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  • hardie karges 2:02 pm on June 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chengdu, China, , 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)…

     

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    • 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 1:52 pm on May 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , China, Doi Mae Salong, Kuomintang, , Santikhiri, ,   

    Doi Mae Salong (Santikhiri): Thailand’s Best-Kept Secret… 

    IMG_2407For most people, travel is a special activity that you do maybe once or twice a year, with elaborate preparations and financial considerations, nail-biting calculations and apprehensions of misappropriations. But most of all: it’s exciting! It’s fun! You’re enthusiastic! But for some others of us, who travel so much that it’s more ‘normal’ than ‘ab’, sometimes we just can’t get it up for the journey, especially if we’ve already ‘been there done that’ and there are no screaming kids to disappoint…

    So I did something a week or two ago that I’ve never done before in forty some-odd (all together now: “some very odd”) years of travel—just canceled; called it off; yanked it; scrubbed; pulled the plug; I feel so liberated now that I don’t have to do all that travel—aaahhh!!! I can relax now. And that’s about the size of it. When you’re tired like the end of a trip, before the trip’s even started, then: do the math, take a bath, put the baby to sleep… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 1:33 pm on January 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Biman Bangladesh, China, Dhaka   

    HARDIE’S HYPER-AWARD: for worst airline (and airport) of 2016 goes to… 

    peking-waiting-14915662_10211567525522998_1568822102406527730_n

    PEK gives new meaning to the term ‘layover”

    …Air China, of course, and Beijing, for bad service above and beyond the call of duty, a total lack of concern for passenger comfort, and incompetence bordering on malpractice. For that honor, they not only had to totally change my return flight LAX-PEK-BKK, and do it not only with no prior notification, BUT NO NOTIFICATION AT ALL!

    I caught it in plenty of time, though, worry-wart that I am. But if that wasn’t bad enough, the real problem was that the two flights didn’t even connect, the initial leg due to arrive in Beijing after the connecting flight has already left! Well, they must’ve been anxious to correct that little spot of bother, right? Yeah, right… (More …)

     
  • hardie karges 11:46 pm on January 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: China, Gem Show, , ,   

    The Chinese Are Coming! It’s Hypertravel, Baby; Hostel, that is… 

    IMG_0416But they’re not manning warships and they’re not carrying guns. They’re doing business, of course, and cooking up a storm. You can do that at most hostels, at no extra charge, eat food just like Mama makes and maybe bring Mama along, too. All the ‘Air BnB’s in the world are no substitute for a good hostel, and VRBO’s don’t even count. Those aren’t ‘sharing economies’. Those are vanity economies, in which a group of uber-rich teenagers decide to rent a house for a rave, when most have never even signed a lease in their life, and many of us sellers are looking for a new lease on life. Caveat venditor…

    Hostels are the true sharing economy par excellence ab origine. You hang out with others, eat with others, and even sleep in the same room with others, if so inclined. And when those people come from all over the world, then you’ve got something pretty special. Unfortunately the USA has no hostel culture, of course, and little experience with them, not provided for in building codes and left to dangle and die for no certain reason. Some people seem to think they just aren’t American, I guess… (More …)

     
    • Esther Fabbricante 12:14 am on January 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      I have reserved an AirBnB in Franklin, TN for May 4-9, for my family to help celebrate my 91st birthday. They are taking me to the Grand Ole Opry on May 6. There will be 11 of us.

      Esther

    • hardie karges 12:43 am on January 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Sounds like fun, Esther; Happy 91!

    • Norbert 7:20 pm on January 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Good luck for the future, Hardie! I had visited a number of Buddhist temples in Kyoto, about 10 years ago. Some of the rituals there strangely reminded me of what I remember from Catholic churches, like how the monks ceremoniously entered the place (of course, without the presence of a Christian-style altar).
      Besides, I have had some good to very good experiences with AirBnB, even a few interesting interactions with hosts. I think although cooperation with others and group consensus are very good ideas, putting individuals together in one place is not enough to get there. They also need to have the right mind-set and mentality. Alas, many of today’s (mostly Western) individuals are too much self-centered and focused on self-promotion, even in situations when they have nothing to gain from appearing “competitive” or “see how unique, interesting and important I am?” (like when in a hostel). This “market-conform” behavior has become a “second nature” to them, difficult or impossible to chase away. I guess the underlying problem is that the spreading of capitalism, especially in Europe and North America, was particularly easy under conditions of simultaneous conquest, colonialism and post-colonialism, which facilitated the development and incrustation of an “individual robber baron” mentality first among the big and small robbers themselves, then among those who objectively and/or subjectively benefited from their robbing activities, as the conquered and colonized were being marginalized or exterminated. Nowadays the world has become so small and crowded that unrestrained “help yourself and grab what you can” behavior is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain unless more and more violence (= “all against all”) is applied, again; and even “at home”, which exposes the uncivilized character of this approach more clearly than ever. An approach that may not even be close to functional, as evidenced by the Russian crash landing of the 1990ies. To some extent, China, where a party officially called “Communist” is still in power, seems to have skipped this ultimately illusory, individualistic phase of development, or, at least, dampened its excesses. On a much smaller scale, also Cuba is trying to get a soft landing, which was at least my impression during my 2000 visit there. We’ll see if this is the last word of history…. (well, of course there is no last word in history).
      How about opening a hostel in La Habana, in a “collectivist” country? C U there…. (Just kidding)

      • hardie karges 7:22 pm on January 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        Thx, Norbert, things getting crazy here now, full house in a couple days… (I agree with most of what you say, BTW)… 🙂

  • hardie karges 5:30 pm on January 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , China, rivers,   

    Rivers Meander 

     

    Tibet waters Asia. From its 20,000 foot plateau flow the headwaters of the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Salween, the Mekong, the Yangtze, and the Huang Ho. The headwaters of the Indus and Brahmaputra almost meet, almost making of India an island reminiscent of its former history as a transient sub-continent looking for a home plate to slide into. The upper waters of the Salween, Mekong, and Yangtze run almost parallel for 250 miles, only fifteen to thirty miles apart as the crow flies. Those three empty into the Andaman, South China, and East China Seas, not far from the cities of Rangoon, Saigon, and Shanghai, a distance of over 2000 miles on that same crow’s odometer. It would be much farther than that by boat, and an immeasurable distance by yardstick. How long is your coastline? That depends; how short is your ruler? Napoleon’s ears prick up and Zeno’s paradox takes over, and you never really get there, because the halfway points are infinite. I’ll take wise old crow; he cuts to the chase.

     
  • hardie karges 5:29 pm on January 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: China, , Xizang   

    Hold the Press! Late-Breaking News! Tibet Is Open! 

    IMG_0064I just got direct word-of mouth from travelers in Asia that Tibet is indeed open for independent travel, as I’d hoped, and I quote my friend Tom F:

    “I just talked to a traveller who was there, in Lhasa.  You just get their regular China visa.  They want your entry and exit points.  Make sure those points are not anywhere in east (west?) China, (Tibet or Xinjiang,  Qinghai).  They want itinerary I think as well… Once you get into the country,  do whatever you want.   it seems there’s no interior monitoring of where you go after you’ve  entered the country.  it may be riskier if flying around the country?  that may be monitored.”

    There you have it, hope for the disenfranchised China hand.  C U in Xizang!

     
    • Esther Fabbricante 5:44 pm on January 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Sorry – not a candidate for much travel any more – but of interest, as my granddaughter and her husband went to China and Thailand last month. They live in Nashville – Sherri’s daughter: Shannon McIntyre Hooper.

      Esther

    • hardie karges 6:53 pm on January 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      You can always travel in your mind, Esther… Happy New Year!

  • hardie karges 12:19 am on July 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: China, , ,   

    Econo-Politico-Kouzino Fiasco: Splattering Rancid Greece all over the Good China 

    Fairly lost in all the hubbub over Western democratic standard-bearer Greece’s trials and tribs over budgetary peccadilloes and illegal immigration pequeninos washing up on its shores, is the problem in behemoth China’s own economy, whose stock market has lost some $3Trillion bucks over the last month, more than the entire annual GDP of all but the world’s four largest economies, and equal to those of the UK or France. Ouch! I hate when that happens.

    Chinese Renminbi (yuan)

    Chinese Renminbi (yuan)

    Fortunately it’s a Communist country, so the government is in control, right? Yeah, right… welcome to the real world, China, may we all survive. Hey, how about that awesome display of δημοκρατία in the special Greek referendum, no? Demos really socked it to the Big Bad Bankers, didn’t they? Ho hum, politics… Exchange rate EUR:USD is strongest the dollar’s been since Year One in my memory… good time to travel Europe… The word for the Greek pre-Euro currency, ‘drachma’ δραχμή, means to ‘grasp’; good idea…

     
  • hardie karges 2:22 am on March 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , China, Great Wall, Tiananmen   

    BEIJING RUNAROUND: BUSES & PLANES & SUBWAYS 

    035

    Tourist district of Beijing

    …flight leaves Bangkok at 1:20 in the morning, already doomed as far as I’m concerned… seat back doesn’t seem to want to recline backward… arrive in Shanghai at six in the a.m. with seven hours until my onward connection, but I have to change airports—not terminals—to do it.   Fun fun fun… exchange houses in China will fleece you right there at the airport, charging you fifty yuan to change your money, so I ask him for it back. I thought he said fifteen.

    I get to the other airport with plenty of time to spare, quick tour of Shanghai in the process, nothing to do now but free-base caffeine… my only goal is to find my Beijing hotel before dark using the subway system in a city I’ve never visited using a language I don’t really know written in characters that mean little or nothing, though the character for pot-stickers looks surprisingly accurate… too bad I don’t eat meat…

    018

    The other Tiananmen Square

    Shanghai’s is the airport of the future, symbolic of their field-of-dreams mentality, their edifice complex, the notion that the world is there (and theirs) to be developed, a mall in every village, an airport for every town. I’m not sure I like that vision; I’m pretty sure I don’t in fact. Nature may not always be right, but probably more often than humans. I don’t think I’ll ever lose my love of fields and streams, mountains and valley daydreams.

    …weather is bad, so the flight is an hour late leaving Shanghai, still I find my hotel before dark by the grace of God. Allahu akhbar. There’s a reason I book hotels close to subway stations… it’s a peach, $30 net with a couple bucks extra for the best breakfast I’ve had since Istanbul; hard-boiled eggs, salad fixin’s, and forty-two different kinds of tofu, a vegetarian’s dream in cheap hotel heaven… hotel doesn’t have Wi-Fi, but I guess a hard-wire connection will do. Steve Jobs wouldn’t like that, though, would he?

    Great Wall at Badaling

    Great Wall at Badaling

    …first day I walk so much that my feet are mush. Tiananmen Square and Sanlitun Village—the foreign quarter—will have to suffice. I’ll save the Forbidden City for another day. I can do that any half day. The Great Wall will take a little more planning… mostly waiting actually, for the bus. I blow off the tour companies and opt for the public bus, but that means the long lines familiar to Communism.

    Wall’s impressive, too, as much or more as any picture could attempt to do it justice. I even thought about walking it, but… naah. On the way back, though, I jump the bus line when I hear the guy yelling, “Spaces for two!” At least I think that’s what he said. Most Chinese travel in packs. They yell a lot, too. You’ve probably heard that they’re not really yelling, that’s just the tonality of the language. That’s pure BS; they’re yelling.

    …a little bit of old China—but not much—lives on in the back alleys of Beijing. Here you can find the best street food and the most interesting little shops.   They’re rapidly becoming upscale and fashionable, too, since the faster they disappear the more valuable the few remaining ones become. It reminds me most of maybe the old quarter in Hanoi, with which it must share a common ancestor, if Hanoi is not a direct copy itself. Fortunately that district is not far from where I’m staying, so it’s the best of both worlds for me. I like it. I’ll be back.

     
    • Esther Fabbricante 6:37 am on March 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Of interest to know that you are a vegetarian. Wondering how you get your protein? And you are such a pro at taking in all the sights and describing them to us ‘laymen.’ Very impressive, indeed. Keep healthy.

      • hardie karges 3:20 pm on March 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Was a better vegetarian then than now, though still prefer it. Never gave up dairy and eggs, though, major sources of protein, as well as soy products. Brown rice is my staple food, much more protein than the white versions. I haven’t heard of rice gluten causing problems, though not sure…

  • hardie karges 7:28 pm on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chengde, China, Forbidden City, Wangfujing street   

    #CHENGDE #CHINA: PARADISE LOST IN AN EDIFICE COMPLEX 

    Chengde is finger-lickin' good

    Chengde is finger-lickin’ good

    August 2012

    China’s cities are so large and massive, and growing, that it’s sometimes frightening, and as hard as ever to travel independently… scarcely a word or destination written in Pinyin (Romanized Chinese)—much less English—in the typical Chinese bus or train station, nor counter help equipped to deal with it verbally… Hotel staff are a little better—but not much…

    …a travel-guide can come in handy, and that’s a tough admission to make for someone who typically eschews them. Here you can actually chew them… this is 2012… not 1984 nor the 1998-99 era when I was last here… malls may be pretty much up to international standards, but the typical “supermarket” lags way behind… rows of shelves and piles of provisions stacked haphazardly upon them… (More …)

     
    • Esther Fabbricante 10:02 pm on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Your descriptive powers leave me hanging onto every word which you write.

  • hardie karges 6:56 pm on May 24, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: China, , , Mao Zedong   

    Got this blurb off the Lao-language LA-based Asian Pacific News, seemed interesting: Mao Zedong’s grand-daughter is now a gazillionaire (what’s the current RMB exchange rate?) who finished her studies in the US, got secretly married and now has three children (as citizen of a country that only allows one)… That’s the scoop, all the latest in that reality TV mega-hit, “Keeping Up with the Communists”…. film at eleven…

     
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