Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spew of Words

these couple week past

YWAM dude on the street for me praying

delicious with Chinese family home-cooked meal

stupidly with Chinese family 干杯 with 白酒 (just me, not them...oops)

distorted version with transvestite teachers of "Cinderella" performed: click click click click

not-enough-clothes-havin' couchsurfer Korean lady distracting

Chinese government on illegal aliens crack down

Chinese passers-by on drunken British molester crack skulls

residential paperwork consequently in order

Francisco Liriano dealing

by an eighth grade hero for Teacher's Day surprisingly was blessed

a triple play on a soccer pitch somehow during baseball club completed

"The Hunger Games" movie page 35 of May 31-June 13 edition of City Weekend coming coming coming

from some Chinese barber to whom I brought a picture of me, Jason, and Josh at CCS senior banquet last year year a nice haircut scored

both watched "The Avengers" and "Men in Black 3"

had during 4th period and E7LA with Mark and Diane Nola a Skype date about Laosie Laos

at home broke with chill Lithuanian couchsurfers bread (read: potato meal they cooked)

received full of Korean stationery (read: ridiculous) and cute drawings care package from Kara

IB exams invigilating...more tests than a stick could be shaken at

trip for CCS graduation by myself to Seoul: June 7

trek for fun with Ramon and Nallely to Mongolia: mid-July

hike for hiking with Dawner to 한라산: August 3

lesson plans, paper drafts, unit plans, report card comments, final projects, reading tests, and end-of-the-year scores...coming coming coming

insert here serenity prayer

Friday, May 25, 2012

Late Ode to a Late Beard

I showed up many months ago
in deep northeast Beijing.
I did not know a single soul,*
couldn't understand a thing.
I prayed for some direction and
straight to a church I veered.
Upon arriving there I saw
a dude with a small beard.

His name? Was Dave. He came from the
"Bay Area," he said.
Unsure of where that was, I po-
litely nodded my head.
It turned out we had quite a lot
in common, Dave 'n' me.
On bass guitar, "The Dude abides,"
and God we did agree.
And Rage, hiking, and young Dan Clem,
for these things we both cheered.
Lucky I was that day to've met
that dude with that red beard.

A friendship forged on Wednesday nights;
at Fatburger, at church.
Young Dave brought energy and fun
and San Fran Giants merch.
Had many laughs, made sundry jokes,
saw arguments with Joe,
ate some mad delicious food,
caught shots on the Go Pro.
And so I knew that something sweet
would come as Christmas neared.
And I made plans to see the world
with that dude and his beard.

In Thailand things got sorta nuts.
Cambodia? Ha! Nutser!
When I'd get bent straight out of shape,
Dave wasn't even flustered.
He guided us through jungle treks
and bedless sleeps galore.
He did it all with fearless smiles
and made me amped for more!
Where'er we went, Southeast Asia,
we** received looks so weird
that I didn't know how to react
as folks looked at Dave's beard.

The winter months, they may have been
a li'l bit harsh on Dave.
He grew up in the Cali sun;
cold ice was not his fav.
On Valentine's we ripped apart
a local KTVizzle.
And that was not the last time that
our singing made things sizzle.
Eventually some warmth returned
and we outdoors soon fled.
To baseball "fields," blossoming trees,
and flowers for our heads.
Dave's roommate left, and he felt so
alone (and rent handcuffed),
left Liangmaqiao, moved here and on
my couch his pillow fluffed.
One night we cut off all his hair;
his head had then been cleared.
But we knew better than to try
to cut off David's beard.

At last, when April neared its end,
Dave's time 'round here did, too.
We wanted to have one last trek:
To Chengdu!
We met pandas, saw huge Buddhas,
paid cab drivers too much,
climbed Qingchengshan, rode bikes to hell,
ate spicy meals and such.
But early on May Second, kids,
Dave did what I long feared.
He left me via taxi with
his bag, his smile, his beard.

His plan? Was this: hike up to the
base camp of Everest.
And then make haste to London where
he'd other friends, I guess.
Where he is now, I do not know.
Somewhere 'tween there and here.
Did he achieve his goal so high?
I'm certainly all ears.
Though I am quite without a doubt,
near E'erst he appeared
recently and blessed all folks there
with glimpses of his beard.

Some day far off, in years to come,
I'll re-embrace this dude.
We'll talk of past times, jokes and things,
of Beijing folks and food.
Until then: Dave! I miss you, guy,
My eyes so often teared.
Just keep the faith, and stay real fly,
and wear that giant beard.

*Not actually true, but that idiom fits into nicely.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Tombs of the Ming

A few months ago, Dawna and I sat down purposefully in Dairy Queen and made a long list of things to do, visit, and accomplish this spring. The list included the plowing through the Beijing Zoo, rummaging through Mao's mausoleum, finding a good Western breakfast place, chucking a frisbee in Chaoyang Park, ascending the CCTV observation deck, legally watching "The Hunger Games" movie, riding swan boats in Beihai Park, and visiting the Ming Tombs.

The Ming Dynasty Tombs were the most large scale plan short of heading to another city on the list, and we knew it would require careful planning. So, between the two of us and a one Mr. Dan Clem, the date of Sunday, May 13, was selected. Then I looked up the buses in a Lonely Planet guide back at 11:40 the night before going. After grabbing Judy to bring our horrible head count to four, we left Beijing and headed north via Bus 345 to Changping. Once there, a transfer to another, crappier bus – the 314 – was made, and we blindly took that out to round out the end of the fours hours of travel time it took from our homes to our destination.

“How far are the Ming Tombs from Beijing as the crow flies, baby?” you are probably thinking right now. The answer is about 51 kilometers. So it is embarrassing that we spent those four hours on the road and then another two and a half on the way back. Especially considering that we only spent four hours out there exploring and then a half-hour to eat. No matter!

Now, before we really get going here, let’s talk about what the Ming Tombs are: thirteen burial compounds constructed for/by a wide variety of emperors from – you guessed it – the Ming Dynasty, which held power in the Beijing municipality between 1368 and 1644. The place is a necropolis of about forty kilometers and qualifies as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The dude who built the first one, Yongle, was the third emperor of said dynasty and also set up the Forbidden City. Anyway, only three of the thirteen graves are open to the public. Additionally, since the Ming Tombs are spread out over the quite large aforementioned area, even if you wanted to go see a bunch of them, and not necessarily get inside, you have to figure out a way to transport yourself from one to the next. There are a few buses, a few black taxis, and a handful of bikers, but most people sally forth the to the tombs via some sort of tour, usually done in junction with a trip to the Great Wall (and some touristy shops that the tour guides get a cut from). We considered this option but had no desire to visit the GW or any TS.

Consequently, the end of our trip out thurr left us at Ding Ling (not to be confused with “Ding-a-Ling,” which is in southwestern Iowa near Shenandoah). Excitedly, Dan, Dawna, Judy, and I grabbed tickets and some snacky snacks and headed in. The Ding tomb was this big structure that, after a couple hundred meters or so, siphoned up a small tower, around the huge burial mound in this cool circular wall, and then down into the tomb itself. Once well below the earth, we were exposed to several items that had been found in the excavation, including huge red boxes, some thrones, and stacks and stacks of money. It looked like some normal person’s dream come true; there were just dudes sweeping a huge pile of dough here and a giant mound of Mao bills there. Like it was no big deal. Dawna and Dan, obviously, considered performing a heist, but Judy stopped them from executing the ill-advised plan. We continued walking through the dank but well-lit tomb and emerged on the other side to buy ice cream.

Once the ice cream had been consumed and we’d exited Ding Ling, a black taxi dude quickly swept us away to a quieter grave: Zhao Ling. This place was far less busy – though Ding Ling wasn’t super crowded anyway - and far less large, but we all sort of enjoyed it more. It lent itself well to picture-taking and contemplation. But not to being written about, at least when compared to the previous paragraph.

Did we linger? Not for that long; no, we were not satisfied. But by this time, the clock had struck nearly 2, and we were all anticipating another four-hour trek home. We’d romped through two of the three open Ming Tombs, but visiting both the third one – Chang Ling – and Shen Dao - this awesome-looking walkway lined with animal statues and willows – seemed almost impossible. So we grabbed another bus – the 67 – which took us to the spirit walkway.

All was as expected; it was awesome, and quiet, and lined with animals. Dan and I inexplicably took photos* next to every animal on the walkway. Judy and Dawna explicably tried to stand as far away from us as possible. But after a while we made it to the end of the spirit path, saw an American flag, and grabbed a scrumptious meal (and some snacks) before blindly throwing ourselves onto the 872 bus back to Jishuitan Station on Line 2 in Beijing, from whence we’d come. The bus only took an hour and a half, and then Judy and I took the subway back home to Wangjing.

Were the tombs all that we expected? Sure. There was an atmosphere of reverence, perhaps due in part to the cloudy, misty weather and the lack of frighteningly loud tour groups. The animal spirit jaunt was the coolest part, certainly; the Ding and Zhao Tombs were cool but not out of this world. Need I go back? Maybe...somewhere in the north end of the Ming Tombs area lies a small mountain, one that looked tasty and climbable, and that might have to happen before I set up my own Ming Tombs (the Haggar Tombs). We’ll see.

*Here are the animal pictures. There are twelve. Dan has a matching set. I asked Judy if these pictures would be disrespectful, and she said if a Chinese person were taking them, then yes. I'm not Chinese.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


The day: Sunday, April 8, 2012.

The mood: festive, energetic, bright.

The reason: Jesus busted out of the grave, Beijing busted out of winter.

The celebration: park picnic.

The problem: the font and background on this blog are...dreary. Dark. Morbid, almost. Hardly suitable for a spring post about the most joy-filled holiday there is.

The solution: this.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chengdus and Don'ts

If you happen to be considering visiting the fine city of Chengdu, a pleasant metropolis of seven million people located in the southwest Chinese province of Sichuan, like Dave and I did last between April 26 and May 1... give yourself a span of four or five days to tackle all the parks in the city and the sights in the area.

...don’t go to Chengdu by yourself; bring a friend, like the dude I brought: Dave! pack a pair of shorts because it’s muggy and an umbrella because it’s rainy.

...don’t completely neglect to bring any socks like I did. stay at Lazy Bones Hostel! Do hang out in the chill lounge there! Do flirt with the cute receptionists! Do enjoy the low price for a six-person dorm! Do pet the cats (cleverly named “Lazy” and “Bones”) who roam the establishment! Do get to know the diverse clientele you find yourself among!

...don’t rely on flaky Chengdu couch surfers to hang out with you. go check out Tianfu Square and the big ol’ statue of Mao that oversees the whole thing.

...don’t be a menace. wander through People’s Park in order to take in the insane array of old Chinese people singing and dancing to all manner of different music.

...don't feel obligated to try to start your own group Throwdown dance team routine or anything like that to blend in better with the locals. buzz through the Wenshu Monastery, the largest Buddhist temple in Chengdu.

...don’t miss the tiny little ticket booth that will give you entry into said temple. enjoy the air that is quite a bit cleaner than Beijing's.

...don’t go any closer to the water in the canals than you have to, however; it smells like nuclear power plant runoff. check out the face-changing (and shadow puppets, real puppets, interpretive war and mating dances, and candle-atop-head balancing) opera that Sichuan totes as of its more well-known traditions. Oh, yeah; you'll get a free bottle of water, too!

...don’t be fooled when the advertisement claims there will be fire-spitting as well, though… go check out Yongling Park and its scads of old people.

...don’t pay 20 RMB to get into Wang’s Tomb. meander through the Green Ram Temple.

...don’t want security to get suspicious...Mr. Pibb and Red Vines equals crazy delicious. haul your passport over to the Sichuan Museum so that you can get in for free and check out the sick paintings that some university artists (at least that is my closest guess) did of a) a ton of Chinese mountain scenery b) the sights accompanying the 2008 earthquake that killed 80,000 people.

...don’t spend too much time on the pottery section of the museum. But you already knew that. rent a bike (20 RMB from Lazy Bones, or free if you have a bolt cutter and no conscience) to ride around the city, in order to not only pollute the air less and get some exercise but also to experience the exhilaration of maneuvering like a native Chengdu-ian/ite/ese/illian through the steady traffic flow of other bikes, humans, car/bus/truck drivers, mopeds, pets, road barricades, and puddles.

...don’t ride your bike to East Chengdu Music Park…it’s not really there, although some random art galleries, a nice bike path along one of the aforementioned stinky canals, and some dudes spinning tops with whips are there. Whatever floats your boat. get the hot pot, which was the only culinary recommendation anyone really had for us. It's a blast.

...don’t stray too far from a bathroom or go anywhere without toilet paper for twelve hours after the hot pot. It's a blast. go see the pandas – with which Chengdu is identified – at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base ten kilometers north of the city.

...don’t feel obligated to pay a ton of money for someone to take you out there on a “tour”; it’s definitely within biking range, and a ticket only costs 58 RMB.

...don’t pay 1300 RMB (that’s about $200) to hold a baby panda and take a picture with it, like some individuals in our group were ready to do; fortunately (for whom?), all the baby pandas were sick, so no holding/robbery happened that day. watch out for the zombie panda in the information exhibit near the entrance. bike down to the River View Bamboo Park in southeast Chengdu and take a nap there.

...but don’t sprawl out on a park bench, or you will get yelled at by one of the sweeping ladies. bike up to Huan Hua Xi Park and chill by the lake there, engrossed in interesting conversation.

...don’t be stupid enough to think that no one will gawk and stare at you the whole time if you have a beard, though. plan a trip to Mount Qingcheng, 65 kilometers west of Chengdu.

...don’t just show up at the bus station downtown assuming that either of the 100-meter-long lines will have tickets to get out to Qingcheng Shan, or that when you relocate to a different bus station you’ll get tickets for a bus that leaves while the sun is still up, or that you can bargain a taxi driver down to...I don’t want to say how much we paid him. climb to peak of Qingcheng and its pagoda, regardless of how many wrong turns you take or how many quarts of sweat you lose in your overzealous hiking efforts.

...don’t buy marked-up food on the ascent. Don’t wear high heels and a sexy dress. Don’t go on a misty, cloudy day. take a lot of pictures with curious Chinese teenagers (I could have had a million photos like this).

...don’t just ride random shuttle buses all over the nearby city of Dujiangyan trying to find a way back to Chengdu. get a good night’s sleep so you can be patient as you negotiate with taxi drivers to take you from Dujiangyan all the way back to Chengdu for...I don’t want to say how much we paid him.

...don't forget to pray before you get in a taxi there, because the driving temperaments of the cab operators seem to vary only between fast and maniacal.

...don’t plan to go to Leshan to see the world’s hugest Buddha statue by yourself... put up a sign in your hostel's lobby – complete with a crappy drawing of the Buddha statue itself – so that you can gather the eight people necessary to pay the lowest price to rent the hostel’s van (and its driver) to take you to see said Buddha!

...but...don’t go see the Leshan Giant Buddha on the day before a national holiday in China. hang out in a barbaric, insane line of people for two hours, fighting off other tourists who try to cut past you and talking to a cool couple from Sydney/South Africa all the while.

...don’t go see the Leshan Giant Buddha on the day before a national holiday in China. take some wicked pictures of this 1209-year-old, 71-meter high monstrosity and text the friends back home who originally suggested seeing the statue to you months ago.

...don’t go see the Leshan Giant Buddha on the day before a national holiday in China. have an expensive, delicious western dinner to commemorate an awesome friendship the night before its end.

...don’t think about whether or not you’ll ever see said awesome friend again this side of heaven. get up to see said awesome friend off at 5:00 a.m., as said awesome friend leaves to catch a plane for Katmandu so he can hike to Mount Everest’s base camp.

...don’t feel guilty if you feel crappy the rest of the day, especially when you finally return to your lonely, empty apartment that smells slightly of laundry you left out (and laundry you now carry with you). get excited about looking at pictures and writing blog posts about your Chengdu trip.

...don’t think about the next day, when work resumes. grab the opportunity to meet as many people as possible while on the road like Dave did, including a professional artist, a dude who censors information on the internet in China and who decided we looked super lost on our bikes, a guy who went to college near him, a British dude who is opening a pie restaurant in Tianjin, and a college kid who stayed in the same dorm as we did in the hostel and who we ran into out on the slopes of Qingcheng (I didn’t recognize him, but he sure remembered us (read: Dave’s beard) in a flash).

...don’t be a grouchy old hermit like me, who’d much rather read “The Poisonwood Bible” than talk to a stranger of any sort while on the road. enjoy being somewhere you haven't been, exploring new infrastructure, and seeing more of China.

...don’t be afraid to fail flat on your face (read: wallet, or pride, or maybe both) when taking transportation or communication risks. just do it. It’ll be good.