Saturday, July 30, 2005

always forgetting those titles

vietnam is a dangerous place. while i have survived the motorbike rides around hanoi, i have fallen victim to quite a number of lesser injuries. first of all, duc's dog bit me in the hand. then, i got a nice series of razor cuts down my forearm from a barnacle-covered rope while swimming. and finally today i realized after walking around for 20 minutes that the source of discomfort in my foot was a piece of glass that had punctured my sandal and was steadily slicing open the ball of my foot.

but all that has not put a damper on my time in vietnam. duc and i rolled out to halong bay on monday morning, and got there just in time for the rainy weather to clear, which is how it has stayed since then. halong city is a junky, expensive place, but we got to stay in the nicest hotel in town for free because duc's dad knows the owner. i think that maybe we were the only people staying there. i also had my first american breakfast since beijing.

the next day we took a boat tour of halong bay. the bay is quite spectacular. it looks like the scenery from guilin and yangshuo (see spring break update) but plopped in the middle of the sea. we rented out a boat with two people from france (waaay more tourists from france here than anywhere else), and tooled around with a stop at a semi-nice beach. we were planning to catch a high-speed boat to cat ba island, but ended up taking a whole other tour of the bay en route to cat ba because there are actually no passenger boats that run the route. anyway, cat ba was quite an amazing place, with the nicest beaches i've ever seen. the only glimpse of the interior of the island i got was on the back of a motorbike during a hair-raising high-speed flight from the southern tip to the northern tip (about 30 km). the interior is quite beatiful as well, and reminds me of a sort of smaller version of kauai.

the last two days in hanoi have been quite interesting as well. friday morning we attended the engagement party of one of duc's cousins (he has close to 7 million cousins i think). it is sort of hard to explain what went on, but was similar in a way to the chinese wedding i went to, just not quite as over the top (apparently vietnamese weddings are). there was a lot to do with the groom's family asking for permission to marry the bride and bringing gifts and stuff. i was also introduced by the bride's family as a guest of honor, which would have had more of an effect if i hadn't been the guest of honor for everything i ever attended in china. also, tonight (saturday) we went out to eat snake. it was at a restaurant in a small village outside of hanoi that specializes in raising and cooking snakes. the entire meal was made of snake, but the coolest part was when duc and i took shots of vodka that had been mixed with snake blood and contained a snake heart (about the size of a jellybean). then we also did shots made from the snake's gall bladder. most hardcore shot ever.

so my time in vietnam, and asia, is rapidly winding down. i fly out of vietnam on monday morning, stay overnight in shanghai, then fly home. so, unless something terribly interesting happens in the meantime, this will probably be my last post from asia. but never fear, dear readers, as i will be sure to do another picture post and maybe wrap things up. who knows, maybe clark will grace us with his deep post-writing skills for a final post. but i wouldn't count on it.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

for all you doubters out there, duc hasn't actually been pulling our leg this entire time. he does speak vietnamese.

maybe it's just because i've been in china for so long, but vietnam seems quite a bit different than its communist neighbor to the north. first of all, the government doesn't have the desire, the will, and/or the money to construct the sort of huge, ridiculous infrastructure projects that china has, nor is it in favor of tearing down large portions of the city to build bigger roads and buildings. the result? hanoi feels like a relatively small city. the streets are narrow and lined with trees and the buildings are generally only three or four stories at most. the effects of the french colonization period are overwhelming, from the european architecture to the cafe culture (both of which i appreciate).

duc's family lives in two stories of an apartment building on the edges of the diplomatic district in hanoi. the place is pretty nice, not as nice as the new chinese apartments, but it has a certain character of its own. duc and his parents live with his grandmother, some other guy who has some relation to them (uncle?), and a dog that barks at me all the time.

one unique characteristic of vietnam is the incredible amounts of motorbikes. there are barely any cars, but hordes of motorcyles. i have to admit, they are pretty fun to ride around on. duc and i took one out today to see the sites, which included several musuems, the old quarter, a dvd store, and some other places i'm too lazy to write about right now. i always read in articles in vietnam how frightening it is to cross the street. i have no idea what that's about. it's about the same as in china, except in china they have cars instead of motorbikes, which should be feared much more.

what else are we planning for my stay here? we're gonna head out to ha long bay and cat ba island, then come back to go to duc's cousin's engagement party (we'll see how that compares to the chinese wedding i went to). stay tuned for more updates.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

something clever to be changed later

so my stay in hong kong has just about wrapped up, and all i have to show for it is a new pair of sunglasses and a bad sunburn. but that's not quite fair. hong kong is easily my favorite city so far. besides the ridiculously hot and humid weather (i hear vietnam is worse), i think hong kong is perhaps the easiest city to be a tourist in. all the public transportation is easy to use, and they put up these signs all throughout the city with maps that tell clueless people like me how to find, say, the museum of art. also, everything is in english. i find you really learn to miss that in china. finally, you can get anything you want in hong kong, provided you're willing to pay for it, including indian fast-food, dental floss, and suncreen that doesn't unnaturally whiten your skin. i quite imagine that it is what shanghai will be like in another five or ten years.

oh, also, hong kong has style. china doesn't.

i'm not sure much interesting happened between kunming and hongkong. the train ride was actually quite nice, and included a brand new stretch with quite beautiful scenery. there was a whole group of women on the train going to some cosmetics conference in guangzhou. i couldn't quite figure out what their jobs were; it seemed like sort of an amco-type scam where they sign up to sell beauty products to their friends. anyway, they all ended up trying to sell stuff to each other and trying out eachother's make-up. the poor guy on the bottom bunk kept rolling his eyes at me the entire trip.

i didn't see any of guangzhou. i managed to get off the train and take the subway to the other train station where i got a local express train to shenzhen. shenzhen is china's most ridiculous city. (i might have previously given that award to lanzhou, which i now deem china's suckiest city). anyway, the train station is right next to the border, which is just overflowing with people from hong kong coming over to buy cheap crap and salesmen trying relentlessly to sell you cheap crap. the architecture is as bad as beijing's, but with even more sense of there being no rhyme or reason. beggars assault you at every turn, and everything is damn expensive as well. it's basically what happens when a bunch of rich people build a city with no rules. it sucks.

i'm up bright and early tomorrow to catch my flight to vietnam. hopefully all goes well on that front. i will update you all then.

p.s. i can actually read the blog here in hong kong, the first time since my very first post. i just want to say for the record that 1. even though i told you i couldn't read the comments i'm disapointed by the lack of them, and 2. durrell's scrolling picture thing looks horrible. good thing i couldn't see it in china or i would have kicked him off the blog.

Friday, July 15, 2005

gettin' it done

my brash decision making got the job the done. although it was pouring rain when i got out to the gorge, it stopped right away, and the entire hike the next day was dry, and even hot and sunny at parts. my only complaint were some clouds that perpetually sat on top of the mountains, making it hard to tell how tall they actually were. however, tiger leaping gorge easily has some of the most incredibly scenery in china. as the sign by the entrance says, it is "the most famous gorge in the world." i guess that's true, if you forget about the grand canyon and all three of the three gorges.

i met up with these three english guys about my age on the bus ride out there, and ended up doing the hike with one of them. the other two were hilarious, however. it was like half a day of a personal monty python performance. as with most conversations with foreigners in china, ours quickly turned how much we missed our food at home. i found out that, regardless of how much we like to make fun of english food in the states, they love it in england. below is one of my favorite quotes from the evening.

"scones have become a bit posh lately, haven't they? oh, but i still love a good scone!"

unfortunately, dave and ed became a bit enamored with the output of the six-foot high marijuana plants that were grewing behind the guesthouse, and didn't quite make our six a.m. departure the next morning.

it's been quite a long time since i've rapped at your all, and i sort of forget what has transpired in the meantime. i guess the last time i wrote a real post i was in kunming, to where i have just returned after a ten hour-long, quite horrible, sleeper bus ride. dali was a fun place, and i ended up actually spending five nights there, much more than i expected. i found this really cool guest house up in the hill behind the city and spent a few nights there reading all their issues of national geographic. i've found that since being in china i've really grown fond of that particular publication. i especially like their articles about a particular zip-code at the end of each issue.

but that is neither here nor there. my next stop before the gorge was lijiang, which was quite, well, crappy. the old city is a cute little place, but it feels like disneyland. in fact, lijiang had the weirdest collection of western tourists i've seen in china. there were, of course, a large number of young backpackers, but also a huge number of families with young children. i even saw an enormous group of rather obnoxious american middle-school kids.

actually the western backpackers in yunnan have been almost as interesting as yunnan itself. there are very few american backpackers at all, but hordes of israelis. apparently, they all go travel the world after their military service. also there are quite a few britians. but i am easily the youngest of any of the backpackers i've met. it seems that people don't really travel much while in college or university. they all just wait until they are terribly bored with their first job out of college, then quit and travel the world.

this post is a landmark: it is the last post that will be made in china proper. i have my ticket to guangzhou (damn expensive), from where i'll take a train to shenzhen, cross the border on foot, and then take the light rail into hong kong central. then i fly out on the 22nd to vietnam to meet the man-with-the-plan, duc. i'm damn excited to get out of here.

until then.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

the doldrums

nobody ever told me that it rains a lot in yunnan during the summer. and i mean a lot. it's been raining for the past six days. such a toerrent has really put a damper on my plans for hiking tiger leaping gorge, as the trail is extradinarily dangerous when it's raining, and they close the gates anyways. though it did just stop raining today. if the weather holds i'll be good to go for tomorrow. actually, screw it, i'm gonna run up there right now and stay at the trailhead if i have to.

wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


well, i figured out why kunming seemed like such an neat and nice and orderly city. it's because it is currently hosting the second annual GMS (greater mekong subregion) summit, an economic oriented meeting of the six countries through which the mekong river passes. in the true spirit of mayor giuliani in new york, the city of kunming swept up all the undesirable elements and flooded the streets with police officers. what's ironic is that all of the six countries in attendance are the home of totalitarian regimes (myanmar, laos, vietnam, thailand, and cambodia). so those attending the meeting are probably apraising china as an effictive police state as much as a developed economic power.

but that's enough chat for now, as i bring you what you have all been waiting for: pictures! in the interest of time, i've just captioned each with the location, so if you want to know more about a particular one, send me an e-mail and/or seek me out when i get home. i'll be happy to explain.

drum tower, xian
e'min ta, turpan
cross-desert highway, taklamakan desert
sunday market, hotan
id kah mosque, kashgar
karakoram highway
khyrgyz yurt, lake karakul
mogao caves, dunhuang
mingsha sand dunes, dunhuang
labrang monastery, xiahe
golden summit, emei shan
elephant bathing pool, emei shan
giant panda breeding research base, chengdu

Monday, July 04, 2005

oppressed on independence day

i don't really have any clever way to start this blog post so i'll just get down to it. i am now in kunming, the capital of yunnan pronvince, which is, in turn, the hotbed of backpacker travel in china. for whatever first impressions are worth, everything in this city is the best in china. the hostel is awesome, the streets are big and green and clean, even this internet bar totally kicks ass. my one complaint: there's no expat magazine, which is making finding a fourth of july party somewhat difficult. i may just end up setting off fireworks with some other americans i met and getting arrested, which, considering that my passport is currently at the vietnam embassy, might end up being a big problem.

the triumverate broke up in chengdu. tyler went off to shanghai to meet his family and clark split to head to yangshuo. neither are nearly as hardcore as me.

for our last week together, we went to emei shan and the grand buddha at leshan. emei shan was a pretty incredible place, though hot and humid as hell. it is a sacred buddhist mountain that was much larger than we thought. the lonely planet says you can hike from the bottom to the top in three days comfortably, which is total crap. we actually ran into durrell on the mountain, and he managed to do the above, but hiking 11 hour days.

anyway, there are a bunch of temples on the mountain, which aren't that interesting, but the scenary is quite cool, with a lot of tall peaks, sub-tropical vegetation, and a perpetual mist that makes everything seem mysteriously chinese. there are also a lot of monkeys, many of which are evil. there is one "monkey fun-zone" which employs about 100 people to protect the tourists from monkey attacks. i felt like i was in jurassic park at that point, except with monkeys instead of velociraptors.

afterwards we went to leshan to see the world's biggest buddha. it was big. there's nothing more to say about it.

back in chendu we ran into jeff, who you may remember from such earlier posts as "china grande" and "they may be very small, but there are a lot of them". we also went to see the pandas at their ultra-special research base in chengdu (which resembles a standard american zoo). it turns out that the panda habitat has (mostly naturally) declined in such a way that it seperates most groups of pandas, leading to inbreeding and the destruction of the panda's gene pool. most can't even procreate on their own. basically, without humans around, pandas would probably be extinct. also in chengdu i ate some full-strength chengdu hot pot (which made me cry) and saw a chinese punk band that was actually good.

that is all. the next post will have pictures, i promise.