China Diary: Beijing

Puffy, quilted jackets are on nearly every body during January in Beijing. Dumplings billow steam clouds over sidewalks and the chatter of pedestrians is like background music. The motorbikes have quilted arm covers, like sweaters on the handlebars. It’s a “clear” day which means the sky is cloudless but there is this hazy coat of smog that looms across the sky, making the sun look like a fuzzy orange ball hanging against grey gauze.

It’s noticeable how collected and driven most of the people are, places to go, things to do. The traffic is mostly composed of either shiny new cars mostly German, clean and free of dents, or dirty, industrial trucks, mostly Korean. My god, there’s a lot of people. Coming from a tucked-away American city with barely 600,000 people to brag about is hardly a city at all compared to this. The underground rail is one of the most advanced, easy to use and beautiful feats of engineering ever. To be so organized and efficient with so many bodies to accommodate is testimony that this country is so far ahead of the rest of the world which foreigners will never realize until they witness it for themselves.

Chinese Diary: Arrival

Beijing in January is frigid in the morning, cold in the afternoon, and crisp by evening. The sky is soft and fuzzy, thick with food smoke and car exhaust while the air is only clear when it’s up close. Looking down the block sometimes is like peering into a tunnel whose end is filled with cotton candy.

Arriving at the airport I notice the sheer number of people. China. Magnificent. Huge. Beautiful. It’s frenetic, crowded and seemingly chaotic but upon closer observation the order and efficiency of the people is definitely apparent. It’s a furious orchestra of thousands of humans all trying to get somewhere simultaneously and having it go off relatively without a hitch. Everyone communicates through body language and the organic, unspoken code of “this is how we flow through the crowd”.

My first thought was that when the girlfriend arrives alone in 2 weeks her head may just explode with the vast contrast between PDX and any other airport, train station or bus depot in China.

Stepping out of the airport I see my father. Smiling, beautiful, old. Adventurous and relentless, his desire for exploration is where I get much of my restlessness and recklessness. This is going to be a great month.

Snorkel Notes

Chinese kid losing cell phone. Turned boat around to fetch it. Kept boat waiting for 35 minutes. He moped horribly when he got back on board. Wept, shivering in inner tube on the water, filling his goggles up with tears. Eventually had to be carried off by his friends. One should never invest that much into inanimate objects.

Karaoke in drag, coconut bras and a makeshift 4-piece whose drums were soup pots and flattened hub caps.

Snorkeling tour becomes a dance party with drunken Canadians and German girls whose monkey toes gripped the boat planks with long, knuckled feet, terrible American pop music blaring across the bay as we sail pointlessly to islands which no one leaves to visit. Ain’t no Black Eyed Peas on any of them islands!

Body bashed against rocks slick and barnacled, the snorkeling was less like a tropical excursion and more like a choppy battle against waves splashing down through the top of the tube.

All the fish went home for Tét, anyway.

What What?

The absurdity of the club lifestyle while touring internationally is wondrous. Subsidized by faraway parents and unsavory menial temporary jobs, those who party as if they were back home ride that transcendent level of douche untouched by cultural relativity. The consumer-driven mentality of chest bumps, popped collars and jäger shots is truly worldwide.

(I actually LOVE Pitbull.)

VN Jan 21, 2013s

Where does it begin? Rise early in Hue, fog lines the roofs, grab a steaming bowl of soup for an American buck, a cup of coffee then hop our eager rears on the backs of rented motorbikes and off we go down Highway 1 in search of the beach.

4 hours of meandering, bombing through beautiful, backwoods neighborhoods, past translucent green paddies where lumbering, glistening water buffalo wallowed away from the heat. Vast, vibrantly colored cemeteries line hillsides and roadsides, dozens of schools where hundreds of students strolled, biked, played, mere feet from where these wheels would zip by.

After about 4 hours of winding roads, canopies of palms and endless farms, we reached the bridge that led us to the beach. That sweet, salty tributary of the South China Sea, the water was balmy but more than warm enough for us to strip down and dive in.

The random house where we stopped for food (banh xeo) greeted us with a heaping plate of fresh greens, peanut sauce and delicious delicacies only found in the inconspicuous reaches of town. The family was glorious and generous, absolutely wonderful people.

About 25 kilometers from town Uncle took a dip on the motorbike after avoiding a truck and other obstacles, gashed up his knee and elbow, I had to ride his crooked wheeled scooter home.

After fouled spark plugs, running out of gas, cock-eyed handlebars, being lost virtually the entire time, it was a pretty incredible time.

VN Jan 20, 2013

Assigned to a seat listening to Australians snicker at the fact that Americans are frighteningly ethnocentric and me trying to make up for 300 million of us.

Arrived in Hue after a rollicking and seemingly endless 14 hour train ride.

It’s 80 degrees here and a wonderful change of pace from Hanoi’s bustling, narrow-street crowds of traffic and vendors. Hue is quiet and elegant, clean and stunningly beautiful. The food is (believe it or not) tastier and less expensive. The river is named “Perfume” and the women here exhibit a certain style and grace that transcends description.

Woo hoo.