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  • hardie karges 2:02 pm on June 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chengdu, , , Langzhong, Mandarin, Sichuan, Xi'an   

    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…

    20180605_215027.jpgSo for all the modernizing that has occurred in China during the economic miracle of the last quarter century, in a very real way, little or nothing has changed, for the traveler, at least. Very little in the way of language assistance is offered, anywhere at all. The average hotel desk clerk speaks little or no English, much less any other language, and that’s where you would expect it the most, as they have the most to gain—or lose—and are little hampered by the slow wheels of unforgiving bureaucracy…

    The addresses are cryptic, the rooms are cramped, the holidays are crowded, social media is taboo, and the prices are no longer as low as they once were. And upon further glance, it seems the rest of the world knows that already, for after subtracting tourist arrivals from dependencies such as Macau, Hong Kong and (gulp) Taiwan, China’s robust sixty million tourist stays (of more than one night) are reduced by more than half, or less than tiny Thailand’s thirty mil, one-third of which are Chinese, lol…

    But the people are pretty nice on an individual basis, even if as a group they can be noisy as a baseball game at Fenway. And that’s my strategy, to approach them individually, on a personal basis, to the limits of my linguistic capabilities. Because if you want to be in China long-term, you better learn the language, or else you’re limited to fancy tours or hostel hang-outs, and even those are mostly locals now. So don’t get excited about all the foreign-travel facilities by counting hostels, because the locals are way hip to that for a long time now…

    20180607_104642Before I forget, though, there is one thing at which China beats most of the others: the taxi drivers actually use the meter, so a three-to-five mile ride around town may only cost you two or three bucks, depending on the flag-fall rate, and the need to negotiate, in a city that you probably don’t even know, is largely unnecessary. So taxi drivers are the saving grace for all the hassles to be incurred from traveling in China, during which every city, every trip, every hotel and every mouthful will be a challenge unless and until you become proficient in Mandarin, or die trying, lol…

    Because when you find one available enough to actually try out your Western shenanigans, you will likely be rewarded by his or her perseverance at bringing your episode to a successful conclusion, and all at reasonable prices! Did I mention that they actually use the meter? So this is my first real trip to China in twenty years, unless you count the quickie to Taiwan and a series of stopovers in Beijing five years ago as a connection point to Mongolia and North Korea, nice enough but hardly significant…

    It’s changed, in many many ways, mostly in the nature of material progress, specifically the high-speed trains and thousands of high-rise apartments, the hardware of progress, but also the ubiquitous smartphones, e.g. translation apps and digital pay-schemes which are standard procedure in every 7-11, this in a country where everything Google is forbidden, and Facebook and Twitter, too (along with many others). China is not scared of Trump, it seems, but Google is another matter…

    20180607_101732Unfortunately the price of progress is that cities are rather boring now, with the traditional alley hutong culture largely erased or diminished. So my hub city Chengdu generally gets high marks for tourism, but is in fact rather boring, like Denver without the new downtown get-down. Still it IS the gateway to Tibet, and with plenty of Tibetan culture close by in Sichuan province itself, so I’ll get back to that later, satisfying myself for now with the historical town of Langzhong, on the way to Xi’an…

    Langzhong is a pleasant small town (less than a million pop.) a few hours out of Chengdu by bus, and one of the four or five best preserved traditional towns in the country. I like small towns, especially if they rate high for intelligence, since aesthetics are generally nicer and people are friendlier. And Langzhong is no exception there, once I actually found my place, non-descript digs above a massage parlor in the old town, reasonably priced and lovingly managed even if cramped to the gills and new meaning given to the term ‘water closet’…

    Did I mention that to get a room for less than twenty bucks, you’re probably going to have to share a bathroom, either that or learn how to poop standing up, and might as well shower while you’re at it, since you’re already there anyway (and don’t drop that expensive bar of beauty soap down the hole!). But the big news is that the exit to elsewhere is not a rather circuitous bus ride and dubious connection as planned, but a straight shot on the new train from the new station, straight to Xi’an like a bullet. Oh, boy! Stay tuned for part deux

    To be continued…

    (Note to Facebook friends: if you read this far and want to comment, please realize that not only can I not respond there, I probably won’t even see it. If you comment right here on the blog itself, I will, hint hint)…


    • 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.


    • 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 …)

  • hardie karges 2:20 pm on February 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Emilie Proulx, , Karim Ouellet, La Femme, Marseilles, Paris, Poom, Salome' Leclerc   

    French Connection: C’est la vie, and all that jazz… 

    France needs no introduction, of course, she of Germanic roots and Roman speech, one foot on the Atlantic Ocean and the other on the Mediterranean Sea…. (More …)

  • hardie karges 1:25 pm on January 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Apia, dance, diabetes, , , Pago-Pago, Polynesia, Samoa   

    Samoa: when less is simply not enough… 

    Samoa has the dubious distinction of being divided into two parts, independent (West) Samoa, and American (East) Samoa, like Germany and Vietnam last century… (More …)

  • hardie karges 3:15 pm on January 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   


    Language Tip #2: Don’t feed the pidgins…

  • hardie karges 7:46 pm on January 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: aurora, Death Hawks, , Lauri Schreck, , northern lights, Puhuri, Samuli Kemppi, Siinai, Voittaja   

    The Finlandization of us all, hopefully… 

    Finland is one of the few countries of Europe, along with first-cousin Estonia, and distant cousin Hungary, that isn’t of Indo-European speech–or genome (since those two circumstances seem to follow each other around)… (More …)

  • hardie karges 11:55 pm on December 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Principe, Sao Tome   

    Sao Tome’ and Principe’: Paradise found… 

    The country of Sao Tome’ and Principe’ is one of the world’s smallest, with less than 200,000 people and barely a thousand square kilometers scattered over a couple islands off the east coast of Africa… (More …)

    • Esther S. Fabbricante 12:10 am on December 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      More power to you!!

  • hardie karges 1:31 pm on November 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Fiji, global warming, Melanesia, , ,   

    FIJI: Putting the Mela back in Melanesia… 

    Fiji is one of the brighter spots of a South Pacific that doesn’t always live up to its image as Paradise, and probably THE brightest spot of Melanesia, the darker-skinned portion, where getting lei’d is not always guaranteed upon arrival… (More …)

    • Dave Kingsbury 12:01 pm on November 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      I wish human rights were as cross-border as music … too often nationhood gets in the way! You got me thinking …

    • hardie karges 12:15 pm on November 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Yes, we’re such a young species. Hopefully we can figure some things out before it’s too late…

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