I uploaded ~1,000 photos this weekend. On my 5 year old macbook it took everything she had to not crash…I will post them here with descriptions throughout the week!
I uploaded ~1,000 photos this weekend. On my 5 year old macbook it took everything she had to not crash…I will post them here with descriptions throughout the week!
I will be updating the whole site this week. My goals are to upload pictures (if my computer can handle it), fix the ‘about’ page, and transcribe other excerpts from my journal to here. Also, I am currently on hold with my server, Bluehost at the moment working out this horrid lag time that is going on.
Check back in a few days for more!
I need to update a lot of information on here. I plan to reformat and post all of my writing from the last 6 months, which has to be transferred from my handwritten journal to digital. Also, the 4,000-some photos should get uploaded in the process.
Today is not that day, nor will tomorrow be, and I’m not certain when will be.
Until then, remain un-amused.
After feeling off this July I thought about my wanderlust love affair with travel and what it is that will always call me back.
It is a strange thing moving countries. China is the 4th country I’ve moved to without knowing a single person. From wandering alone, eating at a table for one, sometimes with my journal and old book, or not, it has been a challenge. Being alone for hours and days changes you. The pace of life slows down and you begin to take on each day with an appreciation you’ve never before indulged. There is no rush because there are no plans. No beeping phone, traffic, or interruptions. Figuring out strange characters at the laundry mat, polishing your charades, roulette grocery shopping, and watching the sunset with lonely beers on the corner store curb are done at a calm, snails pace.
You start from zero then build up a whole new network and it’s thrilling. Re-learning everyday activities, norms, and boundaries like when you were a child. The adventure at start was a way to escape. To begin with a clean slate in a place where no one knows who you were, nor is going to ask, or cares. And as you begin to have a new web and life of routines, you realize how much of “you” was based purely on locality more than anything else. The place and people will inevitably change who you are and the way you think but the most important thing is discovering that you can rely on yourself to build a life again. A process that deepens your values and provides a comfort and confidence that we are all capable of anything. To know that whatever may come in life, you are capable of taking a leap, building your wings on the way down, and finding a little satisfaction. After all, you are free the moment you wish to be. Be it traveling, relationships, or fresh starts…no one is stopping you.
Gōngbǎo Jīdīng The spicy stir-fry dish from the Sichuan Province in western China. A combination of chicken cubes, vegetables, peanuts, chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, 3 cups of oil, and 2 tablespoons of MSG. Known as “Kung Pow Chicken” to Westerners, it is thought the dish was created by a Qing Dynasty official who was a one-time governor of Sichuan. His title, Gōngbǎo, translates to “Palace Guardian”. Since it’s creation, the dish has gained international recognition for its salty and sweet tastes. It’s a Chinese comfort food. Each restaurant has it’s own unique tang but nonetheless, the participants all end up in the same dire place. My adventure to this place is detailed below. Hope you’re not hungry.
The last lesson. One hour and I’m about to Uslan Bolt my way down that hallway. My whole day has been rushed. Wake up, bike to my morning kindergarten, finish and bike to the gym, bike home, walk up 4 flights of stairs, eat lunch, bike to my meeting and back home again for an hour before biking to the last 3 hours of evening lessons. Between these adds up to a lot of riding, stairs, and up and down lessons.
“Tonight, I am going to mob some Gōngbǎo!” I say to myself during my last lesson. It pops into my mind while teaching how to count from 10-20. As the thought of the dish slips into my mind my mouth instantly waters. For a moment, I contemplate why certain foods can do that better than others. My mouth never waters at the thought of carrots.
“No, not neeeoooomine, it’s “niiiii-ne (9)”.” I correct Jenny.
“NIIIIII-NE!!!!” Jenny shouts.
“Very good!” I tell her.
My mind can do two things, teach and think about a completely irrelevant topic. So, again I continue my previous thoughts. Perhaps all of the MSG in it is what gets me. The creamy texture of the orange sauce, crunch of peanuts, and taste of flavor packed onions is soft and easy to devour. That satisfying silkiness and the salt must be why my mouth waters. It already knows it’s about to be dehydrated.
And the clock struck 8:00PM. I bust out of work, unlock my bike, and make haste to the Mum and Pops’ restaurant. I crank down on the pedals and weave through fruit vendor trucks parked on every corner. I dodge outdoor table commotion and waiters on the BBQ strip. I speed through my final turn to the neon lit mini strip of broken down restaurants. Many of them are packed with patrons and others empty with the owners sitting at tables playing cards. Outside my joint hangs a LED light flashing Chinese characters, which reads as “Open.” The windows are mucky and from the outside it’s difficult to see in. I open the front door and hear the familiar loud screech because it’s off hinges. I prop the door back up behind me to close it and the top hinge completely snaps off the left door. It hits the ground with a bang. No one notices or cares. I prop it up to a stable stance. These two giant glass doors are a gust of wind away from falling down. I point this out to the waitress passing. She shrugs and ushers me to a table. Never minding that kids motor across the floor in mini plastic cars crashing into shit.
The interior is decorated with plastic tables, dirty silverware, and suit covered Mao paintings. There is a 15-inch box TV in the top corner streaming fuzzy news. It’s tuned up to a deafening volume. I can’t make out the words over drunken conversation of the regulars. The kitchen is hidden in the back with only a little hole the food comes sliding out of. This is for the better; I don’t think I’d like to see the state of that kitchen anyway.
The waitress is a round, middle-aged women, she is polite, but the husband who works there is much less patient. Usually chain smoking cigarettes, he doesn’t find my slow paced Chinese quite as cute as the woman does. I’ve been to this restaurant multiple times; they have some of the best food in Huilongguan (my area of Beijing).
Thankfully, the waitress walks towards me to take my order. She is wearing a dirty apron and hair did up in a mess. She recognizes me, smiles, and puts down the menu. I feel comforted. Her eyes are soft and you can sense she is a loving mother. Being alone in China can be tense. When a person talks loudly at you in a foreign tongue you only remotely understand it’s intimidating. You try but get nowhere with your charades and feel useless. I’m happy she is taking my order tonight. She knows the five or so dishes I habitually order from. I order my Gōngbǎo with a side of rice. She asks if I want the Gōngbǎo over the rice or in a separate bowl. I say separate, and ask for a cold beer. There are no cold beers right now, only warm. Alright, alright, bring me a warm one I regress. The order is placed and my beer is brought over moments later. She pops the top and let’s the cap fall onto the ground. I lean back in my plastic chair but it cuts my back. I fear if I put too much weight back again it’ll snap anyway. I sit up straight, align my shoulders, and gulp down my first sip of fizzy, lukewarm, Yanjin. At only ~3.5% it’s water beer. They put the ”~” because each beer contains a different amount of alcohol. Sometimes they could be 6% or perhaps 2%. Beer isn’t a Chinese forte. The beer tastes like piss and without a doubt the worst beer I‘ve ever drunk. I have a little laugh about how shitty it is then take another swig. Moments later I begin feeling uplifted. Maybe this is a 6%’er or possibly it’s the knowledge that my stomach will soon me full. I shuffle myself on the chair to take a gaze around. People watching in China is always amusing from a foreigner’s eye.
The restaurant is about the size of a typical living room. Just four dirty walls, which appear more gray than white. Across the restaurant two Chinese men probably in their early 30’s sit in tank tops with a few drained bottles of Yanjin and five or six empty plates of food on their table. They are preparing to leave. I hear a roar from the table behind me and my attention drifts. Turning, I see five 50-something year old men. The table is filled with empty bottles and a cloud of smoke lingers above. The ashtrays are overflowing so the men throw fresh cig butts onto the floor still burning. They are drunk and talking about where to go next. Before being noticed, I quickly turn back around as to not be seen. I’m not scared they will be mean, rather the opposite. If noticed chances are I will be invited over to share their food and drinks. Normally, these little invitations turn out to be a hilarious time where you can learn about the real culture of a country. Tonight though, I just want to eat and go home. A full tummy and good nights rest awaits.
Smells and sounds from the kitchen fill the already noisy room. I hear a loud clinging sound and look up to catch a glimpse into the kitchen through the normally closed door. I see the chief. He’s standing back from the stovetop. He is shirtless, lit cig in his mouth, beer in one hand, and flaming pan of greasy food in the other. “Daaammmnnn”, I say out loud. The door shuts and my entertainment closed. I try to make out the reporter’s words coming from the TV but fail. I continue to watch but not really listen. My eyes keep a keen watch on the hole in the wall where my glorious dish of Gōngbǎo will come sliding out of.
Half a beer later and my dish rips through the hole with ferocity. OH YEAH! I sit up from my lounged position and unwrap my chopsticks to prepare myself. The lovely waitress carries the dish over and sees my hungry eyes. She tells me, “Enjoy and don’t burn your mouth.” Hardly making eye contact I tell her thanks. The dish is massive. A heaping mountain of Gōngbǎo and nice bowl of rice on the side. It’s beautiful and I hold off eating an extra moment to snap a picture on my phone.
I begin to eat. And I eat, and eat, and eat. I make a sizeable dent in the dish before feeling topped off. I’ve eaten about half before I shout “Waiter!” in Chinese to ask for a to-go box. My Gōngbǎo is plopped in a plastic box. I decide to wait a few moments to let my stomach settle before biking home.
My stomach is warm and I feel content. I exchange texts with a few friends while picking here and there at my leftovers. I continue this habitually while finishing my beer. I don’t notice until some time later that I have managed to nearly finish my to-go box. There is about a quarter left. It isn’t enough to use for left overs so I continue and terminate the reminder. I’m well full up now. I gather my stuff, pay my bill, and leave.
Biking home is difficult. I don’t quite realize how much food I just ate. I get back to my flat and carry my bike up the stairs. I have to stop half way and belch. I shutter a little…it was a nasty one. I’m inside now and grab a big glass of water before plopping down in front of my computer. As I sit my stomach grumbles. It’s trying to digest the cup of grease I ate. The grumbles begin to turn into cramps. I have to get out of my chair and lay flat on my bed. My stomach feels like there is a soccer ball inside. I lift up my shirt and see that my lower tummy certainly looks bloated. I rub it a little and feel my body trying to digest the Gōngbǎo. I belch again and this one isn’t like the last. It is sour and uncomfortable.
(*Stop reading here if you have a weak stomach)
I think something is up with my stomach. I go to the bathroom and sit. I ration with myself that there is no way a plate of food can be digested in an hour.
I’m so very wrong.
I’m sitting on the toilet and have to hunch over from pains in my stomach. I whimper and my stomach tightens then loosens. But then magically my stomach relaxes. Okay…I think I’m all right, just a few cramps and nothing else. I get up without ever letting anything go. I go back to my room and sit. I’m fine I tell myself. The food is just digesting. After all I did eat a massive meal. I applaud my iron stomach.
As these thoughts pass the cramps return and damn they are back with vengeance. Jumping up from my chair I make haste for the toilet. There is hardly enough time to drop my drawers before a volcanic explosion erupts from my butthole. There are groans, pain, and smells like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’m sweating profusely. I shout at myself, “WHY OH WHY DID YOU DO THIS. YOU IDIDOT! I SWEAR I AM NEVER RETURNING TO THAT GODFORSAKEN PLACE.” This cycle of blasts and pains lasts about 10 minutes in which I courtesy flush 4 times. At some point I contemplate the hospital. I opened the faucet to my bowels and the flow is never ending.
Finally, I feel all right enough to leave the bathroom. I look in the mirror as I wash my hands. My face is pale and sweaty. I splash water on myself to try to relax. I am able to lie on my bed for 5 minutes before round two begins. Round two is not the free flow as round one was. Round two is consists of just sitting. I’ve lost all control now and let my body do whatever the hell it wants. For the next hour a series of sweating, swearing, cramps, and flushing occurs.
At the end of the hour my body realizes it has nothing left in it. I stand up with weak legs, get my towel, and take a shower. Yes, I desperately need a shower after that. I feel exhausted, my stomach still throbs, and I can hardly walk. The night ends and I fall into a hard sleep.
The next morning I feel okay. My stomach is sore but isn’t cramping now. I skip breakfast and coffee for obvious reasons. I check my phone and have a picture message. The message saves and I go into my photos to check it out. It’s a photo of snowy deck. I flip back in my photos and see the plate of Gōngbǎo I took last night. Immediately I gag and hold my stomach so not to throw up.
“Are you sure you want to delete this photo?”
I haven’t eaten Gōngbǎo since.
Forbidden City: Sad…very, very sad. It is the first time I’ve felt this way around a tourist attraction. I wish the place had never been opened to the public. If the men who ruled could only see it today I know they would never of built it. Apparently, pre 2008 Olympics there was a Starbucks and McDonalds inside the city. Everything is re-painted and touched up. It looks cheesy and fake. As much as I despised that aspect, the sheer size of the walls was amazing. Also, I can’t deny I didn’t enjoy a coffee and ice cream while walking about.
Great Wall: I planned a 2-day hiking/camping excursion to the Great Wall. I was particular about how I went about it because I didn’t want to be on a part of the Wall filled with tourists. The hike and camping couldn’t have gone any better. Myself, roommate James, and two friends Tom and Clare started with a two-hour van ride out of Beijing towards the Wall. After we arrived at the Wall we had a two-hour hike to our campsite. We found out that the part of the Wall we were at isn’t open to the public. Fortunately our guide knew the route and paid the proper people. We got to the spot to park and found out we needed to take two extra bags with our sleeping bags and tents in it. We didn’t know we would have to carry them ourselves and all had our own bags already. However, I was able to strap my bag on back of the tent bag, and Tom did similar. The hike was quite intense with two bags on my back but made for a great workout. The night spent on the Wall was phenomenal and a life memory. We were able to see the sunset and sunrise, which was stunning. Sitting on a wall that is the world’s largest grave and thinking that those slave workers sat in the same spots. Knowing they saw the sun crest over the same mountains was humbling. The sheer size and difficulty of building the wall isn’t realized till you are up close.
Bird’s Nest (Olympic Stadium): Horribly grey and dirty. When an event comes up they clean the whole thing spotless to make an impression. However, when there isn’t it just looks like a giant hunk of metal carved into a stadium. FYI Target Field blows it out of the water.
All else is well with me. My roommate James and I have founded “Erie Entertainment” as our sub-name for putting on comedy shows here. We have a “Around the world in 80 minutes” themed show set up for late June, which is based on Jules Vern’s book. I am meeting with the owner of an Irish pub on Tuesday to discuss reserving his place to throw the event. We already have comedians lined up as well. Also, I spoke with Heineken and they are keen to sponsor us with two free kegs. The venue/pub can hold about 100 people. I have to get a look at the stage though because it will be a comedic play with props and characters as much as it is about the 8 comedians who will fit their stand up into it. We will be using the props and characters to help transition each comedian in. The 8 will be from each place in the world where they are from (India, England, US, Germany, etc). Pretty excited. James is working on an epic flier in Photoshop, which we will be hanging up at bars, hostels, and other touch points around Beijing as well as utilizing the Internet. Basically, James is writing the show and I am the organizer, advertiser, and face of Erie. He takes care of the comedy side and I master the business side. It is an ideal set up between our skills. We will charge 30RMB (~$5) and all proceeds will go to a charity here that gives money to shelters for one-child policy kids. I am working to get Guinness and Redbull on board for sponsors too. Should be a really great event here and a solid success. At least, all looks very positive now. We have a backup venue set up to if the Irish pub doesn’t fit our needs.
I have been knackered from the hike and vacation. 85 is predicted this whole with blue skies. I am excited. I am ready to have a nice mid-day beer outside somewhere. For now I am off to the gym then into center city. Xx
A heavy mist camps in the air, I can taste the salt water in it. I haul my sticky body up the steep path of the winding jungle road. Pulling out my Nokia I check the time, 3:43AM. The jeep, or van, or donkey, or whatever the fuck will take me away from this place should pass by around 4:00.
4:06 – Nothing. The road isn’t quiet. Roosters are cock-a-doodling; lizards scatter across the pavement under moonlight, insects chirp loudly, and a few stray dogs jog past. “No, I am not road-kill,” I say to them out loud. One gets a little too close, stops, then starts to bark. It’s obnoxious. All I want to do is sit here and wait for my transportation out of here in peace. I’m pissed off; I feel abused and lied to. I want nothing more to do with this place or the people living here. Every bark brings my blood another degree higher until it begins to boil. I jump up and chase the dog off all while shouting profanities at it. It skimppers off into the darkness and I sit down again. My heart thumps with a mixture of anger and spite.
4:12 – I begin to mellow out and the heavy blanket of the night lays my troubled mind to rest. I squint into the darkness to my right, aching to see any form of transportation. Nothing. I continue to stare; my mind is playing tricks on itself as minutes tick by. Eventually, I begin to see two eyes emerging into the dim moonlit road. These f**king dogs again, I swear to…wait, is that? No…yes! It’s Flea! His pointed black ears, small frame, coarse brown coat, and unique trot jog towards me. “AHHH Flea, my boy! How are you?” I ask while rubbing his ragged ears. In dog, he smiles back by wagging his tail. Flea calms down then sits next to me putting his head on my lap. He knows I’m at the bottom; he can sense it in my posture and hear it in my raspy voice. I have never been more confused, sad, disappointed, and miserable than this exact moment and Flea knows it.
This moment here, right now, is my worst. I think it, feel it, and know it. Nothing will ever be worse than now. I look around in the darkness then up at the moon. I feel small and unworthy, my eyes well up and tears stream down my face. Flea lets out a soft whimper and tucks his head in closer to my body. I put my arm around him holding him close. I tell him thanks.
We sit and I feel his heart beating, I am sure he can feel mine too. I don’t know how much time passes, I guess at this point I don’t care. We just wait together. Eventually, the corner becomes bright and a small van approaches. They stop and ask if I need a ride into the city. I pick up my backpack and stuff it in. I turn back and kneel; Flea jumps and puts his paws on my shoulders. We catch each other’s eyes and both are still. His pointy ears go soft and we stare. “Goodbye friend”
I mutter softy. He licks my chin, telling me that everything will be all right. I rub his head one last time and climb into the van.
I’ll never forget that dog.
Coffee in hand, apple in the other.
Beijing, where to begin? I will start with the weather. The change in temperature, pollution, sunshine, and rain are as fickle as a 12-year old girl’s crush. It changes drastically each day. When I first arrived in January, the pollution was gnarly. It was thick and burnt your nostrils with a pungent smell that resembles burning tires. It is true that you literally cannot see more than 30m in front of you because of the heavy grey smog camping in the air. Fortunately, I live quite a bit north of the city center where pollution hits the hardest. Most days though I don’t have to wear a mask. I think in the last two months I have worn one just three times. The weather in general plays back and forth with a true Minnesotan fashion. In early February there were days hitting the low 60’s. Then two days ago it snowed 5 inches. The temperature drifts consistently between the 30’s and 50’s. Spring is supposed to be short here and I wait with low patience for warmth.
I suppose the weather leads me into my next segment.
“What have you seen?” (You)
“Not a whole lot” says I.
Spring hasn’t started here in the gist that everything is still a dismal shade of grey. I plan to have many busy travel days to the sights around Beijing, but right now I feel it to be pointless. Dead trees and grey skies don’t make for pretty backdrops. I have been to an art district called 798, which was cool. It was a massive warehouse district that was falling under. A group of artists/planners got together and turned the abandoned warehouses into massive galleries. Now the place is a tourist attraction in it’s own. Nearly all of the galleries are free as well making a great place for dates. However, this lone wolf tramped it on his own. The art was impressive, but I wasn’t able to snap a lot of photos inside the galleries.
Otherwise for sights, it has mostly been me getting off at a random subway stop and wandering. I stop in noodle shops, attempt to order, get a duck head, pick at it, then decide McDonalds is a better choice today. Better luck next time champ. I take pleasure in grabbing a coffee; sitting outside, watching people live their lives, and notice the little idiosyncrasies, which are typically overlooked in travel.
And now this brings me to food.
The food is errrrrr, ummmm, ahhhhh, good? It has taken me two months to sort out what is worth trying and what will give you the trots for the next three days. The little noodle shops are the best. They serve a variety of noodle dishes with/without meat, veggies, spice, and sauces. These places typically cost $1-$3USD. Damn cheap and filling. I have found my favorite local place where I now get the hook up. Lovely little family who appear to appreciate my heavily accented Chinese rambles. Eating out at proper restaurants can lean on the expensive side. Perhaps $6-$15USD. Western restaurants, which I have avoided like the plague, cost at least $10-$30USD a meal. I did splurge once on Indian food though. I don’t enjoy the big restaurants so much. I am keen to sit in a little noodle shop, chat with the family, play with their kids, laugh, and share a horrible Yanjin beer with the Dad. While I do eat out fairly often, I eat relatively well at home too. Groceries are mid-ranged for price because of what I buy. They aren’t all that much cheaper than the States. Certain items are oddly expensive, such as a can of tuna for $3. The flavors are just like other Asian countries. Strange Oreos, green tea and prawn chips, and all other sorts of flavored snacks are common. I guess that used to be so foreign and interesting to me, but now it is just simply another preference of taste I am learning to enjoy. The other day I was in the market in the meat/fish section. I was meandering trying to find lean pork when I heard a loud “SLAP, SLAP…SLAP”. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the sound was. I peered around to see a few workers just staring at the ground. I looked to see a massive carp had jumped out of its tank and was flopping about on the ground. Instantly I broke into laughter thinking how odd of a sight it was and in general just simply hilarious. The employees saw me laughing and took to more an interest in my interest in the flopping carp rather than the giant carp actually bopping about on the ground. After feeling their stares I shut it and waited to see what happened next. A man approached with a big net, scooped up the care, tossed it back into the tank, and life continued. I walked away smiling. *Please do look at the McDonalds pictures below.
The Chinese language. It isn’t all that bad. Work puts me up with four hours a week of lessons, which has done wonders. It is only one other person and myself in the lessons so it is pretty much 1:1. The structure of Chinese is like English (S+V+O) and learning the vocabulary isn’t overly difficult if you put in the time. What makes Chinese difficult is the tones. There are 4 main tones that can completely change a word. The same word that is “water” can also mean “who”, just with a different tone. “Beer” can also mean, “Piss” if you don’t pronounce it correctly. The tones are a huge pain in the butt to learn. I do my best and leave a little bit up to situation and context with hopes the person knows what I am saying. Over this year, I see no problem with me becoming strong conversationally fluent.
I got a haircut the other day. There is a barber who cuts hair on the sidewalk for 50 cents but I decided for what I wanted perhaps a real barber would be better suited. I went into a nice establishment. The whole inside was white. I was dumbfounded that anyone in his or her right mind would make a hair studio white, especially in a country where every person has black hair. After first explaining my haircut with a series of gestures and scissor hands I believed they knew what I wanted. First, they sat me down and washed my hair while massaging my body. Not a bad start I thought. Then I was brought over to the chair. I sat down and my haircut started. Just minutes in an employee came over with a cup filled with soda for me. I began to take my hand out from under the sheet when was instantly stopped. The man insisted I just open my mouth where he fed the straw to me, which I sipped. The haircut was brilliant. It took 45 minutes but wow, the guy made sure it was flawless. I doubt you can find a single hair on my head not cut perfectly. I got a second shampoo and massage before I was styled and out the door. The price for my hour and a half experience? $8.
All else is well though. This is about all I feel like writing now. My brain has drifted into today’s wonderings. Check out the pictures below.
Wrote my first part of Tales of Jude. Peep Airport Haze here.
Please read this if you have a few minutes.
A must-read, by assassinated Sri Lankan editor who wrote this letter knowing he might be murdered. An except from the piece – “Last Thursday, Lasantha Wickramatunga, who was fifty-two years old and the editor of a Sri Lankan newspaper called the Sunday Leader, was assassinated on his way to work by two gunmen riding motorcycles. The Leader’s investigative reporting had been fiercely critical of the government and of the conduct of its war against Tamil separatists; Wickramatunga had been attacked before. He knew that he was likely to be murdered and so he wrote an essay with instructions that it be published only after his own death. Some mutual friends in the region sent a copy to me today. Read it in full below. It is like nothing else you will read today, that I promise.”