Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fall at Independence Pass

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming of China memories to bring you fall pictures. Last weekend, Mike and I drove up Independence Pass to Aspen to enjoy this incredible fall. Here are some of our pics.

This is just past Twin Lakes. Doesn't it look like we dressed matchy matchy?
A rushing stream above Twin Lakes.
We found a path that wound into the aspen forest.
The sky was so incredibly blue.
On top of Indepenence Pass.
Beautiful colors outside of Aspen.
A random barn looking picturesque.
A random boy looking picturesque.

Last Day in Yangshuo

On the morning we were flying out, I woke to see the sun and blue sky for the first time in China. It was beautiful. This is taken from my balcony.

I really wanted to go to caves while in Yangshuo, as all those peaks you see above are filled with caves. I finally convinced Rick to go. We went to Silver Cave. I was expecting the caves to be cool, like all caves I've ever been in, but they were hot and sticky. Because they're in the mountains and not below ground, they're just as hot as outside, perhaps hotter.

Though I didn't understand a word the tour guide said, I believe Silver Cave was named for this formation. A huge silvery formation that looked like it had been spray painted silver. I wouldn't put it past them. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

It's quite a large formation. All the formations had bright lights shining on them - pink, green, blue. A little loud for my taste. There were also stalagtites wrapped in Christmas lights. I guess they have so many caves they don't mind if they destroy a few formations. Although the caves were a bit gaudy, they were still the most spectacular I've ever seen.

This formation was directly above a pool that reflected it perfectly. Instead of water, it looked like there was a lower chamber of caves. It made you dizzy to look at, and everything became very confusing. You couldn't tell what was cave and what was water.
The rooms were huge and so were the formations. There was lots of Chinese shouting. At various spots in the caves there were vendors selling junk. If any of you wanted a huge cabbage statue, I could have gotten you one. Lots of fake jade statues off cabbages, bunnies with red demon eyes, fat laughing Buddhas, and gaudy dragons. This is the exit of the caves.
Then we flew to Beijing. On our way to the airport, we noticed lots of men with their T-shirt rolled up over their bellies. It's how Chinese men air their bellies, Rick said.
The airplane food was weird. A vacuum-sealed packet of brown goo and a packet of purple goo with a roll. I didn't try it. I waited at the back of the plane to go to the bathroom, where groups of men had gathered to loudly play cards. Right before I went in to the toilet, an old man got in front of me and hocked a huge loogie into the toilet. Didn't flush. Welcome to Beijing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vacation Day

I forgot to mention our very lovely devotions on our last day of training. We sang on the river. Here's a picture from it.
After the training ended, I decided to take a vacation day to relax at the retreat. I had breakfast on the river, just like on the first day. Most everyone else was leaving at noon, so we had a lazy morning saying our goodbyes.

Then Kristin, Kelly, Jayaseelan and I went for another raft ride. It had been so beautiful and peaceful (except for the water fight) that we wanted to do it again. It was as peaceful and beautiful as the first time.

After rafting, we met Rick for dinner at the roof-top Cafe Luna in Moon Hill Village. Delicious Italian food. Another memorable experience listening to French music in China eating Italian. I noticed the architecture from the roof-top all looked so blocky. It wasn't at all what I expected in China; I expected curly-cue roofs and pagoda-style homes. But because of communism, everything is white block housing. Very drab and sad.

After dinner, we went to a show on the river - a show with a cast of hudreds all performed on the river on rafts. It was directed/created by the director of Hero and of the opening ceremony of the Olympics. It was an interesting cultural experience watching Chinese entertainment in an all Chinese audience. It was hard to focus as the audience talked loudly the entire time, which is how they roll. I didn't really understand the plot. There was something about singing and rafting and mountains and water buffalo and lots of naked ladies.

Here is a video of the little girls singing something funny. I don't know what. Maybe it's about water buffalo. Do you hear all the talking in the background?


Once again, another interesting experience, if still not quite my favorite.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More Adventures in China

After our photo shoot, we spent the afternoon biking then rafting down the Dragon River. It was ridiculously fun. I don't have any photos or video of it, as I didn't want my camera to get soaking wet.

First, we all rented bikes to ride up through the villages to where we'd get on the rafts. For many of them, it was the first time they had biked for pleasure. I can see why our idea of exercising for fun hasn't caught on in tropical places. It's hot and humid. I was having wrist problems, so I shared a tandem bike with Rick and didn't have to work quite as hard as everyone else. There was a line of 10 of us, from Thailand, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, and the US, biking through the countryside of China.

It was so beautiful. We saw men tending rice paddies. Women chasing ducks. Families sitting under willows drinking Coke. There were fields of water lilies and lotus. Ancient dwellings sitting on the edge of the river, just as they have done for hundreds of years. It is amazing to think how that countryside is always there, being so utterly "other" from all my experiences, and yet there it has been and is, and continues to be, while I sit over here being so very different from it.

Anyway, we finished our two-hour bike ride in the torpid heat of a late China fall and were ready to get in the water. I rode with Edwin, who you might remember from such adventures as dodging jellyfish on a beach in the Philippines. We rented water guns, and a mass water fight ensued.

The water fight only slowed down as we stopped at Dragon Bridge to watch a crazy Dutch guy dive and belly flop off of the bridge. Rafting and fighting with my Asian coworkers will certainly go down as one of my most memorable life experiences.

The next day, we did video training at the retreat. We were all tired out, so it was a low-key day. The next day, we did more communications training.

That night, we went out on the town again. We shopped and I tried green tea and coconut gelato. They've got nothing on us. For dinner, Rick, Kristin, Kelly, Aom, Edwin and I ate at "Rick's Cafe Casablanca," made to look like the cafe in the movie Casablanca, set in Morocco. I was just about sick of Chinese food. We got the local delicacy, beer fish, which I tried enough of to be able to say I had while Edwin sat next to me eating the eyeballs.

I ordered sesame chicken, my all-time favorite Chinese dish in America. It was the worst thing I ate in all of China. It was chicken pounded flat, rolled in sesame seeds, fried till chewy, then served with ketchup.

A Chinese band was playing at Rick's. They sang such classics as "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton, "Yesterday" by the Beatles, and "Love Me Tender" by Elvis. Rick crooned along with a lot of heart and asked one of our Thai coworkers to dance (which horrified her). It was very odd to sit in the middle of China, in a cafe made to look like Morocco, while a band sings Elvis. Definitely a memory.

As it was everyone's last night, they planned a big party in the room. I stayed awake long enough to make a cameo and watch this video, courtesy of the Indians.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Photo Shoot

On our fourth day in China, we had a time to practice everything we had learned about photography the day before. We split into groups of four to do photo shoots with some locals. One group followed a rice harvesting family, one group followed a vegetable farmer, and my group followed a bamboo raft driver. I was with Ming from Thailand, Provashish from India, and Tonny from Indonesia.

We were supposed to practice getting wide shots, medium shots, close-ups, portraits, action shots, details, etc. I stink at detail shots, so no surprise you won't be seeing any here. Here are some of my photos from a day in the life of a bamboo raft driver.

This is supposed to be my wide establishing shot. If I wrote a caption it would be something like, "4 billion people visit the Dragon River each year to raft on its pristine waters. But the men who drive these rafts are...[insert something dramatic and meaningful here]."

Here is Li, our raft driver. He starts his day having a breakfast of rice and vegetables with his wife of 40 years.

He has lived in this home for his entire life. Here he is with his grandson. His son, the father of this boy, is also a raft driver on the river.

This is the entrance to the compound where his family lives. It has been here 300 years. He is good friends with the other neighbors in the compound, all who also have lived here their entire lives. To get to these homes, you have to cross the Li River. They are tucked up on a hillside directly beneath one of the looming karst peaks.

A lot of hanging out and smoking occurs. Before rafting. After rafting. During rafting. Smoking was a key part of all our photo essays.

But eventually, Li has to get to business: Paddling plump tourists down the Dragon River. It's serious work.
He loves doing his job, and has a smile for everyone.

He also likes the plump rolls of cash the plump tourists pay him.

And after a hard day's work, he fans himself with his hat and reflects on his home (that's it across the river)...and smokes another cigarette.

While stray Chinese muts sit about picturesquely with Chinese hats.

OK, so those aren't real captions. But I'm not a real photographer. I just don't love photography, nor does it love me. But I had fun nonetheless, and this was one of the most likable men and families I've come across in my travels. I was so glad to spend a day with such beautiful, down-to-earth people, especially before being thrown into Beijing. It is a reminder as always that people are people no matter where they are, what they look like, or what they do.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 2 & 3

On the second day in China, I did a training on writing. I was serious and earnest...lilke in this photo (which is not staged, by the way). That night, I was so exhausted from training that I went to bed at 7. The next day, I did a session on interviewing skills, then Kelly trained on photography. Here we are practicing.
After a very long day of training, we went into Yangshuo for dinner. But being that they are not lame and old like me, they didn't want to eat at 5:30 to be in bed by 7. Instead they took pictures and bargained for several hours in town.
There were a number of kitschy communist shops like this one, selling propoganda to ironic Europeans, like hats with red stars on them, shirts that said "Oba Mao," and Stalin arm patches.
There was a lot of fresh fruit being sold on the streets. I tried fresh passion fruit for the first time. Passion fruits are little. It must take 18 of them to make one glass of juice. Remember that next time you're having POG. Kelly pointed out to me how much passion fruit looks like fish eggs, in retribution for my conversation with the Indonesians pictured below regarding eating dog and cooking methods. I couldn't eat any more after the fish egg comment. It is remarkably like fish eggs.
We ate dinner at the Red Star Cafe, a kitschy communist eatery. They had stir fried french fries. The food was Meh. Notice the empty watermelon juice glass in the below shot.
After dinner, these insatiable beasts wanted to take more photos, rather than go to bed. A huge rainstorm broke out that trapped us under a little overhang for an hour. We spent the time popping poses, like Provashish below, and taking photos.
Finally we gave in and walked back to the van in the pounding rain. We got stared at. We got pointed at. We got laughed at. It was a lot of fun. By the time we got to the van, we were as wet as wet could be.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Over the Moon Hill

We arrived a day early for our training in China. So before the others arrived, Rick, Kelly and I woke early to enjoy the beauty of Yangshuo. Rick is the communications trainer for Asia and has lived in China for 15 years. A very interesting perspective to have while in China. You might remember him from such adventures as riding on a motorbike in the Philippines. Kelly is the videographer/photographer on my team.

We had breakfast on the river, where we dined each morning as it was the only time cool enough to be out of doors.


We then went for a hike to Moon Hill, an arched karst peak in a neighboring village of the same name. Kelly relaxed at a local rooftop restaurant while Rick and I climbed. We didn't intend to have guides, but the ladies just follow you until you give in to have them as guides. These 50-year-old scrawny ladies trip up the mountainside like it's nothing while they fan you from behind.

The fanning was worth how ever many yuan we paid them. It was hot. It was humid. I believe roughly 2 gallons of sweat poured off of me that lovely China morning. The ladies kept looking at me and saying, "Many, many!" as they pointed to the many, many drips of sweat leaking off of every milimeter of exposed skin.

At the bottom of the arch, they sold us Chinese Coca Cola at 3 times cost. Rick and I continued up to the top of the arch, where we saw this:


There were butterflies everywhere. It was misty and humid, making the peaks hard to see, but also making it look like a mystical fairyland where the jagged peaks could have gone on forever.

As we hiked back to the village, a man from Szechaun Province stopped us. He motioned for a picture, so I went to take his camera and take his picture. Then he shook his head, "no," and eventually communicated that he wanted me in his picture. I was covered in "many, many," so I don't quite think he wanted to fool people back home into thinking I was his hot American girlfriend.

As it turns out, and as we experienced many times along the way, Chinese people love to take pictures of and with foreigners. Any kind of foreigners. Kind of like how we might take a picture standing next to a buffalo and say, "Hey, look what I saw!" I was the buffalo.

We joined Kelly on the rooftop restaurant for a refreshing glass of fresh watermelon juice. Watermelon juice was ubiquitous in China. It was at every restaurant. I loved it. It was frothy with pulp and so watery and crisp. I drank it every chance I got, which was often.

After cleaning up, we met up with Kristin and the communications guys from India, Provashish and Jayaseelan. You might remember Jayaseelan from such adventures as watching Indians tap rubber trees in Trivandrum. We all went into Yangshuo village for a little shopping. Yangshuo is a "village," just like Indians call cities of 2 million "villages"; it was big. When I think village, I think Clydesdales pulling carts and women in bonnets. You know, the Beauty and Beast kind of village.

For Yangshuo, think speeding Audis, Adidas stores, and KFC, all on the backdrop of men in Chinese hats using comorants to catch fish on the shores of the Dragon River, while ladies sell passion fruit from baskets on the street and shout, "Hello! Hello!" at you.

I got totally ripped off shopping. No surprise there. I should have stuck with the Indians. Every day, they came to brag to me of their incredible bargaining conquests. "You see these shoes, Amber? How much do you think they cost? Really, guess! You won't believe it! Guess!" Not me. I bought Mike a decorative sword from a grumpy old man. (For being so gentle and nonviolent, Mike loves his old weapons.) The man was so grumpy, I was afraid to bargain with him. Plus he didn't speak English. I paid twice what I would have offered in America.

Shopping was difficult to enjoy, so hot was I. Provashish said, "Amber, you are very wet." Thank you. I love a good first impression.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I've been home now since Friday night, but I've been sick in bed ever since with a virus I got from one of my Thai coworkers...Or "Thai-rus" as a clever FB friend coined it.

Now, 2 1/2 books, 6 movies, and many episodes of White Collar later, I'm feeling better. But besides my invalidity, my communist seclusion seems to have been an effective de-addiction program for both blogging and Facebooking. I just haven't felt like being plugged in. Probably healthy. So someday (probably tomorrow, knowing my relapse rate), I'll tell you about my China trip. But for now, I'll leave you with a couple photos.

The stray dogs in China were really cute. I want to create a "Dogs of Yangshuo" calendar.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Home From China

In the San Francisco airport, waiting for my flight home. Finally access to sit-toilets, Facebook, and drinkable water. I love home.

I'll be posting about my various adventures in China, but until then, you can enjoy some of my photos here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hong Kong Sunset

After 24 hours of travel, I sit now in the Hong Kong airport, looking out over water, sky scrapers, and mountains in the sunset.

Flying into Hong Kong looks a lot like Lihue, Kauai. Ocean on one side, a narrow landing strip, and steep mountains on the other side. There are columns upon columns of high-rise apartment buildings anywhere that is flat. But as soon as the steep hills rise, they are lush and unplundered, looking like pristine jungle. It's quite pretty.

The fifteen hour flight wasn't as bad as it could be. I slept a number of hours and didn't have anyone in the seat next me, which was fantastic. It was United, though, so not nearly as cushy as many international flights (no in-seat TV). I've gotten incredibly spoiled.

Airplane are always fascinating places to observe culture, especially as I traveled to South Korea and the Philippines so recently. The Chinese woman next the next seat down from me burped openly and often. My coworker also sat next to several Chinese who were quite open with their digestive conditions. Quite a far stretch from the Korean woman who offered me snacks and looked like a Korean Donna Reed.

Still, I'll reserve judgment. I now will fly an hour and a half to Guilin, then drive an hour and a half to our hotel where I will hopefully sleep like a Chinese baby.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Happy Apple Pickin'

Before I head out to China, Mike wanted to squeeze every last bit of joy he could get out of me, so we went to Penrose for some apple pickin'. We went to a different farm than I went to with Brandy last year, Ferrara's Happy Apple Farm.
This is where many an elementary school kid has gone on a field trip, and it is who we are doing a fall festival with at Glacier. We met Tony Ferrera (driving the tractor), and he was the nicest man you'd ever want to meet; called us "friend" about 20 times straight. He took us on a ride to crisp, sweet galas.
As we stood in the hot summer sun munching on crisp apples, surrounded by sunflowers, we couldn't help but dream of all the ice cream and gelato flavors we will be making from this farm's bounty. Spiced cider sorbet. Apple pie ice cream. Pumpkin spice gelato.

Is there anything better than the harvest of late summer? I simply adore it. Right now we have Palisade peach gelato and ice cream in the store. Nothing can transport me to days growing up, cranking an old wooden ice cream maker, like peach ice cream. Seriously, you need to go get some from our store while it lasts.

Next we drove up Phantom Canyon, which I can only guess is named after Phantom Canyon Brewery in town. Lovely drive.
All along the way, we saw the tall aspens with edges fringed in gold, the first sign of the waning of the year.
I love September for its hot days and cool nights, its tomatoes and apples and peaches, its inching gold, and for car rides with my honey, chomping on freshly picked apples and throwing the cores out the window.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Preparing for Asia

I'm getting all prepared to leave for China bright and early Sunday morning. Scratch that. Dark and early: 4 a.m. I'll fly from Colorado Springs to Chicago to Hong Kong (15 and a half hours, thank you very much) to Guilin (pronounced "Gway-lin"). I'll arrive late Monday night to my destination.

The training will last Wednesday through Sunday. I have put all the finishing touches on my 101 PowerPoint slides. I will be presenting a writing workshop to our Asia communication peeps all Wednesday and Thursday morning. Then we'll move on to photography and videography. Can't wait!

Once it's over, we'll fly out Tuesday night to Beijing, where me and two coworkers will take some time to be tourists - Great Wall, Forbidden Palace, etc. Then I'll fly out at noon on Friday the 17th and arrive home in Colorado Springs on the 17th at 5. Weird, huh? It's apparently only 5 hours from Beijing to Colorado.

China blocks Facebook, but I'm hoping blogger isn't blocked. If it is, then I will upload photos to my Flickr page, so check there if you get lonely without me. If that is blocked too, I guess I'll just have to get over my cyber addiction.

And now on to some cultural observations from an email forward I recently received. As far as I've experienced, these are very true.

Differences between Westerners and Asians
Analysis and understanding between Asian culture and Western Logic.

Key: Blue: Westerners, Red: Asians

Westerners: Talk to the point.
Asians: Talk around in circles, especially if opinions differ

Westerners: On time.
Asians: In time.

Westerners: Show that I am angry.
Asians: I am angry, but still smiling.

Queue when Waiting
Westerners: Queuing in an orderly manner.
Asians: Queuing? What's that?

Handling of Problems
Westerners: Take any steps to solve the problems.
Asians: Try to avoid conflicts, and if can, don't leave any trail.

The Boss
Westerners: The boss is part of the team.
Asians: The boss is a fierce God.

What's Trendy
Westerners: Eat healthy Asian cuisine.
Asians: Eat expensive Western cuisine.

Now for good measure, here's a funny video about the difference between Italy and the rest of Europe. (Italy being a "hot" culture and the rest of Europe being a "cold" culture. These differences are generally true of other hot (developing world, tropical) cultures and cold (Western) cultures.)