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  • hardie karges 10:42 am on November 21, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Mohan, , Tai, Thai, VPN,   

    Old China, Old Tai-land in Mengla, Xishuangbanna… 

    20181104_100110If I didn’t know better, I’d almost swear that on some cosmic drafting table in some corner of the universe there is a blueprint for the Tai diaspora out of China from a couple thousand years ago, or maybe outta’ North Vietnam in half that, in which the northern and southern flanks of this proto-Tai state are laid out on either side of what would become Laos like a mirror image of each other, in which the northern Tai towns of Jinghong (Chieng Rung), Mengla, and Mohan (Bor Han) would become Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Sai, respectively…

    And Lampang may even mirror Menghai, though I haven’t been there yet, so unsure. And the further irony is that both of these areas were indeed part of the same Kingdom, known as Lan Na, which ranged from one to the other, with parts of Laos and Burma added in for good measure, and to secure the Mekong, which ran between, and was apparently the geographical feature that linked them…

    So that as recently as 60-80 years ago, maybe even less, you could have convinced yourself that this area of Xishuangbanna/Sipsong (12) Pan Na was at least as much or more Tai-like in style and character than the predominant Chinese style of the country of which it was at least a nominal part…

    20181119_105845But that would be a hard statement to make now, as the majority Han Chinese have pretty much overwhelmed whatever it was that was here before. But I imagine it much resembled the Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai of the same era. And if it’s any consolation, it does resemble somewhat the modern versions of those same two cities, which have also changed much, of course, and these may even be nicer…

    So basically we’re talking about language, and the sharp reduction in use of the local Tai Lue dialect vis a vis Mandarin. And if it’s any consolation the local dialects in Thailand and Laos have suffered equally vis a vis the standard dialects there, both of which I know, fortunately, along with some northern Tai dialect, which is probably closest to the dialect here…

    And which I try out every chance I get, thanks to the predilection of the local Tai (Dai) women of wearing cool beautiful trad rags, so I can pick them out of the crowd, and racially profile them as potential Tai speakers, haha. Not that I’m on some holy quest to save Tai culture (I’m not Thai), but simply that there is a much better chance of having an actual conversation in Tai than Mandarin Chinese, and I could probably be fluent in 2-3 months if I could find a book to help, judging by my previous experience in Laos…

    20181117_112650And it will take me a cool year or two to become fluent in Mandarin, no matter how hard I try. So Mengla has been my makeshift home for the last three weeks, while I finish my current term for online studies, and plot my next move. Frankly I really don’t want to travel much in mainland China, due to the difficulties of indie travel there, here, mostly in the booking of rooms, but that is not so much of a problem here in Mengla. I’ve been at the same place for three weeks and never even registered!

    That would be unthinkable elsewhere, where foreigners are often not even allowed, especially in the cheaper digs, and always thoroughly registered, complete with color glossy photos or at least smart-phone pics. Remember that in case you need to ‘lay low’ somewhere sometime. But don’t expect a ‘travel vibe’ here, as I have yet to see another western soul the whole time. I’m sure Jinghong has more, but not much…

    The bloom is off the rose in China, and rightfully so, as it ain’t so cheap any more, and the hassles are endless. But that’s the deal. It keeps the riff-raff out. Fortunately in this neck of the woods cheapie hotels are ubiquitous and not hard to find, so kinda’ like the old days where you get off the bus and just start walking, Lonely Planet optional. Forget the booking sites, except for reference, or just to book the first night and then take it from there…

    20181116_201545People are friendly here, and that’s what is important for me, not some abstract considerations of tourist spectacles. There are still tribal people here and they fill the morning market, something hard to find elsewhere in Asia. Food is dirt-cheap, and the rooms are not too bad for the easy bucks. That is not always true elsewhere. This in fact is probably the cheap-room capital of China, so enjoy it while you can, because elsewhere is sure to be more dear.

    True, it’s mostly a nitty-gritty working-class town, with few spectacles to entertain, but it’s big enough to have two supermarkets, so you know what that means. And ‘Thai-style’ is little more than a design motif now, temple styles ubiquitous on buildings and houses now, where they were never intended. But people exer-dance in the parks at night, every night, and it’s only a matter of time before they drag me into it, haha…

    So if you want throngs of foreigners just like yourself, then Cambodia, Laos or Thailand is probably more your speed. But if you want to learn Chinese language, then this is not a bad place. You won’t have much choice, actually, if indeed you do come. Just remember that no social media nor anything Google will work here unless you have a VPN, something to consider B4 you cross the border. Did I mention that you’re only an hour from the Lao border here? So now you know…

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    • Esther S. Fabbricante 11:21 am on November 21, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      I don’t know how you do it!! Your stamina must be boundless.

  • hardie karges 12:02 pm on October 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: akha, , , Huay Xai, , , , Mekong River, Muang Sing, Tai Dam, , Vang Vieng, ,   

    Time-Travel: A Tale of Two Towns in the Laotian Outback… 

    20181017_083902
    At age 64, and after 155 countries and more than forty years of travel, it’s all time-travel now, going back to see something I once saw before, and seeing all the changes that time has wrought, rather than seeing it all virgin-like for the first time, a gap-year giggly-mouthed googly-eyed greenhorn, that prototypical wide-mouth chin-dropping awe that inspires sales of toothpaste and fashion, featuring credit cards and deodorant, dreams of midnights and long flights, and carrying prophylactics, just in case…

    But it’s all different now. What was once exotic is now just chaotic, and International Standard Pidgin English ensures that you’re not likely to miss a meal, unless you really want to. Hard-core travel cowboys consume geography like chocolate cake on Sunday, apps logging miles and journals logging impressions, with an index, a table of contents, and an itinerary to be followed, while professional travel bloggers merely follow the guidelines of their sponsors… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 12:13 pm on October 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Phongsaly, , Udom Xai, Vietnam   

    Phongsaly, Laos: at the end of a long lonely road… 

    20181006_061252It may or may not be the ‘end of the earth’, but it definitely qualifies as the outback of Southeast Asia, for whatever that’s worth, probably not much, so long as China keeps encroaching, as it surely will, not so long ago Vietnam probably the greater transgressor, with its oversized population, locked into such a narrow sliver of prime southeast Asian coastline, and punctuated by rivers, this the only country in the world, that I know of, that is self-defined by its water, i.e. ‘nuoc Vietnam‘, Viet-water, as opposed to Thai-land, Ire-land, Green-land, or Switzer-land, for example (if you’re familiar with Vietnamese fish-sauce, nuoc mam, then you might recognize that same word nuoc)…

    But that’s Vietnam, and this is Laos, though you might not know it at the crossroads town of Udom Xai, a town of literally no more than a few tens of thousands, but with buses heading to all the four corners, i.e. China, Vietnam, and Thailand, every neighboring state except Burma, aka Myanmar, and locals can even go from Phongsaly to Luang Namtha, one part of Laos to another, via China, would that this option were only open to foreigners, and you might have a resuscitation of the backpacker market in this region… (More …)

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

    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 …)

     
    • 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… (More …)

     
    • 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…

    • Daniella Romano 5:19 am on October 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Your writing is beautiful. Really captures the place. Crazy that you visited twenty years ago, it must’ve changed so much, but I’m glad that you got to experience it again!

    • hardie karges 5:27 am on October 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Please stay tuned for more…

  • 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… (More …)

     
    • 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…

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