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.

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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.

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.

VN Jan 19, 2013

The bus ride back to Hanoi from Ha Long will be slow and sleepy.

The boat ride was beautiful but meandering and when you’ve seen one rock formation you’ve likely seen them all so we’re all chomping to get on to the next adventure. All the while floating in a traffic jam with dozens of other boats thinking the same thing.

Brutal small bus ride back to Hanoi, ineptly chose a seat above the rear wheel well so my knees were pinned to my chest from noon to 4 pm.

When we finally got out of the bus my legs wobbled themselves to a cab to the train station and from Ga Hanoi we trundled onto a train embarking on a 14 hour ride across the countryside.

VN Jan 18 2013

4 hr bus ride to Ha Long Bay. Snug and uneasy, the ride was long. Stopped at tourist center rest stop and had a greazy, gristly cheeseburger.

Walked the lit and paved cave at Ha Long, canoed the rock forms in the bay and floated seamless and aimlessly through a thousand rocks that silently jut to the wide sky.

Ate lotsa food and saw lotsa rocks.

Double bed and single bed apparently equals to 3 to a cabin, the vodka was low proof but that was a good thing, karaoking was absurd and the Aussies and Kiwis were always playing cards. Fished off the bow in the middle of the night and bundled up while watching the dark fog roll across the water.

Lips and Elbows

Seattle to Incheon

It’s an 11 hour deflated butt fest, limbs numb and head dull with the jet engine drone, the close quartered elbows and travel breath make this magnificent vessel no better than a train car loaded with cows and other chattering livestock. Airbus 330, you are a sprawling, wide-winged, beautifully lit technological monster. A push-button, on-demand, fancy pant airplane whose lavatory’s may be loaded with complimentary lotions and accoutrements, but no matter how nice this airplane is, that amount of hours crammed into a fuselage with hundreds of other ragged, weary lips and rear ends make traveling a great lesson in community. And the tolerance for the questionable hygiene that results from such voyages.

Mmm. Gratis moisturizer.