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 →

An Autumn Weekend in Central Colorado

Last weekend, Trotsky and I took our first ever solo camping trip. In almost nine years, it’s never been just the two of us. Between trips with partners, casual lovers, friends who live locally, and friends who are far away, finding time to go places on your own is difficult. But last weekend, it happened. Not at first. At first there were several different plans. Meeting some people Saturday, meeting other people Sunday, having a camping companion…but eventually all the plans crumbled and it was just me and the beast. And how wonderful it was! Of course I love travelling with other people, sharing the moments of awe and excitement, experiencing the thrill of getting intimate in an exotic or wild location, and building common memories and bonds, but travelling alone is special in its own way.

Continue reading →

Manufactured Loyalty

Caveat: This post is long and a bit of a ramble. It has a lot of ideas in it that aren’t fully formed and should probably be split into several distinct posts. It’s more of a thought exercise about the role of place in one’s life, which is the focus of a new writing course I’m taking. The point is to get writing and generate ideas without a lot of self-censorship at this point. I’d love to hear thoughts from my readers if anything here resonates with you.

When I was young, I thought Buffalo, NY was the absolute best place in the country to live. Some of the reasons I can remember included:

  • bars were open until 4pm
  • we had a waterfront (although it was undeveloped at the time)
  • we could use Canadian coins interchangeably with American ones
  • our shitty beer was Labatt’s, not Budweiser or Miller

Continue reading →

When Things Aren’t Quite Like They Should Be

The second half to the title of this post is:

  • …roll with it!
  • …who cares!
  • …they’re even better!

The impetus for this post is the four days I spent in southwestern Colorado last weekend. Several friends and I went to run another half marathon (something I swore I would do only once), spend time enjoying Durango, and hike another 14er. The trip didn’t go quite according to plan… Continue reading →

When in the Flat Tops Wilderness

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
– At Blackwater Pond, Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s last two lines can perfectly express the entirety of my feelings about the weekend I just spent in the Flat Tops Wilderness, but she can’t describe the place to you if weren’t there. Here is my attempt.  Continue reading →