Cool Stuff To Check Out From J and B

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hua Shan to Guilan

Hua Shan

This past weekend we decided to get out of town and climb the 2,100 meter Mount Hua. A two hour train ride north-east of Xi'an, Mount Hua was for centuries a Taoist holy place where sages and devotees would go to contemplate the meaning of life. Despite being told how dangerous it was by every single Chinese person we mentioned it to, we had faith that our Colorado 14'er skills would serve us well.
The Hike: HOT. Uncountable numbers of carved steps. Sheer cliffs. Thousands of feet of vertical, white granite. Lots of vegetation, shade trees, and pretty birds. Did we mention the steps? The soaring precipices are very reminiscent of Yosemite. The five hour climb to East Peak brought us to our home for the night – a smelly, crowded room shared with eight other climbers. But the sunset was sublime. The following morning was the highlight. We immortalized our love by harnessing up and descending the vertical rock, via ferrata-style, down to Xiaqi Pavilion located on a narrow granite fin with a thousand foot drop on three sides. In the local tradition we secured an engraved lock to the steel chain surrounding the pavilion, kissed the key, looked into each other's eyes, and threw the key into the abyss (no, this was not our formal wedding). Our fate is now sealed! Breath-taking.
Things we've learned about China:
1. Chinglish is everywhere. “Men between urine” translates to “Men's room”. “Be careful the safe” means “Watch out!”
2. The average annual urban salary in China is US$1,819. The average rural salary is US$545.
3. The one-child policy that used to favor male children has given way to a desire for girls among city-couples because they are less expensive and easier to raise. (There are currently about 30 million more marriage-aged men than women in China.)
4. Our lesson in Traditional Chinese Medicine taught us that the large intestine and the lungs are intimately related (Nicole, is it true?).
5. It is illegal for cars to stop at a pedestrian cross-walk in Beijing (yes, you read that correctly).
6. Half of Chinese people claim to be non-religious (the two most popular religions are Christianity and Buddhism – both at about 8% of the population).
7.  Foot binding was not formally outlawed until 1949.
8.  A new city the size of London shoots up in the Pearl River delta area (near Hong Kong) every year.
9.  China is currently consuming 40% of the world's coal, 40% of the world's cement, and 30% of the world's steel.
10.  In the run-up to the Olympics China built enough new roads to go around the world four times.
11.  Every young kid with a camera phone either wants their picture taken with us or covertly snaps away when they think we're not looking.
12.  We have seen exactly 5 Americans since arriving in China two weeks ago.
13.  Chinese do NOT eat their rice out of a box. And we haven't seen a single fortune cookie.


We are really looking forward to the next week of being (mostly) in the same place. Guilin and Yangshuo should be a peaceful respite set amongst the karst formations along the Li River. We arrived in Guilin last night after a 27-hour train ride! It has been raining and flooding in South China for the last few weeks...but we got some sun today. Spent the day exploring the city. Tomorrow we take a bamboo raft four hours down the Li River to Yangshuo where we will spend the remainder of our time in China. We will head to Hong Kong in a week or so, then on to the next country...probably Indonesia, but we have a little research to do.
Does anyone have any suggestions for a fiction book that is set in Indonesia?
Missing everyone. Hoping that when we leave China we will be able to blog more freely and openly.

Delectible Delights

The latest menu...”Bird in a Blender”. We decided to be adventurous and order “Pheasant Cooked Two Ways”. Sounded fairly benign. We spent the next 30 minutes sorting through cubes of bone, beak, organs and feet trying to find something edible. (From the picture you can see we found its head and put it back together...kind of like a puzzle.) The meal was redeemed when we ordered the “Taro”. If you read “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” (Karen), there is a wonderful description of it. It is something soft and light purple, a root of potato consistency, fried to a very hot temperature then dipped in melted sugar. The cubes are thrown into cool water and the sugar hardens. When you bite into it, it has a hard crunchy shell with a soft doughy inside.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Face of China

The Face of China – Brett – June 17th, 2010

Today we met Salva. Salva has something to tell you. Salva says, “Please switch off the TV and switch on your eyes and your heart. This world is not a dangerous one, full of terrorists, thieves and bad people. It is a wonderful place, filled with good people who want to live in peace, learn about differences and help each other.” Salva is Spanish, half Don Quixote and half Little Prince, and he's been traveling the world via bicycle for the past four years.

These are the types of people who have been inspiring us every day. It is amazing, but each day we seem to meet someone who makes us want to learn more. Who makes us want to dive deeper and deeper into this world. Who makes us believe in the power of the human spirit and mankind's ability to create a world made of love and based on peace.

And all of this exists within the grime and the poverty of a city like Beijing. All of this exists in the face of the forced labor used to build the thousands of kilometers of the Great Wall. It survived through the excruciating foot binding forced on 2 billion Chinese women over a thousand years. And it will endure through the censorship and human rights violations of the Communist party.

But it shines through.

It comes in a tiny courtyard in a back alley “hutong” where Chenuiy teaches us the several thousand year old secrets of Chinese cooking. It's face is the face of Lucy who patiently corrects our four tonal variations of the word “ma” as she gives us a free Mandarin lesson on the fifth floor of a random apartment building with piles of debris strewn through the hallways. We see it in the old men who gather each day to swim across Lake Hou Hai and then hone their chess skills by the water for the 60th year in a row. It reaches across cultural boundaries when the man writing calligraphy on the sidewalk with a broad water brush hands Jenny the fount and she creates the unmistakable sign of peace – a smiley face. The grin on the old man's face says it all.

These are the reasons we travel. We are learning so much about how this culture thinks and how its world view is developing in the face of incredible growth both economically and in terms of world influence. We are seeing the world through a different set of eyes.

Now if only we could learn all this from the comfort of our own house – with air conditioning, a Whole Foods around the corner, and our own bathroom! We miss you all and we miss Boulder and the comforts of home. But as each day passes and our eyes are opened further we realize that this is a journey that we must pursue.

Thanks for joining us as we wander.

Walking in China

Walking in China. Jenny 6/17/2010

After waking up and untangling ourselves from our silk liners which has managed to twist themselves tightly, we stumble to the washroom,mindful not to use too much paper product and not to throw it in the toilet. We shower and throw on our clothes from yesterday. Before even leaving the room, we can feel the hustle going on outside the door. Stepping out into the small alleyway, we turn right. We have learned this way to the subway. It is hot. We look up at the sky and see haze and a sun that almost resembles the moon, it is so subdued. We walk down the narrow hutong. It feels like an alley, but small shop-owners are hanging out with their families in front of their shops. We see shops selling cigarettes, mobile phones, bike parts, or fruit. Occasionally a whiff of something putrid crosses our olfactories. But the Chinese are neat. Someone is always sweeping the area right in front of their property, someone else is throwing a bucket of water on the step and mopping. There are piles of old cement excavated from a renovation project neatly stacked, waiting for disposal. Little tiny dogs walk along with their owners, unleashed and well-behaved. Small children run around with “split pants”, a baggy one-piece with a split in the crotch, their little butts showing. Apparently, poorer parents don't use diapers but instead train their children to “go” at the prompt of a whistle. We pass a construction site, and comment on the progress they have made just since yesterday. The guys are working seemingly all hours of the day and night. We turn onto a main road, and we are in a newer Beijing, with tall buildings, bumper-to-bumper cars, and young men dressed in uniform patrolling at every corner. We get on the metro. So easy. It is always 2 yuan, it is color-coded, and very well marked. No one is shoving, people are kind. Oh yes, it can be crowded, but so can any other subway in the world. A teenage Chinese girl notices us, and wants to talk to us to practice her English. Back up to the street, we get off on what is marked the north-east corner. We consult our map, which says it is the north-west corner. We walk three blocks, seeing no signs of our destination. We walk back to the starting point, then walk 3 blocks another direction. We stop to ask someone for help. They smile and shrug their shoulders because they don't understand us. We show them the Chinese letters for what we are looking for. They still don't know where it is. An hour later, we make it to some unmarked office door, six stories up in a random high-rise. After our meeting, we are starving. We walk down a crowded and bustling street with carts set up all over making it obligatory to walk in the road. Rickshaws, bikes, and scooters are constantly grazing our heels, always honking or ringing a bell to warn us they are coming. The occasional Mercedes squeezes through, stopping everyone around them until they pass. We find a shop cooking over the heat of huge pots, and decide warily to eat there. We walk to the counter and everything is in Chinese. We wait while everyone stares at us in our discomfort, until someone runs out from the back who knows a few words in English, and has a menu in hand with English descriptions. We eat. We try to eat as much of the glutinous rice soup or the grey mystery meat as we can, without feeling we have offended anyone. Then we find a shady place somewhere and order a cold Tsing-Tao beverage in a bottle. Ahh. We reflect.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Other Side of the World: Beijing, China

Beijing is one giant juxtaposition of the 700-year-old hutong narrow alleyways of one-story stone architecture, and miles and miles of 30-story skyscraper apartment buildings and shops. Brett and I have been on pure intake mode for the last 2 days, absorbing the sights, smells and sounds. As the hutong residents sweep the dirt around their residences and shops with brooms fashioned from twigs, a few blocks over there are structures being torn down and new buildings going up in their stead, with the fervor of insatiable growth. Although the Chinese now have a growing economy and many of the signs of western capitalism such as Nike, McDonalds, KFC, Tag Heuer, etc., we are reminded of the nascent nature of this "progress" (if we can call it that) by the fact that most Chinese still do not speak ANY english, and most only know Chinese symbols, not the new Roman alphabetic "pidgin" Chinese. We both feel quite safe. The Chinese are kind. There are very few western tourists. Interestingly, people on the street do not hassle us...they pass out pamphlets to everyone else, then ignore us. It's like we are invisible!
Our Chinese successes to date:
1. Found our hostel in the dark. (Yeah, we thought we could take a off, got lost, then called a taxi)
2. Ate an entire fried scorpion. (Tastes like a soft-shell crab.)
3. Took the Beijing subway at rush hour. (Piece of cake, once some other english-speaking couple got change for us)
4. Took our first Mandarin language class. (Brett kept saying "Ching ching" to everyone to thank them. It should have sounded like "shay shay". We could have been saying, "Can I touch your monkey" for all we know!
Tian' anmen Square:
The largest public square in the world, about the size of 10 football fields. It is an open, flat area made of pavers tiled two by two facing an enormous portrait of an older Mao on the front of the "Working People's Cultural Palace". The center of the square boasts two giant TV screens (10 feet high x 75 feet wide) playing typical marketing scenes of China: fine cuisine, city scapes, beautiful landscapes, etc. The Chinese flag is raised every morning and lowered every night in ceremonial fashion, witnessed by a large crowd of proud Chinese. Tian'anmen feels like such a dichotomy of Maoist communism and the democratic liberation rally/protest that ended up with hundreds of Chinese killed by the military in 1989. We wonder which one draws more Chinese to this spot. To get to the "people's square", one has to go through airport-style security. The square is patrolled incessantly by uniformed and plain-clothed police, and is monitored by hundreds of video cameras.
The exchange rate is Y6.8 to the US dollar.
The subway ride was Y2 each (30 cents)
A cab ride across town was Y25 ($3.50)
A Tsing Tao beer is Y7 ($1)
Hostel room per night Y140 ($20)
Brett had his first mystery meat for lunch yesterday. It was grey. We think it was bullfrog.
Last night we both passed out at 8 pm, and woke up at 3 am still in our clothes with the lights on.

We're here

Yep. It's true. China censors the web. Blogspot, Picasa and Youtube (along with many other sites) are blocked here in China, making it impossible to post to our blog. Mark, Vidalia was even blocked! Jim, Jenny's dad, will be posting for us for the next month.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

In the News...

Check out the little article about our trip in the Colorado Daily!  Click here!

Oh yeah, and...WE ARE ENGAGED!!!!!!!! 

And we're off...!

Well, we made it! Thanks to ma and pa McCurdy and some last minute scrambling from our friends, we are finally off.

And we are exhausted.

After a final serving of Big Dill Eggs at the Walnut Cafe on Thursday morning we put the last few things in the storage unit and headed off to the airport. But what to do now? After about eight months of preparation and stress, what are we supposed to do? Count on Brett to have a plan. Unknown to Jenny, I booked us three days at the Sahhali Bed & Breakfast on Pender Island off the coast of Vancouver (basically the Canadian version of the San Juan islands). Wow - now we can relax.  We have spent the last few days sleeping in, reading, taking naps, and basically being taken care of by our host, Michelle, in one of the most amazingly beautiful places I have ever seen.  Click on our photos link to see what we've been waking up to every morning.  A-mazing!
But this is not the start of just one journey... On top of a gorgeous bluff, 400 feet above the Pacific, with blue skies, a warm sun, and a truly unrivaled view, I asked Jenny to marry me. I am the happiest man in the world (oh yeah, she said yes) and could not ask for a better companion on this grand adventure.

And tomorrow we're off to Beijing!  We've spent the last few days reading all we can about this amazing country and we are looking forward to the first real adventure of this trip.
Thanks to all who helped make this trip happen.  Let the adventure begin!