Turning 40: The People Who Changed My Life

I’ve been fortunate so far to have lived my life surrounded by people who support me. My dad worked extremely hard his whole life to make sure I had not only my basic needs of shelter and good nutrition met, but also that I had opportunity to explore my interests, learn, and ultimately become a successful adult. Later in life, I found wonderful friends who provide emotional support, encourage me to accomplish the things I want to, and make life better just by their presence. Additionally, many people throughout my life have inspired me in small and big ways, have (sometimes unbeknownst to them) been role models, and have changed my opinions and perspective. I appreciate all these people so much for their influence on me. But here at the halfway point, there are two people who, in crossing my path, literally changed the entire course of my life and who I am fundamentally as a person.  Continue reading →

Well I Would Hike 500 Miles

My two year unofficial hiking project is complete. Yeah, I missed my mark by a few weeks (February 19, 2017 to March 9, 2019) but close enough. In just about two years, I’ve completed 100 distinct hikes. I use word “hike” loosely in this context to mean anything from a two mile stroll up a wide, well-maintained, packed dirt road at sea level with no elevation gain to a nine mile, 4,000 ft + elevation gain, nine-hour slog that sometimes required my hands to pull myself up the steepest spots. Some of these were trail runs, some were on snowshoes, and one was completely through water that was waist high at some points. What they all have in common is that they were in nature, not on any kind of pavement. Sure, I put hundreds of additional miles on my feet in this time, roaming around Zurich, Venice, Milan, Madrid, Beijing, Shanghai, Portland, Kansas City, and so many other great urban areas, and I completed countless recreational runs on pavement and duplicated many hikes, but this post only counts unique wilderness missions.  Continue reading →

On the Twelfth Day of China: Not Just Cold, China Cold

Holy moly was China ever cold. So, so cold. My first day there, my tour guide looked at what I was wearing and said she didn’t think I’d be warm enough. I was wearing all the usual winter clothes: knit hat, scarf, gloves, boots, and heavy wool coat. I laughed it off. I was born in Buffalo and I live in Colorado. I walk my dog twice a day, year round on zero degree days and in ice storms. I snowshoe. I went camping on a night that got down into the 20s this year. I can handle the cold. Continue reading →

On the Eleventh Day of China: Who Speaks Chinglish?

I’m going to start this post by saying that I was blown away by all my tour guides’ English abilities. Seriously blown away. As tour guides, I expected their English to be good, but they all had vocabularies far beyond what I expected. They understood everything I and the other guests asked, they understood all the different accents and levels of English skill of my fellow travelers, and they could talk at length about any subject we threw at them. They spoke fluidly and easily and rarely struggled for the right words. And this from people, with only one exception, who had never spent time in an English speaking country.  Continue reading →

On the Tenth Day of China: History’s History

One thing I noticed fairly early on in my trip is that the Chinese use the word “new” to talk about anything from the Qing dynasty onward. The Qing dynasty started in 1636, just moments after the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. The thousands of years of dynasties before that are the real history to the Chinese. They’ll talk about sections of the Great Wall or ancient palaces and gardens that are “new” because the Qing restored them…300 years ago. Or even the Mings, who ruled from 1368-1636! This different frame of reference fascinates me. I realize that the land of the United States was not vacant prior to 1620, but the history of me as an American, the history I can identify with, is only as old as what is “new” to the Chinese.

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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 →