Thursday, June 07, 2007

Have bicycle, will travel

Okay, so you know how it is, right? You know you've been doing something alot, but you didn't know just how much.

For example maybe you know you were putting on weight, but didn't realize it was that much weight. Or you know you repeat your stories, but didn't realize how much till everyone in the room starting telling it word for word with you. Know what I'm talking about?

So I knew that ever since I got my bicycle I've been doing alot of traveling around. When it is always ATLEAST half the time of going somewhere on the bus, why wouldn't you go by bicycle? Well I picked up a fancy new speedometer for it which just seemed like fun at the time. No, it isn't actually a practical expense. Yes, for the same price I could have bought 25 bowls of fried rice with potato & green pepper. Such is China. But it's pretty cool! Keeps track of how far, how long it took, how fast I'm currently going, and best of all what time is it.

Curious how many kilometers I cycle in a week? Take a look!

For all of you good friends in the States who do not understand kilometers, that is 71.2 miles. I knew I was traveling alot every week, but this? I may not be as fast as I was over ten years ago as a teenager, but I can cover more distance. Now if only I was losing a few kg's as a result of the exercise....

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Chengjiang Lake

Yeah. I'm still alive. :)

It's been quite awhile since the last post. There's a principle that you may have heard "With great power comes great responsibility". Well there's one that's alot like it, having to do with the amount of work you're given being proportional to the amount of skills you have....

Yeah. I've been studying alot and spending way too much time helping out with technical computer issues.

Anyway, on to Chengjiang Lake! A little while back I went for a trip to Chengjiang. To be honest I wasn't especially impressed with the place - small, rural, not much flavor to it in my opinion. But the lake! Oh the Lake! Looks pretty good, doesn't it? :)

Maybe next year I can find a way to go out sailing for a bit. I gotta say, I am kinda hooked on sepia tone shots. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

You're Eating Like a Thief!

Have you ever been accused of eating like a thief? Madness you say? Maybe not!

A friend here just told me about this experience. Eating here is different from what those in the States would expect. I can safely say that most Americans would be somewhat offended and find the nationals here rude. Why? Well, generally speaking, everyone here likes to eat with their mouths open. You can here the sound of the food being chewed up. You may well be able to SEE it being chewed up. Westerners, you're probably thinking how disgusting and uncultured this is, right?

This is what a national actually said to this friend of mine at one time. She's North American and she's used to how people eat here. It doesn't bother her. But she eats as a westerner would - mouth closed and quietly. This is what was said: "You eat like you've just stolen the food!". That's right! This is west meets east friends!

You see, eating loudly shows your appreciation of the food! Lot's of "mmm!" sounds help as well. By eating quietly we make it seem as if we don't want anyone to know we are eating, as if we are hiding something. It's like we've stolen the food and don't want to get caught. Interesting, eh?

So next time you're eating with some friends in China, atleast try and make a little noise to show your appreciation of the food, okay? :)

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sun Tzu on the Art of Getting Things Done

Yesterday I embarked on a true adventure - I tried to get Chinese Drivers License! Rumors abound that the license is available for either life, or for 6 years. Right now I have no need of a license, but perhaps in a few years time I'll want one.....? Seemed like a good idea!

First I had to run around for preparation work - where would I be without friends who know things? First of all you have to bring your stamped paper showing that you've registered with the police. That was a problem for me, since I hadn't registered! A short bike ride and 20 minutes of explaining the visa's and stamps later and I was on my way home with said paper. Pretty painless all things considered.

Next you have to have a paper showing the translation of your license, officially stamped of course. A friend took care of this for me, driving out to the appropiate government office and getting the precious red stamp on the paper.

So far so good! :)

Then the challenge came - going to the 'DMV' equivilent here in Kunming. The place is huge! The main building has 6 floors, huge open halls, and very little activity going on. First of all we were told that we had to have medical exams - oops, didn't prepare any of that. So off to another building, ¥12 each. They had hospital beds with stands for IV's...A bit much for the DMV isn't it? We played the usual game of 'which direction is the W facing?' and proved our prowess at finding the numbers in the green and red dots. A+ all around! One more paper, one more official red stamp.

Finally we are allowed to take an application! But, and this part really tickles me, you are not allowed to apply without using a Chinese name as well! Choosing your Chinese name is very important so I haven't taken one yet - till I can wisely choose a good one. Well, I had to have one made up on the spot. I guess it means Blessing to Family. I wouldn't really know, the main emphasis of my study is still on spoken Mandarin at this point.

At the next station they insisted that I sign the form with my Chinese name. No, my friend who actually reads and writes Mandarin couldn't do it for me. I laughed, made it clear that I didn't know how, but they insisted. So I tried to write it and it predictably came out abysmal. They were so horrified with how bad it was that they wouldn't accept it! I was shown a few times how to write it and was given another application to sign! :) As if I could suddenly write better by being shown twice.... Well the second time was sufficent apparently.

Okay, so after all of that I thought the hard stuff was through, right? I've paid more money, gotten more papers with official red stamps, I should be near the end!

Next came the actual written exam - in another building, up on the 5th floor. It seemed pretty promising, the people working there did speak a few words of English. The test's were done on computer and they had it in English. Questions were either multiple guess "A, B, or C" or else true false. How bad could it be, right?

45 Minute limit. 100 Questions. I flunked BIG TIME. I've only been driving for 14 years after all. You must get 90 or better correct to pass. I got a 78. Our driving exam in the states has to do with driving. The one here touches on driving but by no means stays there. Depending on your viewpoint it is either more comprehensive or else quite irrelevant.

Some questions were okay. But there were a bunch more culture based, like "You are driving and want to throw away the paper. Do you.... A: Throw it out the window. B: Put it in the dust bin that is in every vehicle. C: Wait till there is no one around and then throw it out the window.
Someone else had a question like that, but about spitting... Hmm, okay. Then there were about 10 questions that I would expect my auto mechanic to know, such as 'The Transmission system consists of....:', or 'At slow speeds the light passenger vehicle seems to be shifting to the side. What is the cause?'. Keep reading, we're not done yet! There were a few EMT type questions, how to give CPR, etc... My favorite though was one of the many that I just couldn't figure out what it meant - the translation was greatly lacking. "The Accident is injury 4 limbs. You should put the ligation to the near side." True or False? What the heck does that mean? Alot of times I can take educated guesses, but this?

Yeah, so I bombed test. No license. You are however allowed a free re-test, so I'll probably go in on monday. The lady nicely said I could study the book to better prepare. But when I asked if there was a book in English the answer was no...............

Sun Tzu was brilliant. Do you think he could have found a way to get a license? And what would his advice have been?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Yunnan - Cloud South

Well I have some good news! The one relative had a heart attack and wasn't expected to around for more than a couple of days, but subsequent news came that it was a minor heart attack, not major. My Aunt's funeral was last weekend. I haven't heard any news however. She was quite the Aunt and I'll remember her well.

Okay, time to get back into the swing of things once again. I still have a few 'gems' from the Thailand trip! One thing that captured my attention was this sign... This 'place of business' was across the street from the hotel I stayed in for a few days. What do you think?

So if I understand correctly, they advertise drug addiction therapy and methadone detox, but they also provide various drugs including meths? Are they trying to ween people off the drugs, or is their 'therapy' accomplished by using drugs? For a price comparison I think that they are selling the methadone for US$10. Now I lived in a place in New York where we had a guy going door to door selling pot, so this doesn't shock me overly, but it does seem strange to not only advertise on a shop front, but to advertise next to services for detox.... Who knows? It's a strange world.

And in lighter news - in the last month we've had a total of two cloudy days and absolutely no rain. I really really like Kunming!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Just a sec...

As seems so often the case, I start withe rather noble intentions but things wander off track. To put it another way - I've been known to bite off more than I can chew. Or be overly optimistic about what can be done in a certain amount of time...

It's been a long stretch without any news! And it will be a little bit longer I'm afraid. Work is swamping me and there's just been a death in the family, followed by another who is not likely to be around more than a few days. It's a rough week. The storm will pass, but it will take a bit more time.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Have you been to Laos?

Let's start by making one thing very clear. This American body does not fit well in Chinese sleeper buses. I think it's great that there are sleeper buses! I don't recall seeing on in the states, ever. But I don't fit. While not tall, my shoulders are a bit broad...and cannot possibly fit in the metal railings without some serious surgery. So after 12 hours on an overnight bus to Laos, I was feeling pretty stiff and tired.
(Major road in Laos)

Will you please raise your hand if you've been to Laos? Better yet, leave a comment - I can't see your hands... :)

Welcome to a different pace of life! I admit Kunming is already pretty relaxed, but Laos seems quite sedate. I was passing through, on my way to Thailand. I REALLY enjoy seeing new places! Laos has a jungle/hills feel to it. There doesn't seem to be any hurrying going on by anyone. Huts and houses are generally spread out and form small villages. Beautiful in it's way, although those unused to quiet might feel a bit disturbed by the lack of action.. I saw alot of young people and I got a strong impression of just taking life as it comes to them. Why worry about tomorrow? What will be, will be. Perhaps this is the influence of Buddhism? I sensed that the people believed themselves to be in a stream (of time or life) and they were content to go where the current took them. Well, enough about that.

(Typical home I saw)

What I would like to know is: what's with all the foreigners? I saw atleast a few dozen during my day and a half of travel. What are they all doing there? Did each one take a wrong turn somewhere? I teamed up with an Israeli who was travelling in the same direction as I. He was studying sports medicine in Thailand and was making a visa trip to Laos - and why not do a tour while he was there? Interesting place, I might go through again next year..or maybe Burma? Time will tell.

(Israeli guy I met)