Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ten Photographs That Don't Fit Anywhere Else

1. Xia Du in the Fall

2. Olympic Village in the Winter

3. In a Hurry? Get a Snazzy Tattoo on the Go!

4. From Left: Dave, Dan, Reuben

5. Tie Day Friday in E7LA

6. Valentine's Day KTV

7. An Open Manhole in the Night (With Curious, Hidden Foreigner)

8. Corner of Guangshan Beilu and Futong Xidajie

9. Sunset from My Apartment

10. What Appeared to Be a Bottle of High Class Booze Left in My Classroom

Friday, March 16, 2012

Operation Golden Dragon, Pt. 4

The following account details experiences that, though due in no part at all to my own efforts, I believe to be possible only in the country I am currently in.

(1) Jinkou Great Wall Hike

December 3rd, 2011. It was a Saturday. The weather was cold, but the time was right…for another trip to the Great Wall of China. Years ago, a journey to this 5,500 mile-long fortification would have required months of planning, a large surplus of capital, and plenty of spare time; however, all we did on that day was show up at the school at 7:00 a.m. and drive out to the Great Wall in some SUVs. Easy, peasie, lemon squeezie.

There were eight of us, I believe, and we got out to Jinkou – northwest the town of Huairou, for anyone interested – headed up a hill, and were immediately on that crumbly old barricade. And then we headed west along it, like Ramon here:

We strolled and sauntered and climbed and after a while, the angle that the wall took began to turn upward at quite a steep degree. There were two almost vertical rises; on the first one, the stairs of the wall were still intact and helpful for climbing, but the ascent still took forever, especially because we had to navigate around a Korean group of climbers.

The view from the top of the first crest was, as expected, pretty wicked. I made Ramon take a picture of me reading The Lyon County Reporter, and the photograph somehow ended up in…The Lyon County Reporter. Hopefully the picture caused overseas sales to go up a smidge; I know they’d been low for quite a while.

Anyway, it was at this point that our group split up, since the next section of wall that we had to climb was super deteriorated and steep. Robert and Gaspar went to scout the beast out.

When they returned and we had a powwow, some members understandably decided to turn back, while Mr. Lu, Leibo, Gaspar, and I chose to trek onward. The hike was truly vertical and at times had to be done next to the wall. Or we’d have died.

The top did not elude us, however. Reaching it, we realized that we’d have to head down off the wall more to continue following its path, since there was a sheer drop of about fifty meters and then a large community of vegetation infesting the wall for another couple hundred meters. So we climbed down and back up to the wall and then back down and then up and down, and on and on, until it was time to meet the others at the bottom.

Fun and hard. I want to head out to those parts in the spring, because each of the times I have been hurled out to the Great Wall since coming to Chinar, the surrounding landscape has been – though impressive – brown, bleak, and dead. Some green would be nice.

(2) Duolemeidi Ski Trip

In a similar vein, another different crew of BWYA personnel made another trek out into the unknown, into oblivion, up to Duolemeidi, for some skiing on the weekend of February 17 and 18. There were perhaps fifteen of us, smooshed into one of the school’s buses, and we departed at 6:00 for Chongli, which, when we arrived, appeared to be fairly desolate. Except for a tiny little restaurant selling chuar and chicken wings. And these things.

I’ll be honest: whenever someone mentions skiing/snowboarding/wakeboarding, I rarely feel much excitement leap up in my li’l heart. Those things just don’t seem like my cup of tea, perhaps because I didn’t grow up around them, perhaps because often when I do them, it is with people are already awesome at them, perhaps because I am a sissy. Whatever the case, I decided to go on this trip to get out and see some other parts of the country I am in and to hang out with some solid coworkers, but I wasn’t really looking forwarded to skiing. I always worry that everyone else will leave me in the dust, or that getting there and obtaining all the ski equipment will be too complicated, or that all the hills will be insanely hard, or that I will not remember how to ski at all.

But we got up the next morning, bright and early, and headed out to Duolemeidi, and the rental process was extremely streamlined (and run by extremely cute Chinese girls); after paying a deposit, we each received a card. Then we’d go grab all the equipment we needed – one-sies, skis, boots, gloves, etc. – and rent it via card. When the day was done, and the equipment was all returned, we’d pay. Very quick, very easy.

And then we skied all day. And the hills were not too hard. And I remembered how to ski (thanks to intense training last year on the Lunar New Year ski trip with the Seoul crew). The first run nearly ripped the skin off our faces, but we readjusted our scarves and overcame the biting cold.

Duolemeidi was not the hugest ski resort in the world, but it was not very crowded, which was sweet. There were only about six or seven different runs, and all but one were fairly safe. I made it down the deadliest one the first time we tried it without wiping out, but then – on one of the last go-rounds of the day – I biffed it and flew under a snow fence and almost died. I’d made it to that point without any major wipe outs. Oh, well.

Then we checked out and went back to Beijing.

After this trip, and last winter’s, I think I would say I really enjoy skiing, especially on super clear, cold days and empty slopes. I do not think, though, that I will ever get into skiing that much, given its price and the complicated process that is usually involved with reaching the resort, wherever it is. If people are going, I’ll go. If not…meh. Once a winter seems like a good pace.

(3) Blue Zoo Beijing

I don’t want to sound like an aquarium snob or anything like that, but Dawna and I have probably seen a million aquariums together, which means we’ve probably seen a billion imprisoned fish together as well. Whether it be the COEX Aquarium in Seoul or Busan Aquarium in Busan, we have plowed past tank after tank, enjoying, laughing, gaping…and assessing. So, when we decided to go to the Blue Zoo Beijing near Worker's Stadium in Sanlitun last Sunday, we went in knowing that this marine collection had better bring it.

So we went in there, waited in the wrong ticket line for ten minutes, and then entered the Beijing Blue Zoo. As you can imagine, there were lots of fish. Here are some pictures of some of the fish we saw:

It was cool. What else can I say? There were a few misleading advertisements around the old place (“Mermaid Show: 15:30”) and some false claims about captive octopi, but the aqua life that was there was nice.

Probably the most unique element of the Blue Zoo was its extensive gift shop, and that’s only true because there were – among many other item that didn’t seem appropriate for an aquarium gift shop – Viking helmets, swords, and shields, which Dawna used to attack a Chinese youth while the mother was distracted.

Then we left. It probably took us forty-five minutes to get through the whole thing, and, to be honest, we sort of snooped around to see if there was anything we’d missed. But, there was nothing. So that was that. Another aquarium: owned. By us. Boom.

(4) Jiufeng Hike

Many Saturdays I wake up (at 6, because I suck at sleeping) and come out into the living room of my apartment and look out of the window at the city. If it is nice out, I can see, past the apartment buildings and towers and everything, way off in the distance, some rocky hills. I can see them there, and every Saturday morning that I see them, I think, “I wish I weren’t going to grade seventeen essays or write up six unit plans this morning…I wish I were climbing those mothers out there.”

So last Saturday, March 10, the pastoral principal at BWYA – Robert – and the PE head – Gaspar – decided I was man enough to join them on a hike out in those hills. An honor and a pleasure it was to receive their invitation! We left at 7:00 a.m. from the school, rode the subway out to Beigongmen, and got an illegal taxi-van ride* with some dude from in front of the Summer Palace to the entrance of the park we wished to enter: Jiufeng (which I guess means "Vulture Peak") National Forest Park.

What else can I say except that we hiked for a long time up through the wooded sides of the hill, up and up, to a stopping point where the wind was whipping at our coats and where we had lunch and debated turning back? It was a clear day, there was little other human traffic out there, and the gettin’ was good.

There was some question about whether or not to keep going after lunch, which we’d eaten around 11:30 or so, but it was three grown men, not three wimpy sallies, who were scaling Jiufeng that day, so we pressed onward. This was the peak; there was some sort of huge antenna on the top, and there weren’t really other people up there at all.

This is what it looked like from up there.

We stood on top for about twenty seconds, unable to hear each other or stand straight up because of the wind, and then we headed back down.

The trip back seemed to take forever, but no matter. We arrived back in Wangjing around 3:00 p.m. with that exhausted feeling of having done something with the day. I smelled like all things terrible, and various parts of my body ached and cried out, and I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before anyway, but, now, I don’t have to wonder those far-off hills are like anymore, because I know.

*Speaking of illegal taxis...Dawna was recently in one that got busted. For those of you non-Chinese residents out there, there are sanctioned taxis that operate according to the laws of normal Beijing society, and then there are "black taxis," dudes who just have cars and give rides for money. They are technically illegal, though it seems like they are everywhere, and non-Chinese speakers (me) are advised to stay out of them, lest they take you to where you do no want want to go or charge you way more than they should. Anyway, Dawna was with a foreigner who is fluent in Chinese and a Chinese woman a few weeks ago, sort of late at night, and they hailed an illegal taxi and got in. The ride seemed to be going smoothly until the passengers realized that police cars had boxed in the illegal taxi and were causing it to halt. Then suddenly police men were yanking the driver out of the driver's seat and the Chinese-speaking foreigner was telling Dawna that none of them knew Chinese and that they were getting a ride from a friend, not from an illegal taxi driver. The police came and were undoubtedly disappointed to find that none of the illegal taxi's occupants spoke Chinese (even though one of them was Chinese), so the three victims were let go. However, the word is that the illegal hei che driver was probably going to be fined 10,000 RMB, which, in American dollars, is more than your life is worth.