China Diary: Hutong of Beijing

The hutong in Beijing is an amazing array of old buildings built side by side down narrow streets that used to be residential neighborhoods but now largely house retail shops and a stunning selection of unique eateries.

An ancient maze now met with youth and cutting edge design, buildings hundreds of years old are now gleaming with electronics and pop music blares from the intricate wood structures. The crowds of people are shoulder to shoulder, mixed with foreigners and Chinese, from morning to dark all strolling and gawking, it was truly an endless parade of shoppers, schleppers and tourists who never stop.

The rarity of these neighborhoods is apparent as the destruction of them gives way to the construction of larger roads and buildings though they are being preserved best as possible as one can see. But in a city as ancient as Beijing, it’s impossible not to see something old being razed for something new every day in every neighborhood.

Such is a legacy. Such is progress.

Lets Go. No. Really, Let’s Go.

Ever wanted to just stop everything and go travel? A loaded question but still important to ask. I once believed that it took half a lifetime of work to finally sit behind the wheel of an RV or join some senior tour group caravanning through Europe.

Tangent: Hard to imagine an entire generation that had to endlessly toil just to stay barely fed. Or a single mom with two jobs riding the city bus. Not much in the way of folks being overfed during the deepreshin’. Here I am talking about airplanes and leisurely international travel.

So why not go now, besides the inconvenience of finding work when you get home? Why not take time and travel? Be damned not having the stability that affords so many pedestrian lifestyles. Such lifestyles rarely even fathom the idea of international travel.

Some people are perfectly content being comfortable in their own state or region and since the United States is so massive, being sequestered to your own area often means having an enormous amount of land to explore and enjoy, so why would you go anywhere else?

Vacations, staycations, whatever the reason, the travel should be pleasing and observant of the beauty in cultural variety and beautiful differences.

Go! Pack a damn bag and go!

I want to work in Vietnam, save up for a conversion van, come home and drive me and my sweetheart across this great nation in which I was born. After that, the idea of jetting from Southeast Asia to France for no good reason other than to just do so, is truly a dream so grand I can barely wrap my pea brain around it.

I want to die in France. Paris awaits me and I shall do what it takes to get there, live there, be there, indefinitely. Grow old and more beautiful in a country built by style and grace and dressed in love and simplicity. Where else would I possibly belong?

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.

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.