Monday, August 14, 2006

Up a wall

I'm back online. It took a couple of days, but they found a techie who spoke some English and he set me up.

My head cold has returned with a vengeance. One of the people I met here bought me some Chinese medicines and I'm trying that stuff. It seemed to be working but now I'm feeling crappy again. It probably also has something to do with waking up before 5 am two days in a row.

Last night I found a great kite store and bought a small dragon kite and another hawk kite. Next door was a hotpot restaurant. There's no such thing as boneless, skinless here. You get it all in your pot. As I picked out the chicken feet and neck parts, I knew it was only time before a head would roll over in my broth and look up at me. I wasn't in the mood for beak, so I took it out too. Other than that, another great meal with a big beer for 25 Yuan ($3.)

It was also a day of odd Canadiana. I heard the 1988 Calgary Olympic theme for the second time in two weeks, and the restaurant was TV had some Norman Bethune propaganda flick. That was, until the owner flipped the channel to watch basketball.

As I said, I got up this morning at 4:50 to get ready for my trip to the wall. The people I was going with said it's best to start early to beat the traffic, and it worked. We made it to Badaling, a city on the edge of Beijing that's famous for its section of the Wall. Just the drive out was cool. As soon as we left Beijing we were in a small mountain range, and you could see strips of the wall disappearing over the hills. It was another foggy day, unfortunately, but it was nice and cool.

I've also heard people talk about climbing the Great Wall, but didn't understand just how steep it is. I saw a couple of people go ass over end on their way down because the stones are worn down and smooth. You gain a lot of altitude very fast, all the while being elbowed in the ribs by Chinese tourists eager to race to the top. There's also a camel and a horse that live on the wall. Their pushy owners try to get you to sit on them and pose for photos. Camels are my favourite animals.

Nor has the Great Wall escaped that other tourist cliché - the carved name. It seems almost every stone surface is etched with Chinese names and dates.

As you near the top you pass the obligatory Chairman Mao picture. everyone has to stop and pose for a pic, as if Mao built the wall himself. When you reach the highest point, it's chaos. It's also hard to get a good picture what with all the souvenir floggers. But it's a great view. Sitting here now it all seems kind of surreal.

Afterward we went to the Ming tombs. The best part was how green and fresh the grounds were.

Lunch was at a popular Sichuan restaurant that cooks with buckets of chili. I was only able to snap two photos when the manager ran over and yelled that photos weren't allowed. As if we were going to go and replicate their famous spicy fish dish or something. This is China; everything's a knock off anyway. It was a great meal though. I had this drink that was made by boiling a corncob, carrots, pears and water chestnuts and then putting it in the fridge to cool. The vegetables float around in the bottom of the jug when it's poured. Very refreshing. I also ate my first lotus root sprinkled with sugar.

I have to admit that I'm getting a bit tired of living out of my suitcase. My pal Dean did it for months as he bounced from Asia to Canada and back. Yet I'm feeling worn down after just two and a half weeks (has it been that long?!?). There's also some apprehension about heading to India, knowing how challenging it can be to get around. China is pretty straightforward, but even here some of the bureaucracy and miscommunication can make your head spin. It'll be something to fly from Beijing to Mumbai and experience the contrasts.

The great news is I have been in touch with a friend of mine in India and he's going to fly up to Mumbai to meet me. We met when I was in Delhi in 2005. He overheard me making plans on my cell phone to a company in Bangalore and when I hung up, he asked if I was speaking to so-and-so, the PR guy. Turns out Anupam worked in the communications department there. He'd quit a month earlier, moved to Mumbai, was in Delhi for a few days on his way to Calcutta, and we just happened to bump into each other, out of 1-billion people, in a ratty old internet cafe. Cosmic. I'm really looking forward to meeting up with him again and experiencing Mumbai with someone who knows the place.

In the meantime I have to knuckle down again and write. I sketched out a solid outline for one story which should be easy to write, and I've got a start to the other. But I really want to get the China stories mostly done before another exotic culture warps my brain.

1 comment:

Karen Palmer said...

Kirby! Happy trails. Stop by on your way back. It's the long way, but it's worth it.