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16 April 2011 @ 07:43 am
Sadly enough, after a number of years and 2 dfferent LJ blogs..... the day has come. Recently there have just been far too many issues with posting in LJ, or even with viewing others' LJ blogs, to make the experience more frustrating, and more of a slog, than enjoyable.

After brief experimentation----okay, okay, so the options are a bit limited by the number of blog providers currently NOT blocked within mainland China--I've settled on wordpress as new blog provider. *This doesn't mean I won't continue to view friends' LJ blogs, etc.*

Find and read new blog at:

I'll catch you there.

Current Mood: sunny morning
Current Music: cat purring
10 April 2011 @ 08:44 am
Hey, folks. This post had been going to be all about food.... and that requires pictures. But the picture-uploading widget for some reason isn't working quite right, meaning the food post will have to wait.

I estimate I have 10-20 minutes more of electricity at the house--a.k.a. until close to 9 a.m.---at which point it (including the internet) will cut out until about 6 p.m. tonight. This has been the way of things for the past 5 days. The prevailng rumor was that there would be no electricity, possibly at all, for 10 days! And when you hear a rumor like that from more than 4 people, well....in China that's about as good as taking the rumor as fact. For the first few days Old Town didn't have any power whatsoever, not even at night. In New Town at the house our electricity at least has been morning and evening, if not in 白天。

Oh yes and we still don't have running water, since that randomly cut out ~1.5 weeks ago or so. Which is to say we still don't have running water, and haven't "really" since early December. But starting in March the water began flowing into the tank in the yard, which gave us village-style running water. I'll take it! Come on Paradise, give us water back!

ah well. All the same, semi-lack of functioning amenities does make one realize one's underlying assumptions. Such as that flicking a light switch, sometimes unconsciously doing so on going into a dim room, and then expecting a light to go on. Or lifting a faucet handle and expecting water to come out. As a friend put it recently, "Why isn't the magic working?"

That's all for now, if I can even hope to publish before internet and electric cut out.
yours via carrier-pigeon,
02 April 2011 @ 08:07 pm

In the interest of hoping to be able to post (fucking anything at all) (ahem) a blog post, I am harmonizing my own blog. Yes this is pathetic, but one can hope that after about a kajillion failed blog-posting attempts, due to what I can only imagine is related to internet censorship in China, this is a last-ditch effort to keep this blog open versus changing to a different blog provider such as wordpress. btw, LJ and Wordpress both currently not blocked by the Great Firewall, but Blogspot is.

To see my highly inflammatory post involving cute pictures of my kitten, see the entry entitled "Chinese Cats eat Rice" as found on my mom's blog at wingraclaire . For reasons unknown, I could not manage to post it but she could. Is this because:
a) Cats are just too cute to be deemed appropriate for publication?
b) Rice is a highly dangerous substance, not to be allowed outside of China?
c) The post made reference to various books, and reading is clearly a bourgeouis pastime?
d) all of the above?

In all seriousnous, though, sometimes the Great Firewall and the gnarlier aspects of China life get to me. For instance, the other night when I was walking back to the house after a long evening spent monitoring evening study hall, pushing myself up the large hill to the house through a stiff cold wind, I thought how nice it would be to take a long hot bath. But then I remembered I don't have a bathtub. Or running water. So instead I curled up on my (electric) heated bed pad, 电热毯 and decided that was as good as it was going to get.

Speaking of internet though, and how unrestricted it is, and how I can easily access any webpage at anytime (NOTE: China does not get sarcasm), in this article the father of China's "Great Firewall" defends it by noting the US does exactly the same thing. ahem. Why yes, the US and China are in fact exactly the same..... why hadn't I noticed earlier?!

I'm hoping that with the arrival of April--and thereby an end to the month of March, which includes various sensitive anniversaries of Bad Things Happening in Western China---that the internet quality will be more stable coming up. One can hope, anyway. For that and for running water: we finally got our pump back from parts unknown, as sequestered by our landlord (who I'm sure was just looking out for our own best interests....in some way) just in time to coincide with a total lack of running water to the house for the past few days. Even if it's due to the construction going on directly down the hill: come on!

Oh wait, this post was going to be filled with butterflies and rainbows and singing joyous harmoniousness. oops.

p.s. I did eat a very delicious dinner tonight and am pleasantly full. Chicken alfredo on rice, with broccoli. mmm. If I continue to be able to post, the next one will likely be about food.

Current Location: paradise
Current Mood: "happy"
Current Music: perfect harmony
07 March 2011 @ 02:49 pm
Being ill has had its moments. I'm still not feeling very well... but a little better every day. (Or a regression, but overall an improvement.) The last time I went in to the Tibetan Medicine Hospital, the doctor who's been treating me was sitting around a space heater together with some women doctors. He asked:
"Are you a little better?"
"Yes, a little better. But I still get tired very easily when I do activities."
"What sort of activities have you been doing???" ---and at this they all burst into laughter.
"Oh...walking, and biking a little. Not other kinds of activities!"

Oh, to be a foreign-language speaker and bumble along, not ever fully understanding language or culture. Later that session, after the cupping, the doctor asked me if I had some time. "I have a treatment I want to give you. It takes some time but isn't expensive. It's 电脑 (dian4-nao3, computers)."
"Um, what?" ==> the doctor mimed squeezing his head.
"电疗!" (dian4-liao4, electro-therapy)
This "electrotherapy" turned out to be a machine-induced massage meant to stimulate muscles and blood in the afflicted areas. Before we began, as the doctor pulled out the paddles to strap to my shoulders and to a small metal volt-o-meter-type machine, I nervously asked him if it would be dangersous. "Nah! Don't be nervous!"

During the acupuncture and cupping phase there had been a few other people who came in while I was already sitting in the room with needles in my neck and shoulders. (I know: ick.) A few women with arthritis (maybe), and then an old nai-nai grandmother accompanied by her 20-something y.o. granddaughter. The grandmother was getting acupuncture and cupping on her knees, lower legs, and feet. It looked very painful. The granddaughter and I got to talking, and it turns out she runs a cafe in the Old Town that I've walked past many times but never been in to. "Come in sometime and I'll give you a cup of coffee," she offered.

Maybe people make alliances at hospitals anywhere, but in China too there are less senses of interpersonal boundaries than in the US, to the point that people of the same sex feel comfortable walking arm-in-arm with you (even if you're not very close), putting their arm around your shoulders, etc. Sometimes this becomes trying as a foreigner who's used to even a pretense of personal space. But at the hospital this translated into this girl feeling comfortable helping adjust a pillow in front of me and helping to tie up my hair. Very nice. I'm not sure such a comfort level would have been reached that quickly in the US.

I also may have stretched my guanxi with a different barrista + a hostel owner, whilst inadvertandly stumbling into a potential Pyramid Selling Scheme in a company called Ceragem. The barrista has back problems and recommended a massage place to me. But when I couldn't find the massage place ("near Chibuka Street, and with a blue sign"), a hostel owner with whom I'm friendly brought me there, since he also knew the place. It turned out to be up a narrow crumbling stairwell whose railing was hanging jaggedly off into the stairwell's abyss as though something very large and heavy had collided with it, repeatedly, until it gave up being upright. 

Strangest damn massage parlor I have ever seen. (A certain number of "massage parlors“ in China double as prostitution venues; this one wasn't that.) Walking into the large upstairs room, beds lined the walls while in the middle of the floor stood rows upon rows of chairs: all facing towards a white board, podium, and large- flat-screen TV that was on a constant loop about the company's glorious history, parternships, and accomplishments. I was asked to take off my outerwear and lie down on a bed--which turned out to be heated, and with a roller underneath that slowly went up and down the course of my body--and to put a warm glowing egg carton-looking device onto my stomach.

Then a young man came and squatted next to the bed, talking up Ceragem's accomplishments and how this treatment was superior to any other treatment out there. How previouly he'd never heard about this company but now he was a True Believer. And how, did I know?, origianally the company was from Korea! In fact I did know, because on large color poster covering the entire wall in front of me were pictures of the Chinese flag linked to the South Korean flag; of the Pope (!) next to someone Korean, and pictures of happy people across the world receiving Ceragem's miraculous treatment.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
"Well, I feel... warm. This bed is very comfortable."
"But do know it's therapeutic. You must come every single day, Monday to Saturday, and slowly you'll see the benefits."
"I'm not so sure about this being therapeutic."
"You must persist! This treatment is superior to any other." (etc.

After awhile I got creeped out by the constant exhortations and the strangeness of lying on a heated bed under a heated egg carton, and got up to leave. "But you can't leave yet, your time isn't up!" "Nope, I'm going home." At this point a middle-aged man grabbed the egg carton-looking contraption off of the next bed over and proceeded to tell me it was made of shenmeshenme. Um, what? Shenmeshenme! Plastic? No! Very special and effective shenmeshenme! At this point I was fed up and began guessing in English: Silicon?---which of course only got blank stares. "Sit down and rest a moment!" "No...I'm going to go rest at home."
On the way out the door I ran into the barrista girl who'd referred me to this place. She also began an exhortation about the treatment's benefits. I tried to extricate myself politely... hopefully we can still be friends.

And.... what's that lurking behind the chickens in a Kunming market....

a tiger! And why this picture??--because I have a newly-arrived kitten sleeping on my lap!! More about the cat, and pictures, in another post soon. :-)
Current Mood: cat!
01 March 2011 @ 11:09 pm

This week has been one in which things fell apart and slowly are getting put back together into a harmonious synergy. (This being China, the aspect of 'harmony' is key.) Things in need of harmonizing were: my body, my bike, and some clothing. I'll talk about body last since it included perhaps the most...."cultural" of methods. 

-Bike tune-up from street-corner bike fix-it guy. When I arrived and began explaining what was wrong with the bike, the young woman at the cart got flustered and said she'd call in the big-boss, who was currently in a noodle shop just down the street. She called to him and soon a burly guy clad all in green army fatigues, plus a red-panda hat, came striding out and I began the poorly-worded litany again. This bike tune-up was long overdue partly because of knowing my inability to explain bike terminology. Even my bike English always ends up sounding like gobbledygook, liberally infused as it is with use of such technicalities as "thingamajig." Nonetheless my bike had issues and therefore must be fixed, so I prevailed and used the time-honored trick of pointing.

==> Eloquence: "This thing right here [point at the gears] has some problems. And sometimes it makes a bad sound. Also, these [point at gear shifters] have moved to below here [point at handlebars]; I fixed it in the past but now they've moved down again. And the seat is not very sturdy."

==>Result: Army fatigue / Panda-hat -clad bike fix-it guy grunted an assertion and pulled out tools to get to work. I got nervous when he pulled out a hammer (!) and squatted down next to the gears.... but thankfully he didn't start hacking at the gears, and instead delicately tapped. Thus reassured, I was even (almost) not phased as, without saying a word, he got on my bike and rode off down the street. Test ride. My bike is now functioning much better than it had been, and all for the hefty price of 10 kuai (US$1.40).

Just prior to adventures in bike tune-ups, I brought some clothes to be fixed to one of the ladies with a foot-powered sewing machine that set up shop at the bottom of my road. "I've been sitting here for 11 years!" she told me proudly. "You can't buy this kind of sewing machine anymore, even if you looked for it!"
==> I brought a sweatshirt that needed its zipper replaced, and 3 pairs of pants and long underwear with large and small rips to be repaired. Offered price: 25 kuai. "Here, choose a zipper. Which color do you want? These plastic ones cost 15 yuan. Here, how about this metal one?--it costs 18 yuan and is higher quality, but I'll still only charge you 25 yuan total." Deal.

However that still leaves the question of....

Body. Throughout these other fix-it errands, water-hauling, and market-going I had been sort of limping stiffly through town, being as my neck and back were still messed up from the previous week-and-a-half's travels overland. It didn't help that the return trip---though still significantly shorter and faster than the onward trip from Shangri-la to Chengdu--consisted of 14.5 hrs of train [overnight] + 1 hr city bus + 9 hrs long-distance bus [sleep overnight] + 3.3 hrs bus.

But this wasn't just any train ride...as Chinese trains in hard-sleeper class are quite nice...it was a hard-seat train ride!!  The picture above gives an idea of what my reality was for 14.5 hrs of hard-seat overnight fun from Chengdu to Panzhihua. Actually this picture could represent any of those hours, including overnight, because--unlike in the hard or soft-sleeper classes--they never turn out the lights. Hard-seat is an extremely acceptable way to travel for any train ride up to ~5 hours or so. Sometimes--like on the way to Sanya in January--the seats are like diner booths, with 3-4 people assigned to each bench; and sometimes hard seat is like in the above picture, where the train has converted the hard-sleeper bunks into hard-seat class, but in which passengers are strictly forbidden from sleeping on said bunks! (oh the cruel twist.) Instead there are 4 people assigned to each lower bunk and luggage gets put on the middle bunk and (at least on this past train) one extraordinarily lucky person does get to sleep on the top bunk. On this trip I counted myself as minorly luckly for the sheer sake of snagging the seat nearest the window, thereby being able to lay my head down on the little table rather than having nothing at all to lean against.

But it could have been worse! So much worse! In fact I left Chengdu a full day later than intended, and on the absolute last day possible to even hope to get back to Shangri-la in time to make an appearance at work, to avoid the horrifying prospect of a "standing ticket." A standing ticket, a.k.a. a 无座票 (seat-less ticket) is exactly as it sounds. On the long, long trip overland to Sanya a few hours were spent in just such agony, made worse (Dear Reader did you think it couldn't get worse? mwhaha) by the fact of our train being delayed and our seatlessness happening from 2:30 a.m. to 4:15 a.m. (At which point we were fortunate enough to be able to squeeze out of that car, run down the train platform as fast as our sleep-deprived-addled bodies would carry us and our luggage through the mid-January chill, to be able to get back on the same exact train!, but in hard-sleeper class. Even despite the bedding being grimy and the bunk's previous occupant having left seed shells and a bag of orange peels on the bunk!, it was a bunk vs. a seatless existence. But I digress.)

Seatless class is exactly what it sounds like but costs the same as a hard-seat ticket (oh the irony). These poor people sit and lie down wherever they can: in between cars, in the sink room, in the smoking area, in the aisleway...Anywhere they can find a space. One older man lay down in the aisleway right outside my (comparatively comfortable) hard-seat compartment. It was very undignified, and I felt like offering him my seat ...except for the literally hundreds like him on the train. It is just as crowded as it sounds.
Seat-ed and seat-less people, middle-of-the-night trip leg on the way to Sanya:

Ingrid and Natalie rocking the seatlessness, positioned precariously underneath man getting hot water for his 方便面, ramen-noodle bowl (a staple food on Chinese trains). oops uploaded the wrong pic, but all the same:

This all resulted in the need for a body fix-up and saw me going to the T1betan Medicine Hospital twice this past week. It was a mildly terrifying experience, since as a 外国人 this is the sphere of littlest understanding and language. But the doctors were knowledgeable, and, as promised it was a very "cultural" experience. First of all, there's the differing notion of personal space. In the US if you went in for a dose of massage + acupuncture+ cupping you would most likely be in your own room. Not so in China, where you're in a shared room together with whoever else wanders in to gets treated. You can see up close as other people get poked with needles, grimace in pain, get their sore parts massaged, etc. And it absolutely is not impolite to watch. In turn other people watch procedures get done to you! During the 1st visit the doctor at one point asked my friend to close the door... though this didn't prevent curious Chinese people from looking through the wall of glass windows in at me to see what the foreigner was having done, nor to prevent the policeman lying on the bed next to me, having his foot worked on, from looking over at me if he so chose.
==>Result: Felt very shitty but slightly better after the 1st treatment, and much much better after the 2nd. A la the sketchy "bone-helping" pills from Kangding (see previous post), I now have been prescribed "blood-invigorating" pills. Whatever that means!

Current Location: bed
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"

Mountains on the way into Kangding.

Now that most of a week has passed since I returned from the Chengdu trip, and I'm sitting here on a brightly sunny Saturday morning with a mug of coffee combined with some walnut-flavored milk (whose package proclaims, "Every day happy many!", but is perhaps not the best flavor combo with coffee)--- I finally feel up to writing about the trip. When you see the pictures of the horrendous road conditions you will understand why even the thought of the trip makes me feel tired all over again. The order we went was: Shangri-la --> Xiangcheng --> Litang --> Kangding --> Chengdu (rest for a few days; see pandas; Jonas leaves) --> Panzhihua --> Lijiang --> Shangri-la.

I also did tweak my neck (er, it was tweaked) during all the hours spent bumping over bad road conditions. I'd been appropriating Jonas's ibuprofen (bu4-luo4-fen1 布洛芬)pills for days before I actually went to a pharmacy in Kangding. When I walked in there was no one to be seen, until a man wearing a motorcycle helmet walked out of the back room.
"What are you looking for?"
"um...Do you work here?"
"Yes. What seems to be the problem?" (at which point he took off the motorcycle helmet.)

The only fringe benefit of having a neck issue is that now I know how to say "herbal adhesive compress" (or whatever the hell it's called in English) in Chinese: tie2 贴 or gao1yao4 膏药。Motorcycle-pharmacist-man had asked me if I wanted a blabbity-blah (um, a what?!), which turned out to be the compresses. In addition to a 4-pack of those, and a pack of 布洛芬 tablets, he also offered me a small bottle of sketchy-looking red pills "that help your bones." When I dithered at the end over what to actually buy (US$2.25 for the compresses and that much again for the ibuprofen! expensive!) he asked whether I wanted the bone-helping pills. "要不要?They only cost 2.5 yuan [US$0.30]." Sure... why the hell not? And thus medicated, I began the last leg of the trip into Chengdu. Ironically it turned out to be the only section of the trip that was basically all paved.

Our trip to Xiangcheng started with not being able to buy tickets to go there. The attendants at the Shangrila bus station led us on for days, saying "there might be a bus tomorrow," "we don't know if there is a bus tomorrow," "check back tomorrow about a bus on the day after," etc. When we finally did buy a ticket to Xiangcheng, on the last day possible for Jonas to be able to make the trip on his shortened time frame, it turned out we got near to the last of the tickets. This is the inside of the bus: the luggage was piled so high in the aisleway that to get to our seats near the back we had to climb on armrests and other peoples' seats, avoid stepping on monks and nuns (who were sitting in ~10 of the seats), and basically try to catapult ourselves into and out of our seats when necessary:

Not only that, but just after leaving the SGL bus station the bus pulled over to the side of the road to let on ~8 additional people who then spent the next 7 bumpy hours sitting/standing in the front of the bus's aisleway and sitting on the engine block up next to the driver. We made only 1 rest stop that day; we must still have been in Yunnan, because this gentleman is smoking a home-made bong, and bongs are a Yunnan Specialty Product. (really!)

Unpaved bumpy dirt roads aside, when we scraped frost off the inside of the bus windows (repeatedly), the views were absolutely phenomenal, with almost the whole days' scenery being amazing mountains, river valleys thousands of meters below, and with nothing as bourgeouis as guardrails to block our view of bumpy-dirt-road to the precipitous drop below. It was incredibly precipitous. This was to be a theme for the majority of the trip to Chengdu. Mountain switchbacks, just some of many:

If the SGL bus station had stammered and delayed information and denied bus knowledge, they looked lik experts in the face of the Xiangcheng bust station's utter incompetence and reluctance to sell tickets. When we'd arrived there at 3 p.m. we found the ticket window closed. Circa 5 p.m. we walked in again to find that a group of Chinese tourists had managed to buy tickets....and just in time to see the ticket-selling window snap close again.
"Hey we want to buy tickets too."
"Sorry we are off work now. You'll have to come back tomorrow."
"But we want to go to Litang tomorrow."
"There aren't any buses to Litang."
"But there are buses to Kangding, and the Kangding buses pass through Litang."
"Those buses are sold out."

Useless, infuriatingly useless. But we did find out from the Chinese tourists that their bus to Kangding left at 6 a.m. the next morning. So after an evening of drinking panda-themed beer and eating rather strange hotpot, and of going to a strangely half-under-construction, basically-deserted monastery, we stayed in a hole of a hotel and were out at the bus station by 5:30 a.m. the next morning to try to get a seat on the bus. Or the 3 buses all going to Kangding, as turned out to be the case. Except that we couldn't figure out, in the mass of milling people, who the drivers of the buses were. So we rushed around, enquiring, and Jonas and I taking turns to go into the bus station and make further futile inquiries into buying tickets. Finally, when it was almost 6 a.m., we went out to the street to see if we could hop onto the buses there and sit in the aisleways for the duration of the trip. All 3 buses pulled out in sequence, drove past us with Tib.-pop music already thumping, and left us standing there in the dark early morning cold with only the glow of villages in the valley below and a few rooster crows. Thankfully we did manage to take a shared van to Litang later in the morning, at 7:30 a.m., ironically leaving from the the hotel where we'd spent the night, and for almost 2x the price as the bus would've cost.

Rest stop on the way to Litang:

Litang is up at the mere altitude of ~4015 m (13,164') and surrounded by vast grasslands and snow mountains. After our very bumpy 5 hr van ride, we arrived around noon. Rumor had been that it was difficult to buy tickets in Litang, but it turned out to be a very straightforward interaction: Hello we want to go to Kangding tomorrow. Oh okay the bus leaves at 6:30 a.m. and costs 85 yuan. Yes we would like 2 tickets. Thank you.

The town itself is a big town but not yet a city, and rather quiet (low on people and open shops) in the still-continuing Chinese New Year / Losar holidays. There were many many monks and yaks wandering the streets along with some dogs and pigs. We were the only foreigners in the town (that we saw, at least,) and everyone we saw on the streets offered an enthusiastic "Tashi-delek!" We declined to stay at the "Authorized Hotel for Foreigners," instead checking into the comfortable Potala Inn before setting out for lunch. Settling into a noodle shop run by 3 friendly young women sitting at a table making dumplings, I told them, to their amusement and Jonas's embarrasment, that he would like to sleep (perhaps with them?) vs. to eat dumplings---shui4 jiao4 vs. shui2 jiao3--and that I wanted noodle soup with fried egg. Jonas's dumpling soup turned out to have the added, ahem, bonus containing 2 large chunks of plastic, not dissimilar to either coal or legos. My soup was plastic-free.

Litang has the most white stupas of anywhere I have seen. There are a fair number at the White Stupa Park 白塔公园,and many many more at the large monastery just above town. After going to the park and wandering around the town's back streets for awhile, we headed up to the monastery. It, too, seemed under-renovation. All the same, a beautiful place and with a view out over the grasslands and town and to the mountains beyond. While there we were approached by an enthustiastic young monk who vigourously invited us back to his quarters. He spoke little Chinese and we speak no Tibetan, so this exchange contained a lot of gestures. His quarters were comprised of a small room with a couch/bed, an electric hotplate stove / table, small cat, posters of famous lamas and of Lhasa covering the walls, and small pots of staple foods like oil, butter, and tsampa. The monk was very curious about everything we had in our bag, from notebooks to a pack of hairties, and when he started parading around the room in Jonas's head lamp I pulled out my camera and asked to take a picture. This quickly turned into a monkly photo shoot: first of each of us with him, then of him positioned on his couch-bed beneath the poster of Lhasa. First just him, then, with much preparation, together with a large bottle of Coca Cola and two paper fans--in multiple poses--and then, again, with a robe draped across his lap. At this point we said we needed to go.

View from the monastery (see all the stupas?!?):

And in the monk's quarters:

You can read about how in Litang we also got massively, horrendously overcharged for our dinner, and how then I proceeded to almost fall into an open sewer but was saved by stumbling over a yak. Okay not the bit about the yak... but find it all in Jonas's fine blog post, "The Test Has Been Thwarted," which, though I proclaimed it rather proudly after NOT falling into the sewer, really is a phrase that refers to our trip as a whole: thwarting one test after another after another.

More later! In the next installment: precarious roads, mind-blowing mountains, and pandas---among other things. ;-) Stay tuned!

Current Location: inside on a sunny day
Current Mood: soresore
17 February 2011 @ 11:59 am

I'm a bit tired and possibly getting sick, so this entry will be more of a photo essay than a word essay. As you can tell by my overall eloquence, the journey to Chengdu has done wonders for my eloquence.  I'm going to catch up on blog / travel posts sequentially, starting from Shaxi before getting to Chinese New Year and (finally) to this most recent stretch from Shangri-la to Chengdu through western Sichuan

After the VIA conference and a day spent in Kunming, Jonas and I spent a very long day getting from Kunming to Shaxi. 沙溪 Shaxi is in northwestern Dali prefecture, and southwest of Shangri-la by ~5 hours. It's an old town that had been on the famous Tea & Horse trading route, with a well-preserved 'old town' and under preservationist funding (and orders) to keep it that way. Nonetheless, unlike Lijiang (and ol' Shangri-la), Shaxi is not over-run by tourists, or at least wasn't when we were there. Our guest house was very welcoming too: HorsePen46. The other (mainly Chinese) guests welcomed us into their midsts, to the point that, on our first night of arrival, just a few minutes after stumbling in the doors at 10 p.m., we found ourselves playing a few rounds of a competative version of Uno. ["yu-no!"]

Our big draw for going to Shaxi was to see the weekly regional market day, and we were not disappointed. People dressed in all manner of ways and lugging all manner of items passed by us in a constant tumult. When we went out early morning in search of breakfast the market was already getting busy; by mid-morning it was at full steam, with the entirety of the town converted into 3-4 seperate markets, and selling everything from vegetables and livestock, to bricks of tofu covered in mold (ewww), to fireworks for the upcoming Chinese New Year (a.k.a. Spring Festival), to saddles and ropes and clothing.

The quality of some things seemed questionable, such as the cheap jugs of 3%-alcohol wine. Or the fireworks that someone else at our hostel bought: the type that shoots colored balls of flame out of the end of the tube that you're holding in your hand (dangerious much?) worked fine--albeit that sometimes the flame balls landed at your feet and sometimes 20' ahead in the river--but the sparklers refused to light, and when a few in the bundle finally did begin to burn, after a few sparks they went out again and were deemed to be 假的, fakes. Nonetheless, Jonas and I both bought decent gloves and found other items too, like a calendar.

And everyone, everyone (except us) was carrying baskets on their backs. Greenly-blooming basket:

Not just a good place to put your purchases, but also to hold your child:

But why stop with baskets, when you could carry larger items---like a dresser or washing machine??

Aside from the market, Shaxi was a relaxing place to be. We got absolutely delicious hot chocolate at Allen's Cafe--with milk the owner said was fresh from the cow--and spent a good few days wandering around the town's back alleyways. Our hostel owners even took us on a hike in the surrounding countryside, to 石宝山,Rocky Treasures Mountain, and cooked all the guests a nice dinner. Since Shaxi is only a 4-hr bus ride (to Jianchuan) + 40-minute van ride from Shangri-la, I foresee going there for some weekends this spring. I'll be sitting inside the bus, unlike these chickens who rode on the roof for the chilly journey from Jianchuan to Shangri-la:


Current Location: Sim's Hostel, Chengdu
Current Mood: lethargiclethargic
It's been a long, long time since I've updated (a month, in fact), and in the interim I've criss-crossed China a few times. Not a small thing, considering the size of the country. Or the state of some of the country's, ahem, "National Hightways"---which, as Jonas and I decided whilst bumping along on (traversing?) a particularly multiple-hours' long stretch in rural western Sichuan, whilst overlooking precipitous drops into the valleys below, views unencumbered by anything as silly as decent guardrails--decided meant 'selectively paved.' Thankfully the choice of phraseology enabled us to give a measure of agency to the Highway Department in the fact that National Highway #318 (Nepal to Shanghai) was selectively UNpaved on the corners of mountainous switchbacks, a fact that most probably contributated to our ultimate survival.

As you can tell, spending ~8 hrs/day on said roads, and in rural western Sichuan, also did wonders for our English abilities. Whilst bumpings along we'd try to throw in as many Scrabble-worthy words as possible, in attempts not only to "practice our English" (as Chinese people often are wont to do on sight of a foreigner) but also as a way to pass the time. But I'm getting ahead of myself and what will for sure by a multi-entry blog post, since this past month has been completely filled with travel and Cultural Experiences. (Yes: capital C, capital E.)

In summary, in mid-/late January I headed to the SE, from Shangri-la's lack of running water overland to tropical Sanya on the southern tip of Hainan Island in China's far southeast, for VIA'-China's annual conference. VIA reimbursed volunteers for the amount equivalent to roundtrip, "hard sleeper" travel from their post to- and from conference. I didn't go completely directly.... but I did go overland all the way to Sanay!!---a stunning ~70 hours of transit! This was: a 12-hr sleeper bus from Shangri-la to Kunming---which, due to an inexplicable traffic / road construction / possible traffic jam delay turned into 17 hrs; then a 25 hr train to Changsha + a further 2 hr train to visit a few VIA friends in rural Hunan province; and a semi-fiasco of a three train-leg journey from rural Hunan to get to Sanya, for ~28 hrs of further train/transfer travel--- including the train getting loaded onto a boat for the trip from mainland China onto Hainan Island!!!, thereby ensuring that every Chinese province is accesible by train, if just barely.

The train going onto the ship, to get transported across the strait and onto Hainan Island:

[Reminder: this post is just going to be an overview!! There is much to tell.]

After conference I flew from Sanya to Kunming, thereby reducing the trip from 50+ hours to a mere 2. I almost cried, it was so much less effort and time. Accompanying me was friend and VIA-comrade Jonas. We spent a week moving northward in Yunnan, eventually spending a night in ol' Shangri-la before leaviing the next day for a week in rural Tacheng area of neighboring Weixi county. Intense but very good. There we celebrated Chinese New Year, a.k.a. Spring Festival--- China's most important holiday.
Then back to Shangri-la, where we were joined by an impromptu visit by our friend Daniel, who lives in Beijing and had come overland from Hong Kong. After a few nice days all together in Zhongdian (and with charging boarding-house fees in the form of helping haul water from the public fountain back to the house), Daniel left to go back south toward Kunming and to fly to Beijing, and Jonas and I headed north to Ganzi Prefecture in western Sichuan.

We have spent the last 4 days seeing a few places in Ganzi and sitting on bumpy transportation for 6-9 hours/day to get to those places. In upcoming blog posts I'll tell more about those places! But if you're eager to know more, we went: Shangri-la --> Xiangcheng --> Litang --> Kangding --> Chengdu. It looks easy when you spell it out like that. But in actuality.... wow. In some ways easy but in other ways rather difficult.

And now, having finally made it to Chengdu earlier this evening, and very tired, I'll leave it there. Devoid of details but with the promise of blog posts (and photos!) to come.
Current Location: Chengdu!
Current Mood: a bit dazed
14 January 2011 @ 08:34 am
Well! After 2 weeks in Italy and slightly less than 1 week at "home" in Shangri-la, I am back on the road for a bit of domestic Chinese travel. Some of it is required for my volunteer organization, VIA, and some is self-chosen so that I can see friends along the way.

**I will post more about Italia when I am back in Shangri-la in a few weeks, and with access to things like pictures from the trip.** In the meantime....
I left Rome last week Wednesday (can that be possible?!?), flying first to Budapest, then to Beijing (entering the 'guo on Thursday morning), and to Kunming by Thursday mid-day. This put me on track to get back to Shangri-la via 14-hr sleeper bus by Friday (!) mornng... after a mere ~40 hrs of travel. O_o All the same: it was good to go away and it's good to be back. Listen this Monty Python song, "I like Chinese," for an inkling. Yes!, it's somewhat offensive, but also verrry catchy. Click on 试听 to have a listen: http://mp3.baidu.com/m?f=ms&tn=baidump3&ct=134217728&lf=&rn=&word=i+like+chinese&lm=-1

In my 6 hr layover in Kunming last week Thursday, I took multiple cross-town buses to buy my sleeper-bus ticket home, and then to a verrrry crowded train station. When I saw people lugging a washing machine (!!) in the bus station---ostensibly to take from the provincial capital back to their village--,saw a guy just lounging on his motorbike at an intersection's sidewalk, waiting for a friend; and when I peed in a trench: I knew I was back.

Anyway. It remains fairly cold in Zhongdian. Still no running water, unsurprisingly, though it seems our lack of water will soon reach new lows (a.k.a. new comic heights). By this I mean that, for one thing, we are getting very low on the water in the tubs that we filled up pre-total-freeze. Also:
-A few times in the week I hauled liter-bottles-full of water from ETTI to the house to be used in the bathroom.
-Just before I left the house the day-before-yesterday, I attempted to wash my dishes. Ha! What an idea. For a month now the sponge has been like a brick that softens only when hot water is on it; but this time, a tuft of sponge remained frozen stuck to the countertop.
-AND: when I rinsed the dishes (from ladle-fuls of water), the sink wasn't draining. It seems the entirety of the sink might be frozen, and that now, for the next ~3 months, it will be full of 5 inches of frozen rinse-water.
-And, lastly, I realized that the refridgerator doesn't so much keep things cold as keep them "warm," and prevents them from freezing. I hadn't refridgerated the mushrooms I'd bought (because, in usual circumstances and a cold house...why would you?), and when I went to use them, found them frozen solid. No problem, says I, and puts them in a small bowl of water to rinse and maybe unfreeze a little. But when I went back to cook them a bit later, I found a layer of ice across the top of the bowl. O_o This is inside my kitchen, mind you.

For  a brief reprieve I went for 1-ish day with friends to a Shangri-la-area tourist attraction that none of us had been to before, Bai Shui Tai, 白水台,"White Water Terraces." No swimming there, but: when I asked the guesthouse whether they had running water, they gave me a strange look, brought me over to the tap, and turned it on to show me that it worked. So I took a shower!! I hadn't showered since Naples.

Now: breakfast, and then I head east, braving a crowded train station. It took 16 hours (!!!) on the sleeper bus to get to Kunming, vs. the usual 12. On the train today (arr. tomorrow, duh) it'll be 26-ish hours to Changsha. More from there.
Current Location: Kunming
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Current Music: something Chinese-folkysy
21 December 2010 @ 06:58 am

This past Sunday I went to a T1betan wedding in a village not far outside of Shangi-la. It was in Hamugu Village 哈木谷村:

I went with friends from the Handicraft Center. It was a boy's wedding, meaning the festvities were lasting for 3 days! Sunday was day #2 of 3. It was also the day the bride arrived from her village (nearby), escorted by a procesion of women from her village:

Relatives of the bride wore this special gold-colored shawl. Male relatives of the groom were wearing a gold-colored breastplate-kind-of-thing. But it seemed rude to take their photos.

However, because one of the people we'd come with had already integrated herself with the cohort of grandmothers and was having her picture taken... on their suggestion I jumped in it too.

There were multiple rounds of food, including butter tea (hurray!) and beer/coke:

There was even a gentleman in a yellow coat offering up something slightly different. Not only that, but on the back of his jacket were the words in large text: "Volunteer Minister," and on the front, "Church of Scientology." strange. Later when I asked him about the jacket he said (as I'd suspected) that someone had given it to him. But in the meantime, he went around to tables, offering cigarettes to the men. When he got to our table containing 2 foreigners he barely paused before uttering, "Hello?" and putting forward his tray. It was funny.

Before we left we went into one of the houses, because the manager of the Handicraft Center had an item of business to attend to. In the top floor of the house we found the [fairly typical] chunks of drying meat. In this case they seemed mainly to be pig heads. Yum? We also saw the party-favors before they'd gotten given out: 2 large lumps of brown sugar + 1 package of instant noodles, given in a cellophane bag. Ah, cultural differences.

Shu Wei with pig head. And, pig heads/parts:

Then, for wont of transport options and because it was good weather, we walked back to town. Across the grassland. For 2 hours. See the moon above the mountains in the 2nd pic?

But that was then. And this morning at 4:30 a.m. found me waking to cheery folk music up on a train that would soon pull into Kunming. Now, at the ripe hour of almost 7a.m., I sit at an internet cafe near the train station waiting for the sun to rise and for public transportation to begin. And why am I in Kunming, you might ask????---- because I'm going to Italy! To see my sister and mom.
This is a pic of 1 sign leading into Shangri-la's Old Town, which is variously called: -Dukezong Lold Town; -City zong, Alone; -Alone, Pope City. I'm sure this will be great  prep for the Vatican. Right?

Current Location: Kunming
Current Music: someone's game or video in internet cafe