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China! Part 2
May 24, 2008, 8:01 am
Filed under: Travel

I think my stories from China are going to have to happen a little out of order because I need to write about today while it’s still fresh in my mind. Today we decided to go whitewater rafting and it was quite the experience. Expecting something similar to the guiding I’ve done back home, we got dressed in clothes that would do well getting wet in the river and bagged up all of our stuff in ziploc bags in case they didn’t have a dry bag. I even had carabiners to rig my bag into the boat if necessary. Feeling pretty well prepared, we took off from the hotel, following one of the staff who was sent to show us how to get to the bus station. He pointed us to the right bus and waved goodbye as he walked away.

On the bus my cousin and I seemed to be the only people who spoke english and we were definitely the only westerners. We bumped along for about an hour as the bus haphazardly passed pretty much every vehicle on the road, using the horn liberally to warn them of our presence, all the while listening to very loud chinese pop music skipping on an evidently scratched CD. We also got to watch the girl sitting in front of me have a loud argument with her seat-mate and generally bug all of the people she appeared to be traveling with. It seemed a little odd that everyone else was dressed in normal street clothes, but I just figured we were better prepared than they were.

When we finally arrived at what turned out to be the take-out, it looked more like a large creek than a real river. We got off the bus and found someone sort-of official looking person who took us over to the ticket window where we turned in the receipt from our hotel for actual tickets. After that we were told (in very broken english) to wait about half an hour for the bus that would take us to the put-in. Meanwhile all the Chinese people were changing into more river appropriate clothing and putting their belongings into storage lockers, which we were heavily encouraged to rent for our things. At first we thought that really wasn’t necessary, but when Amanda decided to buy a pair of nylon shorts we opted to rent a locker so we could leaver her dry shorts there. Turns out that was a good call. As we were waiting the half hour for the bus, we took a closer look at the tickets and noticed that the picture on them showed small boats with just 2 people per boat and no paddles. We asked our semi-english speaker about this and he confirmed that there were in fact no guides and no paddles. Interesting.

We finally got into the bus to take us to the put-in. It was a crowded little mini-bus on a bumpy dirt road with hairpin turns and half the people standing up, and of course Chinese techno blaring on the sound system. We get to the top, and joined in the mad scramble of chinese people claiming life jackets, helmets, and knee and elbow pads. Once we were decked out like Japaese reality TV show contestants, we really began to wonder just what we’d gotten ourselves into. Obviously we didn’t sign any sort of safety waiver and the two giant boards that might’ve been explaining safety guidelines were entirely in Chinese.

As we were waiting in line to get into boats (at the back, the Chinese are pretty pushy) we saw the beginning of the run – it starts off with about a 5 foot drop that turns into steep chute about 30 feet long. It really was more creek-sized than river sized but it looked sort-of like a disneyland ride, only without the safety regulations and a lot wilder looking than anything I’ve ever seen at Disneyland. Eventually we made it to the front of the line and managed to let a few other people go ahead of us so that we could end up in one of the self-bailing boats (I’d noticed some people scooping water out of their boats before the trip even begun and I didn’t want that to be us).

So once in the boat we waited in a big pool surrounded by about 50 boats full of chinese people in flourescent life jackets and bright yellow helmets, while guides (or whoever they were) pulled one boat at a time through the little gateway at the end of the pool and sent them down the chute. It was right about then that the rain started to really pick up. I suppose I should’ve mentioned earlier that we decided to go rafting in spite of forecasts predicting rain. We figured it would still be plenty warm and we would end up getting wet anyway. But the rain that started while we were waiting in the boat was more like a monsoon. We were already a little damp from putting on somewhat soggy life jackets and whatnot, but about 30 seconds into the downpour we were soaked through. And I think it was when we were just a few boats away from getting sent down the chute that we first heard the thunder. Oh, and we finally saw a sign with some safety insructions in English. It said hold onto the rail when you go down the chute (we think rail meant handle – there were handles inside the boats) and ‘be careful!’

So down the chute we went – first through the vertical drop, where it felt miraculous that our boat didn’t flip over and that we were both still in the boat at all, then flying down the chute into a roaring white mess that completely swamped the boat. From there it was a series of bumpy turns and drops that completely filled our boat with water about once every 10 or 15 seconds. The water was cool but not too cold, and the rain became pretty much irrelevant since we were getting just as wet from the ride anyway. The thunder was still a little worrisome, but when we saw lightning it was fairly far away and there wasn’t much we could do about it anyway.

So basically the ride continued for about an hour and a half, with more drops, more chutes, and no downtime, except for the occasional clog when our boat would get jammed in with another one and start a pileup. Those got pretty entertaining too. I have to say they put together a pretty awesome ride, I’m tempted to go again before we have to leave town, it was so much fun. It was also cool to discover that when everyone is screaming down crazy rapids, language barriers tend to dissolve and it’s easy to make friends just by helping people get unstuck or helping to tow them to the front of the next big pool for another crazy drop.

There were also people stationed at various points along the route to help when people got stuck, and a sweep boat with two guides making sure no-one got left behind. Also stationed along the route were at least 30 photographers all shouting ‘hello!’ over and over again – the one english word all Chinese people seem to know, which they attempt to use to communicate all sorts of things, but which mostly means ‘look over here!’ When we finally finished we were mobbed with touts all trying to drag us over to buy photos from them. We took our time shopping for the best shots while we waited for the bus and finally picked four which they burned onto CDs for us at 10 yuan apiece. I’ve loaded them onto my flick’r page, so you should be able to see them no the left.

Alright, that was pretty much the extent of our adventure – there wasn’t even loud music on the bus ride back into town, but it was a really awesome day, I’ll be surprised if the rice terraces tomorrow are able to compare…

p.s. I really need to go back and edit this at some point, but saving changes takes forever from this machine, so it may need to wait until I’m back in the states. Apologies for all my typos and long-windedness!



China! Part 1
May 22, 2008, 1:06 am
Filed under: Travel | Tags: ,

I’m sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Yangshuo – a tiny little town in Southwest China – and I’m about a week into my trip, so already there’s lots to tell. Before I get too into that though, there are a few other life events worth mentioning that happened since my last post:

1 – really fun weekend trip to Chicago with Ari. I’ve posted the photos on my Flickr site, which I would link to here but I’m using a proxy server to get around the great firewall of China, so the functionality of the wordpress editing screen is limited. The link on the left of this page should get you there though if you’re interested.

2 – My Birthday! I turned 28, but that was more than a month ago so it’s kinda old news at this point. Ari flew us down to Oregon for the weekend though, which made it extra special, and then my whole family came up to Seattle so we could go out to dinner.

3 – My dance troupe was in that crazy dance performance, Ooh La La, that I mentioned here quite a long time ago. It was loads of fun and there are photos of that too, but I’ll have to add them later – firewall and whatnot.

4 – I ran the Vancouver Half Marathon and got a new PR! I’m still pretty excited about that. I set a goal time 2 hours and 19 minutes, which I thought was pretty ambitious, but I beat it by more than 3 minutes and finished in 2:15:26! Michele totally rocked the race too, finishing in 2:07:59 (I think). My flickr page has those photos up too.

5 – This one is pretty huge – My sister had a baby!!! I have a brand new niece, and she’s completly perfect, adorable and wonderful. I would tell you more about her, but Meg’s pretty sensitive about her privacy, so you can just ask me and I’ll tell you all about her!

Okay, I think that’s everything major that went on before I left for China, so now on to the trip! I flew into Shanghai on the 11th and stayed for almost a week with my cousin who is living there. She and her husband were awesome hosts and they showed me some of their favorite spots around the city. Within walking distance of their cute little apartment (with the bathroom in the kitchen) we went to a super nice european style cafe (Amy’s a little burnt out on chinese food at this point), to a beautiful salon for pedicures, and along one of the city’s best shopping districts. It wasn’t until later that evening that we learned there had been a huge earthquake in Sichuan province. We weren’t able to learn much about it on the news that night, the only image they showed was of a news reporter standing in front of a broken pane of glass (we suspected this was the government sheltering the population). The next morning after I answered emails reassuring friends that I was unaffected by the earthquake, I was able to learn more about the damage from articles online. I reeled when I read about the growing death toll and about how high it was expected to climb. I wondered if maybe my cousin Amanda and I could change our travel plans and go volunteer to provide earthquake relief in the affected area but it sounded like the government would prefer to keep foreigners out of the region. (Since then the government declared national mourning for all the victims of the earthquake and for three days all entertainment industry businesses were closed while the country grieved.)

In spite of the tragedy, I was still in Shanghai and there was still lots I wanted to see, so on Tuesday I went to see the old town neighborhood with its amazing gardens, I made it to the top of the pearl tower and saw the layout of the whole city, and then walked along the river promenade in Pudong where we could see the famous Bund strip across the water. It was all pretty exciting, especially mixed in with all the general novelty of being in China – the crazy driving where you feel lucky to step out of a taxi still alive, all the touts in toristy areas who have no qualms getting in your face about buying something, clotheslines proudly displaying chinese underwear all over the city, and generally just a lot of weird sights, smells and noises. Amy also took me to a giant, 3-story mall where you can get the best deals on knockoffs and souvenirs. I have a real weakness for Sportsac knockoffs (so many cute patterns!) and I really feel that I exercised great self control by purchasing only 2 bags.

On my third day in Shanghai my cousin Amanda arrived, and I got to try my hand at surviving the subway system both unscathed and unrobbed. The fun part was taking the Maglev train to and from the airport – it goes about 450 km/h and you get some interesting views of the city. We spent most of Mandy’s first full day in China shopping again – better to buy stuff in shanghai so we can leave it at Amy’s house – then we took the night train up to Beijing. It was a pretty fun adventure sleeping on the train – especially when we woke up to a lightning storm in the middle of the night. Beijing was a little overwhelming at first, but we found a nice guesthouse on an awesome street in a hutong neighborhood just north of the forbidden city. We spent a couple days taking in the main sights of Beijing – Tianamen Square, the Forbidden City, Lama Temple, and a beautiful park with a big lake. We also managed to get tickets to an acrobatics show, which turned out to be an interesting display of some very impressive skills mixed in with a touristy atmosphere, some cheezy choreography, and bizarre costume choices. Our last day in Beijing we spent hiking on the great wall, which was absolutely incredible, but also exhausting. I think we covered about a 3 mile length of the wall (through 27 guard towers) and it took us a little over 4 hours. The views were spectacular, the length of the wall is just mind-boggling, and the climbs are long, steep, irregular, and frequently crumbling underfoot with no enclosing walls on the sides. The wall is also well-staffed with entreprenurial locals who don’t mind following you for hours if they think you might buy something. It gets pretty tiring after the first hour, then you learn to just ignore touts for water, books, postcards, t-shirts, and beer. By the end of the trip we were more preoccupied with the treacherous terrain than the splendor of it all, and we were seriously worn out, but it definitely made for a very memorable experience.

Alright, that’s enough rambling about the first week of my trip, I’ll write later about the adventures we’ve had since then in southwest China!



Seaside!
March 3, 2008, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Life, Travel | Tags: ,

Yesterday I was lucky enough to get flown down to Seaside, Oregon for the afternoon by Ari, whose piloting skills I’m developing more and more respect for (I was kinda nervous the first time I flew with him). It was a pretty awesome day. First of all there was the obvious cool factor of traveling to Seaside in just over an hour when the drive would normally take about 4 hours. Plus I got to enjoy the super awesome views from a tiny little airplane and learn a bunch more about how to fly (I almost have the entire pilot alphabet memorized – alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, etc… – and I really like how they always say ‘niner’ instead of ‘nine’) We walked into town from the teensy airport and did the typical things you do in beach-y little tourist towns – some shopping, some walking on the beach, and eating really yummy unhealthy food.

We had a near misadventure when I went to put my shoes back on after walking on the beach and discovered that one of my awesome Reef flip flops with the bottle openers on the bottom had fallen out of the mesh pocket on the side of my backpack. It probably happened when I tried to ‘rescue’ a live sand dollar we found and wound up frantically trying to evade a wave that looked like it could more than match the height I had rolled my pants up to. But by the time we discovered the loss we were on a pretty limited timeframe and really didn’t have time to go looking for the lost shoe. But I was too heartbroken at the thought of losing one of my awesome bottle-opening sandals to give up that easily. So I piped up with ‘Hey, I’m a runner! I can go find that shoe in no time!’ and took off across the beach. Luckily I discovered the errant shoe getting washed around in the waves not too far away – running on the beach is hard enough as it is and bare feet and falling-down pants didn’t help. So I made it back to the seawall panting and a little sweaty but happily victorious in my shoe mission.

The rest of the afternoon in Seaside included a lot of fun conversation and tasty food, then it was back to the airport. The flight back was super awesome. We saved enough time to be able to take an indirect route back to Seattle so Ari flew us over my hometown, Montesano and we called my parents to tell them they should go outside and wave at us flying by. I was already pretty excited just to have spotted my parents house from the plane, and I became positively giddy when I could actually see my parents out in the backyard (really I just saw a couple of dark dots on the lawn but I could tell it was them) and I could even make out their awesome dog Milo running around in the yard, undoubtedly chasing a giant stick (my dad told me later that it was a 3 1/2 foot chunk of 2×4). We circled the house a couple of times, with me practically jumping up and down in my seat I was so excited. I felt a little bit bad that we didn’t do the same thing for my Sister’s house, but maybe we’ll have a chance some other time. I found the whole thing ridiculously thrilling.

As if circling my parents house wasn’t cool enough, next I got to fly the plane. I took the yoke and helped (or at least attempted) to keep us on course for a couple of minutes. I was pretty terrible at keeping the plane straight and level, but that meant I got to do a lot more because I was always trying to correct something and then correcting again because I had over-corrected. I think that might have been the point where I really started to appreciate Ari’s flying skills. But it was amazing to feel how the plane responds to the controls, it totally refuelled my desire to someday learn how to fly. And I love that flying is one of those activities where you really have to be aware of weather conditions and the environment around you; that human connection to nature and the elements tends to be missing from so many pieces of modern life, I love it when I have a real reason to need to know what the weather is up to because it will actually affect me.

Finally we came in to land at Boeing field and Ari did some crazy maneuver where we approached the runway from the side (basically perpendicular to the runway) and then did a quick turn just 35 or so feet off the ground almost immediately before we touched down to line us up with the runway. It was pretty slick and I accused him of showing off (and he admitted that he was a little bit), but I think it was mostly because of the approach instructions he was given by the air traffic controller. All in all it was a completely awesome day and I’ve decided that dating a pilot is pretty much one of the coolest things ever.



Intro
January 28, 2008, 7:28 pm
Filed under: Athletic, Dancing, Design, Entertainment, Food, Music, Neat Stuff, Random, Travel

So I’m starting up a blog and I think it’s going to be about a lot of very random stuff. So just to get things started, I’m throwing together a quick sampler of the types of entries you might encounter as my blog continues….

Travel – I figure most trips I take will be worthy of at least a little blip in my blog, but I’ll try to keep things light, focusing mainly on the highlights. For instance, if I were to recap the visits to Iowa that I took last October, it might look something like this:

Had to go to Iowa for work over and over again. The first trip was slightly novel, but even that wore off pretty quickly. I have decided that I hate Northwest Airlines (cranky personnel, evil seating system that makes you sit in the back of the plane unless you join their little club, and no entertainment whatsoever on board. Grrr, I hate them). Almost no food in Iowa is really worth mentioning, but our hotel somehow managed to have this amazing chocolate cake with a molten center that comes with Haagen-Dazs ice cream, a big pile of whipped cream, and a small tureen of hot fudge. That cake may have been the highlight of the entire series of trips. The business stuff was okay, although it got a little repetitive by the fourth trip, and the real climax was on trip number three when Northwest sent my luggage to the wrong airport under someone else’s name. By the end of that week I was so frazzled that I almost burst into tears when I went to my local wireless store and found out that they no longer carry chargers for my cell phone (which was needed to replace the one still lost in my luggage, of course). And for some reason being in Iowa made me want to drink Coke all the time, which I almost never drink at home. It was a bizarre time…

Athletic Stuff – I tend to be always working toward some type of athletic something-or-other, so odds are it will come up from time to time. As for specific events you might hear about this year, I’m hoping to run the Vancouver Half Marathon in early may, I’m signed up for the Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay in July, and also for Cascade Bicycle Club’s RSVP in August. And I really hope I manage to squeeze in a triathlon this summer too.

Dancing – I don’t know how often this will come up, but I am in a swing dance performance troupe, so there’s bound to be an announcement or something whenever we have performances (expect to see us at Folklife in May!). Plus I might occasionally be inclined to rave about a particularly excellent night out dancing, like two weeks ago when a friend from the troupe persuaded me to go dancing at the Highliner, a gritty little dive bar at the fisherman’s terminal. I got to dance with super great dancers (including of course Mike, the troupe guy, who is a blast to dance with), and I had this one amazing dance with a random guy I had never danced with before named Steve, who I think may have been my dancing soul mate. It was awesome.

(if you’re curious about my troupe, it’s the Savoy Swing Club Performance Troupe)

Neat Stuff – One of the hazards of being a designer is finding really cool stuff that you really really want to have and then discovering how ridiculously expensive it is. A good example of this is the Selk Bag. It’s a sleeping bag with arms and legs and a big hood, so you can get up and frolic in the middle of the night without giving up the happy cozy warmth of your bedding, plus you get to look like a giant teddy bear. While recognizing that the practicality of this item is nearly nonexistent, I seriously want one. I actually think the cost may have come down since I first discovered this brilliant product, so don’t be shocked if you see a giant teddy bear-ish figure frolicking in the middle of the night.

selk3.jpg

(the designer’s website)

Music – Every once in a while I get pretty excited about some new song I’ve discovered or an awesome playlist I’ve just put together. I expect this enthusiasm will eventually spill over onto my blog.

Entertainment – Sometimes there are just entertaining things in the world which simply must be shared. For instance, I found this video on the blog of a boy I like and it made me like him even more:

(there might be a lot of copying fun things from other people in this category)

Food – I get pretty excited about really good food (or drinks), especially ice cream. In this category you might see raves about super delicious things I’ve discovered lately (like Margaret’s homeade apricot pistachio ice cream last night, where the apricot flavor permeated the ice cream in a truly amazing way) or rants about food gone wrong, like how it seems nearly every restaurant makes chocolate milkshakes with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup and it’s just wrong. Vanilla has no place in a chocolate milkshake and in my opinion the only way to properly make a chocolate milkshake is from chocolate ice cream (I personally choose Ultra Chocolate, made by Double Rainbow and sold at Trader Joes)

Random – I’m sure other nonsense will find its way into my blog as well, like updates on my exciting effort to knit a scarf and testing out the ‘world’s best paper airplane’ according to the dangerous book for boys.

Stay tuned!