Wednesday, October 25, 2006


The Filth and the Fury of Xian

I booked a one way flight to Xian to see the famous Terracotta Warriors (one of the many places claiming to be the 8th wonder of the world). My hostel was perfect. Right in the middle of downtown, great view, small enough to meet people, cheap drinks and palatable food. On my second day there I was finally feeling better after the whole Beijing debacle and no matter what I saw, I was assured it would be a great experience. Like most tours in Asia you have to visit 3-4 other places other than the one you intend to see (gift shops calling themselves museums). I got to see some of the poorest urban neighbourhoods in the world from a bus under a sky black with pollution and I couldn't have been more pleased. all of this was happening while most people reading this at home were eating a thanks giving dinner. Be thankful. Looking back now on past thanks givings, they seem arbitrary and meaningless because I'd never really seen what it was like for people to have nothing to be thankful for.
The warriors themselves were... Underwhelming. It is a long drive in traffic to get to them and when you arrive, there is little more to see than what you have already seen in pictures. If there were 15 or 20 wonders of the world, it ought not to make the list. Xian though had some real gems that made the trip more than worth while. Probably unknown to many, China has many Muslims - most of them in Xian. I walked through their small quarter and visited their mosque. It was serene, quiet and surprisingly spiritual. Watching old Chinese men in Muslim garb pray with children on their path seemed to take me away from the madness and disorganized that the Chinese depend on for normalcy.

I met some great people, drank plenty of scotch and spent just enough time seeing sights and hiding out in the hostel, watching movies and forgetting what place of the world I was in (something you need to do while traveling).

Xian is unspeakably filthy. When I arrived, I could not see the sky or the tops of buildings due to a grey/black smog that hung at street level. The fog permeated the first and second floors in every building I went in. This was not a result of meteorological conditions. It was smog from cars, coal fire plants, farmers burning grass and local factories. The streets too have more garbage and festering piles and streams of unidentifiable sludge than can be found outside a western garbage dump.

Now the fury. While I was out on the balcony of my hostel, taking pictures of the beautiful bell tower in the centre of town, I witnessed a fight in the middle of the busiest roundabout in the city. It started as a simple fender bender between a cab and a man on a scooter with his girlfriend. It escalated to the man and women yelling at the cabbie and soon after to a fist fight between the two men. While they were punching and kicking each other in the middle of a three lane street, the cops showed up and traffic just honked their horns and pushed their way around. when the men had tired themselves out and the girlfriend pulled her man away another cop showed up, this one equally useless. The cabbie and the man started yelling at each other and were about to fight again when the girlfriend tried to intervene. Her boyfriend slapped her across the face and grabbed her by her hair yanking her to the ground. Her head bounced of the pavement and she lay motionless for another 30 minutes. A third cop showed up somewhere while this was happening and behaved much the same as the other two cops and the crowd of about 50 onlookers. I have pictures of the entire incident which I will post when I find/replace my USB cord. The woman was eventually helped into another car and the police drove the taxi with the two men in it off.

despite the filth and the fury, Xian will likely remain of the best parts of my trip to china.

Next up: Shanghai - an oasis of modernity and civilization in the most ass-backwards country in the world.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Beijing - The Pepto Bismol Diaries

Warning - This blog is written true to character for me and some may find it gross

Hello chums, its your old pal Brent. Remember me?
Let me tell you a thing or two about Beijing.
I flew in from Seoul not knowing a soul in the country, as per usual. My hostel was almost too easy to find and I got checked in no problem. 30 minutes later I was drinking beer with some Australians and a French Canadian that would hang out with for the remainder of my time in the city.

On my second day their I took a tour of the Great Wall (and a few tourist traps you are forced to go to with the tour). Some world famouse tourist sights are proned to be overrated. The great wall laughs these misconceptions off and offers more beauty and wonderment than you were excpecting. I could have spent twice the time there, hiked double the distance and still not really have been satisfied.
Right on schedule, my stomach started feeling... funny. Not funny like a stand up comedian but funny like a homeless schizophrenic shouting at the sky.
The next day I was in the Silk market parousing some of the counterfit goods and my stomach officially went on strike resulting in a sympathy strike by my head and muscles. I had the pleasure of using a squatting toilet for the first time but luckily I had a bird's eye view of it. The first round was a direct it but the second went laughably wrong. Vomit has the ability to ricochet off the slightest of curves and in this case made it clear under the divider to the next stall which met with a response of "Ayeeahhh!!! followed by garbled mandarin.

THe next two days were spent mostly in bed with some empty water bottles that I never had a chance to absorb.

When I was up and swinging again, I checked out Tianamin Square (no one wants to talk about a certain incident that happened there not to many years ago)and the Summer Palace. Tianamin is one of the most grandiose monuments to communism ever constructed (though China is to communism what Vancouver is to sunshine). Despite its impressiveness it remains very bleak. The summer palace was.... about 30 minutes away from down town.

Now as for what Beijing is like, it is very hard to explain to westerners...
The crowds on the street are the sort you see leaving a rock concert, only they move in both directions and are generally less polite. pushing happens.
the sky is yellow with smog which results in a lot of phlegm being built up in peoples lungs. floors, busses and the street are all perfectly acceptable places to deposit that phlegm and men and women of all ages take part. hkkktttt.... pitouie!
yes, children also shit in the streets.

The drivers are very skilled and thats good because they need to be what with no perceptable traffic laws. They treat red lights the way we treat yellows and accidents happen every few minutes. People lay on the horn for about 5 seconds at a time in lieu of using signals and I am not exaggerating that in the slightest.

Despite the laughable lack of basic sanitation and civilization, Beijing is a really cool place and I'm eager to go back whenever I get an opportunity.

next up: Xian - making Beijing look like cobourg ontario.

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