Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'm Goin' Out West Where the Wind Blows Tall...

Next week is the National Day Golden Week here in China, and we have an entire week off school. October 1st, 1949 was the founding of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong, making It the equivalent of our 4th of July. As typical in China though, they go all out for it! Everyone gets October 1st to 7th off of work and school, and can use that time to travel. Many people make the long trip to Beijing, where in Tiananmen Square they have a fireworks and military demonstration that dwarfs all others. As great as that would be to experience, we are headed out to Western China to do a little wandering.

Seven of us are headed out to Yunnan Province, which lies on the mountainous borderland between the massive Tibetan Plateau and the southern lowlands, which I live in now. We will take a 25 hour overnight train ride to the city of Kunming, which sits over 6,000 feet above sea level…higher than Denver. A large and historic city of 5 million people, we will actually spend very little time there, as our goal lies further west. I wish we had more time to explore this city. Kunming has a very unique history and beautiful landscape. It also has the distinction of being the location of exile of political dissidents during Mao’s later years, as well as the #1 city for drug smuggling in China given its proximity to Southeast Asia.

From there we will head to our base, the city of Lijiang. Lijiang’s old city is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will see much historic architecture, and many ethnic minority groups not found elsewhere in China. We will then spend 2-3 days hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

The Tiger Leaping Gorge

The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a massive river gorge that is over 6,000 feet deep…arguably the deepest in the world depending on what the definition of “gorge” truly is. At the bottom is the mighty Yangtze River, which flows all the way to Shanghai on the eastern coast. The river is incredibly rough and powerful here, and many people have died trying to raft it. Up from the river are the massive cliff sides, in some places nearly sheer. We will hike the trail that winds through the gorge, staying in small guesthouses that are tucked into the cliff sides along the way.

…that is assuming we make our train in the first place. The problem with traveling on a national holiday in a country of 1.4 billion people is that they are all wanting to do the same thing! The trains will be packed for sure.

So, if something goes wrong, we will be spending the week in Guangzhou, Shenzhen’s neighbor and the 3rd largest city in China. That still beats working and would be a lot of fun, but I can hear that gorge calling my name…

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I'm Turning Chinese...

Well, I’ve settled into my home in Shenzhen almost a month now, and I can feel the Chinese way of things slowly soaking in. I am now basically unshockable after the last 2 months… I’ve witnessed, eaten, and smelled some of the strangest things I ever will, and many have now become the commonplace events of everyday life. Right now I’d like to focus on one particular phenomenon that ends to stand oout more than the rest – Children pooping in public places.

You read that right. All the children here, up to age 4 or so, wear these special pants that have a large slit down the back, exposing their butts. They just walk around all day, butts in the breeze. When it comes time to do business, they simply stop wherever they are at, and let it all go. If they are younger, the parent/grandparent with them will hold them out in the air by the waist, as one would hold a leaking trash bag. I see this probably 4-5 times a week, and in some pretty interesting places….

- On a moving subway train in the Shenzhen metro. The mother held the child over a plastic grocery bag.

- Next to the outdoor seating at a restaurant while we were eating (that was ugly).

- In the middle of the sidewalk.

- On the beach.

- Being held over a trashcan on a street corner.

My friend Trevor saw a child pooping in the flowers in front of the Forbidden City. It is everywhere.  Also, I got these pictures off the internet.  I have yet to snap a photo of the elusive split pants baby.  It seems like every time I have my camera there are none to be found.

A Day at the Beach

So, I haven’t updated this in quite a while because we have been so busy! Sorry everyone… I am safe and sound here, just swamped in teaching and the like.  We have 2 major holidays here around this time of year, and it has thrown everyones schedule into a mess....plus we have been preparing for a trip on October 1st that I will write about later this week.

These pictures are from the first week I was in Shenzhen, so this was a while ago. This is one of the beaches of Shenzhen, Da Mei Sha! It is in the Yantian District, on the opposite side of the city from me, so it is quite a hike by bus. The beach itself is beautiful… cleaner than just about any beach I have ever seen in the U.S. It is definitely “Chinafied” though. All over the beach are these 50-foot tall armless, colored angel statues and other assorted and strange Modernist sculptures. The water of the South China Sea I extremely warm and is fairly clear, but probably super polluted. With the 3rd largest port in the world and Hong Kong just around the corner, it’s definitely not pure. Ah well, that’s the norm here. If you are worried about cleanliness, China isn’t your place.

My buddy Garrett.  Lovin' it.

Also a sight are the Chinese bathing suits! In a strange twist the girls are more covered than the guys, who all wear tight, multi-colored Speedo-esque numbers. The girls’ suits are frilly, dress things that are always the brightest and wackiest combination of colors imaginable. On the beach there are food stands everywhere, including fresh coconuts to drink. For 11 kuai ($1.75 or so), the vendor chops the top off with a machete, stick a straw in, and presto! Your coconut drink is prepared. They also have parasailing which I have yet to try… but soon…

I had an interesting “China moment” while out in the water too. Out from the beach was a line of buoys which we were told was the shark net. I’ve seen these before… it is a long, weighted net that hangs down in the water to keep all the sharks from entering the swimming area. We decided to swim out to it and back, and when we got there, we found that it was just a rope floating in the water. No net. Honestly, I wasn’t even surprised.

My buddy Adam.  Lovin' it with coconut drinks.

Oh, and I’ve eaten a lot of weird things since my last update, but the weirdest was water snails. Have you ever gone into a creek or lake, and seen the small, black snails with the spiral shells stuck all over the rocks? Well, just imagine that exact same snail, only 3 inches long. They come cooked in their shells, and you have to suck them out with your mouth. You suck on the opening, and this squishy blob comes flying out. Pretty tasteless overall, and not a texture that can be easily enjoyed. I had to eat more than a few because it was at a dinner with my other Chinese teachers and they were watching.