Archive for the ‘Traveling Tales’ Category

New York, I Love You

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

I never gave the US much of a chance. I spent my travel time, money, and energy on far away places in Europe and Asia. I mean, why would I go to my closest neighbour when I can go to China or Greece?

I always felt like this was the right decision. I mean, I can always go to a closer place where everyone speaks English when I’m older, slower, and less adventurous. Also, maybe the difficulty entering the US would loosen up in the coming years, so why bother, right?

There was of course, one place in the country that I wanted to go, but never felt the need or pull like I had for places like Paris or Beijing. I mean, I had seen it in almost every movie and television show that I had ever turned on. So why bother going to a place like New York? I mean, I had practically been there already without leaving my own home.

And then, last year happened. I start dating someone from The City (as it tends to be known) and I go for a few day visit.

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Logistics for the Summer

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

So it’s all said and done, my multitude of flights for the summer has been booked.  I’ll be flying to the following places on the following dates:

Shanghai to San Francisco:  June 26

San Francisco to Toronto:  June 30

Toronto to New York:  July 5

New York to Halifax:  July 8

Halifax to Toronto:  July 15

Toronto to Guangzhou via a zillion other places:  July 24.

So…get your bookings for designated Glen-time now.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

Until next time,

G

China in a Rice Shell

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Hi all, for my first official post in my new home I thought I would share some thoughts I have on my actual new home, China.  This is a post I made earlier in the month for my one-time travel buddy Celine in an attempt to give an overview of this strange country that I now call home.

t’s hard to turn on the TV or open a paper without reading something about China. The questionable human rights record, the Beijing Olympics or Shanghai Expo, and of course the fastest economic growth in the history of civilization. There is so much information on this country floating out there its hard to tell what the truth is.

The fact is, I don’t know either. This is not a country with easy answers. It is modernizing rapidly but has perhaps the longest history in the world. It has some of the world’s largest cities, but still has a small town feel. It can feel crowded or incredibly empty. There really is only one way to describe China, the world’s largest contradiction. At moments the country makes you want to bang your head against the wall, but at sometimes it gives you a sense of calming and fulfillment that you can only truly get being far away from home. The real joy of China is finding your own ways to see the contradictions.

If you aren’t sure where to start to look, here are the nice places and experiences that should help grant a bit of clarity into what China is all about.

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Xinjiang, Xinjiang

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Way back in May I had the absolute pleasure of heading to China’s Western Frontier, Xinjiang Province. It was simply a breath-taking experience. I got to see pristine mountains, vast seas of desert, and bargain for goods in several different languages.

The main reason that I have not made a post about it here, is because I had the chance to make a post for it elsewhere. I had the chance to write about my experiences on ChinaTravel.net a very popular and excellent China Travel website. If you are at all interested in reading about my experiences in a very unique setting, then give it a read.

Now I was very lucky to go to Xinjiang in May, as opposed to July. As many of you know, there were a series of riots in Urumqi by the Uighurs against the Han Chinese. Since then the province has been more or less on lockdown, and the tourism industry has slowed down. While it is apparently safe at this point, there are still a wide range of restrictions including a complete blackout of the internet and international phone calls.

A fantastic blog worth following about Xinjiang is FarWestChina.com, ran by Josh Summers, an expat living in the province. While he is understandably blogging less than usual at this point he made an excellent post entitled “Urumqi: A Week After the Riots” were he describes a visit to “Ground Zero” for the riots. Powerful, powerful stuff there.

So if any of you are interested in heading out that way, I would HIGHLY recommend it. It is one of my favourite trips that I have ever made (remember, you can read what my thoughts here). But as always, be sure to stay informed of the political situation.

Safe journeys,

G

Notes from a Very Busy Summer

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Greetings fellow nomads,

It certainly has been a while since I have been able to type anything of substance anywhere. Things have been rather busy for me the month or so since my last post. In an effort to get caught up here is a rough list of what I’ve been up to.

July 5: Fly from Shanghai to Toronto. I slept maybe 2 hours on the 14 hour flight, it left at around 5pm in Shanghai and landed at around 7pm in Toronto on the same day. Time zones are a killer. Last year I did a journal post on a 14 hour flight, if you are interested in understanding the joy of that experience give err a read.

July 6 – 12: Slept at very odd times throughout the days. Visited family and friends. Good times had by all.

July 13: Flew to New York City to visit Elvina. It is simply an astonishing place. I honestly can’t recommend New York City enough to anyone out there. I thought that I would be indifferent to it as I have been to other major modern cities, but I noticed something special about it. After some reflection I realized that New York is special because it is the big modern city that all others try to emulate and pay tribute to, with varying degrees of success. Highlights of the trip included The Ellis Island Immigration Museum, Central Park, Times Square, and The Statue of Liberty. I thought that the latter would be cheesy, but it was simply breathtaking. Here are a few sample pics which will get uploaded to The Book and Flickr soon enough.



July 17: Return home with Elvina for a few days. Family related business ensued.

July 28: After saying goodbye to many of my family members and friends (including a jaunt up to my camp for a few day visit) I head back to the Orient. While three weeks sounded like a long time in the planning, it certainly was not in practice. I feel like I hardly saw anyone at all in my travels. My utmost apologies to the many of my friends that I missed.

July 29: Land in Shanghai after yet another 14 hour flight where I slept very little. Spend the evening in Shanghai and try to sleep on a couch, fail drastically.

July 30: Hop on a plane headed towards Xining, in Qinghai province. As the plane begins to board the rain begins to fall with a great deal of vigour. An announcement comes on that says that the plane is delayed for two hours on the runway. I eventually fall asleep despite all of the very loud chatter. Four hours later we take off.

Now I am spending the next few weeks traveling around a bit more of China. I am going to be in Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces over the next few weeks spending my time at monastaries, pand reserves, and eating some very spicey food. Needless to say, I am excited for it.

My first full day in Xining was yesterday and I went to Ta’er Si, a nearby Tibetan Monastery. While it was full of loud, obnoxious tour groups who routinely took pictures in areas they were not supposed to, and were very loud in quiet parts, it was still very beautiful. I could not help but think that they were there to test my resolve as I struggled for enlightenment. Here are a few snaps.



Expect more to come in the near(ish) future.

Safe journeys,

G

I’m Comin’ Home Again…

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Well it has come to be that time once again. Yet again I am ready to take the summer off of blogging. Although, I suppose I don’t have a lot to take a holiday from here lately.

On Sunday I return to Canada for an all too brief time back in my country of birth. I will be there for just over three weeks (with a quick but exciting sojourn to New York City) before coming back to the Far East, where I’ll be traveling for a while before getting ready for my sophomore year in the Middle Kingdom.

This year has been simply fantastic for me. It certainly had some ups and some downs, but all in all China gave me more good days than bad days, and what more can you really ask for than that? Well great friends, fantastic students, career challenges, and new and exciting experiences sure don’t hurt.

So China, I’ll miss you. Canada, I can’t wait to see you, and New York, I can’t wait to meet you!!!

I’m coming home!!!!

In my tradition, I’ll leave you with some musak to keep you company over the next little while…

Kanye West featuring Chris Martin – Homecoming

Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan

Until next time,

G

Another Quick Note About China Net

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Greetings all,

A little over a month ago, I made a post notifying people about YouTube being blocked (note: it still is). Well it turns out, as of this morning blogger and blogspot have been blocked as well.

You may be asking yourself, “How are you posting then?”, and if you weren’t, then, surely you need to do a bit of thinking. Well after ranting about it on twitter my friend Ryan (aka thehumanaught) turned me onto a service called Hotspot Shield. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which are designed to both keep your network secure, but also to circumvent any firewalls, including the most comprehensive in the world, The Great Firewall of China, which periodically bans like (like YouTube and blogger, and all sorts of other fun stuff).

Hotspot Shield is a free service, and so far, so good. I can access my blog (obviously) and other sites which were previously blocked. It is a free service, so it occasionally throws up ads as either pop-ups or at the top of a window, but it is far from disruptive. If that bothers you too much, there are several more that you can find and pay for.

Either way, I would highly recommend you make use of one of these services….which I realize, that if you are in China then you can’t access such a thing, but it could be coming back on later. This is especially important given that a few weeks from now is a certain anniversary of a certain event at a certain square, where nothing important happened…

So expect further delays for anyone trying to access any amount of truth within this interesting nation.

Safe journeys,

G

For further info on The Great Firewall, check out Wired magazine excellent article on the subject.

A Vegetarian’s Introduction to China

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Here is another repost of mine from Lost Lao Wai. You can find the original post, with some VERY interesting discussions in the comments here.

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Since I moved to China eight months or so ago, I’ve came across a large amount of challenges. They have ranged from communication breakdowns, to awkward stares, to being witness to things that you just can’t unsmell. However, the question that I have been asked the most by my friends and family back home have centred around one clear topic, food.

I have spent much of the last five years as a practicing vegan. While this decision is one that I certainly consider to be a great one, it has certainly not made dining easy, especially in China, where meat is less an option and more a way of life. Worry not though, fellow herbivores, maintaining your lifestyle choices can be possible in the Middle Kingdom.

Eating an animal free diet in China is indeed a challenge, but one that is certainly possible to overcome. But before you step right in, you need to be clear of meat’s place in China, both on the tables and in the minds of the people.

Meat is considered by many Chinese to be a status symbol, as it is generally more expensive than fruits and vegetables. As a result, the wealthy people tend to eat the most meat. This is a huge reason as to why the global consumption of meat has increased so rapidly in recent years. The Chinese are getting richer, and therefore consuming far more meat. This means that a wealthy foreigner should obviously eat lots of meat, since we clearly have lots of money.

Clearly, this in itself gives you quite the uphill battle. I had many occasions were I would communicate that I do not eat meat and it would be followed up with some very quizzical looks from the locals. It’s not that I felt judged or harassed for my beliefs, I was just alien to them.

That being said, it still doesn’t hurt to try to tell people that you are a vegetarian. If you can say the following phrase (or show the following characters) to a waiter, you could be off to a good start. “Wǒ shì sùshízhǔyìzhě” (我是素食主义者), this translates pretty directly to “I am a vegetarian”, which is of course a very useful thing to say. However, to be honest, I find it to be quite a mouthful to say, and don’t feel that I can do it properly with all of the “sh” and “zh” sounds being thrown around. So if your Mandarin sounds as garbled as mine, try the much easier “wǒ bù chī ròu” (我不吃肉), which is saying “I eat no meat”.

Also, in many traditional Chinese dishes, meat is used less for substance, and more for seasoning. There are many great dishes in China that use just a little bit of meat to add flavour to the food (I would assume because the original cooks were too poor to use all of the animal), so be prepared for many dishes to contain some sort of meat in them.

Menus at Chinese restaurants can often involve some interesting, and unintentionally misleading translations, which can lead you to get tofu full of beef chunks, or a plate of broccoli given to you covered in ham. This can be avoided by a simple bit of character recognition. The character means “meat”, and it appears on most menu items that would contain any meat, as the direct translation of beef and pork are “cow meat” and “pig meat” respectively. So if you think that you see something like “Grandmothers fragrant garden roots”, check to find that character, because those garden roots may end up smelling like pig intestines. I find that character easy to remember, as it looks like a few cows in a pen unaware of their fate, or two wishbones sitting on a table waiting to be cracked.

If you still aren’t certain, sometimes it can be helpful to point at something on the menu and ask “zhè ge yǒu méiyǒu ròu” (这个有没有肉) which is “Does this have meat?” and hope that they say “méiyǒu (没有)” indicating that there is no meat and you can stop stressing about the ordering and get back to enjoying your meal.

Of course the most important thing to remember, is to relax. There will more than likely be times were you are brought something with eyes or a beak on it despite your best efforts. My best advice in those situations is to just give the food to your friends (Chinese meals are meant to be family style anyway), and enjoy your rice or whatever else you may have. Then get ready to try again for the next meal, which of course may be soon given that you only had rice for dinner.

China can be a very frustrating place for a lao wai, but if you try to skip the food and stay with the Western establishments then you are missing out on an interesting and important part of Chinese society. So, Veggies out there, please do yourself a favour and try to brave some Chinese restaurants. After all, with the rate things are going here, all the Western restaurants will just be KFC soon enough anyway, then what are you going to eat?

Safe journeys,

G

A Cultural Conundrum

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Before I get into this, I have a wee bit of news to say. I have started blogging on a Chinese Expat blog site called Lost Lao Wai (Lao Wai = Chinese slang term for foreigner) as of a few minutes ago. I have just submitted my first post, which will be reposted here, for people too lazy to click on a different link.

So I present to you the first of (hopefully) many posted that was originally made on Lost Lao Wai!

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For those of you who have been in China know that “Hello! Where are you from?” is not an uncommon thing to hear from a complete stranger. However, last weekend, while I was on vacation in Qingdao, I was asked this in a rather uncommon way, that has got me thinking a rather uncommon thought.

I was enjoying my long Tomb Sweeping weekend in the breezy, quaint (by Chinese standards) city of Qingdao. It was my last day before I had to fly back to reality, so I was enjoying a nice stroll on the beach. The goal was to start at the May 4th Monument, and make my way down, past the Granite Mansion, and work my way back to the hostel that I stayed at.

On the second stop on the scenic walk, I came to a place called Music Square, which in reality is just a very large tent with a bunch of people singing, being lead by a group of very enthusiastic individuals in the middle. I walked along the outskirts, looking in, and having a smile. I have always enjoyed, and slightly envied, the Chinese outdoor singing and dancing that takes place frequently over here.

And that’s when I heard it.

“Hello! Where are you from?” a stranger panted to me.

It was a guy dressed in bright red from head to toe, including his microphone headset. Upon spotting me, he ran out of the centre to introduce himself. I told him where I’m from, and he asked me, with a host of spectators, if I would go and sing a song with them. I tried to duck it by saying that I didn’t know the words, and he assured me that it would be in English. Running out of excuses, I caved to the peer pressure, and agreed. In I went, dragging my Chinese travel companion in with me, whom he had somehow neglected to ask to join.

Now would be a good time to say one thing. My singing voice could be best described as the auditory love child of a growling badger and a dentist drill with a faulty motor.

As I stood in line with all of the other wannabe-pop-stars, the man who dragged me in said a few words in Chinese, all that I could clearly make out was “jia na da ren” and “ying wen” which translates to “Canadian” and “English”, clearly he was talking about me, but it must have been good because it was met with a rowdy ovation from the crowd. I was handed a microphone and my heart sank a bit.

A familiar tune struck, and I knew that I had heard it before, but where? A song from my youth? No. Something that I had heard in Scotland? I think so. As a few bars passed, I realized it. I had heard it sung very drunkenly every January 1st for as long as I can remember.

Like most people, I have heard Auld Lang Syne many times, but either myself, the singers, or all of the above, were far too inebriated to say the words properly. To my surprise the crowd started singing a Chinese version, leaving the English/Scots version to me.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind.
Something, something, something, something, something, something, something.
Uhhh uhhh uhhh uhh hmmmmm hmmmm hmmm uhhh uhh uhhh uhhh uhh hmmmmmm
For auld lang syne my dear, for auld lang syne!

…and so on, and so forth.

As the audience clapped out the finish of the song, I felt my Scottish ancestors roll over in their grave.
After I left the song circle to more applause, and resumed my leisurely stroll, I got to thinking. One of the main reasons that I moved here to China was to be exposed to a different culture, and maybe learn a few things about this fascinating place, a goal which has been met with varying degrees of success over the past few months. But what parts of my culture and identity have I been able to show these people here?

Before anyone starts to clamour that I am some sort of a Western imperialist here to “civilize the hordes”, please hear me out. I am of the firm belief that no cultural interactions can ever be one sided. The countless stares that foreigners receive is imparting some view of Western culture onto the locals, whether it is the clothes, hair styles, or public comportment, we are making some sort of impression, right or wrong, on the people that we interact with. This means that my major cultural contributions have been zip-up hoodies, shaggy/receding hair, and giggling in public, I’m a regular Marco Polo alright.

Now, of course, the longer we stay in Asia the more we can see that Western culture is absolutely everywhere. So, perhaps any curious parties around here do not need any Westerner to teach them about their culture, since they have probably heard enough Western music, worn enough Western clothes, and celebrate enough Western holidays.

But surely there has to be more to Western culture than Nike and McDonald’s right? I think that it is our duty to try to pass on the less known, and dare I say more real aspects of our culture and traditions to anyone who is curious and interested, which judging by the stares and random questions, is probably a lot of people here.

Yet, here I was, with a chance to show of my Celtic tradition, by singing a very famous song written by the Scottish National Poet, and yet all I could fumble out was the first line and part of the chorus. I know that I could have easily sang more words of Ice, Ice Baby and Oops, I Did it Again, neither of which I’m very proud of.

So, with all of you blogees as my witness, I am going to make more of an effort to learn more about my real culture to be able to pass on to any interested parties on this side of the Pacific, because lord knows I’m interested in them.

However, I’m really at a bit of a loss as to where to start. I’ve tried to explain hockey, bilingualism, maple syrup, apologies, and other things Canadian, but as for my family’s British roots, I am a bit lost. So I am making a very public vow to talk to members of my family, and do some research on my traditional culture.

I am not certain if I will be taking to Highland Dancing, Irish Jigging, Burns recitals, or anything else of that sort, but surely I’ll be able to think of something. I think that Western Culture can offer a great deal to anyone who is interested, however, a number of us laoweis here seem to be stricken with a great deal of guilt and perceive ourselves as neo-imperialists, and are paralyzed to share none of our rich histories or traditions with many people who may be interested in learning about them. As such, we are leaving the impression that there is little more to the West than Britney Spears and Wall-mart, and if we don’t do something to show people otherwise, then they may just be right.

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Safe journeys,

G

A Quick Note About China Net

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Well it seems like they are at it again!!!

As of yesterday, the incredibly popular site, YouTube, has been banned here in the PRC. This comes just over a year after it was last banned during the protests leading up to the Olympics. The statement from the government is: “China’s internet is open enough, but also needs to be regulated by law in order to prevent the spread of harmful information and for national security”.

This adds to the many popular sites that I am currently unable to access. Apparently the iTunes music store (which I don’t use anyway) doesn’t work over here, neither does Daily Motion (a competitor to YouTube), and any blogs on wordpress, as well as many other sites somehow related to the two naughty “T” words (T1bet and Ta1wan…if you didn’t get it those 1s are supposed to be “i”s). Also, the Chinese version of Skype (called Tom-Skype) filters out the use of a certain four letter “f” word, and reportedly tracks any mention of certain “hot words”.

Somehow though, blogger accounts (like this one), pirated music sites, and Chinese video sharing sites (like Youku and Tudou) work just fine.

Apparently one of my friends tried to make a status update on Facebook relating to YouTube not working and it was erased…I highly doubt that is a coincidence. While Facebook is not officially blocked, it can sometimes be “down” or slow for no apparent reason.

While I am not going to comment on the moral grounds for such decisions, I will say this. They sure are frustrating for people like me. I depend on the internet for contact with the outside world as best I can, but situations like this can be more than aggravating.

So if any of you out there my apologies if I haven’t kept up-to-date with your blog, or watched the latest Diet Coke and Mentos video, hopefully you’ll understand.

Safe Journeys,

G