September 27, 2008

Reporting for Duty, Sir

Guess who got a frigging JURY SUMMONS the day before he leaves for Tibet? And, um, three months before he'll even set foot in the US?

I'll give you a hint - I see him every time I look in the mirror. Hah.

This should be fun.

September 24, 2008

No English ... ?

I was talking with my ayi (maid) on Tuesday morning, as I was heading out the door for work, and she invited me to visit her hometown with her. Because she doesn't speak any English and is from a small town in Anhui, I was excited!! ... until she said it would be next Spring Festival, in February. I told her then I couldn't, because I'm returning to the US in January.

Today on the shuttle ride I was thinking about it some more. Even though I've been living outside the US for nearly 9 months now, I've spoken (or listened to) English every single day. English is a must at work. And even on the weekends when I might be out in the city, I'm always with or among lao wai or a Chinese friend who speaks good English. And if I'm by myself, I'm listening to my iPod with English-language music. I come home and read English-language books or web sites. So I don't know what it's like to go completely without English.

Anyway it occurred to me that if I'd been able to go with my ayi, I would have gone like a week without speaking or listening to English once (besides the "OK!" and "Bye bye!" that everyone seems to know, and assuming I don't take my iPod). She doesn't speak or understand English, so it follows that her family in small-town Anhui wouldn't either, unless there maybe are younger children there, who stand a better chance of having been educated with English. Then I got excited at the thought of relying on my Chinese for so many days and getting to experience what we call the "real" China, i.e., China - (English + Western culture). Then I remembered I couldn't go. Dang.

September 23, 2008

Got the Train Tickets to Lhasa

Just got word today that we got the tickets for the two-day train ride (!!!!!!) from Shanghai to Lhasa. I'm just hoping they'll let us out at Xining to stretch our legs a bit.

I've been told that I will not fit on the sleeper beds in the train. I've also been told to bring a roll or two of toilet paper.

I bought an extra memory card for my camera. I also bought some warmer layers to put on top of the sweaters and fleece that I already have.

We leave Sunday night at 8 PM. Arrive Lhasa at 9 PM Tuesday. We'll be back in Shanghai on the 8th.  

Plenty of pictures to come, I promise :-)

September 15, 2008

What I Really Miss About Being in the US ...

... is the ability to sing in the car.

Ya just can't do that in the backseat of a cab or on the subway or walking down the street.

Maybe that's why karaoke is so popular in Shanghai?

Pictures from Zhuji/Wuxie and Shaoxing are up. Some heavy nature photography in the Wuxie set!!

September 14, 2008

The Zen of Dusty Baker

"Everybody knows [Micah Owings] can hit," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "If anybody knows he can hit, they know he can hit."

Let me be the first to say: What??

In other news, the Orioles have mathematically guaranteed their 11th straight losing season. They will finish last place in the AL East for the first time since 1988. Damn you for getting good all of a sudden, Rays.

I was really shocked to find out that David Foster Wallace committed suicide. On a complete whim back in April, I ended up purchasing his book Consider the Lobster at Garden Books in Shanghai. I specifically remember reading the titular essay while sitting on a bench at Fuxing Park, and another one in which he reviews a dictionary (wow, nerdness alert), while waiting to pick my parents up at Pudong Airport. I was hooked instantly and ended up buying another book of his, well, one that he edited, anyway.

Just got back from a fun little trip to Wuxie and Shaoxing. Pics are going up as we speak -- err, as I type. If you are wondering where your socks are made, I would bet that Zhuji (the city near Wuxie) is the answer, as I saw numerous sock factories along the road. That makes for some gripping tourism, I assure you.

September 9, 2008

Congratulations Mark!!

Non-China related: My friend Kelly's brother Mark plays for the Houston Astros' AAA team, the Round Rock Express.  Last night he got called up to The Show and jacked a home run on the first pitch he saw! I did a double-take when I saw his name mentioned on BLS.

September 8, 2008


My cousin Mike is filming a documentary about Richard Garriott, the bazillionaire creator of Ultima and other PC / video games, who lives in Austin and is going to be the next private citizen launched into space. So it was with great interest that I read a feature story in the latest issue of Wired that followed Garriott around the training facilities in Russia. Particularly of interest was this bit from the author:
[N]o amount of camaraderie and training can prepare [Nik] Halik and Garriott for the worst part of the journey, worse than the grueling training, worse than the punishing gs of takeoff, worse than the indignities of space bathrooms. "The hardest part of the trip was coming back," [Anousheh] Ansari says. "You realize that you may never experience this again." It's difficult to readjust to life on Earth, to go from being a temporary cosmonaut to being a normal civilian. [Gregory] Olsen is known to wear his old Star City jumpsuit to schools and youth groups, happy for the opportunity to recount the story of the greatest moments of his life.
Yeah, it should be obvious why I posted this. I'm not in space, but to the Ryan of a year ago, Shanghai might as well be. During my two weeks in the US, I could feel myself wanting to talk about China and Shanghai, to speak Chinese, and to express a disquieted sense of how familiar everything was there, to kind of somehow let people know that I'd spent half a year living this insanely different experience. 

When I was in the US, it was great, but it was just really freaking weird that nothing was freaking weird. And I kept wanting to tell people that. Does that make sense? It wasn't bad. It was just ... well, yeah. Weird.

I wonder how it'll be when I go back for good in January.

September 6, 2008

Travel, Shmavel

Once I decided I wanted to visit Tibet over the October holiday, and once I convinced 3 other people to come with me, it was only a matter of 50 or so emails before we had the plans settled. There are numerous ways to get to Tibet; chief among them being, in my opinion, the world's highest train. I was itching to have this experience, so in planning how we made it, I insisted that we take the train either in or out of Lhasa. Luckily for me, no one had a huge problem with that mode of transport. 

Why so many emails? Because the devil is in the details: 
  • Getting to Lhasa requires a permit separate from a Chinese visa
  • Only travel agencies can get that permit for you
  • You need your passport and visa to get this permit; two of my friends still need to get their residence permits
  • You must specify your city of departure
  • Your whole group must arrive together
  • We're travelling during a week-long national holiday, which means we'll be travelling with 人山人海, literally (ren shan ren hai, "a mountain of people, a sea of people") so there was immense pressure to book the trip ASAP
  • Train tickets go on sale only 5 days before the departure date; it's tough to reserve them in advance like you can for a plane
  • Our travel agency is based in Lhasa, so it's easier for them to get the train tickets going from Lhasa -> Shanghai, and that is preferable for numerous reasons
  • The Lhasa -> Shanghai train takes two days and leaves only on odd days (e.g. Oct 5th, 7th, 9th, etc.)
  • You can fly from Shanghai to Lhasa through Xi'an, or you can fly from Shanghai to Xining and take the train from there, and then return by flying from Lhasa to Shanghai, or any combination of the three
  • Some people were less than thrilled with the idea of the train and/or wanted to take it into Lhasa, whereas some of us wanted to take it out of Lhasa
  • We're a consensus-oriented bunch, which mean we all want to make sure everyone's okay with the plan of action
But eventually, we determined the plan. Sunday Sept 28th, we'll take the train from Shanghai to Lhasa. We'll arrive on the evening of Sept 30th. We'll spend several days in Tibet, then on Oct 7th we'll fly from Lhasa to Shanghai, thus ending the trip. 

At least, that's the plan right now :-) We still have to determine our itinerary, which should be okay since we all agree that spending a night at Mt. Everest Base Camp is of prime importance, and we're on a private tour so we can do pretty much whatever we want, whenever we want. The travel agent built this into our next-to-last day and gave us numerous suggestions for other sights, so we should be fine. I don't really care what we see; I will just be happy to be there. (As long as I don't hallucinate too much from altitude sickness. My friend Cameron was telling me today about his AMS in Sichuan province, which borders Tibet. It sounded pretty crappy. His bout involved headaches, shortness of breath on even the mildest of inclines, lethargy, trouble sleeping, and a mild hallucination that someone was crawling around on the floor of his room at night. WOW. I am thankful that we are getting a driver and not relying on hiking.)

This will probably be my last "big trip" in China. I think after Tibet, I might be content with smaller excursions, like to Xitang and Putuoshan. But who knows? Never say never.

Oh -- check out the care package my parents sent me!!  Thanks guys!! :-) 

September 3, 2008