Saturday, November 19, 2011

Temple Man

9/24/2011, Anshan, Liaoning, China. Near the temple of the largest jade Buddha in the world. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fox Parang XL


This is a jungle knife, that I just got from Fox Knives.  It's made in Italy, I guess, or the USA since there are lots of flags on the website. Nether place has all that much jungle.  I have several different jungle knives.  Maybe I'll write some reviews, but first I will have to test this one out.  Since I don't have a jungle or forest right here in the yard ... well, it might be a few days. 

Typically, jungle knives fall into one of two general categories, slashers, and choppers.  With a fairly thin blade and knife like edge, this appears true to it's name.  A parang is a jungle knife from Borneo, and it's a slasher. 

The sheath on this knife is comfortable and has nice features, and appears to be thoughtful.  It appears cozy even while wearing it around the office.  More later ...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hey, Did You Ever Ask Yourselves ...

Dear  readers, 

Andy Rooney died today.  An icon of our generation has passed.  Sad, albeit true.  He's gone.

... so I have to ask.  Did you ever wonder why t-shirts and other comfortable clothes have those irritating little labels on them?  Don't you find it unusual that the only part of a  100% cotton t-shirt that isn't cotton is the hive inducing label which says same.  There ought be a law.

All my life I am with the shirt trying to figure out how to remove the label with out destroying the shirt. Im my opinion the best tool is the razor blade.  I remove all labels from all clothes.  Seriously.  If I don't remove the label, I get a small square rash direclty under it.  Amazing.  2 square inches of hives on the back of the neck.  Really not fun. 

I understand that dissident spies alway take their labels off all their clothes.  I saw that on television.  I uderstand that regular spies do this as well.  Alledgedly, they take the labels off thier clothes so that no one knows where they shop.  I once even had a woman I know ask me if I was a spy because I had no labels on any of my clothes.  I don't know why she noticed that, but she did. 

I suspect though, that spies actually remove the labels from their clothes because they are so freaking irritating.  Imagine James Bond doing his spy job, suddenly having to stop and uncontrollably scratch his label itch.  I don't think so.  So he removes the labels

There ought to be a law, seriously.  Write your congressmen and congresswomen and ask them to pass a law prohibiting irritating label materials and expressly prohibiting labeling which claims "100% cotton" unless the entire shirt including the label is cotton. 

Do it now.  And save the spies of the world from having to cut the labels out of all their clothes. 



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Re-Entry

Re-entry is interesting. I landed in San Francisco in the morning (October 10) and had lost some of my normal sensibilities. I had grown weary of dense crowds, pushy Asianess. Once I had reached San Francisco, I found myself comfortably shoving some overly pushy Asian guy out of the way so I could gather my bag. I am sure he felt that it was reasonable to shove me into the person behind me repeatedly to create a large open space in front of himself, and didn't realize that I might find this objectionable. Regardless, I felt guilty after I shoved him into his precious space to make some room for me and my bag.

I felt miserable from the eleven hours of plane discomfort and the extenuating test of patience that it is, and was dehydrated from the air conditioning ... I was parched and stripped of my well being by the tragic environment of flight. I was also coming down with strep or pneumonia, or some other contagion..Thirty-six hours after my arrival, I will be in the doctor's office with scarlet fever and a thirty-nine degree temp.

I slipped into a cab for the quiet ride home, and a series of joyous reunions. Eighteen days in Asia leaves me wanting for my own bath mat, a bar of soap and drinking water from the tap. The dog runs up and tries to be cordial, but is angry, and doesn't really greet me. It will be days before the dog will greet me properly. I am tired of travel, and glad to be home to the scowling dog.

The comforts of Asia unfold from my satchel. The shorts I wore for days on end work their way toward the laundry ... the shoes that I still haven't put on since my return come out. The camera and 15 or so compact flash cards, it will be a week before I look closely at these. For now, I am afraid to look at my work, fearing the worst.. There's tea, Anxi Tie Guanyin, Iron Goddess, Steel Buddha, Oolong; it comforts me. Sunflower seeds, which will still be on my desk a week later, flavored with some substance, clearly marked on the package in perfect Chinese, wholly unidentifiable to me by taste or other means, feed me. Peanuts, which my mother reminds me are fertilized with “human excrement,” feed me.

This culturalism I hear from my friends and family plagues me. “They use human excrement for fertilizer there.” It's a disease of misinformation. Of misunderstanding. I call it culturalism because it's not directed against the Asian Race, only against the culture of China. The Chinese people are reasonable healthy today, the agricultural practices may be different than ours, but centralization of sewage treatment and composting of wastes, help to make the foods safer to eat.

When I mentioned that I had been to China,. Even my doctor was quick to associate my illness with China, claiming that, after all, ”They are still living close to the animals there,” as a justification for his assertions. His assumption that I was the vector binging disease from China into the US seemed disturbing. Everyone, it seems, knows a lot about China. I think back, and I don't remember these things from my trips to China, from my experiences. I don't remember that anything I was taught about China was necessarily true once I got there. I can't make the stereotypes stick.

By now it's ten days later. I crave for the companionship of my friend in China. I want saucy foods with rice and fish with bones in them. I miss the drone of conversation in another language that I don't even need to try to decipher. I miss that smell of the street, the interesting chatter and compelling noise that is the street in China, interesting places like the Beijing's Hutong, where quiet neighborhood charm and narrow streets make some essential life spill out of the doorways and alleys.

Here it's quiet, the keyboard chatters as I write, David Letterman idles in the background. I am no longer (extremely) sick. I am tuning up my bicycle and the noises of suburbia surround me. And it's a bit boring right at the moment. I am eating with a fork and contemplating stealing some red plastic chopsticks that say “Tsing Tao” on their sides. My culture shock has passed. Welcome to America. Re-entry is complete.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bikes in Yingkou, China

Dear Canon, ...

Here's a copy of a letter I received from Canon today regarding my inquiry about repairing my Canon 17-85mm lens:

Dear Shawn Kielty:
Customer service is our number-one priority at Canon U.S.A., Inc. We take great pride in providing you with the best service possible and strive to make your Canon ownership experience enjoyable.

Please take a few minutes to complete a brief online survey and tell us about your experience when you phoned our Technical Support Center on 10/13/2011 14:04:51regarding your Canon product. To access the survey click on the link below, or copy and paste the address into your browser.

https://www.customersat3.com/e.asp?IID=84DBA0FFFD72F0C08357C63910FE1D79

You must be 18 years of age or older to participate. Thank you for your feedback and for being a valued Canon customer.

Sincerely,

Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Customer Support
Please do not reply to this e-mail unless you are having difficulties completing the survey.

That's right, please do not reply ... yeta, yeta, yeta.  I don't want to complete your survey.  What I want to do is take a few moments to tell you about my experience with your camera on my recent trip to China.  During my trip I carried one camera, a Canon 20D, and two lenses, A 10-22mm zoom and a 17-85mm zoom.  I'd like to be able to tell you that I made this decision because your gear has been so reliable in the past, but it wouldn't be true. 

Last year just before my trip to China, I had to rent a 17-85mm zoom because mine failed miserably, just a few days before I left.  

So off I went to China for 18 days with a stripped down version of my normal gear, and a few days into my trip, my 17-85mm lens stops working all together, producing repeatedly the oft reported "err99".   Done.   Epic Fail.  I don't want to hear and talk how good your customer service is. 

I want to hear and talk about how good your product is.  I want to hear you tell me that the quality of your product is your number one priority.  I want to brag to my friends about how great your camera is.  The way I used to.      

Alas, I cannot!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

China, Goodbye

This trip has been amazing, I saw some of the greatest landmarks the world has to offer, the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square. I went to a hospital in China. I was on a tour boat, probably inside the borders of North Korea, I saw several cities, including Beijing. I saw great things, met great people, ate outstanding food and have a myriad of new stories to tell. I was fire cupped. Plus what, I caught a fish! I have been to farms and out to the coast, literally, in every way, off the map (well, my map anyways). I enjoyed reconnecting with the folks I met last year. I think every aspect of my comfort zone was stretched on this trip. It was a good adventure.

Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to China with a tear in my eye. It will be sad to leave my friends. It will be sad to leave the good food, good health, and vibrant energy that I have seen and felt on this trip.

Huge thanks to my friends here in China, who have opened up their lives to share with me and make my stay so enjoyable. So much hospitality. So welcoming and friendly. Thank you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Yak Bone Pendant

So the other night I was wandering around in the Hutong with my friend and her friend when we went into theis Tibetan shop. where I spotted a pendant I thought looked cool and right. I asked, he said, "50 yuan," I said "Done."

My friend looked at me in amazement. I had caved immediately without so much as a whimper, violating every tenet of succesful bargaining in a fell swoop.

I said, " what s that. like 8 bucks?" He just offered me a handmade, yak bone, silver and gold plus other stuff pendant that wards off evil and brings good luck in the form of money to a person who wears it, for all of 8 dollars. How could I argue with that. It seems unconsionable to weasel him down to 4 bucks.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yanjing Beer, Delivered in Bottles by Bicycle.

Yanjing is the largest beer producer in China. If you made a single beer for everyone in Beijing each day, that would be 22 million bottles of beer a day. Not that Yanjing does that, but according to the wikipedia, "The company has approximately 20,000 employees, and is one of the largest beer manufacturers in China. They produced 3.11 million tons of beer in 2005 alone. "

I have been noticing a phenomena around town, especially in the Hutong, and other areas with very narrow streets. Bicycles are out in numbers delivering large amounts of beer, most of it Yanjing. In the store across the street from my new hotel, I noticed the bottles of Nanjing were all pretty significantly abraded in the widest part of the bottle near the top. I am pretty sure this is from delivering it by bike, especially since I've never seen it delivered any other way.

Now – I am thinking that if you make 3.11 million tons of beer a year, and you deliver it by bicycle, you'll need at least 20,000 employees. They also deliver it by plane I here, to your seat. And to some other countries in the world.

I'll see if I can get a photo of a bike loaded with beer.

Sleeper to Beijing

6 October 2011, near Shanhaiguan, Qinglong, China

It's dawn. I am on the sleeper from Anshan, Liaoning, China to Beijing. Rivulets of sweat stream down the windows and across the floor. A night times worth of perspiration. A person above me is stirring and little bits of movement rise in sound from around the room. Train personnel sweep through the cabin opening the curtains. A green countryside unfolds, blurred by the sweat condensed on the glass. I am excited to be going to Beijing.

The loud speaker begins it's Mandarin rhythm, a female voice droning on about something unintelligible, to me at least. I am the only Caucasian I have seen for many days on my trip. Bodies begin to unfurl themselves from unbleached white sheets, and gradually it develops in to a cacaphony of unquietness, destroying the peace of my sleep.

There is tea being made. A young woman deftly unfolds down the ladder from somewhere in the sky to artfully find her shoes crammed under the bed below me, without ever touching the floor. The food vendor starts a melodic slow mantra and rolls his cart into the car. My companion stirs. The train is awake.

This could easily be the Nineteenth century, except that the train is very modern. One white guy on a train with 20 coaches of Asia; uniformed train people ply the hall with there goods; their servitude. It could be 100 years ago except the sounds in the room are the smart phones, nooks, kindles, Ipads, PC's of a new generation of China. The sounds of technology enchanting the present. Corn and rice fields arise out of the blurry landscape. The smells of breakfasts being eaten fill the coach. Beijing is in the distance.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

REI Flash 18

This bag is awesome! Ultralight with hydration capability, waterproofed bulletin cloth and comfortable straps, plus a waist band, make this bag an all around success when you need to carry a few things for a day trip from your hotel. It's an excellent bag to take along empty on your vacation. It's strong and comfortable so could useful on extended ultralight hikes, runs or climbs.

As we know, when travelling, the amount of stuff you ultimately take home can increase, especially if you make friends along the way. Having an extra lightweight bag lets you throw some extra things in to this bag and carry it on to the plane.

On this particular trip, I was planning to ditch my worn out duffel after I delivered all the gifts I carried here to China. The things I carry home as gifts, hopefully will fit into the ultralight bag, making my trip home extra smooth, and without any baggage fees. We will see if I can actually come home with less stuff than I brought.

Four Stars, and So Much More

This is clearly a four star hotel. It says so everywhere. The trappings are well done, the furnishing appropriate. Grand and stately. Looks great all the way around.

Tomorrow morning I will check out of this place, which has been my home for a few days now. I know which of the staff speak English well, how to get enough water for my needs without using the minibar, when they will ask me for a new deposit. I know how to get to and from the place.

I've learned a few things while I am here. I've learned not to push all the buttons to call elevators, but instead to pick the elevator that looks like it's coming towards me, and push one button. It's like sharing only slightly more complicated. When the clerk asks me for money for a deposit, I immediately claim, "That's too much." It is now what I will do anytime any Chinese person quotes me a price for anything.

He asked me if I'd like to pay 1000 Yuan, I said, "That's too much." He said, "How about 800?" Much better. It doesn't matter, when the charges are all settled they will have charged me what they want and I will have paid it. I can't really resist, and I can't really quite get what they are doing, so I just agree and they charge me.

It doesn't really matter, except I suspect that he expects me to try to negotiate the price down. So from now on. "That's too much" is going to be my mantra.

My room was pretty cozy, two double beds with no heat or air and a toilet who's seat would not stay up. I gently tried to adjust it, and it snapped off in my hands. Yes, I broke the toilet seat off the toilet in my room (awesomely, they fixed it immediately). The shower was pretty good, but there was no way to not be pretty much in the stream. They never once filled the mini bar or washed a glass, or vacuumed. In their defense, they did buy my breakfast every day and make the bed, and they did my laundry about four different times. The fan in the room was exceptionally noisy the first few days, and there was a drain in the floor that was venting sewer gases into the room. These two things combined to make me feel like I was in Asia. Once I learned the trick about the fan the stench from the sewer went away.

Leave the fan on all the time. The noise stops, the smell goes away.
One day with not enough to do I looked at the services, which include a bath house and massage … neither of these were actually available. I was pretty disappointed actually, actually, because I was imagining my self James Bond in Hong Kong with the young Asian masseuse coming to my room to attempt to to seduce me to my death. No. No massage, no bath. They did offer to secure someone from the neighborhood for the massage. I declined. No seduction.

I am not complaining. Just pointing out the features of a four star hotel in China. Once I got accustomed to the idiosyncrasies, I was pretty much delighted. The staff are friendly and helpful, one of the elevators comically announces the wrong floor in English. There's plenty to talk about, I can sit it the empty bar and have a coke or a coffee, and write in my notebook. It is much better than many of the places I've stayed. There's a store that sells the same stuff as the mini bar, for about 25% of the price. It feels like home already.

And now I am leaving. Soon, I will be on a sleeper to Beijing. And I will be at a new hotel. With some stars I hope.

Trouble in Cameraland

Problem, my 17-85mm Canon zoom lens is hosed. Last year, about 1 day before leaving for China, my 17-85 zoom stopped working – so I rented a similar lens and sent mine to Canon for repair. This year it's a "err99" every time I try to shoot, which is entirely irritating and unproductive. So that leaves me here in China with one lens, a 10-22mm. Great lens, but not so versatile. So now I have 4 days in Beijing, 10 gigabytes of card space, and 1 extreme wide angle lens.

Lets see what I can do with that. It's a big place, wide lens … it might be OK.

P.S. If you want to comment on how to fix this, that's great, but first we can eliminate some things. It's prolly not the camera body, the battery, or the connection on the camera side, or the camera operating software. These all have worked fine to date. And they work flawlessly with the newer wide angle lens. From the research I did, it might be the connection to the lens from the camera, or it might be a failing shutter. I think the err99 is a bad communication with the lens, a problem I once had while shooting under a waterfall in Zion. Apparently getting the camera damp doesn't help it work correctly. The "err99" seems somewhat nebulous as far as problems go, so may not be easy to solve on the road.

I packed somewhat sparsely on this trip, so didn't bring a lot of extras. Note to self: Next time bring the 50mm prime lens. Next time in China I want it to be 4 stars all around and 4x5's.

P.P.S. Ironically, right after I wrote this I went through the lens and cleaned it and worked all the controls and put it on the camera … and it's working. A hunch. One of the switches for IS or auto-focus was in a position exactly between the fully switched locations.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Small Farm in Northeast china

This Sea of China ...

I remember when Herb Caen, Pulitzer prize winning icon of three dot journalism, when to China. He wrote this great bit about taking Polaroids of people and having a line form of people to get one. He was so novel, and so was the Polaroid. His detailed description of the crushing force of the Chinese people, rushes into my mind today.

Last time I was here, I remember people calling out to me "Waiguoren," which means "foreigner." I remember young people rushing up to me to test out their English. "Hallo!" I recognized my rarity, how novel I was. For some reason this year, I am noticing that people are staring at me. Sometimes they look away, but sometimes they stare me down. They are staring at me as if they have never seen a white person before. I look around and realize that I am the only white person. In fact I have only seen a very few white people at all, and no Americans. Not even ugly ones. No fat American demanding ice for the beer. Not one American complaining about having to pay to pee. I am virtually alone in a sea of China. One American in a sea of China.

I've been on the road a few days now and I am a bit tired. Nine days to be exact. The temperature overnight was one degree Celsius, clearly indicating to me that my beachcomber attire is probably done for this trip. The choice of two pairs of shorts and one pair of pants was just slightly wrong, and not bringing a jacket has proven to trouble my hosts more than I, but over the next 9 days, I will need one. I have been using the hotel laundry service to keep me in clean clothes, and I have been trying to find a warmer day to launder my pants, since the hotel wants to keep them overnight. I need to buy some clothes.

Being in any foreign country is hard, but this part of China is very challenging. Walking around is a problem because of the amount of traffic, and although there may not be a huge threat all the time, the omnipresence of scooters, bicycles and larger projectiles, makes feeling secure, even on the sidewalk, somewhat difficult. If you stop near the curb, a sea of pedestrians pushes you into the street. Finding a quiet spot to change lenses, or write a note to self, requires putting yourself behind some sort of barrier and hoping no vehicle hits it while you're distracted.

Additionally, the language barrier is considerable. Only occasionally, will someone venture forward with spoken English. Often, they are high schoolers testing out their new English to see if it really works. They say "Hello, how are you?" and giggle with their friends when they hear a reply. Not much help if you are trying to buy some yogurt, or a pair of pants. Even with my friend and her family it's a bit difficult, being the only other English speaker, she says twice as much if I am trying to speak with one of her family.

It's tiring. After yesterday's adventure into the burning corn fields of China, and fishing, everyone seemed tired. We had a simple dinner of rice noodles and a movie, and agreed to take today off, I can do some chores, sleep in, maybe take a walk in the park.

So I got up this morning and headed out in to the streets, grabbing a hotel business card on the way out and headed to the park. Well. I never made it to the park. Yesterday was National Day, and this week, Golden Week, is a big travel week. There are a lot of people here and it's quite crowded on the streets. Plus what, I had no idea how tired I was. I made a big circle, stumbled on to the KFC I had eaten in before, and had a Chinese chicken burrito for breakfast, and headed back to the hotel for a two hour nap. I lounged over that and took an extra long shower.

I ate a bowl of instant ramen from the mini-bar. Like the burrito, it was good. There were no bones in it. No garbage within the food that has to be sorted with tongue and teeth, no delightfully fine fish bones, no pork rib bones, no chicken bones, no crab cleaning, no shrimp head sucking, just pure carbohydrates with a fork. No pressure to eat something I possibly wouldn't.

I don't eat KFC at home, so why would I here. One, I know what's on the menu, so I can just point at it and get it. Two, it's familiar and ready to eat, it's probably safe. Three, I suspect that the chicken industry in China probably hasn't been modernized in the same way as it is in the West. I prefer to think that the chickens are farm raised and scratch fed, in a pleasant and attractive way, without a lot of chemicals in their diets. Managed by human energy, as it were. Maybe I am deluded, but it sure tasted good.

So … today. A day of rest in a sea of Chinese. Respite. Warm showers. Hotel mini-bars. Afternoon naps.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Well, except for a cup of instant coffee last night after dinner, I haven't had coffee for about 4 or 5 days. I've been drinking tea. This morning it's hotel branded Wulong tea ...

Red Beach, Red Cranes ... Red Everywhere

Summer's over, by the way. If you happen to be writing about yesterday's typhoons and Asia, flooding in Southeast Asia, and Southern China ... it's not the worst weather of the Summer, because it's happenning in the Fall. It did rain in Northeast China yesterday, but today was sunny.

So we drove out to Red Beach. Red Beach is a misnomer actually, because technically. Red Beach is a swamp. It's part of the tidal waters around the mouth of the Liao or Liaohe River. I think the map calls it "Liaohe Kou." Not important really. It was a couple hours drive and we hired a guide for 300 Yuan, which might have included the entry fee.

The red color is caused by a swamp plant which one website refers to as a sea blight. I need a Botanist about now. as you can see it's red in the fall and there's alot of it.

It is ... I'm guessing ... part of the habitat of the "endangered, threatened and nearly extinct" Red Crane, which according to my friend, there are only a few left. The picture shows a couple of them, a breeding pair if I understood the conversation correctly. It is possible to feed this one a few fish from a bucket, but it appears his beak doesn't line up quite right.

I struggle a bit with the presence of oil pumpers and pipelines in the midst of a seemingly fragile environment. Is it bad or good?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

“Museum for Chinese Volunteers Fighting with Korean Against the Imperialist Americans”

I am not making this up. "The Americans were defeated in Korea, using the superior technology of the Chinese." In Dandong, the location of the Chinese and Korean Friendship Bridge, there is a museum to honor the soldiers who bravely fought against the Americans. And I was there. At the museum. I am pretty sure the soldiers deserve it, and the Chinese people as well. It is a fitting monument to the soldiers and people of China. It's not really that kind to the Americans, however.

My father fought in Korea, in the navy. I never knew we sent troops to Taiwan. I guess we were always too busy talking about the great war to spend any time about Korea. I was pretty much ignorant of the whole affair. Until a couple of days ago. I understand Seoul changed hands 10 times during the Korean war. When we talk about the Korean war we talk about it in terms of "Police Action" or "Korean Conflict."

Not the Chinese. They talk about it being the time they helped their Korean friends push the imperialist Americans out of North Korea. Apparently they kicked our asses using soup cauldrons and kettle drums.

It was an interesting place that museum. The photos are some examples of the superior technology used by the Chinese during the Korean War. Perhaps I am being a bit unfair in my representation. There were solid examples of arms, artillery, and aircraft as well. I didn't see any compelling examples of superior technology, however.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When It Just Isn't Right

We arrived by train in Dandong late in the evening. It was already dark and we needed to find a place to stay that would accept Americans. My friend and I had outlined a basic plan which included a hotel with a river view, since the Yalu River was the main attraction.

Her father, however, was heavily engaged in a conversation with a stranger, her grating voice tearing into my ears and interfering with my idea of what was going to happen. I usually like to take a few moments to gather my perspective, get my bearings, allow my soul to catch up … etc. It absolutely wasn't going to happen. We quickly walked away from the train station following the grating voice into darkness. I mean literal darkness. Dimly lit streets, dark streets, a dark hotel. The hotel was pretty smelly, odorous. The rooms were a reasonable size for me, I just barely need a few square feet of anything flat.

The hallways had people sitting in chairs in them. The doors to people's rooms were open. It reminded me of sketchy resident hotels in America. Every one of my emergency warning indicators was blaring; No! I would be afraid to leave my room. I was already feeling trapped.

My friend asked me, "Is this going to be Ok?" I started into a series of "I'm not sure's" and bolted outside to find out if there was a store nearby. Since I had lost control of the situation I was unsure of the availability of bottled water and had a variety of other concerns. I couldn't get out of the place fast enough.
It quickly became clear that this was a no.

Now. I am not normally afraid. I've stayed in some really sketchy places in the world, including residence hotels, with some pretty sketchy folks. So why was this so wrong.

One, we were led there by a stranger. When travelling, we need strangers. Stranger give us guidance, local knowledge, kindnesses, sometimes friendship. They may offer us future opportunities, as the young man I met in Qianshan Park did, "When you return to China, would you like to visit my family in Jilin?" But they may also steal from us, mislead us, can harm us, may lead us into danger. One day while I was travelling in Cheoung Ju, South Korea, a man noticed that I had my passport in my front shirt pocket, and then invited my to accompany him for tea into a basement doorway with no signs. I graciously declined, claiming business responsibilities, and immediately walked away.

Two, egress from the hotel was unsafe. The doorway opened directly into the sidewalk without any opportunity to see what was outside, and it was dark. Big hotels tend to have big entryways and people around, and are well lit. It is easy to identify what's happening just outside the door from inside.

Three, services that I wanted seemed unavailable. Since I wasn't consulted at any time during the process of finding the room and seeing it, I was unable to find out if I could get what I needed from the hotel.

Four, I didn't feel safe in the common areas of the hotel. There's no way to state this strongly enough. The hotel with even the most minimal of services is part of your livelihood while travelling. Not being able to travel freely down to the front desk is a deal breaker.

Clearly, it takes more than a flat spot on the floor to make me happy. We went off to find a different hotel.

Bicycle Fisherman, Dandong, Liaoning, China

Unrelated Person Don't Enter

Ticket Office, Dandong, Liaoning, China.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fisherman at the China and North Korea Friendship Bridge, Dandong, China

So now I am back in Anshan, China, drinking Longling Tea and reflecting on my recent trip to Dandong.

Yalu River Cruise

The port in China.  
China on the right, North Korea on the left.
Tiger Mountain Great Wall

The basic plan for today was to see the Yalu River and the Tiger Mountain Great Wall.

So we headed out to the river in Dandong, and while I wandered around shooting photos of the river and the Korean Peace Friendship Bridge or whatever exactly it is called, and looking across the river at what is North Korea, my friend Michelle's father was expertly arranging a Yalu River cruise for the three of us.
Since I am expressly forbidden by two governments, my own and the North Koreans, from entering the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK), I was skeptical. Since I realize the consequences include being rescued by Bill Clinton, I repeated interrogated my friends … "are you sure about this?" I was repeatedly reassured it was cool.

I put on the life jacket, got in the boat and hung on. The boat was a fairly powerful and well handling outboard and the pilot made sure we knew it. We ripped though the torrid waters of the Yalu river at high speed and drove immediate past a boat containing DPRK soldiers and directly to the shore of North Korea, actually speaking to people on the shore. At one point we were less than a few feet away from the shore of North Korea.

At one point, well most of the time actually, both shores of the river were North Korea. Clearly we were entirely within the country at this point. I shot photos of the Tiger Mountain great wall, from well within the boundary of North Korea.

The boundary between China and north Korea is clearly porous. At one point they asked if I would buy cigarettes for some soldiers on the other side. I didn't buy them but but my imagination tells me they would have approached the shore and tossed them to someone on land.

The idea of people or large amounts of substance crossing the border via the river seems quite tenable. I felt like a spy on a mission. I could imagine it. I could imagine my photo journalist friends trying to stretch the rules for a good photo, a temptation I ultimately resisted.

We approached a North Korean woman on the shore by boat. She was doing laundry in the Yalu river. With a 200mm lens this could have been a National Geographic cover. Seriously good stuff. A woman in the boat was taunting the woman into looking up with "Anno hisayo's." The woman on the beach was clearly disturbed by being taunted at by her Chinese counterparts. The dramatic difference in the quality of life that the two women had was glaring and profound.

I was embarrassed by it, and surprised. The classic shot turned into a screaming woman, and I missed the shot. The strange thing is … I can't possible imagine myself capitalizing on her simplistic life. Especially after witnessing her anger.

Just a note ... added as an after thought.  Did I truly have the Journalist"s will, I would have been driven to   share her tragedy with the people of the world.  I felt no such desire. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Staff Revolt

I am drinking tea in my room. It's a sophisticated tes, some fancy oolong for kings. 6 yuan ($1) at the mini bar. Apparently I am spending too much on incidentals at the hotel and the staff is refusing me. Yesterday the room services person didn't want to restock the mini bar and told me that if I wanted bottled water, she would go buy it for me. I'm guessing it's somehow offensive to her for me to pay 12 yuan, for a 3 yuan bottle of water.

This morning I went down to the lounge to get some coffee and they just basically ignored me. I wonder if they find it surprising that I would dish out 48 yuan for a 12 yuan cup of coffee.

It's more likely that my American English speaking exotic presense may have overwhelmed them, so I suspect they were just unwilling to approach me. After a while I returned to my room for the tea.

8 dollars is too much for a cup of coffee. Last night I had some Steel Buddha tea, and this morning it's Anxi Tie Guanyin, which means, Iron Buddha tea. I think it's more interesting than coffee ... all those "endless aftertastes".

Saturday, September 24, 2011

China, Day 2, "You Should Follow Me"

Anshan, Liaoning, China.

Today was a day like getting ready. I had a free breakfast at the hotel … meh. I went to Michelle's with gifts and to visit her family. It was warm and friendly and a nice reunion. We had a modest lunch which included some delicious locally grown Asian pears, and fresh corn, which roughly approximates what I might describe as "field" corn. Not much like the sweet corn one finds in the shelves in America. This was textured and chewy, with a rich grainy flavor.

It was nice to see everyone and despite being delayed for a couple of hours at the hairdresser, we had a great feast for dinner, thanks to Michelle's "Uncle." If you look closely at the picture you'll see it contains some interesting foods, for the head suckers out there, some head-on shrimp. Some native blue colored crab. An indescribably good salt water fish. Pumpkin, eggplant, and silkworm chrysalis. Plus a fungus native to only to this (Liaoning?) area of China. A couple of kinds of pork. It was decisively good.

Today we also went to a travel agent and booked a 5 day tour to Beijing. And made decisions regarding several days between our trip to Dandong and the Tiger Mountain Great Wall, and our trip to Beijing. Perhaps we will go to Juimenkou Great Wall and the city of Panjin, on the coast.

The tour to Beijing include the Great wall and bicycling in the Hutong, and several other days of stuff. It's all described clearly in Chinese on the tour description … of which I will get some English language version of tomorrow or in a few days. You will get intimate details later, dear readers.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Welcome to China (revised)

2011 September 24, Global Hotel, Anshan, China

I've arrived. My friend Michelle and her father, who I just call Bab, met me at the Airport. We ate at San Bao. We checked into the four star hotel, where I think my friend has arranged the maid's room for me at the deeply discounted price of 150 ¥ (Yuan), or about 20 dollars a night. That's roughly the same as 3 cups of coffee in the hotel bar. It's perfectly good, despite being far from the elevator, and having the noisiest fan ever in the bathroom, it is comfy and has a good view.

I immediately checked out the service and maintenance by plugging in my 125v rated adapter into the 220v wall socket, which caused a minor explosion and the lights to go out in my end of the hotel. Housekeepng and maintenance and a bit of trickery, and I am wired, wirelessly, here in China.

My trip started fairly ineffectively, with my sleeping through the alarm until my ride to the airport arrived. One of the nice side effects to good planning is that delays like oversleeping, are counteracted by proactive buffering of travel time to the airport, and reliable friends that show up a few minutes early.
Since I was still early for my flight, I was sitting there on the bench when Jeff Foott walked directly in front of me and sat down next to me. Jeff has been my friend since we went down the Colorado River together in 2003 with Jack Dykinga and an awesome group. I don't hear much from Jeff, but hear some of the various workshops and trips that he's doing. Jeff is a fairly notable biologist and wildlife videographer, and a great still photographer, having done some ground breaking work for the discovery Channel and National Geographic, among others.

We quickly caught up, and Jeff told me that he was on his way to Mongolia, a place he frequently has traveled recently. He has a new project with Dykinga and Justin Black which they are calling "Visionary Wild."

It was good to see him. I felt like a world traveler suddenly. Perhaps we can stay in better touch.
While standing in line for security a woman dropped her suitcase on me. Then turns out she was on my flight, and sitting across the aisle from me. She will show me around a bit in Beijing while I'm there. Says she can show me some local secrets … places a tour will never take me.

Welcome to China

2011 September 24, Global Hotel, Anshan, China
I've arrived. My friend and her father, who I just call Bab, met me at the Airport. We ate at San Bao. We checked into the four star hotel, where I think my friends has arranged for me the maid's room at the deeply discounted price of 150 ¥ (Yuan), or about 20 dollars a night. That's roughly the same as 3 cups of coffee in the hotel bar.  It's a great price for the room, even in China.
            
My trip started fairly ineffectively, with my sleeping through the alarm until my ride to the airport arrived. One of the nice side effects to good planning is that delays like oversleeping, are counteracted by proactive buffering of travel time to the airport, and reliable friends that show up a few minutes early.
Since I was still early for my flight, I was sitting there on the bench when Jeff Foott walked directly in front of me and sat down next to me. Jeff has been my friend since we went down the Colorado River together in 2003 with Jack Dykinga and an awesome group. I don't hear much from Jeff, but hear some of the various workshops and trip that he's doing. Jeff is a fairly notable biologist and wildlife videographer, and a great still photographer, having done some ground breaking work for the discovery Channel and National Geographic, among others.

We quickly caught up, and Jeff told me that he was on his way to Mongolia, a place he frequently has traveled recently. He has a new project with Dykinga and Justin Black which they are calling "Visionary Wild."

It was good to see him. I felt like a world traveler suddenly. Perhaps we can stay in better touch.
While standing in line for security a woman dropped her suitcase on me. Then turns out she was on my flight, and sitting across the aisle from me. She will show me around a bit in Beijing while I'm there. Says she can show me some local secrets … places a tour will never take me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

China

 I have all my stuff packed (your stuff too), I am ready to go.  See you on the other side.  Or sooner.  I'll try to post in the meantime. 

I'm Packing for China

Interesting point.  Things that are easy to buy ...  shirts, socks, shorts.  No problem.  Things that are hard to buy, be sure to pack.  Just imagine yourself trying to buy a laxative in a store without being able to speak the language.  Or imagine trying to figure out the difference between laundry soap and breakfast cereal in a store where you can't read any of the packaging. 

Camera:

3 lenses (10-22mm, 17-85mm, 70-200mm)
2 battery Chargers
Canon 20D body
about 10 gigabytes of Compact Flash Cards (Thank you Kristina)
card reader
3 batteries for Camera
Small ultralight backpack

Clothing:

2 shorts
1 pants
6 socks
5 Undies
3 xford Shirts
4 t-shirts with America on them!
Running Shoes
Flip-flops (yay!)
Raincoat
Umbrella

Hygiene:

Razor
Shave cream
Soap
Hand towl
Shampoo
Toothbrush and tooth paste, floss.
Toilet paper
Condoms
Wet wipes

Meds:

Ibuprofen
Immodium
Laxative
Bandaids
Antacid
Cipro
Vitamin C
Copy of insurance card
Vaccination Record

Logistics and Navigation:

Passport
Money in the right currency
Visa
Phone
Guide Books
Phrase Books
Light
Maps
Gps
Monocular
Extra Glasses + a copy of current perscription

Entertainment and Electronics:

Ipod
Cords, adapters and Card readers, chargers.
Computer

Gifts:

Booze for the men and food for the women is always a good approach.  Adhoc gifts to augment the pile and offer to new people isn't a bad idea either. 

Something to carry it all in. 

Trip day in just 36 hours away








Saturday, September 17, 2011

I'll have a Gin and Tonic

Apparently, If I go to Yunnan province, I've entered the malaria enchanted region of the world.   I went out to the CDC website and read a -- well, way to many advices -- and found out that I need to go to the doctor.   I need to get some gin and tonic -- or perhaps a real anti malarial. 

And there's this:

Avoid Injuries
Car crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers. Protect yourself from these injuries by:
•Not drinking and driving.
•Wearing your seat belt and using car seats or booster seats in the backseat for children.
•Following local traffic laws.
•Wearing helmets when you ride bikes, motorcycles, and motor bikes.
•Not getting on an overloaded bus or mini-bus.
•Hiring a local driver, when possible.
•Avoiding night driving.
OK -- so this is an advisement for China.  Did anyone even consider mentioning that you should "Stay the heck out of the street," if you want to stay alive? 

The link is here:  http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/china.htm#notices


New China Plan ...


.. there isn't one.  We are bantering, my travelling companion and I, around two basic ideas.  A grand daddy tour going from Shenyang to Myanmar Yunnan, including destinations like Xi'an and Chengdu, with a side trip to Beijing ... or a coastal adventure around Shanghai ... plus Beijing.

I am just a few days from leaving and ... again, I have no plan.  On the phone tonight we decided to not worry about it, and figure it out as we go.  This might be the first person I have met to plan as I do.  After all -- I have a Blackberry, with navigation and an international data plan.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

China

Interested readers,

I am going to China again.  The basic plan is to fly to Shenyang, ride to Anshan and see my friend.  Then travel to Shanghai, and Beijing.  18 days, all tallied.  This is cool.  Shanghai is cool travel destination.  So is Beijing. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hotels in Beijing


I am thinking that parking may be a problem ... there are definately a lot of hotels

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Searchqu Toolbar Browser Helper Object Removal from Firefox

Ok -- we ll I am not going to go into what an insidious piece of shit this is, but I think I managed to remove a search engine BHO from my system.

1.  Check the Add-ons and toolbars sections of your browser and disable any addons that are searchqu or datamanager.   Do this for all browsers.  Set the default search engine for each browser to something you like.

2.  Go to Settings > Add Remove Software and find "Windows Searchqu ..." and remove it.

3.  Find the c:\progarm files\Windows Searchqu * folder and use a powerful tool to remove it.  McAfee provides a tool with their anti virus software.  Destroy the entire folder and all of it's contents.   Check repeatedly to make sure it's really gone.

3.  Search the registry for "searchqu" and delete the folders or keys.  Be careful to delete all the searchqu matching keys and not any neighboring important ones.  Be stubborn, because there are many keys. Make sure you get them all.

4.  Restart your machine.

Good luck.  Feel free to send me an email if you have questions.







 
 






Friday, September 2, 2011

8/15/2011 Takasaki, Japan

I'm standing facing the mirror in a somewhat less than private area where there is a sink next to the washing machine. I'm shaving. Frankly, I am trying to be extremely careful not to cut myself, but I am nervous because 郭洁 (Guo Sie) is watching very intently. Because she is an adult with some experience in the the world, one might guess that she has seen a man shave before – but it seems not. Perhaps she has never had an opportunity to study it in any detail. Perhaps, like other Asians -- her body virtually hairless, she has never bothered with a razor. I muse a bit in a very Murrayesque way that she is just wanting to see if I shave up or down. I am trying very hard not to cut myself as we discuss hair removal using out fingers, shaving cream and a razor.  

Without good use of a common language, the best way to describe what I am doing – shaving, in case you've forgotten – is to point and touch and scrape, and strangely she is surprisingly interested. I grow concerned when she starts pointing out the hairs I have missed. It's a surprisingly intimate moment. I secretly wish in some abhorent fantasy, that she is holding the razor.  

She's not however, so I continue not to cut myself because it's in the world traveler's guide that I hold in my head. This is the list I've compiled over the years, advise of veterans, doctors, things I read in guide books, tidbits from my personal experience. “Do not shave.” it says. “Do not enter a body of water, even if it's a bathtub.” What about a shower? “Never eat pizza in Korea. Don't drink the tap water.” What about ice cubes? “If it's not baked, bottled, or boiled … it goes on ... “Carry Cipro, get vaccinated before you go.” The list goes on. “Never go barefoot.” It's exhausting. “Never try to program the toilet ...”  

In my mind I know that the risk of a trip ending event increases if I break these rules. When I went to get vaccinated, Japanese encephalitis had been dropped from the list of vaccines and there were no advisories of any kind regarding health, health care, or behavior. They did mention however, that if you will have a new lover, an hepatitis B vaccination is recommended. It seems that Japan is somewhat safe to visit as long as you don't have sex with the natives, or get hit by a car because you forget that they drive on the left side of the street. It seems Japan has actually managed to escape from the third world.

When you leave the cities and travel with local residents things can get out of control. You find yourself being offered hot, fresh home grown corn on a farm in rural China that your generous host has just rinsed in well or rain water to cool it off. Suddenly, there's an awkward decision. Do I take the corn and run the risk of dysentery, any sort of odd unknown parasite, bacterias and viruses, or even typhoid, or do I decline and insult everyone, including my kind friends that brought me here. I enjoy the corn and take my chances. I have no idea that just being on a farm in rural China is going to result in a interesting shoe sanitation problem in Customs in San Francisco. But the corn was quite good.

So I have been here in Japan just a few days now and I think I have broken every rule. We went to an outdoor onsen, or hot spring. We hiked in the water at Lake Haruna. Gou Sie is apoplectic, because of my tendency to just walk out side barefoot, and then back into the house. Apparently there's a mysterious invisible barrier where outside shoes and inside feet must never cross. I drank the gifts of the God of Water the at the top of Haruna Shrine. I have been in several bath houses. I have eaten raw fish, there's been an earthquake, I mostly likely have been radiated, and I possibly was struck by lightning.

And now, I have cut myself. It might be a good thing that I brought the cipro.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Other Side ...

I am back from Japan.  I spent 12 days in Japan.  I am suffering from jet-lag and strep throat.   I am recovering.  I have stories to tell about Japanese baths and rice growing in the front yard, and Kyoto and Tokyo ... subways trains and ... umbrellas and thunderstorms.   see ya soon.

Did I mention the toilets ... because they were generally good, and funny. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It's a small world after all ...

... and I have friends all over the place.  It's trip day.  Tomorrow morning, I will fly to Japan to explore the wonders of the world, yet again.  It turns out that I have some friends there. 

New friends and old friends.  I am excited.  I'll see you all on the other side of the world.  Or when I get back.

 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Planning ... and Asia.

I tried. Really tried.  To make a comprehensive plan for my trip to Japan.  This has happened before.  Everytime I have been to Asia.  There's no way to plan it,  Every time I have been to Asia I have had a host.  There's no way to plan if you have a host. 

In 1997 I went to Tokyo as a teacher of a software application.  My host was Ohmura-san.  and I had 8 students.  Every day they picked me up at my hotel.  They took me everywhere they could.  We ate, drank, and explored Tokyo.  We drank tequila and scotch.  Went to clubs, restaurants, old Tokyo.  They dropped me off at my hotel each night.   

When I went to Korea in 1996 I had a bit more freedom.  I taught at a hogwan ... we would explore the city ... and just take a cab home.  AI learned my way and took cabs and found my way around. 

When I went to China my friend took care of everything.  Crossing the street.  Everything.  Where to eat, what to do.  Where to go, When to nap.  what to see -- where to travel.  Awesome. 

So now I am going to Japan; to visit my friend.  And she is doing everything, as much as I try, she is going to make the plan.  I think I am just going to go with it.  
   

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Per Volquartz


My friend and mentor, Per Volquartz passed away on Sunday morning.  I feel a profound sense of loss, I am lost, my spirit bereft of inspiration, adrift, at least for the moment.  I weigh the cost of a flight to Pasadena, the value of seeing the body, the presence and weight of my friends at his service.  Our value to each other as we find a way to carry on.  My unemployment and my lack of miles ... perhaps I can find a way there.

I imagine myself there, at his service.  I stand at the podium before eighty or so of our friends, to eulogize about a great friend.  I look into the eyes of my friends and tears begin to flow.  I begin.

Knowing Per, brings change to one's life.  I first met Per online.  First thing he says is can I bring someone I don't know to Lake Shasta.  When I got to Shasta, it was comfortable to meet him. It was as though I had known him all my life.  His greeting was filled with joy and kindness and laughter.  I sensed instantly that I had found a kindred spirit.  I remember I got thrown out of the hotel we were staying in. 

He had some people with him.  People warm and welcoming, the people in this room, people who would grow to be my friends.  They were other people like Per, that liked Per too, and thought he had something interesting to say.  Per was clearly a leader in his community.  In this community, and in a bigger community.  In places like Denmark and Shanghai, where Per was admired, respected and rewarded for a lifetime of work.  Of good work.  He studied with some great men.  I think I remember him telling me that he studied with Minor White, met Ansel Adams.  Per was an academic and a scholar, and a humble teacher, and a good mentor.  In places like Zion Canyon and Joshua Tree, and his quiet kitchen in Pasadena.  He taught us his tedious love of photography.  We soaked it up.  He gave his love for art and photography freely and with love.  He was inspiring.   I want to remember him standing up talking, sharing his love.

Per Volquartz taught us something much richer than his love for photography.   Per loved life.  There's a glimmer of love in my past that Per reminded me of so many times, a girl in a Springdale, Utah restaurant that I might have loved.   "You should go and find her," he would say.  In a quiet unassumimg way, Per repeatedly reinforced a much richer notion than photography, that we should be inspired to live well.  Through his example, we saw an appreciation of life, of living.  An example that we can long admire.  He taught us to love, and to care for each other, and to care for what we do, the way that he so kindly cared for us, nurtured us. 

And now, he is gone. He is teaching us to grieve.  In the midst of that, he leaves me with all these friends, that I know will share the joy I can feel at having even a few brief moments to share with a great man.  We are the lucky ones. 

We need to drink some port and make some platinum prints, and celebrate a life well lived. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Open Faced Crabcake "Sandwich" with Cucumber Salad


When I was young, Friday night often was started with salmon patties, a fairly simple dinner that my mother used to make involving a can of cleaned red salmon, an egg, a handful of soda crackers, a bit of tartar sauce and some french fries.   We didn't know that this was an exercise in thrift, turning one can of salmon into dinner for a family.  For us it was just Friday night. 


So, this quick Saturday lunch with my mother is made in that general spirit.  Clean, simple fun with food.  I also made one of mother's favorite dishes to go alongside, a simple cucumber salad ala Jacques Pepin, julienned cukes with a simple olive oil and basalmic vinegar dressing with cracked pepper and salt. 



The crab cakes are of the Maryland style, using my free sample of Old Bay Seasoning (that's like being sponsored), soda crackers and an egg, along with mustard, mayonaise, dry mustard, and worchestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and fresh parsely, and 1/2 pound of crab meat.   1/2 t. of each of the Old Bay and dry mustard.  1/2 T of Lee and Perrins. 1/4 cup mayo, and 1 T. Dijon mustard.  Juice from 1/2 lemon. 





A simple tartar sauce using a t. of relish and 2 t. mayo, plus a skosh of lemon juice and black pepper, finishes it off nicely, and adding a pan seared slice of whole wheat french bread under the crap cake rounds out the meal.   

Wednesday, May 25, 2011