What's on the menu in Luoyong, China
Adventurous eaters beware - we might have met your match in Luoyong, China.
Heart? Frog? Bugs we weren't quite sure what they were...
Click the following link for more pix.
Keeping our adventures clean
What's on the menu in Luoyong, China
Adventurous eaters beware - we might have met your match in Luoyong, China.
Heart? Frog? Bugs we weren't quite sure what they were...
Click the following link for more pix.
The dangers of being friendly (while running).
Before stepping out for a run this morning, Joanie said to me (as she usually does): be safe.
It's been too long since my last run. Delayed by a mixture of icy showers and early morning outings, I haven't had the chance to hit the pavement in almost a week.
But today was a perfect day (or so I thought) - blue skies shimmered overhead and a chill crisped the autumn air. Leaving the hostel, I headed west along the main thoroughfare, clothing and eyeglasses shops already open at 8:30am, passing through a pedestrian way buzzing with people and street-food vendors serving dumplings and stewed noodles.
Along the way I’d been smiling and saying "Ni how" (hello) to people I'd passed. Once in a while I’d receive a hello in response, but usually it's a blank stare or look of bemusement. No matter, I’m just trying to be friendly and blend in as much as a 6'3" skinny American running in central China can.
I feel like a cultural ambassador, a roving mayor passing on good will and friendship with every step.
A little further and I was running down a street in an industrial area. Seconds after passing an elderly woman and her daughter sitting outside their ramshackle home my world tumbled.
With a smile still on my face, I didn't see the ping-pong sized stone under my left foot and twisted my ankle with a thwacking pop.
"Crap" (and other expletives) surged through my brain as I caught myself before face planting. I stumbled to a cement ledge to inspect the damage. I couldn't put any weight on my ankle and was miles from the hostel.
Luckily, boy scouts taught me more than how to light a cigarette (BS motto: Be Prepared) and I had the hostel's business card with its location written in Chinese and cash for a cab.
I hobbled for two blocks to the nearest busy street and caught a cab back to the hostel. Once there, I hopped up the stairs (no elevator) and talked to the staff about a seeing a doctor.
I’m lucky that my Dad is a podiatrist (not to mention great father) who agreed to a video consultation (he didn’t actually have a choice as I stuck my foot up to the screen before he could say hello.) He didn't think it was broken but I decided to go to the hospital just in case.
Most likely, no one at the Luoyang People's Hospital spoke any English and one of the hostel staff who wasn’t working at the moment offered to come with to translate.
I've visited hospitals throughout the world and in a way hospitals represent a country’s benchmark of the population’s health. This hospital was similar to others I’ve visited: bleak white walls stained with dirt, cigarette burns on the floor and lacking that antiseptic cleanliness that makes us squirm.
Step 1: An $0.85 registration fee to see the doctor, in my case an orthopedist whose office was on the 2nd floor.
The elevator was located next to the stairs and an attendant who we’d spoken to earlier, suggested taking them as it was faster than waiting for the elevator. Maybe he suffered from short-term memory loss or nearsightedness and couldn’t see me hopping around on one leg.
Step 2: We met with the doctor, a plump woman in a yellowing lab coat who asked a few questions, scribbled a note in illegible Chinese and directed us to the x-ray room back on the 1st floor.
Good to know doctors everywhere have terrible handwriting.
Step 3: We went to the x-ray area and waited in the hallway learning prepayment (100 Yuan – around $18 USD) was required. After paying, a shiny steel door emblazoned with a yellow nuclear symbol slid open and a balding man in his 50s beckoned me in.
He directed me to a wood gurney and as I sat it slid away and I nearly fell off. Once situated, he placed my foot, focused the x-ray light and stepped into a steel box. The rest of my body was fully exposed to the sterilizing x-rays.
The tech reappeared and adjusted my foot to take a side view. With no warning, he pushed down on my foot ankle so my arch rested against the table and held it there as he adjusted the x-rays focus. Pain screamed through my leg but as soon as it started it was finished and I returned to the hallway to wait for the processed prints.
Up to this point, despite the unpleasantness of the hospital’s atmosphere, I was impressed by the service. Maybe foreigners are treated better or the hospital wanted to show off their (and China’s) high standard of care, but there was almost no waiting. At an American hospital I would have waited hours for the same services.
The hostel employee came with to translate said that children and the elderly receive care at a discounted rate but everyone else pays the regular price - which while still cheap by American standards had gone up (the cost for an x-ray increased nearly 40% since last year).
After a few minutes the x-ray was ready and then we had to wait around 10 minutes to get a reading. As the doctor was asking questions and reading the prints random people sauntered in and out of the examination room to stare.
I’m happy to say nothing’s broken, just banged up. The doctor advised a week of rest and prescribed a mild pain killer and an herbal spray that Joanie calls “sore sauce ” (because it smells like soy sauce) that reduces swelling and is used by the dancers in the HT Chen company.
Joanie thinks this whole episode might be an act of G-d, a message I need to slow down, let her sleep in and give her blisters time to heal.
Whether it's divine intervention or not I’ve learned my lesson: running and smiling are a dangerous combination not to be practiced casually.
Shabbat shalom and rest well, I know I will.
And if you'd like to check out the sat view of this fated run, Click Me
An organizer learning the ropes
09.20.2011 - 09.21.2011 74 °F
Micah and I have been moving from city to city every few days or so. We're trying to take in as many of China's highlights as possible. I didn't realize how much of a struggle it was going to be to live out of a backpack. The constant unpacking and repacking, rearranging so you have access to important things like umbrellas, snacks and toilet paper on top, keeping track of important documents like passports and train tickets...it's not easy. It's making the organizer in me a little crazy.
Last Monday we were preparing to leave the city of Xi'an for Luoyang via train that afternoon. I took my time and carefully packed my backpack, situating heavy items on the bottom so the weight would sit on my hips, not my shoulders-my last packing mistake. As we were about to check out of our hostel a flood of fear washed over me as I realized I was missing my passport. I took a deep breath and we dove in to tear my bag apart not once, but three times before we finally found it tucked into a discreet location (so it wouldn't get stolen of course). Everything went precariously back into my bag, Micah cracked a joke to get me to loosen up and we set off for the day, my shoulders hurting. Project fail.
The train station in Xi'an was a sardined cesspool of humanity. We pushed and shimmied through 1,000's of people, searching to find the gate for our train...in Chinese. There wasn't a word of English in sight. It took a few games of charades with some confidant looking people in uniforms for us to find out that our train was delayed. Defeated, we set up camp atop our backpacks on the loogie washed floor.
After a few hours of "I spy" and "We're going on a trip to Luoyang and I'm taking..." our 5pm train departure finally showed up on the board to leave at 22:45, which eventually turned into 23:45. Sometime between 22:45 and 23:45, I managed to tuck my train ticket into a safe, discreet location. I'm guessing I did this absentmindedly because Micah and I were trying to avoid creepy, bad breath, leg touching, smiley guy who had been bugging us for hours. Relief came in the form of hearing the unlocking of gates. We quickly mounted our gear and joined the queue of shuffling sardines into the passageway. Then it hit me. The day's 2nd wave of panic flooded over me when I realized that I had done it again. " I just had my ticket! Where is it?" I persuaded Micah to go on, while reassuring both of us that it must be in one of the 20 cargo pockets in my pants. Ok. It must be in one of the 4 pockets in my jacket. Or maybe one of the 65 pockets in my pack?
I'll never forget the look of mouth dropping disbelief on Micah's face from the other side of the steel gate. Ready to burst into tears, I looked at him in total and squeakily exclaimed, "I don't have it". Luckily, the station worker about to lock the gate (as everyone had passed through but me at this point), had some sympathy for our panic stricken faces and allowed me to pass. At our next check point Micah yelled, "Joanie just get on the train" as I stood, struggling with the charades game that demonstrated I bought a ticket and had it an hour ago, but it was lost now. I hurried past the worker and got onto the train. 2 checkpoints down. We didn't have to worry again until leaving the station at the end of our ride.
Of course our adventure couldn't stop there. Our train stopped moving around 2AM. After a fitful, sleeping upright, night's sleep, I awoke at 7am to discover that we were in the same spot we were in 5hrs earlier. As if that wasn't bad enough, creepy, bad breath, smiley guy was sitting on the end of my seat and greeted me with a cheerful "Herro!" I said hi, and faked sleep to try to get rid of him When I peeked my eyes open 1/2 hr later, he had moved across the aisle and was sleeping on someone else's seat.
Around 8, a train employee with an electronic megaphone started shouting commercials for toothbrushes, smokers toothpaste, towels and magazines. Annoyed, Micah grabbed his camera, marched up to her and started taking pictures. The train erupted out in laughter and she turned off her megaphone in a huff and continued on with her toothpaste proselytizing. When Micah returned, creepy, in need of a toothbrush, smiley guy hovered as Micah put on his ipod and tried to take an earphone out to have a listen. Micah flatly refused and so he sat himself down across the aisle and plastered his smiley gaze in my direction.
A young, English basic speaking, Chinese girl showed up and plopped down next to me just as the men across the way were starting up a conversation about Micah and I that involved staring and pointing. She became the interpreter to a round of questions that included, "Where are you from?. Are you married? How hold are you? Do you have kids?" and comments like " His feet are huge. He is a giant. Your eyelashes are long and pretty".
An hour and an interrogation later, the train started moving again, putting us into Luoyang around 11am.
One last check point to get through. I confusedly gazed at the ticket taker at the exit gate, flashed a smile, a "Nǐ hǎo", and walked right past him.
Mission accomplished. Adventure complete. Whew. Someone tell me. When does the vacation start?
Climbing, hiking, sprinting along an ancient wall shrouded in mist.
Clouds of mist blew across the winding stone corridor hanging precariously atop the jagged mountain peaks.
Hidden from view were miles of walls first built in the 5th century B.C.E., extended by subsequent rulers until reaching more than 5,000 miles long- when construction ceased in the 16th century.
China's Great Wall cuts across the country's ancient northern frontier - extending from the Yellow Sea to Inner Mongolia's deserted expanse - a feat of engineering genius that protected Chinese empires from its rival's warriors and marauding Mongols.
Today's hordes ride a cable car (or climb hundreds of steps stretching from the valley floor) to reach the Wall's lofty mountaintop perch. Joanie and I arrived to The Wall's Mutianyu section at around 8:30 am after fighting a posse of hucksters eager to bleed us of cash. It started in the Beijing subway, where where a woman approached us and directed us to the nearby bus terminal to catch the public bus to the Wall.
We found the station but she wouldn't let us go. Joanie and I went to the bathroom (there are public, free bathrooms of negligent cleanliness everywhere in Beijing) to try and shake her, but when we emerged she was standing in the shadows of a nearby pillar waiting for us. She told us the bus number we needed to take but then tried to shuffle us to a minibus (where she would likely take a cut from the driver). Luckily, we found the bus we thought we needed and jumped into the rush of people boarding. The fare was 2 Yuan (around $0.35) but i didn't have any small bills and in a moment of frustration and panic (people were pushing and jostling past me) I dropped a 20 Yuan note for the driver and took my seat (which Joanie had luckily secured a few rows back).
Off we went, haze and fog darkened Beijing's morning streets. The bus stopped along the way to pick up and let off riders. As we neared a stop a rider standing by the door told us we needed to get off - that it was our stop. Call us gullible or too trusting, we descended from the bus and a pack of drivers circled us offering a minibus ride to the Wall (which we could have reached by public transportation had we not been lured off).
After negotiating with the swindler who lured us off the bus for a round trip ride to the wall for around $20 we climbed into his minibus (think Volkswagen Vanagon except more cramped and much less safe). Half hour later we arrived at the wall. The driver came to the ticket window with us and pressured us to buy a cable car and slalom ticket (the slalom descends from the wall back to the village below for an additional $15) which we flatly refused (he was pissed because he wasn't going to get his cut).
I paid the driver for the one way of our trip and agreed on a pickup time: 11:30 am.
So we hiked up - up hundreds of stairs, under a canopy of trees, dripping with the morning mist.
When we reached the wall, our calves were already burning and Joanie's feet sore (a normal occurrence these days as I'm a slave driver and never seem to need to rest - sleep included).
The Mutianyu section were were hiking was built in 1368 and later renovated in 1983. It's not as busy as other sections of the wall and since we arrived so early, we were able to experience the Wall's magnitude in relative solitude - joined only by clouds and an occasional shower.
I'd hoped to run along the Wall's ancient stones, but they were too wet and after realizing it's essentially a giant calf and knee busting staircase I resigned myself to a few stair sprints and short runs.
But I did have my trusty GPS watch though and recorded our hike. Click the link below and be sure to check the Aerial or Hybrid views:
The satellite view of our hike along the wall.
At the ends of both sides of the Mutianyu section was a sign that said do not pass:
But for us, that's only an invitation for adventure so we walked past the barrier and climbed the stairs. The Wall continued for another 1/4 mile or so until falling into disrepair: collapsed guard towers, pathways overgrown with trees and bushes, loose stones and crumbling ramparts. I felt transported to another time, humbled and amazed at the skill and perseverance of the Wall's builders - and waited for an ancient soldier to materialize from the chalky mountain mist.
He who opens his mouth while squatting is full of...
09.09.2011 - 09.12.2011 76 °F
I was given some important Chinese wisdom by a new friend yesterday. We were "squatting" side by side (a new and humbling experience for me) and of course I was talking. She told me that in ancient Chinese medicine it's bad luck to talk or open your mouth while in the bathroom.
I won't do it again! :P
Micah and I have started making video posts, but we aren't able to get them up while in China. We've been having trouble getting onto many websites, as they are blocked. You'll have to wait in suspense until we get to Hong Kong in a few weeks. In the meantime, here are a few pictures to enjoy!
I'm not quite ready for "retirement" just yet!
Have you ever received that Chinese Walmart email forward that goes around? It's all true!
One of the many beautiful statues in the garden at The Forbidden City
There's no excuse for not exercising while on the road and since I love running, I'll be trotting my way across Asia in fast forward (and posting the runs on our blog).
I have a nifty Garmin GPS watch that superimposes the run onto maps so you can see the satellite view of the path (and my pace and other pertinent details).
A few days ago, still staggering from jet lag, i peeled out of bed, strapped on my kicks and braved Beijing's smoggy streets.
30 seconds into the run, as i ran north, 2 older men started running alongside (it was reassuring i wasn't the only runner in town, and that we were collectively aspiring toward black lung) but they couldn't keep up and I kept on moving.
The streets throughout Beijing are 6, 8, 10 lanes wide and have underpasses built beneath them - so not only was i getting a street run, but also Stairmaster workout.
I continued north, crossing the street, past vendors selling kites strung up a hundred feet into the air, boiled corn, dumplings, Chairman Mao curios, crowds of people (it was still super early) through the security checkpoint into Tiananmen Square (I won't bring up the history as i don't want this blog to be banned by China's great "Firewall"), past the imposing structure of Mao's tomb, north north north to the gates of the Forbidden City, where kings ruled for ages.
The gates were still closed so i cut west skirting it's pagoda'd western wall and ended up in a leafy street.
A platoon of soldiers were out for their morning run and i caught up to them, then passed them.
I continued south, past the National Performance Center, a modernist orb shaped like a hard boiled egg that's been sliced in half.
The sun was starting to break, thinking the air into a choking paste, but I kept going, returning through Tiananmen square, past the vendors and back to the hotel, where i walked a bit to cool down before entering.
Joanie and I are a total spectacle here (people regularly take pictures with us) and as i did my stretching in the streets, with clouds of dust blowing by people stopped stared.
Naturally i smiled and waved still slightly in disbelief i'm in and I went for a run in Beijing, China and glad that strong wind blowing the pollution around is keeping my post-run musk from my smiling spectators.
Check out the run below and be sure to click on the "Aerial view":
Adventures in eating
09.04.2011 - 09.07.2011 80 °F
Some people would say that Micah and I aren't the easiest people on the planet to feed. We keep kosher and on top of that I'm a health fanatic vegetarian. When you have a language barrier to maneuver, getting vegetables alone is quite a challenge. Every time we walk into a restaurant we pull out the guide book and point to the phrase that says, "I'm a Buddhist/vegetarian." Yesterday morning's breakfast seemed promising. We started off with Mmmmm'ing and Yummy'ing as we happily downed our vegetable dumplings with kimchi and slurped our vegetable soup. It was the most satisfying warm meal we had enjoyed since leaving NYC...that is, until Micah discovered the soup was swimming with tiny, baby shrimp! Our slurp spoons were promptly dropped and we resorted to supplementing the rest of breakfast with fried dough from the street.
We also discovered that opting for a vegetarian or kosher meal on the plane will get you served before everyone else. Although, you'll notice that the kosher meals are much more filling than the vegetarian options. Apparently vegetarians don't need as much to eat as everyone else?
We are staying at the King Joy's Hostel just south of Tienanmen Square in Beijing for the next week. It took us a few days to recover from jet lag and switching our days and nights as there's a 12 hr time difference. Yesterday we explored the Forbidden City. We forgot to pack snacks and my hangry monster erupted around 5pm after a day of exploring. Poor Micah. We got through it though.
Food lessons learned so far: 1- Specify no fish or shellfish along with "I'm Buddhist/vegetarian". 2-Pack more snacks for Joanie. I'm sure there will be more to come.
We stocked up on snacks at the market last night. Let's see what today's adventure brings!
We're heading to JFK to catch our flight this afternoon - a few final details to sort out: repack our bags, send a few E-mails, eat.
And, I almost forgot to mention, chop my hair for Locks for Love.
Eeek! Who is this guy?
And if you want a live update of our flight, check out below:
Adventures in deconstruction: Five years stuffed into 3 hours.
Joanie's packing skills persevered yet again. After a week of deciding what to keep, what to sell, stuffing everything into boxes, recruiting friends and strangers to save all the stuff (clothes/records/kitchen supplies, etc) we don't want from the trash - we're all moved out.
Our new home (for everything but our travel gear and my record collection - which is house sitting at a friend's apartment in Brooklyn) is a 5' x 10' storage unit in Ridgewood, Queens. I doubted the space was big enough for everything (you accumulate a lot of crap living in one place for 5 years) but Joanie the Tetris Master packed it all in in 3 hours with enough room leftover for a the bed and dresser we gave away earlier in the day.
Just a few more things to accomplish before our China Eastern Airways flight on Sunday: 一路平安 (bon voyage) party at the Williamsburg Beer Garden, call everyone to say I'll talk to you on Skype, get our anti malarial pills, take a deep breath and embrace the unknown.
I'm looking forward to the blank slate ahead of us. The pit in the stomach after arriving in a new city, no reservation (disclaimer: we do have the 1st night reserved in Beijing, but that's it the entire trip), not knowing where we're headed or where exactly we'll end up.
It's human, elemental survival: struggling to find ourselves amidst the swirl of the new, unknown, explored, but not by us. There's a new person on the other side of this abyss, the most beautiful, alluring, humbling place one could be and i look forward to meeting him (and her).
Two more days.
China here we come.