to my room I talked with my roommates for the second time. The first time was the middle of last night when I discovered that the father loved English and liked to speak it loudly when his wife and child were trying to sleep. No matter how quietly I answered, he asked questions with booming English.
However during the day we quickly became friends. Furthermore, he and his wife were professors, his wife was a professor of political science in fact. With that in mind, I did my questions with a bit more excitement. Towards the government, they seemed rather positive. She emphasized that the amount farmers make has stayed about the same or risen, whereas the cost of living has fallen. They seemed positive on development, especially that it is now really reaching the west. Although the center was not growing as fast, they emphasized it was growing.
Then there was Taiwan. Taiwan was a huge issue, because they were the first people to entertain the question as to why Taiwan was automatically apart of Taiwan. Furthermore, some of the arguments (given mostly by the guy) were pretty terrible, causing me to argue back. This led to the first really passionate Taiwan debate I had, although it was in good humor and none of it was serious in a sense to be worried about.
At one point he said that Taiwan should be apart of China because of history. They were of Chinese decent. However, a good portion of the country has been apart from the mainland for 400 years, by that standard the US had no claim to independence, and in fact a good number of countries have large claims on various parts of America.
My personal favorite bad argument is that the Chinese map would not be complete without Taiwan. I pointed out that Korea is much closer than Taiwan, if we are invading for map completeness, it looks like that would be a good place to start. He said but then we should invade Thailand and a bunch of other countries, I said sure! Where do you sign up? After Taiwan, we just start hitting border states.
His most passionate argument was that Taiwan is apart of China because China _needs_ Taiwan. Their development, their economy, both are needed by China. I like this argument because I like the idea of Mexico saying to the US, "Look, we _need_ you." That doesn't really make a great argument when people are breaking up, I am not sure how it flies with geo politics.
His arguments were similar to those of bad debaters in high school (including myself). Rather than put up one good argument that disapproved a point, and thus ended the argument, one casts a series of so-so or bad arguments to create sort of a reasonable doubt. None of his arguments lacked cohesion.
His biggest, and sadly best, was history. He argued that China had Taiwan since the Qin dynasty, and that Taiwan has been independent for only forty some years. First of all, I don't know how much the Qin dynasty was interacting with the "common man" of Taiwan. I mean, did they collected taxes from Taiwan? Did their laws rule the land? Even if they did, does that really matter? If this is really an argument, what is inner-mongolia doing in China?
After that we hit the dam. The dam was just a blitz on three locations. We whipped around it far too fast to really do anything but take photos. I took incredible numbers of photos, 80% of which I will delete. I figure I wanted at least one to come out, as it was the only reason I got on this boat thing in the first place.
My biggest problem was the speed. We were looking at such a huge symbol for China modernization, Chinese approach to the environment, and generally the future of China, if not the world. Yet we had to get off the bus, take photos, get back on the bus. There was definitely no time to ponder the future of our world and the nuances in the Three Gorges debate.
Now I get to go into probably the worst day of my traveling life. We get off of the bus from the dam. As per usual, I am surrounded by taxi drivers. I want to say bye to the French guys but I have to talk over a thousand drivers saying "Wuhan? Hotel? I take you." It was clear that I was waiting for a specific bus, so they weren't pestering me, but the French guys had two or three of about six people constantly talking to them.
Eventually I yelled "对他们麽关系!走吧!” which is bad Chinese (not bad in bad word but bad is in probably terrible grammar), don't worry about them get out of here. EIther way, I think they got the picture, especially after I said this and a guy kept chilling around and I starred him down until he left (and came back almost immediately).
The big problem was this - turns out I lost my receipt. This is tantamount to losing your identity in China, you are these dumb slips of paper. Everywhere you go they give you handfuls of pieces of paper, each one of them can be worth up to say 600 yuan. You lose them - you are screwed, as simple as that.
Eventually I had a quick discussion with the French guys and gave them my email. Afterwards, I told them in normal volume English and then extremely loud Chinese, make sure to take the taxi driver in the black (who was the only one who left when I told them to leave).
The problem I was having during this time was searching through piles of receipts to slowly realize that it must have fallen out when I paid for something. Despite what I was told from the travel agency, they did not have my name, and could not help me.
This is the deal in China: people will help you like in Taiwan, but only if you are eventually going to give them money. I had tons of people help me search out the driver my bus, or my travel agency, or a new way of getting there. Yet when I said "Okay, I can't find it, look, can I buy a ticket now?" The price they all gave me was four times what it should have been and they noted that there was nothing they could do, an outright lie, but they knew there was nothing I could do. They did this with sweet faces and with utter sincerity.
At one point I out and out had to say to a group of them "look, I don't believe anyone in this country. This country loves to lie to foreigners and I blatantly don't know about this." I frequently pointed out those in the crowd who I thought were genuine and would occasionally say things like "some Chinese don't think foreigners are people" while staring at those who had yelled at my friends earlier.
Now things get weird, and you can tell me what you think. So I don't have my ticket. Eventually the six taxi drivers and three bus drivers leave me all alone. Across the street was an active little place I wanted to check out. But first I wanted to, well to scream. So I pulled off to the side and whacked my bag a good one.
While standing there deciding if I was the stupidest person I knew, a girl came up to me. She had been in the crowd surrounding me during the fruitless search. She said, "Hi, I saw what happened. My boyfriend and I are going out, and I would like to invite you to come out with us. I have a lot of foreign friends, and I would like to at least take you out"
She said this with warmness and she seemed very genuine. More to the point, this sort of thing often happened when I was traveling, basically saving me from a miserable day, so I racked it up to fate and said okay. For the record I memorized the license plate number of the SUV, I watched the two like hawks, and generally was about as aware as I can manage.
The ride was cool, he had a nice system and listened to American hip hop, so I felt a bit like home. They took me to a little restaurant with a terrible milk tea, terrible mapo dofu, but simply great chicken peppers and snail? (they had recommended it).
We talked for about an hour, and they were very nice. The guy was an engineer on the three gorges dam. The girl was a travel agent learning Japanese. Today was her father's birthday. I ate a lot and I ate slowly, but it was nice to have real food after that stupid boat.
When we left there we went to a bar her brother had apparently opened. It was dirty but their friend was nice and the fruit was great.
At one point I mentioned I was not sure what to do as far as what to do next. She said she could help me look for tickets, but she understood that I would probably want to do so by myself (as I had said I basically didn't believe anyone in this country). I noted to her that if she was taking me out and all of this to get a ten yuan commission from a bus ticket, then she was a truly weird girl, so it would be good if she helped me out.
She basically found that going to Wudang mountain would be a pain. It became clear to me (and partially verified in my guide book) that going there would take something like three or four days out of my schedule, way more than I had expected. Furthermore, I wanted to get to a developed coastal city and quick, the center was starting to tear away at me. So eventually I changed my plan to leave to Hangzhou tomorrow. This was after she recommended that I go to a weird forest reserve nearby where I could, perhaps, see a Yeti like creature. ]
After that, they took me to a hotel, her father's hotel. This left me dry. She seemed so genuine, and probably was, but god damn I wish it was not her father's hotel. It was 110, more than I had budgeted but I did want to stay in a nice place (as it was a "three star" hotel) after that boat and today's nonsense.
Here was a new problem, I was out of money. I could have used credit, but the train to Hangzhou left early the next morning, so I needed money anyway. So her boyfriend (who I really liked, I thought he was very funny and cool), took me to basically every bank in that god forsaken city.
Turns out that Yichang has a lot of banks, not even close to its whore houses - which it has like Taiwan has beetle nut stands, in spades - but it has a lot of banks. And all of them, to a one, suck. Apparently not one of them had a single international alliance (between my two ATM cards, I accept both Mastercard and Visa connected ATMs). As such, after about ten banks, I still had no money. This had never happened, even some really remote towns
In the end, I had to "borrow" money from the woman who ran the travel agency there - the mother of the girl helping me.

PTI: I am on a freaking bus and they are smoking, how is that okay?

This morning I went to a running bank and took money out of my credit card. Today I will ty to find a decent ATM and just take out all my Taiwanese cash. I am already carrying my computer, a camera, and an MP3 player, might as well have a bunch of cash as well.
I missed the train to Hangzhou because of having to go to the banks, but I was not willing to spend a single more minute in Yichang than I needed to. As such, I am going to Wuhan on a bus that cost twice as much as it should because I was lied to by the girl's father and told there was no way to negotiate.
By the way, my three star hotel had no bathtub, no hot water, and I found a giant cockroach on the neighboring bed the next morning. It looked nice, it was clear they did everything they could to get three stars, and then just stopped.
What is good now is that I am basically not going to tourist towns from here on out. Hangzhou is tourist, but that is not what drives it. Shanghai is Shanghai, Beijing is Beijing. Xi'an should not have as many travel problems. The only worry is if I still go to Shaolin, that might get rough and stupid. I may say screw it and hit these last few cities real slowly (especially lots of time in Shanghai and Beijing). Either way I am just glad to be out of that cesspool Yichang.
I asked the boyfriend, Peter, if the rampant fake head washing places (the whore houses) were less when he was young. Apparently there were more when he was young, so I guess development has brought Yichang somewhere, just not somewhere very far. The city is factually filled with beautiful girls, both night and day, but during night they are shaded in the pink glow of lacked freedom, and during the day, you have to wonder what their night job might be.

PTI: I wish I had taken notes during all of this. It really bothers me that I never fully trusted that couple, and then to have gotten to that hotel. Living here might make me a great lier spotter, great for law school, or prove that I am destine to be a sucker. Anyway, I am now on a bus to Wuhan, which is all I care about right now. Om Wiuhan I am determined to either to get to Hangzhou, find something worth rediscovering my love of China, or find wireless.

PTI: Getting to Wuhan was good. The very person smoking on the bus and his friends were a big help. We did something that I hate, the bus stopped in a random location and some, but not everyone got off. I hate places like this because I don't know if I should get off here or not. Is this the best spot? Am I next door to the best part of Wuhan, and instead I am going to take this bus to the worst (which is very possible being that I will likely be going to the bus station, often the worst place in a Chinese city).

This time I asked everyone I could trying to figure out what to do. A group of young guys said they were going near the train station (where I wanted to go first to see if I could go to Hangzhou earlier rather than later). As such, we split a cab. Sure they had their motive, to help out and hang out with a foreigner, but there is nothing wrong with that as far as I am concerned. What was nice = they clearly didn't care about my money. As such I got over to the train station very fast.
Furthermore, at the train station I could buy a ticket leaving within the hour to Hangzhou. As such, I am already on my way to Hangzhou (which is good, because Wuhan looked a bit too much like Yichang for my taste). Furthermore, the girl after me in line was also going to Hangzhou, and I quickly enlisted her help. Thanks to her, I found the platform, killed a lot of time, and, quiet happily, upgraded to a sleeper ticket (instead of the hard impossible to sleep in seats). I am very glad about the new seats because I can wake up in Hangzhou ready to go, rather than dragging ass and looking for a hotel. Furthermore I am currently lying down while typing, and I am a big fan of that.

PTI: That said, who the hell is smoking inside the cabin!? As much as I like David Sedaris, and as well as he explained his smoking habits (in both "Ashes" and the story about his OCD), I will never get how someone so freakily clean could think public smoking is acceptable. To be honest, I am more okay with the spitting.

Hangzhou sounds beautiful, and I already have a friend there. I will be there Friday night, so I think I can finally get out. Though I am not drinking, I have been pulling an Allison and watching people drink. The problem with that is that here they want people to drink with them to inspire more drinking. I love drunk Chinese young people (definitely not the older Chinese, but the young ones are great drunk), but because I am not drinking I can't really bring that out.

PTI: These sleeper trains are so good, I sleep really well and generally feel well rested at the end. However they need to mark stations better, in Taiwan and Japan the station name is everywhere, here it can be far too unclear.

PTI: I am posting this in Hangzhou, things are good here, the next post should get into that.

Up the Yangzi

The food was terrible. On the bus, I discovered that I had paid probably two hundred too much for this trip. My cabin is dismally cramped, and full, and has the worst bathroom I have seen in a long while. You have to pay extra to get onto the terrace. My Sprite cost as much as an American one. I ate my medicine, my bag worth of medicine, latter than I was supposed to. Yet then I sat down, I looked up to the few stars I could see, and I thought one thing, I am in China, cruising down the Yangzi river.
This long river, the third longest in the world (and literally the Long River in Chinese), was the main road for pioneers of China, both those Chinese finding their country and the foreign explorers who discovered this place with new eyes.
As easily as it can be to get corrupted by this people, to get jaded, there is something amazing. There is something unquestionably interesting about a culture so different from your own. Something memorable about this beautiful land full of complex and vast land.

PTI: I stopped writing that last entry when my friends that I met on the bus to the boat arrived. They were two French of architects, another (like my French studier of American Literature) was very positive on America, and hoped to live in New York. Talking to them was great. It was even better that we were on the oo, where during the Opium Wars French and American probably hung out on boat bows in quite a similar way.

As we talked we had some of those far typical "so rude you are not sure how he exists" Chinese guys next to us. There was a lot of hawking, a lot of trash thrown about, and there shirts were off almost instantly. The one that bothered me the most was the smoking directly next to me. I have found my ability to breathe through my nose in China is limited to pollution less areas. These include the Bamboo Sea, Emeishan, and out here in the middle of nowhere on the river that gets cancelled out almost immediately.
Last night,I went to bed in my tiny bunk cabin. My roommate, wanted to practice his English so he asked me the same set of questions the all Chinese people learn from three "How do you do?", "Where are you from?"m and so on. He was nice, but in all to Chinese manner he just yelled the questions despite his family trying to sleep in the top two bunks. Despite me answering very softly, he kept belting questions.
This morning there was much ado about nothing, everyone seemed to be getting up, so I got up. I figured it was sun rise, its 4:30 now and no sunrise. The problem is I have no idea when it will be. I assume some people would be out on the terrace (which I had to pay extra for by the way, but that is another complaint). In Emeishan we were up at five or so, now we are more East (but without a time zone change), so shouldn't it be soon?

PTI: For the zombie hunter in the crowd, Miranda, I think here would be good hunting territory. We just passed a weird peninsula or something with a few truly eerie lights on it and what appeared to be, best described as, writhing human beings. In the otherwise pitch black night, mad creepy. Also I hear weird chanting from the pitch black coast, yet that might be monks...or zombie monks.

A reason, having just consulted my badge, no one is out here is that maybe this place is not open. As, according to the hours, I cannot be out here yet. Which then begs the question why did people get up? and our little cabin boss even keep our door open? seemingly to keep us awake for something.
We are about to cruise into the port of some various city. And that fog horn would have definitely woken me up if I had not already been awake. Why do I spill crumbs on the deck and freak out a little, yet those around me throw peanut shells on the ground openly, or for that matter, spit in buses?

PTI: We are making a late not docking, although I have no idea why. However, some people finally came up here, and of course immediately start smoking.

There is a way to do this trip for something like eight days to Shanghai. That would be simply hell. My bathroom is unacceptably small for something like that. I am really glad I am on the faster one, despite having paid too much. I payed too much, by the way, because my stupid guide book said prices were standard, my price was the one in the book about, so I bought. Whereas my friends haggled for apparently a half an hour to get a class above me for less than I paid (though their room is identical to mine at least).

PTI: I think I heard a rooster, sun? All I know is after that sun is up, I am back to bed. I slept well, as I tend to in moving objects, last night, and I could use more of that in my life.

PTI: It was getting colder and I had given up on the sunrise being worth it, but as I was going back to the cabin we basically hit a five alarm emergency, except instead of a siren they used terrible light jazz. It was apparently time to get up and go back to the terrace. At the terrace I was blitzed with high speed Chinese explaining the mountain. Now I in the middle of the day.

We are on a little boat going through the "mini gorges," which I must say, are pretty sizable to be mini. The gorges really are quiet pretty, but we can barely stand this boat. The tour guide is absolutely terrible. It would be the equivilent if you got a hard core valley girl to do a cowboy auction, in Chinese. She uses this one annoying term 呢 which is typically used for the continuation of a question or idea. The problem is that she uses it every sentence.
The French guys asked what she was sayin, and I translated a section which was basically "look, something black 呢,it is very old 呢" now expand this over some four hours. She does not stop, she barely breathes, she just keeps going. I bonded with some sane Chinese tourists over how terrible her Chinese was. They too hated the Chinese tourist, a breed that makes American tourist look like the sweetest travelers on Earth. They retold stories of guides saying "don't touch this" and then watching every person pass by and touch it.
We bonded even more as we watched in disgust as a worker chucked an empty bottle into the river. This is your river buddy! This is your job, this is your life! I am going out of my way to refuse knick knacky free stuff shoved on me because I know it will end up in the trash or in my bag, begging me to be thrown away while guilt stops me. Yet this guy will just throw crap into the river the composes his livelihood. For a country with so much pride, how can China have so little social capital? If I can be apart of one change in this country, it very well may be that, true social capital. The government, the environment, the respect for others, all would change for the best tremendously if social capital really came to the hearts of the Chinese.
The French uys and myself are getting more than a little angry at some of the aspects of Chinese tourism. On this boat, we asked for how much to go into the nice area of the boat. A worker told us 150 for the three of us, noting the hand made furniture (which was clearly not hand made).
We asked him about getting the terrible crappy chairs out of the room (there were also cheap dollar store chairs in the nice room). I said this should be free of course. He said "no, no, no," and he pulled out a broken chair and said, "these chairs are very bad, they break easily, we can't have people break them, and then we have to buy them."
"Okay, well then we will give you .5 dollars for the three of us." For the record, we wanted these chairs to sit on the small part of the deck where the valley girl auction announcer was the quietest.
"No, no, no, we can't do that."
"Okay then."
Later he said we could pay a hundred to go to the captains room. I told him in one of my favorite grammatical patterns "Even a little interest towards this, I completely don't have. All we want are those little plastic chairs."
He said they were fifty for the three of us to take chairs out and sit on them in our little area. I pointed out that he himself said that they were "terrible and brake easy" how could they possibly be worth that.
I said if you went to the store, and you bought them, they should be like five yuan, how could they possible be rented at fifty for the three. At one point he said that they would cost at least fifty yuan to buy at a store. To this I started laughing so hard that he just left. What I said was bad, but what the French guys wanted to say but couldn't were a lot worse.
Really it was interesting to test the limits of his greed. To see how full of himself he was and his ability to dispense chairs (really we probably could have just gotten the chairs ourselves but I think the boat was already rocked enough). One of the things that bothers me is watching people, who are not beggars, come up to me and beg for money.
I see woman who are just standing there, and when they see me they run up to me and ask for money. When I say "no" they go back to standing there, not asking any Chinese people for money. These incidents are often in areas with Zegnas, Guccis and other stores I could never afford, yet she asks me rather than anyone else.
Well, enough griping and more praising. The mini gorges really are beautiful. Lots of those forms, great mountains. Now I guess they are playing a video, which although annoying, is nothing compared to the guide. We are sitting on the floor in the quiet area, leaning against the 2, and I think the two French guys are asleep. Pretty peaceful overall, and a nice break from the chaos that China has a tendency towards.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Chongqing, a little Hong Kong for you and yours

So you can call me a Chongqing fan, but maybe just because I ended up in the right area. Apparently the right area for me is the posh area. Luckily posh here is about the medium price for stuff in America, but still. I got here last night and realized almost immediately: finding wireless will be a snap.
Actually, to be fair, the thing I first noticed were all the whore houses next to the train station (I must say, Chinese prostitutes are a league above our own, or at least a league above my image of an American prostitute). They looked like shady hair cut places, but there were droves of them filled with beautiful women under neon pink lights.
After giving up on finding a bus stop (and having exhausted "beauty parlor" sightings) I hit a taxi. The taxi took me around this little island (peninsula?), and I found it rather impressive. They have some of them big buildings. I quickly dubbed it mini Hong Kong, because it was clear that is what they were going for.
I liked it a bit more than Hong Kong because there was still more space, and there were real people on the outskirts of the main hip area. My hotel was just outside of the main hip area and the best one I have stayed in for a week (not really stiff competition to be fair).
I very quickly found a cafe nice enough to have wireless and has my second milk tea for about $4 in three days. That is a very steep price for a milk tea, but both did not disappoint. The one in Chengdu was the best I have ever had, and this one was definitely a decent bo ba milk tea. It was nice to take my milk tea snobbery to a whole new level.
I have bought tickets for the three gorges and I was able to find a faster one that does not charge extra to go to the dam (the thing I care the most about). As such, I am going to whip through the gorges, but have enough time to relax and photo them. Plus I am chilling in this little town a lot (last night I slept a lot and cleaned up all nice like).
After that I have another mountain to hike up, we will see if my body can do that again. However it is the Crouching Tiger mountain = awesome. Plus that whole Chinese history thing. Anyway, I should look around this town a bit more. Also I have a Zegna to go into (yes, it has a Zegna, a place I put it in an odd place in my mind).

Enough with the talky talky

Okay, I get it, enough of the talky talky, more of the pretty pretty...

I don't know how I feel about this set, but they are the ones I choose on a bumpy bus trip.

Leaving the bamboo forest for starey-town

I am chilling in a little city outside of the bamboo forest. The city is made up of more infrastructure than it is stuff. There are tons of apartments, all four stories high. There are really wide streets. But there are not that many people. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of people, but compared to most of China, there is like no one. All of the buildings look fairly recently made.
The bamboo forest was somewhat like that, as an attraction its like intern wearing a three piece suit: dress for the job you want not the one that you have. As such, you come into the forest and are greeted by a massive greeting center: with no one inside. There are tons of tourist offices and a huge information desk - but no one to be seen. I think the center was built when they had some international summit here, but now it is a little much. Yesterday was a weekend during the peak season for Chinese travelers, and no one was there.
As such, my information had to rely on those who have an interest in my money (when I can I prefer to deal with the information people who work for the attraction itself, as they already got my money). That is why I ended up talking to hotel owners telling me that the people of the bamboo forest kill and drink the blood of those with white skin (that was summarized out of "there is no police protection for foreigners here").
The forest itself was cool, but it was hard to get around. The best was a long path along the mountains edge. The weather was clear enough that I could see the farms and terraces (credit: Miranda) below. They also had carvings in the cave wall. Although modern carvings, they were pretty cool, I very much enjoyed taking photos and the like.
The forest itself was peaceful but I did not spend enough time there. Although my goal was to relax, I ended up getting a cab driver to take me from place to place (which I decided would be way easier than getting a separate driver at each place). None of this altered the fact that bamboo is cool.
To answer the question Allison is thinking now, no, I did not do Tai Chi in the forest, but I did beat up some trees (man those things are hard). It was nothing worthy of Crouching Tiger, but I can say that I did it.
Now I am waiting for a bus to go to 重庆 (Chongqing) where I will try to get down to the docks to meet some nice ladies, I mean, to catch a boat. The hope is to be on a boat tonight to the three gorges, preferably a faster one so that I can go straight to the dam and the gorges themselves, rather than spending a lot of time on each of the along the way. Realistically I think I will be on a slow but tomorrow night. I am trying to a bit more like bamboo though, bendable and okay with whatever (I like the bamboo growing in weird places in weird ways, you look at it and it sort of says "Hey man, don't judge me").
One note of sweetness. When I was getting my luggage at the hotel, the very kind girl from last night who worked at the hotel ran up to me and gave me a fan. Upon recollection I remember that giving a fan is supposed to mean "get the heck out!" in Chinese superstition, but I don't think that was her intent. I think she even made part of it but it was not clear. I gave her my newly acquired QQ number (since everyone uses ICQ here), and I will ask her later. Either way, I now have two really nice fans, one of which almost definitely is made out of bamboo.

PTI: This may be one of the creepiest cities I have ever been in. First of all the staring is out of control, so you always feel like you are being watched. Its pretty easy to see why the staring would be out of control. This place is virtually featureless, as such, I can't see many foreigners coming here. I feel like the foreigner who brags about going to some bygone village where they worship him or her like a god. Except, instead of a village I am in miniature version of the generic Chinese city.

PTI: I finally asked someone where I am, its Changning. I literally have three people staring me right now, as in, that is what they are doing. Make that four. I don't mean that as in "four people have walked by and stared at me" I mean four people have taken route for the long haul. If asked what they are doing and they answered honestly, they would have to answer "I am staring at the foreigner, that is what I am doing."

PTI: I have one who just brought me tea. I had another behind me, standing behind me, for about ten minutes.

The city looks like its getting ready for something. They have a mall street, but half of the shops are not open. They have parks, but barely anyone is there. They have tons of houses, but I can't believe even half of them are filled. The people seem nice, but they are so shocked to see me its hard to gauge them naturally.
If I could understand Sichuanese this would be easier.

PTI: I now have three middle school kids "hanging out with me." Make that three middle school kids a toddler, and a n old man, and an old woman. I am very much surrounded right now. Agh, during that sentence we reached three men, thre woman, two kids, and a toddler.

I couldn't possibly imagine living here, with this as a constant. One woman just came up to me and used English to ask me if there was anything she could help me with. At first I did not understand her and a little girl said "You can use Mandarin to talk to him!" Relieved she switched to Mandarin, a thing you would never see in Taiwan.

PTI: I guess one old man and two middle school kids are in for the long haul, we are reaching a good five minutes of them chilling (the old man staring at me from about three feet away).

PTI: The coolest kid in Changning joined me. He has sort of a flock of eagles hair cut died blond, his friend has read spiked hair. We now have six or seven people within two feet of me staring. Okay, I am going to put this away and start firing photos rapid fire.

PTI: So I turned and started launching photos. Chinese people scatter away from big obvious camera. Flock of Sea Gulls was the first out of there. The rest I basically got. I always ask, sort of. I make a quick gesture of "can I?" if they hesitate, bam! Most of them realize that it would be pretty dick of them to stare at me for ten minutes and then not let me take a picture of them.

After that I started walking back to the bus station. On the way I passed a hair salon. As I passed they crowded the door and then burst out of there basically chasing me. They too were scattered by photographs, but a young girl, the cutest of them let me take a couple. It was the first time people came after me in chase.
On the way to the bus station I came upon a hospital. I thought, what the heck, I can buy medicine for my ailing stomach. At times it was really uncomfortable, and I would like to be able to eat Chinese food while in China. So I stopped by and was led to a doctor (who they noted was free).
The doctor and staff were friendly alike. They were all fascinated by me and asked a lot of questions. An unnervingly large number of people know about my digestive problems. At one point a crowd started gathering at the door, just me lifting my camera out got them to immediately flee.
The doctor was writing down a lot of names, and next to them things like "5" "3" and "1" so I figured it would be like Taiwan, they give you a bunch of little medicines to solve one problem. Oh no, turns out that meant things like "five packets" and "one box." I ended up paying before I saw the big bag, and I did not have the time to correct anything (I had to catch the bus). As such, I ended up buying a bag of medicine as big as my stomach myself. Half of the medicine I eat before a meal, half of it I eat after. In all - three days of medicine (some are one times a day, some are two, some are three). In all, I have five kinds of medicine.
I guess this is what happens when you teach western medicine to a Chinese doctor (her sign said she did "Chinese medicine" so I expected wicked weird Chinese medicine).
So when I get to the bus station a woman, a man, and a teenager come up to me. The woman says "You are on the bus to Chongqing right?" She then goes on to tell me that the aforementioned bus was broken, and there was no bus to Chongqing.
I had to go to the desk clerk where I confirmed what she said and had to get my ticket refunded. After that I was whipped onto some bus to a near by city Yibin where I will then take a bus down to Chongqing. So that is what I am now on, a bus to Yibin with no guarantee of finding a bus to Chongqing. That and I have a huge bag of medicine.

PTI: This may become a good example of Chinese travel. Turns out that the bus that took me to Yibin ended up in a place that was not a bus station going to Chongqing So I ended up getting escorted by a cute lady who wanted help the random foreigner with her language to a taxi. When I realized the taxi wanted to rip me off, I got off, ended up in a bus.

PTI: Turns out that bus was not leaving any time soon, so I was put on a different bus. So now I am taking a bus to the bus station to take a bus to Chongqing to take a taxi or a bus to the docks to take a boat - that is travel in China. A bright spot is the young lady who helped me out, she decided to take me to the bus station I guess, and she even paid my ticket. I would have gladly paid but I did not know that was what she was doing. Her English is okay, but we have to speak in Chinese. What I do know is that she is nice and she does not want anything from me except self satisfaction in helping someone, and I think there is nothing wrong with that.

PTI: I am finally on a bus towards Chongqing, and despite this driver simply hauling, I don't think we will get there until well after any boats down the Long River take off. As such, it looks like I have a day in Chongqing. Its alright, the cities bloody past as a center point for GMD (KMT) and Communist violence seems like a good place to spend a day (as my own Chinese experiences lay on a border line between the KMT's Taiwan and the CCP's China). It inspired me to read more into Chinese history as well (as I realized my Chinese history is flimsy at best, and mostly from thee last seventy years or so).

Chilling out a bit in the bamboo forest

' I have decided to slow everything down. My current speed is simply too much to be constantly enjoyable. I am not sure the sheer distance I have covered in these last weeks is really communicated in this blog. So far I have covered, at a minimum 1,548.61 miles. That completely disregards too small of cities for me to reasonable estimate where they are, which are typically five hour drives. This is in addition to being destroyed by that mountain.
The latest thing destroying me = although Lili can surely eat, and surely eat local spicy food, turns out eating like a formidable eater of some of the worlds spiciest dishes is not the most thought out idea I could have had. As such, my digestive system is somewhat of a joke (where I had been doing shockingly well up until here).
I am tired of being casually lied to. So perhaps law school is not the destination for me. It bothers me that they lie to each other without question and to foreigners as a rule. I deal with so many good people, but then, I deal with a lot of bad ones.
I was told at the bottom of the mountain that I am on that I should stay at an expensive hotel because the police are not here to protect me. They will not look out for me, and so I have to be padded and babied.
Then I paid too much for my ride up here, because I was angry, a little afraid, and tired. However I came into my hotel, a hotel my guidebook recommended, with a full head of steam. My vengeance: getting the price of this hotel below what the guidebook says they are talked down to. I must say, it was clear they normally don't do that. I had to fully leave the room and be up out of the hotel (in as sudden of a fluster as I could manage), luckily the very cute staff here had my back.
The very cute staff was also very nice to talk to. The owner here hires 16 year old girls to take care of the place. Before this starts sounding creepy, let me tell you about the best thing about Chinese high school girls: their Mandarin. Sichuan's dialect is going to be the death of me, and they speak extremely clear and pleasant Mandarin, even more so then the college students I had been hanging out with (even including Beijingers).
Thus, I talked to the staff about America and China for a good hour or so, and now I took a nap of about an hour (I fell asleep to Mahjongg down the hall being played down the hall by a group of guys and woke up to it too).
Before my policy of rest: I would have hit here and plunged into the sites. Thrown myself with the forest and then left as soon as possible. Instead I will go out of my way to see nothing tonight and sleep as much as possible. Then tomorrow I can do my various goals.
I am also cutting the World Heritage check listing out of the trip. I am too good at it, I can crank them out one a day, but it tires me out. I have already (with a bonus one from the last trip), hit five. After this I am sure to hit another six or so (Beijing is just filled with them). Most importantly? I will have gone to more than Allison (in Asia, those US National Parks probably get me pretty bad).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Splitting the River

Today was a long day, but unfortunately in the more uneventful way. The girl I mentioned in the last post (Lili) and I went around Dujiangyan. She and I were very different, which was bad in that conversation tended to lull, but was good in that we had nothing better to do than near constant learning of words. As such, it was like a high speed language exchange while we explored Dujiangyan, I think I probably learned a chapter's worth of words today alone.
What Lili and I had best in common was food, girl can eat like crazy, and she has good taste. In true Sichuan style we went out (spicy hot pots, Sichuan pepper corned up noodles, etc). I can now eat spicy without much of a question, and my love of Sichuan food is even greater (these people can cook lights out man). That said, I hate their dialect, there are just enough common words for me to make out little bits but not understand. Outside of a few lifted tongued words (which make the guttural R sound in Beijing speech), the dialect has nothing I find interesting to hear. Plus they keep speaking it to me expecting me to understand it.
That is not to say that we did not talk, but what we talked about was hard for both of us, best example, politics=way too awkward. Lili for a solid period of time was taking a hardline government stance and was starting to creep me out. Given the scenario of Taiwan declaring independence, "give them conditions," and if Taiwan does not follow those conditions? "Fight."
Okay, okay, that was the first time I had someone say they would go to fighting over Taiwan (though basically everyone else implied it). Next up, a question I had never asked (but I had spent a bit of time with Lili so I felt safe in asking), so do you know about that whole Tiananmen thing? At first she did not know what I was talking about, and then realized that an older person had told her a bit about it.
Her belief, if a thousand students fell for the protection of the whole country, it would be worth it. It was clear she trusted her government to make this decision. That said, she did think it was stupid she could not read some websites, including those related to this specific incident.
A bit later, seeing a sign written by Deng Xiaoping, I asked her how she found him: very good. Assuming it to be a fish in a barrel, and Mao Zedeng? Not so good. I was a bit shocked but she said most of the younger generation felt this way, anti-Mao and pro-Deng. This should be good news for the current government which finds its roots much closer to Deng than Mao. She had no opinion of the current administration, noting that it was not as powerful or as important as previous administrations.
While we talked we were exploring an ancient (256 BC) system for channeling a raging river into two rivers, allowing for smoother irrigation of the area. This system still works to this day, and is a World Heritage site. It was pretty cool, I found it interesting. Plus, I was with the right person for this. The pride Lili found in the channel was clear, and it was also clear that pride was critical in her deep nationalism.
I found it interesting, but bad weather and a morning spent looking for her friends (long story that is completely devoid of interesting moments) took the day down a notch. Now I need to figure out a cruise (its the only way to see the gorges that I have found), as I hope to leave on Monday for that (after bamboo sea and yet another World Heritage site).

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Quick post

About to hit the travel agency to figure out how I am going to get a slow boat in China (up the Yangzi to the three gorges). Today I am seeing the 都江堰 river irrigation system, which is my third World Heritage site (my fifth in overall China). Tomorrow I leave for the Bamboo Sea as seen in Crouching Tiger, after that, hopefully I will go up the Yangzi for the Three Gorges/Three Gorges Dam, after that, Wuhan mountain (which the girl jumps off of in Crouching Tiger).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Up in Chengdu

This post is brought to you by an excellent western cafe I will tell you more about soon.

Well first of all, Chengdu is frustrating with their wireless. I have been to so many nice places, I have tried to follow the economy, and the books, and the business, and the computers. Any one of those usually leads to wireless, but not here. I have found three or four places where I can connect, but not wirelessly. I am now to the point where I am like "Do you have WIRELESS Internet?"
"Yes, we do."
"Yes! Really? Are you sure it is WIRELESS?"
"Yes." And then it turns out to be a wired connection.
Of note, the wired connections are pretty rare, these are in the priciest tea bars I can find. I have no idea where I will end up finding wireless, but my guess is it might be out of here. Being that I plan on spending at least three days here, this could get messy.
I am happy with my pace so far, I have looked at where I have been and where I have yet to go, I am going at a good rate. I am unsure about how I am doing spending wise. I can't do a balance inquiry outside of Taiwan for some reason (but I can get money, which is the most important). I have tried to track every time I have taken out money, but I am not confident I have marked them all. It feels like I am spending too much (I am a sucker for $12.50 singles with A/C and TVs rather than $5 dorm rooms, I like having my own room to come home to). However it seems like I am on budget.

PTI: Want to get stared at? Have white skin, go to the Chengdu bus station, sit down on the ledge holding bushes in front out of the station, pull out an Apple computer, and start typing fast. Oh the attention you will get...

Today's quest for wireless internet found that Chengdu is sectionalized like crazy, maybe worse than Taiwan (which always shocked me with how well it was sectionalized). There was the restaurant area, the tea area, and the most noticeable, the computer area.
The computer area stretched for multiple very long blocks. Every store fixed or sold parts or the whole of computers. These were all small stores, but at three (or four?) of the corners there were eight story monstrosities. At one point I entered such a monstrosity and was simply shocked by it. It was non-stop stores, each floor with a vague theme. Think of one of those huge Best Buys, cut it in half, put one half on top of the other (creating more of a square shaped shop), and then stack three more of these blocks on top of each other, then decrease walking space and increase product space. That is about it. There were at least three of these and between them: nothing but computer stores. I can easily say I have never seen so many computer places in my life.
If I opened the computer there I picked up 8 or 9 "Peer to peer" connections. These sorts of connections typically don't have internet (though theoretically could). Only a few didn't have passwords, and those didn't have internet.
Walking up the tower of computer stuff, I went up to what I would discover was the DVD floor=big mistake. Typically the average DVD salesperson in Hong Kong or the mainland is pushy to the point of yelling, imagine ten of those bull charging you at once.
"Agh, stop"
"You want DVD?"
"Seriously 不用谢谢?“
"游戏?" (Chinese for Videogame)
One woman had a few of the copied DVDs in her hand, and she started whapping them to make it clear to me they existed. At one point she puts them right in my face and starts whapping them yelling "DVDDVDDVD." I stared her directly in the keys, got in her face and just stared perhaps the nastiest stare I have ever produced. She was startled and I made her realize how psychotic she was being. She said sorry and backed away, what was nice was that it was clear that she meant it. She was probably a very nice woman, and in her line of work its easy to forget that white skin does not mean someone is not a person, simply because their line of communication with foreigners is very thin indeed.
Right now I am waiting for a date I did not technically agree to, well, I am kind of waiting. A girl I met on the train to Emeishan gave me her number and told me to call her if I was going to go to Dujiangyan (another world heritage site I planned on going to). She said she had a friend there and we could go together. I figured a local guide would be good, so I said sure.
Tonight I called her to ask her if she could go tomorrow. She said she could, but did not know what time, I said I would call back at seven and check what time. In short she said, she was on the way. So I did not know what to do. But she is here now, so I am going to go now. More coming soon no doubt.

Getting out of Chinaland and into China

Note: Sorry for the absurdly long post. A lot happened, and I had a lot of travel time, so it added up.

This may not be the safest thing I have ever typed, but I am getting, for the most part, comfortable with the country. I am in the hard seat section of the train, which is where everyone goes. I feel like I am being far too extravagant getting out my computer in the middle of a group that probably is not carrying Apple computers.
That said, I have a lot to write, its the middle of the day, and I have about eleven hours ahead of me. I am not especially fond of the idea of doing nothing for the next eight hours, so out comes the computer. The population in here is, well mixed. Some of these people clearly don't have much, and its very different than the veritable college dorm of the soft sleepers to Guilin.
So its odd, but the most exciting and interesting thing I have done in China so far - a taxi ride. I was in Lijiang and wanted to go to Chengdu, the original plan was a bus to a town call Panzhihua and then a train to Chengdu. However, when I got off at the bus station a taxi driver approached me.
He had the typical look of a Chinese taxi driver. His teeth were yellow and crooked. His skin tanned like leather. To further complete the picture, he was giving me a mildly sketchy offer.

PTI: There are a lot of police on this train, they have past me three times. The first time the guy checked my ticket, yet did not check any other person on the train. The second time, the person asked me where I was going, and no one else on the train. The third time the guy just stared at me as he went by. This is in counter to the people who will not make consistent eye contact, this is a bit out of the ordinary for China, most people smile broadly (this lack of eye contact started before I brought out my computer).

So the sketchy offer was this: "do you want to go to the train station?"
I replied "Uhh, yes, but Lijiang does not have a train station, I was going to go to Panzhihua and then take a..."
"I know I know, I can take you to the Panzhihua station.."
"Oh, well I want to get there at this time," and I pointed out my guide book where I had written the departing times for the trains from Chengdu.
"Yeah I know, I know, I can get you there. 150 yuan."
"How much is the price from that bus station?"
"I think its like 60 some."
Although 60 or some, I knew the bus would not get to the station in time. I had been lazy and gotten up later than I planned. More to the point, I was tired of rushing around and decided that if I missed my train, whatever, I would just relax at Panzhihua. That said, after reading a bit about it last night, Panzhihua did not seem all that appetizing.
Also I have gotten, I would like to think, somewhat decent at telling who to trust in China, so I signed up.
I was relieved to find out that a thirty-some year old woman was coming along. Furthermore, she was going to Chengdu, so she could help me get tickets onto the train.
First thing of note, they speak almost entirely in their local dialect (Sichuanese), but more importantly, they spoke that dialect to me. They did so with the sureness of someone who was explaining a very simple task that they had mastered. They looked in my eyes, said near gibberish and would wait for a response. When they addressed me, rather than each other, they changed their tone and style a little, but not much of consequence. I understood about as much either way. I would sit their baffled and try to figure out what they said.
In passing I ended up picking up a bit of their dialect, at least enough to catch numbers yelled at me (importantly, 100 is said "ba" rather than "bai"). I would have asked them more questions about their dialect, but talking to them was too awkward and difficult.
The taxi's music was great, switching between such things as techno Chinese KTV classics, and the Eagle's.
This was the first time I really saw China for a long period of time. Not what you are supposed to see, but rather, what there is to see. Before I had been in trains at night, or in terrible places in buses (notably a sleeper bus where I was about five feet about the ground, balanced on a thin bed.
Probably the best thing of all: the weather. I felt a bit cheated in Yangshuo. the views were corrupted from the misty weather. The hills looked great to be fair, but you could not see the incredible vegetation and wild mountains behind the wild mountains. However, for about five hours in the country, it was on.
After a bit of thought, I believe that that taxi ride had the single most beautiful scenery I have seen in my life. The locals made their farms right along mountains. They did so by forming chunks of the hills into stair like things. The stairs held the crops that they were going. Some reinforced the stairs with stones, some just seemed to stand on their own.
The fields, both on mountain and valley were divided up in sweeping curves of different shapes and sizes. The scattered houses were roofed by traditional looking roofs, the kind with big shingles that lead to spikes at the corners.

PTI: The little girl on seat facing me is about as cute as the come.

The patties themselves were deep colors, the crops layer within causing them to be really complex shades of different greens (like a really made shirt where up close it is a set pattern of stripes but afar it looks like a solid color).
They were all staggered along, built into sections of mountains. The mountains varied from a sandy color to white limestone. The road wound between the mountains along the edge, typically looking over hundreds of these little fields.
One thing of shock was that the clothes that peasants nearby Lijiang wore were strikingly similar to the ones that lined the Lijiang town square and danced for tourists. The show in the square seemed so fake that I naturally detahced it from the reality of the area. The clothes were a velvety blue color with a white wrap crossing their chest, and they had cute hats.

PTI: A kid is reading over my shoulder, lets see how good his English is. He is clearly reading what I am typing right now. Trying to not get noticed...still starring. To be fair he has to wait for a cart lady, but he is trying very hard to be subtle and not doing a very good job. Kid, if you understand, say something...nope, well that is unfortunate. Actually, he is sitting behind the cart lady, he was just chilling watching my computer for about three minutes (his mom is another person who earlier spoke her local dialect to me expecting me to understand).

Anyway, the taxi ride itself was as hectic as it was beautiful. We took the winding road with gentle curves about as fast as physically possible. More than once, the driving anime program Inital D came to mind. More than a few times we drifted (the back tires swing out on sharp curves). He would pass people in the left lane (of a two way highway), while leaning on the horn, quickly switching back if an oncoming car flew through.

PTI: I decided to take a writing break to start reading some blogs (I accidently, thankfully, downloaded some four hundred blog entries). Some are in Chinese and some are in English, I was quickly writing out an email to one of the blog writers in Chinese when the same police officer who saw my ticket started reading my computer.

Shocked, he started talking to me. After a quick conversation (where he talked and I just sort of nodded to questions like "you can read Chinese?," "You can write Chinese?," "Your computer does Chinese?" Afterwards, he said to me, "your ticket..."
I started lifting it out of my pocket it again and he said "oh, I know, I know, I saw it before. Just make sure to watch it carefully. Watch it and your stuff carefully. Then he said to all of my neighbors to watch that foreigner and his stuff, make sure that he is okay. It was really rather awkward. That said, it was nice, because I think he totally has my back.
I am not too worried, I am an expert of sleeping while embracing my stuff rather intimately. When I get to Chengdu it will be before seven in the morning.. The sun should be up or rising (I am not sure, the whole country is on Beijing time, so the sun can have weird sun rise times). At that time, there should be enough sunlight but not too many people.
I think few people would out and out assault me that are on this train. and they would have to get me away from everyone first.

PTI: Now that people now I speak Chinese, a few of them have started asking me questions. They almost all do it in the local dialect, and I have to guess from cognates, grammar, prosody and logic what they are asking. I think it would be like studying Spanish and then going to Portugal.

PTI: Also of note, the scenery outside is still very beautiful, but nothing like the taxi ride.

Going back to the taxi ride, we flew down and up the mountains. He passed everyone he could, typically fiercely. At one point a blue truck tried to block our way, requiring my driver to dodge and weave along the road trying to find a way to pass. He eventually got the truck driver on a gravel part of the road.
The whole time that our driver is sliding and flying down the road, I am with the woman going to Chengdu. All she does, the entire time, is stare forward. Outside of some words exchanged

PTI: More in the local dialect. I had no idea what he said at one point and was like "Uhhh...I am sorry, I don't understand."

He said "Oh, you speak Mandarin."
I said, "Yeah, I have been in the Sichuan area for about one day, so I don't exactly have it down."
He then went back to asking me questions in the local dialect and I went back to trying to answer. He asked something which I did not understand, he elaborated by saying US cities. Through this, I explained where I lived, but more to the point discovered how to say American in Sichuanese. It sounds an awful like "pretty ghost" in Mandarin (mei gui).
I don't want to be rude, but I try to end the conversation quick but with a smile (if you asked the people around me right now - I am super shy). Its really super embarrassing to have this thrown at me, because he believe he is speaking Mandarin. I am fine looking stupid, the problem is that he thinks he is speaking Mandarin, or at least he is trying his best.
One thing of note is that no one has tried their English one me, in Taiwan, that would be impossible. The neighbors have been talking about me a lot, as I catch a word or two from the muck, but for the most part, I have no idea.
Back to the woman going to Chengdu. As this taxi is weaving through the mountains, she looked forward, never looking especially tired, sad, excited, or really anything. Now we are on the train, she is doing the same. Every now and then she has loud conversations (they have a loud way of speaking in a lot of these dialects) with people, typically short and often about me.

PTI: There is a downright incident going on behind me. I think it is over the age of the kid with the people back and to the left of me. They got him a kid ticket, but have no proof he is under whatever age. They have to pay something like a hundred more and the family is pulling out individual bills like crazy (paying in basically a stack of little bills). As with any good Chinese argument, it was fast, loud, and passionate.

PTI: And another argument, I would say xity percent of the train is turned around to watch them. And more and more are standing up to see what is going on. There are three or four cops sorronding one seat. The people in the back of the train are standing up for a view of them extracting money from someone. The people standing range from well dressed somewhat affluent looking girls to poor guys without shirts. Things have died down, but there are still tons of people watching what is going on, some with extraordinary intensity.

PTI: I went back to my blogs, and rather unexpectedly, my travel companion leaned over to see my computer. Earlier she had seen what I had been writing in my notebook (which is now forgotten on top of a Chinese mountain, grr), but that was about it. Afterwards we started talking, she did not understand the economics blog I was reading, so I showed her one of the Taiwanese blogs I read. Afterwards I talked to a few of the neighbors, all were nice. The guy who keeps talking to me said the most and we talked about what I was reading (American Economics I said). The little girl, who is deathly cute also wanted to see. She read a little of the Taiwanese blog. It was impressive, I assumed she would not understand (as its traditional Chinese) but she looked very determined and I think she understood. Its probably rare that she sees so much traditional Chinese together (usually its only on titles here).

PTI: Now there is a growing argument on when we should arrive. Like many Chinese arguments, one person says something, another contradicts, neighbors say their opinions, then the original argument splinters throughout the train, so that the one argument becomes five or six little arguments. I actually have the exact time in my book, but declined joining in.

PTI: I put the computer away when a nearby girl moved next to me (catching an opportunity in seat movement) and declared herself to be an English major. She fell in the category of English majors that just memorize long lists of words, but in no way can actually communicate. As such, we spoke mostly Chinese. She was very nice, and a Freshman, so I hope in the next three years she can learn to apply what she has learned.

Now I am at the base of Emishan. This mountain is one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing. However, I got here too early (it is 6:13 and they open at 6:30). Although I could clearly go past the gate and just get in, I am afraid of doing so. I could picture not being allowed into temples (which have their own entry fee) or getting caught by the Communists.

I had a scare getting money, four initial attempts did not work, using both my American Visa and Taiwanese Mastercard. Eventually I got it at an especially pretty ATM that treated me nice.

PTI: I am nearly on top of a mountain (and if you are in Colorado: still read mountain). The trek has been very, very hard. However I need to rest, not for my body, but that is apart of it. Rather, I am resting in order to charge my MP3 player. Why? Because I might die of exhaustion without it. I will try to write a blog entry from the top, and describe why it was so important and what I have been up to, but I might not have enough power or access to a plug.
Chinese gather around my computer like monkies trying to see what I am doing. They are more than a little surprised to see my screen blank (I have nthe monitor all but off . I have three literally staring over my cshoulder right now. Talking about how you can not see the screen. Yeah, I know jack ass, it still works, trust me.
The trip up here was mad grueling, and after about 13 hours of straight hiking (that is a literal number, though there were breaks in there). I get greeted to a f---king parking lot. I now have an hour and a half more (the truly weak SOBs start from here and then pop up to the summit, I on the other hand took the LONG way, from the farthest entrance and taking the simply absurdly hard route option.
So I won't make it in time in order to take a bus down (the original plan), but I am doing this way ahead of most people (this is listed as a two or three day journey). That means I guess I am staying at the top for the night. I just hope i can find a place for less than 100 Yuan. The next PTI hopefully will start describing this crazy day (think monkey fighting, just think about it).

PTI: A very frustrating end of the day. But I made, damn it I made it. Now I somehow ended up in the party dorm paying 140 Yuan for a place that should be 30, but I don't have a choice. It is too dark to walk down to a regular place, and so it was here or the four or five story hotel. Really I think I should have talked the nice hotel down, because this place is terrible. The public bathroom does not have a western toilet and I am not okay with the squatter toilets (I can squat, but they give you no privacy at all, and I am not will to squat and do that in such a public venue).

My clothes are too sweaty to think about wearing them, but my luggage is down at the bottom, as such, I will have a very dirty morning tomorrow.
My consolation is I have no walking to do, virtually whatsoever, to get to the peak tomorrow morning (morning is when you are supposed to see it).
I don't know if I should be frustrated that getting to the top in one day has screwed me over, and I still have to get to the top, or proud that I did it in the first place. When it was becoming clear this might happen I still kept going because my goal had been get to the top in one day and I was unwilling to give up this late in the game.
I hurt all over. At four or something my train hit Emeishan, which I did not know it would do. I had planned on going to Chengdu, and then going to Emishan, so I was excited to go straight there. That said, it caused me to get there incredibly early. I could barely see forward as I tried to find the start of the path. At just before 6:30 I hit the entrance where that PTI before was written.
After that I started hiking like crazy.

PTI: Its the next morning, I am cold but the rising sun is slowly warming me. I am tired, but I won't get to sleep for a bit probably. I smell terrible and I definitely won't fix that for a bit. I am at the foot of a golden temple on the summit.
Last night I planned on writing more

PTI: I am starting to have serious privacy issues with the fact that everyone that passes me stops and reads my computer, leaning over the screen to do so. I know they cannot understand, but it is not blatant as opposed to subtle, it is open and done without intention of subtleness.

PTI: Another thing, Chinese people need a long talk about talking about foreigners when they are right there. Taiwan they at least whispered or talked at a distance. Here they openly talk about you right in front of you, or in the third person. They will say stuff like "Look a foreigner," "I wonder where he is from?" This is a bit annoying, but then when I break in with "America" as a subtle hint for them to stop, sometimes they keep doing it. Also when I am with a Chinese friend they always ask the Chinese friend questions about me (who usually says, "you should probably just ask him."

So the sunrise was very nice and beautiful. It was the first time in a long time I have seen a sunrise, especially one where the clouds were at my feet. It was nice having spent yesterday under and in those clouds to now be over them.
The journey, however, is something I will always remember. I started at six thirty from the lowest point. I only know of one other person that made it to the top yesterday. I had a couple of friends accompanying me for a bit of the trip (on and off at points). I found them this morning and turns out that they did not make it (I assumed they wouldn't since I really flew at one point and I just barely made it).

PTI: The summit here is really nice, I am leaning against a gold temple and behind the temple is a huge Buddha. The tourists are a bit away from me, so that is not a huge problem. When they come to check my computer (every five minutes or so), I guess my look has gotten dirtier, because they leave mighty quick.

So during the journey I ditched most of the tourists quick. There were still people that actually used chairs to be carried up, but they were few (and looked like the laziest thing ever, they were basically hung with their head and feet higher than their back from a carrier held by pairs of very tired Chinese guys.
There was a point where I thought I would not make it. I was climbing very slowly, living off the places that handrails (some did, some didn't) and hitting the steps by basically leaning over them. At one point I decided to try using music, hey, it works in the gym. i must say, I think Wu-Tang saved me on that mountain. I turned on my MP3 player and GZA was making references to strength, fighting, and, as any good Wu-Tang fan should imagine, numerous references to China.
I could feel adrenaline hit my body, realizing the fact that I was doing something so very historical and cultural in China. While being inspired by the confidence of the music I also had a rhythm to keep pace with. At that point I really started flying, I passed a number of people and kept strong for a while.
A little later on, I actually started breaking down a little. Not like going crazy but getting a bit emotional. At that point I had been going for some eight hours with no more than a twenty or so minute rest. I started desperately missing my mom and dad, and thinking about how much they have done for me. I became somewhat weepy (not out and out crying down the road, but I am sure I did not exactly great), and very happy to be going home soon. Not that I want to go leave here, but I do want to go home and see those parents.

PTI: Colorado's tallest mountain is 4,399 meters, and Colorado has 55 over 4,267 meters. This mountain is a just above 3,000. So although I did not conquer the affair offered by my home state, I am still pretty damn proud.

PTI: I am being mad harassed by a huge bee. Its literally getting up in my face and you can almost here it saying "what? what? You want this?"

At the bottom of the mountain I bought a bamboo stick for a hiking cane and a monkey whacker. I heard that the monkeys were fierce and you needed to be prepared, I had no idea. Throughout the journey we ran into monkeys. Not like monkeys in cages, but rather, part of the place itself is a natural reserve, with monkeys roaming around. The first I ran into I took photos of. While I was slowly leaving (taking photos of other monkeys), he ran up and snatched the plastic bag I had in my camera bag (inside has my rag to clean my lens). With the help of a monkey keeper (there were a few keepers at the start of the trip, but you were on your own the rest of the way), we got the bag from him.
Later on we had to take on some big monkeys. Depending on the size, number, or ferocity I used different tactics. For especially monkey ridden places I went with the friends I mentioned before. The guy and I would double team a monkeys eyes with our sticks hovering in front of him and occasionally jabbing forward, usually they would back off.
Later on when I was by myself I ran into some nasty packs. I became good at slamming my cane down and yelling a bit (they said no screaming in the rules with dealing with monkeys but I had for gotten). After that they would back down and I would keep my stick in attack position. Who is the alpha male now bitch?
Towards the very end I was completely exhausted. I made a new rule - walk one hundred steps, stop, breather ten deep breaths, walk a hundred steps. That new strategy was very good for me. It kept me confident and it allowed me to rest without allowing me to rest too long. Each step was easier knowing that I was a certain number away from a break.
I was disappointed about getting trapped up here, but this morning's sunrise was nice. Now I just need to get to Chengdu and get a real shower, and use a real bathroom. Then I am going to eat the spiciest Sichuanese food I can find. I am very excited to be here, the home of my favorite kind of Chinese food (well, most of the west's favorite Chinese food, but whatever).
TI: A little girl is watching my screen, but she is cute and sweet so I can['t produce a dirty look, thus she gets away with it.
After finding a hotel, I will hit some local attractions in Chengdu, that or just die a little in my hotel room. Tomorrow I hope to go to another World Heritage site (Dulujiang? I forgot how to sayl it and I don't want to get out my guide book right now). Then the day after I will go to the bamboo forest (where they throw down in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon - sweeeeetttt) on the way to Chongqing (to get down with those three gorges).
For now, I need to get off of thing damn mountain.

PTI: I guess I never finished the taxi story. Really it was just high speed beauty. Our driver preferred to pass on corners in the left lane while blaring hi horn. At one point we pasted a nice Nissan. After a while, the Sinata was still behind us (a rarity) and then suddenly passed us. Our driver basically rode his tail around corners until it was clear the Nissana could not "hang" and let us pass. Later the Nissan passed us while we stopped for the bathroom and honked, I don't think he liked my driver very much.
I was not sure what to do, the driver clearly seemed to know what he was doing (he made some close but very impressive emergency moves at points, doing things like dodging large oxen or passing a car and then splitting two motorcycles). The other passengers were completely ambivalent, the woman just stared ahead, one boy slept (while I am either fearing for my life or shocked from the view's beauty), and a mom just held her kid like it was a normal Sunday drive.

PTI: I am in the bus station waiting to go to Chengdu so I thought I would type something up. A funny thing about the Chinese - they speak Chinese. I have met a few people who's goal in talking to me was to practice English, but I found that they were willing to abandon that goal if it helped communication. Even English majors might say a few things in English, but when its clear Chinese would make things easier, they switch.
Taiwanese people are simply not that way. There are a good lot that can "deal" with speaking to a foreigner in Chinese, but there are also a lot that have entrained in their head: you speak English to foreigners. As such, in Taiwan I had abysmal conversations which were hampered by the recipients determination to use English with me.
However here, most people can accept that I can speak Chinese, and a few even expect it. That said, they really need to work on that talking about you like you are not in the room thing.
Actually they have a lot to work on, horns need to be banned. My driver from the mountain down was a complete jerk and I thought about telling him as much. I guess he equates "World Heritage Site" or "National Park" with "Pinespeak raceway." He flew down the road as fast as possible, but unlike my taxi, he was not nearly as good of a driver.
Three people ended up getting sick. I had the very pleasant moment of watching the woman in front of me vomit onto (not out of, onto) the window next to her. After that, I switched seats, and the boy in front of my new seat and a woman behind me both ended up following the old woman's suit. This was all going on as my driver was blasting the horn at every corner (he had an especially loud horn) on a mountain road (thus, a lot of corners). If we were in America, I very much would have said something upon disembarking.
One thing to add to the taxi story: I left a notebook I was fond of at an obscure place between Panzhihua and Lijiang. I would be sad but I like the idea that a little of me was left to China as a gift of sorts. That is also how I feel about the Lonely Planet I left in Hong Kong (that and I left it at a foreign bar where they could use it, plus, I was not enjoying that guide much).
Back to the mountain for a moment. At parts, the mountain became a big metaphor for life. I dealt with a lot of nice people, there were hard parts and easy parts, I had a lot of people looking at me, I had a limited amount of time, and I had a lofty goal that most people don't do.
Although I mentioned Wu-Tang clan as my big energy boost there were actually two. Wu-Tang got me up the first stage of "I am about to die" syndrome. the second came from a guy who saw me resting. There are little rest sites along the way, especially during the especially hard parts. Typically most people stop at each rest site unless they were doing especially well. He blew through the rest site with a full head of steam and excited to use his English, in a really smarmy manner, he said "Come on now, stop resting" or something to the affect of "slow-poke."
I was inspired by the moment and after another minute or two of resting (I was resting for a reason, I was tired), I just took off. From there out no one passed me and I really got up that mountain. As I passed him I said the same comment he said to me, he looked exhausted. What had I dealt with? A hater. Another thing Wu-Tang would likely say: Don't let the haters get you.