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  • hardie karges 12:12 am on August 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Alipay, , , Jinghong, Mengla, Sipsongpanna,   

    Indie Travel Update: Surviving China 

    20180804_204240China must be single-handedly keeping the Lonely Planet franchise in business, you know: they of the 5-pound, 50-dollar, 500-page ‘survival’ guides, most of which is largely obsolete, simply the idea that ‘survival’ is an issue in most of the world, unless you’re talking about survival of traditional cultures, languages and tribal peoples in a world increasingly homogenous, and frankly, pretty friggin’ boring. The only thing in danger of survival are reasons for travel itself…

    Except for China. This is the one country where you can actually use a little help from your friends, they of the world’s only non-alphabetic language, which makes Greek look like a weekend at the beach. Hey, I learned the Greek alphabet, but not the language, of course, in four days of reading road signs in Athens (and we thought all of our vocabulary came from Latin, haha. Tell that to the Russians)… (More …)

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    • Esther S. Fabbricante 2:03 am on August 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Oh, my. Too deep for me. How in the world do you survive?

    • hardie karges 2:11 am on August 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Hibiscus for high blood pressure, meditation for stress, haha. I persevere…

  • hardie karges 2:03 pm on August 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Yangshuo, China: Paradise Lost, Innocence Regained… 

    20180712_074435But you can’t swim in that river again…though you can try…and you should…but it won’t be there, not like you remember it, anyway. Everybody’s gone elsewhere, just like they always do, and those that stay behind are not necessarily the ones you want to see, anyway. Everything changes, all the time, by habit, and tradition, if not by design. The little things that endeared you to the place are the first things to go, being that they were so hard to define anyway, more phantoms of consciousness than features of existence, the mind easing itself into submission…

    It’s not often that I get to re-visit a place I used to go, used to know some twenty years ago, or even ten, but it’s usually interesting when I do. Sometimes things seem little changed. Other times the changes seem drastic, especially in America, which is known more for its changes than its pro-active response to them, more often than not seeming more like blind flailings than direct failings…

    20180720_212413But nothing prepared me for China. If the China of twenty years ago was defined by its bicycles, poverty and primitiveness, it’s defined now by its smartphones, traffic jams and forty-story apartment buildings, people stacked upon people endlessly vertical, an entire nation drawn in from the fields and stacked on end, cities taking on a life of their own, like monsters from a futuristic sci-fi novel, ‘rise of the machines’ or something like that, or maybe ‘evil erections’, so sci-fi porn…

    And then there’s Yangshuo, which was always a little bit different, even way back when, but not in the same way as now, then because it had class, and tradition, and a lively backpacker scene that could appreciate it, and the lovely landscape, something the average work-a-day communist Chinese hardly had time or money for, as the Chinese economy was merely nascent in 1997…

    20180718_115319But that was then, and this is now. China has a booming economy and Chinese tourists are flooding the world, but nowhere like home, threatening to make a mockery of their own culture, anything slightly different from the mainstream culture a prime target for tourist dog-and-pony shows, and if others are willing to maybe pony up more, nobody can dog it quite like the Chinese. Authenticity is not the overriding concept—just the opposite…

    So the bucolic burg where I once found sympathy and succor in the arms of a mug, a nod and a wink, and an invitation to drink, has now long since sold its soul to the highest bidder, shops once selling the most righteous crafts from the most righteous tribes this side of the Yangtze now given over to cheap carnival rides and the most hideous displays of hubris, humans acting as if they owned the universe of which they are only a small almost insignificant part…

    20180723_143021And the European and other Western backpackers who rescued the burg from oblivion long ago are but a footnote in the town’s history now, nothing but the English language a legacy of their one-time prominence and predominance, making it one of the few places where you can have a genuine English-language conversation with some very fluent locals, mostly older, vestiges of the classic period. There’s only one catch…

    If you’re a Westerner who knows Mandarin, you just might have a hard time convincing the locals of that. We’ll see, maybe a year or so from now, when I’m next there—maybe. I’ve been through this all before, and it isn’t always pretty, having to fight for the right to speak the local language, even when you understand every word they say, just because it might make them lose face, once they’ve identified themselves as English speakers. Welcome to Thailand…

    20180728_103400I know that now, what I didn’t know then, back when I was looking to ex-pat myself to Asia, and trying to decide between Thailand and Vietnam, then China, Indonesia and/or Cambodia. Follow the money, and so that’s what I did, straight to Thailand, and a few solid years of compensated efforts, mischief and misgivings, until finally finding some solace in the Buddhist forest temples, and a new lease on life that is my current status…

    It’s better this way, as I have a clean start, older but wiser, knowing now what I didn’t know then, ready to start over again in China—or not. I only know that it won’t be in Yangshuo, but somewhere open-minded to foreigners, with neither the English language nor the silence in its absence, as neither will do for me in the long run. In places unspoiled by tourism, locals just assume you speak Mandarin, so speak it to you, no English and no awkward silences, and that’s the way it should be…

    Only innocence will do, the innocence of open-mindedness and belief in progress, that one is not limited by false narratives and quick conclusions, but only by his own honest efforts and willingness to succeed. If that is a sin, then I am guilty. If not, then I am vindicated, for in the long run there is no other way. China’s frustrations and disappointments only propel me to fight another day—or not. Meanwhile, forget Yangshuo, and the other backpacker centers that Chinese party animals have turned into hedonistic playgrounds. It’s hideous, not kinky…

     
    • Esther Fabbricante 6:24 pm on August 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      How you come up with such descriptive writing is phenomenal!!

      Esther

      • hardie karges 10:41 pm on August 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks, Esther. I’m having trouble sharing this one to FB, so wasn’t sure you’d see it…

  • hardie karges 11:29 am on July 13, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Canton, , Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Pearl River, Zhuhai   

    Pearl River, the Delta, and Canton (China, not Mississippi)… 

    20180701_114935Hong Kong the Air-Conditioned Nightmare…

    July in Hong Kong is hot sticky syrup languid lethargic sweaty crowded cramped colic putrid protuberant, bodies stacked on moldy mattresses on elevated platforms the underneath of which has never been cleaned, inhabiting warrens and rookeries in nameless mansions of the homeless, countless cribs of the incredulous, trite testimony to the temptations of time-keepers, dubious debts to the denizens of doubtfulness, humans reduced to automatons sucking electricity for sustenance, the breakfast of champions, until…

    Chill! A cold blast from the refrigerators of a million industrial units, humming in unison, the Christmas carols, reindeer and New Year anthems that herald the arrival of winter, blast out of the open doors of thousands of shops and studios and multi-level department stores full of the trappings of satisfaction and convenience, gifts and clothes with ribbons and bows gift-wrapped for that special occasion, sure to be repaid in kind if not kindred, a place in the sun in the ‘burbs with a three-car garage, consumeristic gleanings no subtle barrage…20180704_095357

    But Macau is more subtle…

    …and different in the same sort of way that you would expect a Portuguese colony to be different from a British colony, Latin and Iberian, with small city parks scattered around the business district, very un-Asian, but well-used by the locals, and the locals only, as there are few non-Asians here, no commonwealth people from the subcontinent, nor any from Portuguese Africa, either, as that was never the plan, apparently, just maybe a few Portuguese immigrants from Europe itself, here to uphold the legacy if nothing else…

    I like Macau, even if the cribs are a bit more dear than those of Hong Kong, you’re bound to get more for your money here, if not the obligatory Wi-Fi guarantees that should be de rigueur in 2018. And the food is cheaper, too, even if no obvious Portuguese influence, hearty Cantonese fare available at three bucks American, don’t think you’ll find that in HK whether Chinese or Indian, and here you’ll even have room to stretch your legs. But supermarkets are the only trade-off, so must be some causal connection to explain the dearth…

    20180705_103948Zhuhai butts up against tiny Macau…

    making an easy crossing into China, and vice-versa, the alternative to Shenzhen and Hong Kong, if you want a slightly sparser alternative to those densely populated burgs, the Gongbei district right there a lively walk on Lianhua’s pedestrian street, though none of the open-air bars that the Wiki-travel guy boasted of, must be out-dated information, otherwise not so much to do…

    So I planned to go back to Macau for the day just to download a VPN to circumvent the Great Firewall of China, but finally blew it off, hate to be separated from my stuff, as you just never know what can happen, so found a niche in the border wall where I could get 3G from Macau and did the whole schmear right there, works brilliantly, and the best part is that I have 10 GB per month free! Thank you, Windscribe…

    20180709_105941But the real surprise of the Pearl River delta…

    …seems to be the Big Burg itself, Guangzhou, aka Canton, China’s third-largest city, and always the one most attracted commercially to the exterior, due to its status as the original port, and its connections to Hong Kong as China re-emerged from the shadows of communism in the 1970’s. Well now they’re the tattered cousins, illegitimate sons of the northern mandarins, and as independent as that distance from the centers of power would suggest…

    More importantly: they’re friendly! Wow! That’s the last thing I expected, but there it is, a wonder to behold, over and over, people not only chatting me up, but chatting me up in English! Which is good, since, as Cantonese speakers, their mandarin may be not so much better than mine. What else? They’re not so attached to the Ali-pay of elsewhere, and the women smoke. WTF? Yes, but the men seem to smoke less, so that’s a reasonable trade-off. They’re not such fashion hounds, either, in other words: less economic and social miracle here, for whatever reason…

    20180709_095144China doesn’t call itself ‘China’, of course, but ‘Zhongguo’…

    …the Middle Kingdom, i.e. the central government, and that’s an important part of the dynamic I suspect, in any and all transactions. You can’t do much without flashing your ID card—and telephone number. I bought some meds, and they asked me for an ID card! WTF!!?? I flabbergasted, of course (that’s transitive), and they said a passport would be okay (did she really think I was a PRC citizen?)…

    Fortunately there’s no such drama buying hibiscus sabdarifa, already sourced in HK, Zhuhai and Guangzhou, too, like a magic salve for overworked hearts. China is in love, even if that is love of self, and each other, open to foreigners only on its own terms, but still love, so that’s a beautiful thing, even if it won’t last. It never does. They simply don’t need us ‘rich Westerners’ anymore, if they ever did, and if you want them, then you’ll have to go the extra mile—on high-speed trains, of course…. 🙂

    20180626_122653So yes, the high-speed trains are nice, but they come with a price. And the food is hot and fresh, but what once cost a dollar is now up to three, and that’s okay with me, I guess. But the $10 room is fast disappearing in China, and that is a fact, but you can still do pretty good, if you book far enough in advance, and/or bargain for bulk. The only real problem is that many hotels can’t or won’t take foreigners, for reasons unknown, and not always indicated on the top booking sites, so whether this is a deal-killer is still open to debate…

    And there are few Ph.D.’s in English at Beijing U age 15, if that makes you feel any better, but they’ve all got the app, lol, English language support probably less than anywhere else in the world. But there are attractions here. I’m just not sure what they are anymore, now that the rooms are getting expensive, and the tribal peoples are all moving to the city, the only thing saving them the same thing that is killing them—tourism. I persevere…

     
    • Esther S. Fabbricante 3:38 pm on July 13, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      How do you do it?…Coming up with words?

      • hardie karges 12:19 am on July 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Sometimes I just free-associate, let them come together as they will, hoping that whatever is lost in strict logic will be compensated for with enhanced feeling, while still communicating, which is the ultimate objective, of course. Communicating feeling is always the challenge, of course, something for which strict linguistic equations, i.e. sentences, seem ill-equipped. Have you ever read the French poet Rimbaud and particularly his poem “Vowels” (‘Voyelles’)? That’s an inspiration, explaining his idea of synesthesia in language. Mostly, though, I try to emulate what a good painter or a good guitarist does, painting with words, and bending the strings of language–on a good day. Sometimes it works, often not so much. My poem ‘Consonants’ didn’t do quite as well as Rimbaud’s, hahaha…

  • hardie karges 1:08 pm on June 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Agoda, , , Emeishan, Google, Leshan, ,   

    Little Trouble in Big China: still not ready for prime time… 

    20180622_094150There are so many things that can go wrong for an indie traveler in China, that I’ve been rather amazed that it’s been going so smoothly, if arduous and time-consuming, the process of booking rooms, and travel, and then actually ending up exactly as planned, with little or no language support…

    The only time I really sweated was the time I was on the bullet-train from Langzhong to Xi’an and then all of a sudden so many people got off in Guangyuan, and then the trip number changed on the overhead display, that I seriously wondered whether I was headed off the map into the wilds of Qinghai province—but no, we arrived in Xi’an on schedule, whew, still no major snafus… (More …)

     
    • Esther S. Fabbricante 12:16 am on July 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      It’s a really tough life! I’m glad you are about to retire, right?

    • hardie karges 12:28 am on July 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Yeah, right, haha…

    • tom de canada 10:45 pm on July 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Hey man china has changed in 20 yrs. Blew my mind! I met a few people in yangshuo staying in aptmts up a hill to the left when you hit the river in the old town. But theres a few cheap hostels near each other going
      right at river off main walking zone then right again ablock or 2 later up a small alleyway. Have great vi3ws and good views at rooftop bar. Lotsa european rock climbers were there who found it on booking.com.
      Its a very pretty an touristy rebuilt original old town. Very busy cause of pruximity to vietnam. If ya get the neew train there be sure to follow everyone else to the bus that takes you to town 10 kilometers aaway! Lol
      Take care and good luck hardie! Tom

      • hardie karges 11:02 pm on July 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        HSR train goes to Xingping, right? When I saw that I booked a couple nights there. If I like it I may stay there instead of Yangshuo, especially if it’s changed too much. We’ll see, thx for comments…

    • Norbert 10:56 am on July 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      “China is a happy place…” Sounds credible here, but try to explain that to those exotically grinning Western fans of Tibetan separatism (read “Free Tibet!”) and their favorite mascot, the Dalai Lama (also grinning), or to fans of other mascots such as the multimillionaire/entrepreneur/art professor, Ai Wei Wei….. In one word, there is not enough China-bashing in your report !!

  • hardie karges 12:10 pm on June 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Kangding, Kham, Qinghai, Shangrila, , ,   

    Dinner in China: Part III, Tibet on the Cheap… 

    20180618_141518Kangding is a revelation, that such an integral part of Tibet is so accessible, so unique, so easy, and all at reasonable prices! Now that the ‘official’ Tibet—aka Xizang—is so off-limits (again), available only on guided tours, for whatever reason (for their own protection, no doubt), this western part of Sichuan province and Qinghai are the next best thing, or maybe even better. The historical region known as Kham, Dalai Lamas have come from here, so it’s still the real thing…

    And admittedly I wasn’t expecting much, since Kangding is probably a majority Han Chinese town—uh, make that city—but that’s okay, too, as all the modern conveniences are here, so not exactly roughing it in the outback (though that can be done nearby). Best part: it’s only a five-hour bus ride from Chengdu, and less every day, as roads improve with blinding speed… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 10:34 am on June 20, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ramadan, , ,   

    Lunch in China, Continued—Part II, Xi’an at Ramadan… 

    20180610_144744.jpg“Couple in the next room, bound to win a prize, they’ve been going at it all night long”–Paul Simon

    Except that here it’s downstairs on the street right below my window, and what they’re going at is mindless and noisy chatter, Meavis and Muttonhead yakking and yukking it up until the dawn comes, about what I don’t know, holding court over a kebab stall as if this is their meaning in life, I stuffing wet tissue in my ears with limited effect, tempted to open the window and yell, but ultimately holding back, it making little difference to my quantity of sleep anyway…

    Mornings in Xi’an are a riotous confusion of boiled eggs, corn on the cob and steamed buns, with filling and without, spicy meat most typical of the infrastructure involved, but you never know for sure until you actually bite in. It’s hot here in June, so best to get an early start if you want to get serious about walking 3mi/5km to the Big Goose Pagoda or whatever it is your tourist jones are hankering for… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 2:02 pm on June 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Langzhong, , ,   

    Breakfast in China: Life behind the Great Firewall… 

    20180607_092124.jpgSo what’s the attraction with China, anyway? Chinese tourists in other countries don’t have a very good reputation, e.g. in Thailand, where they are often characterized as loud, boorish, rude, crude and obnoxious, so what’s the deal? Oh, I get it; they’re just like us. They’re the new ugly Americans! Just like we were Chomsky’s ‘New Mandarins’ half a century ago, the old mandarins have returned as the new mandarins, and we have returned to our rightful place as the white barbarians…

    The simple fact is that they no longer need us—if they ever did—and they probably like it that way: just like Americans! To Hell with the rest of the world!! And maybe that’s the attraction, if there is one, that this is a place not homogenized for mass consumption, reduced—or elevated—to the world’s common denominators of English language, French kisses and what else? Chinese fast food, of course. But seriously, though, much is lacking in the way of offerings to foreign travelers, especially if they speak no Chinese… (More …)

     
    • Richard 3:38 pm on June 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Good to see you were able to jump over the wall for a moment. Was missing your regular Sunday sermonettes…

    • Esther Fabbricante 5:51 pm on June 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Wow is all I can say. You are a genius.

      Esther

    • tom de canada 6:01 am on June 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Nice deetails of china. I wish you well my friend. Im still at home finishingf work on the ole car. Needed a cam shaft. Big job for one hand. May heaad to india in fall?

      • hardie karges 8:36 am on June 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Just been thinking about you, man, and about what brass cojones you have, to be riding around China on a motorcycle. It’s difficult enuf for me on buses and trains, can’t get up to speed in mandarin fast enuf. But you missed the high-speed trains, wow! Like doing China by subway! I got a 10-year visa for the asking, also available for Americans in India, don’t know about Canadians. Good luck with that, I may have another stint in that area myself…

  • hardie karges 2:52 pm on April 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Garifuna, Kalinago, Nevis, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia   

    Saints of the Caribbean: Lucia and Kitts… 

    Saint Lucia (LOO-sha) and Saint Kitts may be separated by a few hundred miles, but their histories show remarkable similarities, which is not so strange, I suppose, when the entire region was quibbled over by the same three Euro-powers again and again. But mostly France and England, duking it out, after the Spanish left in imperial decline, with their former colonies Cuba and Republica Dominicana now firmly independent and capable of taking care of themselves…   (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 1:07 pm on March 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bwiti, Gabon, iboga   

    Gabon: Caught Between the Forest and the Oil Fields 

    Gabon has a history not so much different from many other African countries: the scramble for Africa, French colonialism, and subsequent withdrawal pains… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 12:40 am on March 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Beckett, Grenadines, hurricane, , St. Vincent   

    A Day in St. Vincy and the Grenadines 

    There are as many countries in the Caribbean as there are in South America, and only a fraction of the population, so those tiny countries, island countries, have a disproportionate influence, and not necessarily undue… (More …)

     
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