Thursday, August 27, 2009

Final Words

Not working is an important detail for vacations. Unless, of course, you choose to work on the canoe you're building, or work on your guitar skills, or even work on your "self".

This summer i didn't do much work, although i did recommence my daily meditations, having almost entirely withdrawn from my meditation practice for the last year or so. i've been struck that my meditations are... good for me! i feel like there's a lot of dirty corners in my brain that have been gathering dust for some time. i still have the usual issues to work on regarding acceptance, forgiveness, craving, desire, anger, yadda yadda. So i'm happy to note that i have rediscovered a few moments of purity, which felt really really nice.

Also over the course of the last couple months, i had a number of tangible lessons about Patience. Relax. Chill out. Don't f'ing HURRY, because even though you want to HURRY, there's no need whatsoever to HURRY. Don't get me wrong. Sometimes you need to HURRY (like when you are overdue to urinate, and there's no back alleys in site). But sometimes you don't. So then you can relax; chill out; and not f'ing HURRY.

Also, from my travels, i would like to share my newly gained wisdom w/ you, fellow readers, whoever you are, and inform you of these things which no trip in China should be complete without.

-38 degree weather
-snowfall and long underwear
-Thanks to the shaggy goatee, being mistaken for Mongolian
-Otherwise, consistently being mistaken for a 25 yr old Japanese dude.
-disturbingly intimate encounters with strangers' feces and phlegm
-baijiu rice wine
-rocking out in a guitar bar, and being asked by staff play again the next night
-jumping off a bridge
-being refused service in a restaurant
-in the washroom outside of the buddhist temple, walking in on a dude wanking it
-trying to slurp down noodles while the restaurant owner stomps on the mouse who was strolling through
-recognizing that too many prayer flags looks exactly like a used car lot sale
-cleverly peeing in a bottle during a fully peopled long distance bus ride. And being rather stressed out beforehand

And then this morning my mom asked me if i'm looking forward to work. Huh? What the hell kind of question is that? Work? Or holiday? Work? Um, i don't think so. But. That said, i feel like my holiday was as epic as it needed to be, and certainly not lacking in any area. Unless you count trying to find coffee in Xinjiang.

Soon i'll put up some pix on Flickr and FB. Peace.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Hm, hardly a riot in sight. Quiet. A little too quiet...
In fact, i was rather surprised that people in Urumqi seemed to be pretty mellowed out, 1 month after people were madly knocking on doors trying to identify the ethnicity of whoever answered in order to decide whether to bloodily bash their skulls apart or not.

The fact that i was able to visit the province at all felt like a slip up on the part of the authorities, and as such i felt like a privileged guest of honor. Not surprisingly, most travelers had thought or decided that the place was off limits, and thus i really was an exceptional visitor.

Xinjiang is pretty rad. You can go places where it really feels like China has disapeared, and that you've landed somewhere in the middle east. Not a "chinese" face to be seen. Lots of skewered lamb, mosques, scarf-veiled women, and fez-topped men.

i felt quite elated just to wander around, largely resisting the urge to snap photos. People getting on with their lives post-violence struck me as both necessary and courageous. Apparently the gov't released numbers were unsurprisingly lowballed. i hear roughly 250 Uighur and Han people were murdered in last months unfortunate riots, as caused by years of stewing resentment from gov't promoted Han immigration, and city infrastructure improvements which didn't affect the original minority group residents. Anyhow, for the 250 recently deceased, there's pbly 2500 very disturbed and angry and depressed city folk out there. No way of knowing if i saw any of them, but i was hanging out in the very limited areas where the riots took place.

Also, i should note that there is a LOT of army and police presence. Riot cops, riot gear, riot-proof vehicles abound. Soldiers stand on circus platforms under circus umbrellas to keep a serious eye over the people buying their groceries and buying lamb skewers. They get all annoyed when you point a camera at them, so you have to be sneaky about it. At any rate, no one grabbed or smashed my camera which was a relief.

Xinjiang is really cool. The city does look like it had a boom 15 years ago, 'cuase all there's lots of big not-so new buildings, mostly in the chinese majority parts of town. Pretty cosmo, but not a McDonalds or Starbucks to be seen, which was very refreshing. Nice markets, happening night market.

The city felt ... open. Xinjiang, i thank you for welcoming me.

Monday, August 17, 2009


tomorrows tomorrow
Originally uploaded by statusqphotos
after waiting for THREE hours in line yesterday, i was told they had no tickets to Urumqi.

Today after waiting for 10 minutes in a line in a diff train station, i was given tickets to Urumqi for this afternoon. Score. That's how it goes in this country.

Apparently there's no long distance phone calls or internet access from Xinjiang province since the riots in Urumqi.

So, i may be out of touch until i get bk to bj.

And i'm trying to get bk to bj a day earlier than originally planned.

'cause i miss my gf.

But i also wonder how much of the missing is just wanting to have sex.

Hard to say.

But i guess that's human nature.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Them Monks

Originally uploaded by statusqphotos
You know, of course, that almost all have cell phones now.
And some wear headphones. Pbly listening to dharma talks.
Many are over due for a hair cut.
Some panhandle, or busk, approaching restaurant patrons.
Some hang out in overpriced tea houses.
I know they shave their heads, but what's the rule for facial hair?
i saw a couple stylish goatees, for sure.
They often hang out with non-monks who look a bit like thugs.

Beats me. i hung out w/ this one monk for a while, after we sat on the bus together. He can't work, but he has a bank account filled with money given to him. From family members, i gather. He says no monks should drink beer, though i hear some do. he never has time to talk to the nuns.

He took me to his family's modest place, and later we had a genuine fight about the bill for dinner. Shit, i shouldn't let a monk pay for my food! Isn't he supposed to graciously accept what's given to him? But at the same time, we were making the server quite nervous with all our grabbing and pulling and shoving over the bill. i did't think it was very fair to her.

Friday, August 14, 2009

China's just like Canada

no blue skies.JPG
Originally uploaded by statusqphotos
Really, it is.
Because Canada's really big.
And China's really big.
And in Canada, 90% of the pop lives along the southern margin.
And in China 90% of the pop lives along the southern and earstern margins.
When you get away from those margins, you get space.
Lots of space.
Lots and lots.
I've never seen so many rolling green hills in my life.
But the hills are mountain-sized.
But not rocky.
Just grassy.
Like that MS desktop picture.
But better.
It's great.
Except that after 2 full days of bumpy bus-rides, that's all i see still.
And the winding roads (sometimes paved, sometimes not) take their time getting from A to B.
The Tibetan music (with techno upgrades, and "check it out" samples) is ok, but is played WAY too loud.
Occasionally an english song sqeezes onto the playlist.
i never realized how shitty Lionel Richie's Say You Say Me is.
But now i have.
And there's no trains in these here parts.
So we'll just have to make do.

I Wanna Get High, So High

temple o rama
Originally uploaded by statusqphotos
Hurrah, i'm very happy to be out of that crazy Yunnan tourist circuit.

Again, there's no shortage of Tibetan monks, monasteries, or temples just outside of Tibet's official border. And all travelers given access as of late.

In the town of Litang, I spent a few days. It's cool to see so many weathered faces, and dudes with long windblown mops of hair, and others sporting worn-in cowboy hats.

Litang is surrounded by tree-less, grass-covered hills. I should also say, the altitude of this place is 4014m, and there's a short supply of oxygen. It's also cold. i had to buy some long undies, and added them to virtually every other piece of clothing i had with me.

Everytime i looked at the surrounding hills i wanted to scale them. So i rented a bike from a restaurant that doesn't really rent bikes, and rode out to the hills. The uphill grade which didn't seem so steep, sucked all of my energy. eventually i hopped off my steed, since riding was too slow and too hard (i thought it was a bike prob), to clamber up the hill. But the hill was a bit steep. I honestly had to stop and rest after every 3 steps. It almost killed me. i almost gave up.

But eventually it levelled off, and i plopped to the ground, spread eagle style, where i lay a considerable while, listening to my racing heart, and having near-altered state visions.

Then i climbed up a bit more and hung out with the cattle a while, and stole as much oxygen as i could from the misty wind.

Also Litang has a monastery with 2 new temples added on to it, still under construction. After sidestepping the blowtorches, overstepping the sandbags, and squeaking past the saws, i took in the new temples.

now there's no history yet in the place, but it still was pretty wild. How often do you get to see 3 story high buddhas surrounded by scaffolding and labourers? People hammering gods to the walls? Scrubby non-buddhist painters, detailing amazingly beautiful massive murals? Obviously i wanted to take pictures SOOOOOO badly, but refrained myself. Stupid respect, getting in the way yet again.

Also, do note, the picture above is NOT from this holiday. All of my pix are from my old flickr page, which is the only way i know of to blog right now, since blogger is blocked. Sorry if the pix are misleading.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It ain't Tibet. But...

Originally uploaded by statusqphotos
Sichuan province is right next to Tibet, and it has a bunch of Tibetan towns and temples.

Near Shangrila, yet another "old town" converted into touristy town, i went to a massive monastery, which is under massive renovation to make way for massive tourist profits.

It's really a shame to see so much history demolished to clear the space for new-but-old-looking architecture. Nonetheless, there's still lots to see, and 800 monks living on the premises.

Upon entering the place, a friend had the brilliant idea to buy some instant noodles. So i helped him do that. Then we asked for some hot water, and the monk pointed to the left. So we wandered around leftways looking for hot water, not finding any. Another monk directed us into this dark little shack, where a couple monks were tending a wood stove whereupon the kettle sat.

They invited us to sit down, and we hung out for 15 minutes shooting the breeze. With a bit of work, i managed to decifer that...

-the one monk was 26 and he\d been there 14 years.

-they meditate 7 hrs/day.

-his parents are not buddhist, they are farmers, and they are happy for him to live at the monastery.

-the ridiculous $12 fee (applicable only to those who are suspected to be tourists) to enter does not go the monks or monastery, but the govt.

-the relationship between the monastery and the govt is okaaay, but certainly not great.

Anyhow, that was quitte fun. i just wish i'd asked their opinions about the development.

The next day i finally broke out of the Tourist circuit, and got out to a little town in the middle of nowhere (nowhere being beautifully sparse green hills and rolling mountains).

On the bus i met a couple american girls, students of mandarin and religion. In our limited time in this small town, we wanted to check out the monastery even though it was already closed.

Light was long gone by the time we got to the monastery, and we browsed around its unlit outskirts. Finding an open door, the girls poked their heads into the courtyard where a security guard approached them.

But instead of sending us packing, he found a monk, and they agreed to give us a tour of the temple. (after we paid the $2 fee). Still, it felt totally wild as guided by flashlight, we walked up to the temple, and to see them unlock and pry open the massive gates for us.

Inside they turned on lights, lit candles, and tried explaining various images and objects for us.

Did you know that in these monasteries and temples, there's a lot of buddhist imagery of a disturbingly violent nature? Arrows in the eye, torture devices, being cut in half, rape by cow, etc etc. i had no idea.

Also there's a fair bit of sexual imagery, but the paintings are done in such scope and detail that it's easy to miss the detail of testicles and penetration. Pay attention, kids!

We also got taken upstairs to wear some monks were hanging out, one embarassedly quickly throwing a robe on over his wife beater. We suspect this is area isn't normally open for observation.

It all felt pretty special to get this unexpected private tour: "i can't believe this is happening" was often murmurred by us. It was pretty cool.

After that, of course we had some noodle soup and barbecue, and downed a couple bottles of cheap wine.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Trekking Leaping Tiger Gorge

Originally uploaded by statusqphotos
i have done a 2 day trek through Leaping Tiger Gorge.

Wow. This has been the best thing i've done this holiday. Very powerful.

Hey, i've lived next to the Rocky Mountains most of my life, but on this trip i've seen the most majestic masses of rock i've ever seen in my life. 4.5 km of steep granite face, stretching from the violently turbulent river below, vertically stretching up toward the sky, where the clouds gently caress the peaks who occasionally reveal their shy faces.

On day 1, i hiked with some chinese guy, who i rarely understood, and who rarely understood me. After so much steep vertical ascent, and dangerous descents, when it got to be 7pm, i decided to stay at a guest house. He crazily continued to hike another 2 hours to the next one.

Day 2, i hiked w/ some Denmark guys (who are studying Chinese in BJ), and a couple Canadian girls. Fun gang.

Not surprisingly, the chinese govt is eyeing this gorge for a future dam project. Which is tragic in numerous ways. But hell, if i was gonna make a dam, this is where i'd make it. With that massive amount of surging water, screaming between two tight mountain faces, it's impossible not to be awed by the power (electricity?) it contains.

And rumour is, that China needs more power. And China does as China wants.


I (and many others) feel very blessed to have been able to experience Leaping Tiger Gorge.

ps. I think my pix may give some clue as to the magnitude of this place, which i will of course post later. Somewhere.

Progress in China?

In the ancient town (yet again, beautifully reconstructed to look more historical, and with many inserted bars and guest houses) of Shuhe, i bumped into a guy who took me to his Community out of town.

There, 15 people reside, including 4 children, 1 elderly woman. They have been in this spot striving to live sustainably for 6 years. Many of the structures there are made from salvaged materials.

They grow their own organic produce.

They transfer their own shit to the appropriate compost pile.

They homeschool the kids.

And i did a guest spot English lesson, which was pretty funny in a minimal farm house outdoor classroom.

i spent a couple days with them, washed some dishes, weeded around the soybean plants.

The one guy commented to me, "Yes, we are environmental, but we don't call ourselves that."
"Why not"
"Becuase that's just something we do out of necessity. Really we want to live as a community."

i found his response rather impressive, and appropriate.

Any hitches? They are Christian, but as the guy told me, "We don't always get along with most people who call themselves Christians."

Haha, i knew what me he meant..

However, a Korean missionary group came to visit and learn, and they did some really bizarre prayer at the end which struck me as bordering on the supernatural. Rather otherworldly, and a bit creepy.

Oh well. At any rate, i was pretty impressed to learn about this place, and to see people who are light years ahead of most chinese people in terms of eco consciousness.

ps. About the town of Shuhe, he said, "Yeah, we don't like it either." Hey, i never said i didn't like it: it just feels a bit unreal, that's all.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

No Escape

chinese ny parade
Originally uploaded by statusqphotos
i hung out in Lijiang for a couple days, and today arrived in a place nowhere mentioned in my Lonely Planet book. Though i'll bet 100rmb that it's in the newest edition.

It's like Lijiang, but smaller. Beautiful town, all nicely renovated, and suddenly full of posh-yet-traditional inns, and bars lined up along the cobblestone paths and winding canals. It's quite beautiful, but there's a sense of the unreal in it. It's chinese history reconstructed for your viewing pleasure, with all your desired amenities.

There's also weird cultural capitalism going on, where the Naxi food, clothing and music is all for sale. On one hand, yes they are preserving their culture by keeping it at the forefront, propogating it. But on the other hand, this is Naxi culture with a price tag only.

Yesterday, in the town square there was a group of maybe 20 old Naxi women doing some traditional dances, while tourists (mostly chinese) encircled them and took pictures with expensive cameras.
i noted that none of the dancers seemed to be enjoying themselves. i suspect they receive some small payment from the local govt. Surely, if these ladies wanted to dance, they'd do it somewhere with less intrusion. taking pictures would feel dirty, i think.

Anyhow, what can you do? On my itinerary i have more places lined up which will have local snacks on English menus, coffee, and cultures transformed by the likes of me.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dali - China's Robert's Creek

This is China's hippy town. It has skinny girls walking around in sarongs, occasional dredlock sightings, electro bands that use djembe drums, hippie veg restaurants, and reggae parties.

It also has ganja growing all over the place. By the canals, next to the house, in the alleys, all over, sometimes in explosions taller than me. Of course i wanted to pick some, but quickly realized that i don't know how or what to pick. i know there's boy and girl plants, but i don't know the difference. i didn't see anything like what i've seen before.

Anyhow, i picked some stuff that looked like something, but was told it was male, and no good, and smoking the seeds can make you go crazy. In the not high, and not good way.

Anyhow, the city is quite nice, and even if an overabundance of bars and one crappy dance club isn't what you're after, in the day time it's pretty easy to get out to a little village with superduper old buildings with roofs covered in grass. There's old people sitting around, wearing strange traditional clothing, which makes me wonder how they can still exist like that, considering that they do have access to the modern worlds. Also all the people look at you (me) like "what the hell is this waiguo ren dude doing here, hiding his camera, like we don't know that he's here to objectify and exoticise the lifestyle that i've always had, and my mother always had, and her mother ..." etc etc etc.

Well it's cool that nobody set up a fucking souvenir shop there yet. Maybe next year, eh? Those Han chinese folk have it down to an art.

tomorrow i'm off to Lijiang. which i think will be smaller,. but sorta the same. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Crab on a Stick

goldfish holocaust
Originally uploaded by statusqphotos
Everywhere in China you got these people barbecuing meat on the street. In some towns they have crabs and frogs etc sitting around waiting to be cooked.

So today i watched some dude carefully select the 4 crabs he wanted to consume.

i found it rather intense to watch the lady shove the bamboo rods through the crabs face, and out its ass. The stick was no skinny toothpick. This was done to the following 3 friends.

Then, legs madly scrambling, the crabs were put over the red coals. After a minute or 2, they were turned over, and had hot chili sauce and oil swabbed over their bellies and faces.

I couldn't believe how long those 40 legs were determined to twitch.

On the one hand, this all struck me as a fate worse than crucifiction!

But i was more interested in the ... normalcy of it. i mean hell, this happens to millions of animals everyday, some get it a bit better, some get it worse.

i believe the dude enjoyed eating it, so i guess that's good.

At any rate, i'm happy to be veg. Even if i'm a terribly lax one.