On the Ninth Day of China: Safety First

When I lived in Russia, I felt incredibly safe as an average citizen (that is, someone not involved in politics or oil or big business or journalism). The sheer volume of people in places I lived and the large police presence made me feel more secure than I generally do in cities in the United States. The lack of vagrants and the knowledge that most people do not have handguns probably contributed to that feeling as well. The final contributing factor is the dark history these countries have of pitting people against each other as “thought police” to rat out enemies of the state. You get the sense that someone is always watching and would jump in when someone acts out of line. Continue reading →

On the Eighth Day of China: What Am I Eating?

Prior to my trip, I learned a bit of Mandarin, including the essentials like basic food and drink. So I knew how to read and say different kinds of meat, noodles, water, beer, and a few other key words. But what I didn’t know were the words for the hundreds of different types of vegetables that the Chinese have. So many vegetables! It was wonderful. Too often when I travel, I find I’m fiending for vegetables when I get back home. Most countries seem to either not have as many available as we do in the United States, or only served them boiled or pickled or otherwise altered. But not China. China has all the vegetables your body could possibly crave, and then some. And fruits and sauces and other meats I couldn’t identify. And dumplings! I ate so many dumplings and rarely knew what was in them. I really don’t know how people with dietary restrictions travel. I figure it’s best not to ask too many questions – just let go of your cultural limitations of what is okay to eat, try everything, and enjoy! Well, maybe. Hold that thought until my last bullet point below.   Continue reading →

On the Seventh Day of China: Move It, People!

With 1.4 billion people and 15 cities with over 10 million people each, transportation in China needs to be a well-oiled machine. And it is! All those people are on the move every day with bicycles, scooters (many of them electric), cars (many of them also electric because China has understood that you have to build the infrastructure first (i.e. charging stations) if you want people to buy electric cars), buses, ridiculously cheap taxis (but no Uber), the metro, planes, and the fantastic bullet train. The bullet train was very much part of my “must-do” list for this trip. It’s a bizarre thing to look out the window of something that is moving so fast that a plane coming in for a landing appears to be suspended, motionless in the sky. Continue reading →

On the Sixth Day of China: A Job for Everyone

Anyone who has been to China for more than one day would find it difficult to classify China as a communist country. Hell, you don’t even need to go to China to know that it’s not. Just look at all the billionaires buying up all the property in the United States and Canada. You didn’t see any Russians doing that back pre-1991. The worst of capitalism and its treatment of workers can be seen all across Shanghai. According to one of my tour guides, young people in Shanghai are often stuck working in fast food or retail jobs where the requirements are 10 hour days, 6 days a week, for an average of 5000 RMB (about $730) per month. They are paid once a month, and if they quit, an employer will often hold their last paycheck for several months. The lack of worker rights and protections has given rise to a true communist movement among some young people, a movement the government is suppressing because it would interfere with the push for global economic domination.  Continue reading →

On the Fifth Day of China: Gasping for Air

My weather app indicated full sun the day I flew to Xi’an, and plenty of sun was to be had from 36,000 feet on my flight in, but on the ground, as the photo on the left below demonstrates, no sun was visible. China’s air quality issue is well known but until you are in it, you can’t really understand how it affects you. Within 15 minutes of landing in one of the oldest cities in the world and one of China’s most polluted, a tickle began in the back of my throat. The weather app also indicated “Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups.” I don’t consider myself a “sensitive group” and I’ve lived in plenty of heavily polluted cities in India, Russia, and elsewhere, but maybe a decade of clean, blue, Rocky Mountain skies has altered my ability to deal with smog. That tickle quickly turned into a scratch and then a persistent cough that cleared up briefly as I moved on to Shanghai but then returned with a vengeance. I don’t know how the Chinese do it. I don’t think those ubiquitous face masks can help that much. Continue reading →

On the Fourth Day of China: You Can’t Escape Christmas

This was my fifth Christmas spent out of the United States, and my second in a country that does not celebrate Christmas. Supposedly. It turns out that the Chinese love Christmas! On Christmas day, I went out in Xi’an for an amazing dumpling feast. The town was pulsating with energy. People, including cops, were everywhere. According to my guide, they were out for Christmas. The cities all have a heightened police presence on this day because Christmas is a big, big deal in China. As are Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and most surprisingly of all, Thanksgiving. Young Chinese start learning English from a very young age and with the language education, they learn about the culture. They’ve seized upon our culture and embraced it as their own with a surprising passion. Continue reading →

On the Third Day of China: Backseat Observing

As mentioned in my last post, I chose to do a package tour for most of this trip, except the last three days that I added on at the end. I’m generally not a package tour person but as a solo traveler for this trip, I liked having some activities planned for me and the option to socialize when I wanted. The schedule was fairly open, so I had a fair amount of alone and free time as well. The other reason I chose a package tour for this specific trip was because I knew it would be freezing out and I didn’t want to be standing around waiting for public transportation. I also had absolutely no intention of trying to drive in China. The cities are massive and chaotic, and often times the signs are not translated into English and it’s not like you can sound out the words. I knew a car rental would have been a terrible idea. I just didn’t know how right I was.  Continue reading →

On the Second Day of China: A Break From My Life

A close friend of mine works for a multinational medical device company, and when her coworkers go to China, they bring special laptops with only what they need for that specific trip. Then those laptops get wiped when they come back. This is not a surprise given China’s reputation for having a complete lack of respect for intellectual property. Just look at the two “7-11s” I photographed. There were many, many more and real 7-11s too. Even though I’m a random nobody tourist, my friend’s stories and others I read on the internet about laptop confiscation and spyware made me decide to leave my laptop at home. Continue reading →

On the First Day of China: All the People

I love Boulder. But as I’ve mentioned before, Boulder is almost 90 percent white and, more importantly than skin color, fairly homogeneous in terms of interests and education level, especially in my group of friends. So, while I went to China to learn about the Chinese, I also talked to everyone I met on the various tours I took. People are endlessly fascinating if for no other reason than that their lives are nothing like mine. Among the tourists I spent time with were Continue reading →

Conceding to Mother Nature

Summer may be perfect time to play in the Rocky Mountains, but there’s so much happening that time of year that I sometimes have a hard time getting out of town. So while I did some camping and hiking 14ers in July and August, when fall officially arrived, I suddenly panicked that I didn’t get out there enough. I was overcome by a need to be in the mountains as much as possible before the snow. But sometimes the snow comes sooner than you hope. The weekend of the 6th & 7th brought snow to the mountains and the weekend of the 13th & 14th brought snow to the Front Range. And if it’s snowing down here, you know it’s really dumping up there.  Continue reading →