There are the obvious reasons why one travel blogs. To share travel adventures, through photos and words, trying to encapsulate an experience to the reading and viewing audience. To imbue in others the same excitement, curiosity and inspiration that the blogger felt whilst traveling. To pinpoint exact emotional exaltation.
This is also the general sentiment of why I travel blog as well. The intricacies of it are way more personal. Solo travel for me only started at 24, with a trip to Brno, Czech Republic with a theatre show that ended up, with a very unexpected job in Prague and then a 4-month expedition, tracing my family’s heritage through Eastern Europe. I had never a train before and was thrilled with sticking my head out of the window, letting the wind make my eyes squint, a tornado of my brown hair, like a dog in a car ride. That same trip, I was introduced to couchsurfing. Travel took on an entirely new meaning, where it wasn’t simply placards and buildings and other travelers, it was local people, personal accounts, trans-ocean humour, Ipod music exchanges, one or two dance sessions, a game of golf in Dijon, foraging for dinner in Groningen. All I had read about travel came from books and those books laid out the foundational blueprints of how to travel. Yet there had to be something else, something more expansive and less focused on the MUST SEES and the MUST EATS.
So blogs. First big websites like Trip Advisor (which I still use as a base for exploration), then more obscure travel sites like Atlas Obscura (which, if you haven’t checked out, is the best source for Off the Beaten Path travel oddities), to the worldwide blogosphere of adventurers, trippers, dream followers and spontaneity experts. I was hooked to their words, as many of them weren’t simply telling me what they saw, but how they felt, how places impacted them or didn’t. Blogging is personal creative writing, an individual’s take on the world through their eyes, through their pens, through their keyboards. It can be laced with superlatives, poetics, judgment, digressions, failure, no words at all, all visual. I blog, even if only a few read it, to show them my version of cities and towns, of nature and of bike trips. They are my visceral accounts of the world. They are my endorsement of decorative language, trying to squeeze out the true emotion I felt in a singular moment, possibly written days after. I cannot prescribe nor would I ever want to, a reaction to what I write or how it effects where people decide to go. I hope that the few who do read it, have an opinion or an idea that sprouts from it. I hope, as that’s all one can do with putting writing into the public’s glance, that it pushes people to either travel or challenge themselves, ask questions, look unto other blogs to continue planning or imagining a more complete global sphere.
I frequently embellish memories. I cannot remember exacts, so I shameless fill in the blanks. I blog because I love to write. I love to reimagine what I have seen, to reinvigorate the recollections with verbose imaculations and neologisms (such as imaculations). Though, recent travel, via bicycle gives me the space to write as I travel. I stop where I want and if I feel the urge, I jot down the day, in summation or elongation. I write in a blue tent, where one of the poles is partially snapped due to a crow landing on it, by the waning sun, drifting behind the red mountains just outside of Santa Monica. That is an actual memory. The things that I lock into my brain vault are sometimes obscure fragments. Sometimes, due to my prior habits during travels (drinking copious amounts at night), memories are literally slits of narrow light with broken and blurred images. I write as form of self-preservation, because one of my greatest fears is loosing it all to time. Not necessarily as a legacy of what I have accomplished, but more as something for myself to look back on and simply account for what I have done. Not as somewhat of a CV for pomposity, but more as a timeline that I existed.
While my travels include people and places, I also consciously set quests for myself. I blog to uncover gems, maybe not ones that were necessarily covered by layers of sediment, just ones’ that maybe overlooked, underappreciated, the map to get to them has been used as scratch paper or made into papier-mâché for a birthday piñata (what I am saying is that no one cares where this place is). Blogs and websites are full of hints and my duty with these hints is to test them out and confirm their validity. This description seems quite vague without an example. The city of Xian, China, was the ancient capital for hundreds of years. Tourists flock here to cycle the ancient walls and see the UNESCO approved Terracotta Warriors. What very few people know about, is that at the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, a ways out of city, another burial plot was opened to revealed, miniature terracotta figurines, along with terracotta livestock and chariots. In total, over 50,000 pieces are on display. Along with this amazing experience, is a very beautifully set up underground museum, with large vaulted glass walls revealing the digs, but beside and below you, you are free to trapes around the tomb area, see several of the tomb gates, and watch an AMAZING hologram film about the history of the site (no 3d glasses required). This place is completely under the radar and when I got there, I basically had free range of the place (think Night at the Museum, minus the reanimation of historical items). There were a handful of different directions as to how to get to this place, since it was in an odd location of the highway, leading north of the city. Armed with a few of these Internet found directions, plus the Chinese characters to this place, I ventured out to confirm this place’s existence. Luck had it that the #4, the first bus I got on and was on my list, was confirmed by the bus driver to be the correct bus. For me, that could happen is I end up going somewhere else and possibly exploring something unexpected. So it’s a win win for me.
I blog to interact with people. Blogs are a dialogue, a community of shared experiences and responses, where the responses may come in the form of words or in exploration of what the blogs’ describe. I hope that as this site builds that this dialogue fills the forums and itinerary of the new site (which will be up THIS MONTH) with evolving dialogues and information that result in people testing the waters, unburdening themselves with limits by asking questions and seeing the blog reflect your inquiries, with maybe not always answers, but further explorations, adding points to the map that I will travel to confirm experiences and places or discover errors, saving you the hassle of a fruitless expedition to nowhere. My blogs and my travels will mirror your dreams, aspirations, desires, or highlight your wonderful memories, follow your deep incites, possibly making travel a more tangible possibility instead of something you do on free weekends or something you’ll do when your decrepitly old.
I blog, because it makes me feel wonderful. It’s me facing my fears as well. I travel around the world, yet I am scared of publishing my writing. I believe it is good, that it is informative and well written, but am afraid of it being said to be otherwise. This is my version of being bold and it holds more importance that what many would be considered a blip, not part of any creative career. But blips are my greatest assets. Microcosms are my favorite worlds. I am worried about not getting anywhere; I am worried about denouncing things in favor of acceptance.
Episode 6 – Into the Swing of Things – Part 1 -Cuandixia
For the video check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOq2LDegb1Q&index=11&list=PL59E469A3DF414464
Some of my foreign friends hated Beijing. They hated the smog. They hated the crowded streets. The noise. The Chinese-ness of it all. To be fair, many of them had never been outside of their own countries before. They were mostly young, teaching kids who only understood half of what they said and were use to a life filled with peanut butter and cheese and alcohol that wasn’t Baijou. Yet for them, Beijing was perfect, for as a metropolitan, they could engage on all of these luxuries. They didn’t ever have to go beyond their comfort zones, eat food they didn’t know, see anything besides the inside of chi-chi bars, malls and Mcdonalds.
My girlfriend and I, on the other hand, had come to Beijing to experience Beijing. To meet the people as best as we could, to eat as much delicious food as we could shove into our hamster cheeks and to explore, explore, explore!
Part of that exploration was food. Not just going to restaurants, but Rachel is an excellent chef and to have all these new products at your fingertips, it would be a shame not to get creative, try local recipes, and use new products to create new spinoffs. The wet markets were a blast to visit, loud, chaotic, unrefrigerated meats, hand-pulled noodles, life fish, frogs sold out of garbage bags, you name it, we saw it, we bought it, we ate it. That became a weekly event in our household. Going to the local market, seeing familiar faces, trying new veggies or fish, buying a new treat from the bakery upstairs, fitting in as best as we could.
Part of that fitting in was going beyond, seeing the MUST SEES and partaking in leisure activities. That includes visiting places beyond central Beijing. Weekend trips, being able to escape Beijing for a couple days to investigate it’s outskirts, it’s green, quieter, cleaner, mountainous surroundings, where life is still lived at a slow pace, possibly an echo of a Beijing long ago, was a way of contextualizing Beijing and it’s people. One of those places was the Ming era village of Cuandixia.
Public transit in China is like Russian Roulette. Nerve racking, ridiculous, yet in this instance, the cause of death will be being lost somewhere in the mountains or missing essential organs. Eeny Meeny Mino Mo. The bus numbers constantly change, have infrequent hours, don’t go to where they say they are going to go and sometimes, stop for inordinate amount of time, as the drive smokes ten packs of cigarettes, has a swig of some that is definitely not water and inhale food equivalent to 2 meals and a half.
Yet the process to get to Cuandixia was quite seamless. One switch and a few hours and we (myself, Rachel and our friend, the wonderful, quite Mandarin fluent, Cian) were there, Cuandixia.
Though it is granted a quick blurb in Lonely Planet, no one I knew (surprise) had been there or knew it even existed. And really, without any basis for considering the pros and cons of coming, left us delightfully surprised and in unexpected awe (though I am in awe of Velcro shoes, so it’s not that much of a stretch). Like many ancient place in China, the government has caught on to the conceit that people are interested in visiting them. So before you enter the town, there is an authentic, ancient tollbooth, with ancient tollbooth guards, appropriately dressed, charging you an entry fee, for which you receive ancient relics (tickets). You can see that the town has received some reconstructive surgery, some botox injections, that may have one questioning the authenticity of some of the structures, some of the quite quaint activities that were going on, in the open, as if for demonstration and entertainment purposes. And yet, beyond the signage, the hotels, whether it was a ruse or not, I did feel as if a slower pace of life had been maintained undisturbed here.
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644CE) era village has a wealth of sites and activities to see. In a backyard we saw a guy making doors from scratch and in another yard we saw a guy, smile plastered on his face, messing around with bees with just his bare hands. There are numerous temples here, including the Temple of the Goddess of Fertility and Temple of Dragon King Subduing Demons (basically temples for all important occasions), restaurants to indulge in local cuisines like edible plants, mushrooms and wild rabbit (all very simple, but tasty) and old Maoist graffiti to see (basically the Chinese Banksy…kidding…they usually say stuff like “Mao is dope” or “follow Mao, YOLO!”), as well as a lot of old ancient structures to climb, peak into, smell, taste and attempt to move (well covers are heavy). There are even local knickknacks you can pick up, like scary cat stuffies and honey from the dude who was asking to get stung (wackjob!).
For a worthwhile panoramic view of the town within the lush green trees and mountainous surroundings, I recommend you walk up the path on the otherside of the road from the main village, passed the Temple of the Fertility Goddess (love me some fertility), and climb as high as you can up the stairs. Tons of photo ops, meditation points, plus moments where you feel like you are in a real life Skyrim, climbing up rock face to get the ultimate view, forgetting exactly what the hell you are suppose to be doing in this mission. From above, you can see into the ancient courtyards, see the lovely veggie gardens, the ancient grey slat roofs, and the picturesque retaining wall that surrounds the village, as well as people walking around performing their daily chores. Looks straight out of Chinese Lord of the Rings mixed with the Chinese version of the opening scene from Beauty and the Beast (NIHAO, NIHAO).
After exploring the town for several hours and eating, we looked at the map and noticed there was another town up the road a little bit named Baiyu. Rather than staying put for the night, we decided to head up to this other town, thinking possibly it was beyond the tourist machine. From a smattering of reading that exist on the internets about Baiyu, one can conclude that no one visits this place or only pass by, recording as many details they can from a fast moving vehicle.
The day was hot and the sun reflecting of the road was cooking us. Smoking some not so great hasheesh made our slow jaunt towards heat stroke a little more hilarious than it should be. But Cian and I had other plans besides simply getting to Baiyu. As we walked through the valley, rocky cliffs on either side, lush green peaking over their ledges, branches, swaying the breezes, catching and releasing the twinkling light of the sun, we noticed the numerous caves that pocked the side of the incline on either side. They beckoned us like Amsterdam window prostitutes.
“Rachel, wait here, we’ll be right back!”
Rachel looked doubtful. The last time I said that I had left her in a Chinese cemetery alone and got lost in 800 meters of nettle bushes, only to return to her after 45 minutes, scraped, bleeding and guilty as charged of abandonment.
Cian and I saw our cave and scrambled up some “stairs” towards it. The footing was far from stable and sunstroke didn’t help us keep our balance. But finally, we made it, into the mouth of a cave. Headbanging session and photos? Of course!
Getting down from the cave was a bit trickier. I went first, which was a terrible idea and involved me dodging falling rocks from that were being loosened by Cian’s decent. The final bit, involved surfing on a large rockslide, almost being partially covered by it. But what a way to go, right? Rockslides would be great without the “rock” part. I love slides! So misleading they are!
Anyways, after an hour more of slow meandering, we made it to Baiyu. The ancient town with it’s old courtyard grey stone houses, its wandering chickens, dogs and cows, its villagers who looked aghast to see us wandering down the main street, was the real deal. There were small signs of infrastructure, a sign here, a new pavilion there, but nothing complete. The houses themselves were dilapidated, unaltered and ultimately looked as if they had been lived in for 600 years, which undoubtedly, some of them may have been.
We explored the main streets, the alleys, looking over walls, trapsing into open courtyards, waving at villagers, who simply returned our flapping hands with wide-eyed stares and concerned expressions. The village, not surprisingly was made up of mostly the old and young. Presumably, the adults had to find work elsewhere. We stumbled upon a building plastered red posters and caligraphied writing. Entering the partially ajar door, we noticed it was the town hall of a bygone era, complete with 60-year-old sound system, pictures of Mao, Stalin, Marx and Engels on the wall. Free condoms were sitting in an ancient rack in the front. The condoms, like the rack, were ancient, but it was tempting to see, like milk, how far past the expiry date would they still be good. Kidding. Horrible joke. Cian is a proud father and regrets nothing (another joke).
It was getting dark and thanks to Cian, we found a place to stay, inside of a local family’s courtyard home. For dinner we had wild hare and beer as the owner of the establishment, chainsmoking, watching Chinese game shows and smiling and simultaneously watched the crazy foreigners approvingly eat his wife’s food. Though it was hot out, we slept on a traditional “kang” bed, which in the winter, can have a fire lit under it to heat it. The next morning, tea, eggs, blechy millet soup and no plans. We asked the proprietor of the establishment if there was anything worth exploring around here. He handed us a brochure with pictures of The Great Wall. We laughed thinking he thought we meant in the Beijing area in general. He turned to Cian and rattled off some Mandarin. Cian explained that there was a section of the wall an hour and a bit by foot around here that no one knew about really and was discovered by shepherds who used to area to graze their goats in. We hadn’t the time to see it, but made an oath that we would return to find it.
Walking back to Cuandixia and visiting some small pools hidden in deep crevices along the road, I realized that’s what exploration is about, going to the edge of the tourist “map” and then going beyond, simply walking off the grid and realizing the world isn’t flat and you will not fall off. Many pleasant “wow” moments are out there to discover and share.
For directions to Cuandixia and more information, scroll to the bottom of the page!
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Again, the video of the trip and more China, cycling, travel videos are at:
DIRECTIONS and INFORMATION
Cost: 35 RMB
Recommended Time: Meh…I hate saying, TAKE ONE HOUR or it’s GOOD FOR FOUR HOURS. There are temples to see, food to eat, activities to see, walking to do, relaxing to partake it. An easy overnight or weekend could be made of exploring.
Bring: Toilet paper is a MUST, water, sunglasses, hiking appropriate shoes.
DIRECTIONS: Metro out to the end of line 1, to the Pingguoyuan station. Take bus 892 to Zhaitang (斋堂镇) (6 RMB with subway card or 16 RMB without). From Zhaitang, taxi to Cuandixia (10 RMB per person). Buses are infrequent, but the last bus from Zhaitang to Beijing is 5pm (supposedly…).
Realism. An art movement attempting to capture the world as it is, without the idyllic visions of the romantics, the lamenting nature of the elegies or the beatified chiseled warriors of the heroics. The photograph took up this charge of the realistic painting, opening up an opportunity for those with no artistic skill to capture a second in their life. The monumental images and glorification of war, society or the satire of government could still be staged and snapped and framed as art, but also the simple recollection of a banal moment in time could fill the pages of any amateur scrapbook affectionado. Here I present with little introduction, my amateur hour of manipulation, without schema or plan, simply an attempt to indicate a feeling, an individualized experience with the nights of Rome and how special they were to me.
The city breathes at night and wafts scents and sounds through haggard and higglypiggly lanes and chipped doorways, spilling with intoxication, conversations of love and hate and exploration. The yellow streets, though old, cannot overshadow the history crusted fountains and ruins, that give power to the casting shadows, over the juvenile flickering lights.
A map and no plans are some of the best days in Rome. Stumble upon secrets, recommendations and a blog or two pick of some hole in the wall vouched for by some subscriber to Tripadvisor. Do it, taste it, inhale its smoke, smut, savoriness and centuries.
Tourism in China is a weird thing. The Olympics of 2008 in Beijing spotlighted this once stigmatized powerhouse in a new light and the influx of tourists, curious to discover it’s rich history and culture, came pouring in from all directions. And the Chinese government sort of understands the process to deal with this. People want to be able to access the sites, the flavors and people that Maoist China tried to subjugate, repress and ultimately uniform (They use none of those terms, nor did the Maoist government do ANYTHING like that).
Their solution to this semi-new venture, tourism, is what’s strange. Like a flawed translation on many English signs throughout China, there seems to be a bit of a miscommunication of what international tourists are interested in seeing and how what their interested in seeing is expected to be presented. That’s a vast generalization, but for myself, if fly half way around the world to see something, I want to see something that is at least somewhat authentic and real. That’s the difference between seeing it in person and via media. Attached to this authenticity is an indescribable feeling of achievement, a connection to something beyond one’s own world, and the thrill of experiencing, immersing and discovering something new for yourself. Yet China’s approach to their unique cultures, languages and especially places, is reconstituting, rebuilding, modifying rather than preservation. Many of the historical sites that survived the Red Guard are being remodeled to provide a Disneyland-like, rather than an emerging experience in history. The grit, the real businesses, even the buildings themselves, have been replaced by five star accommodations, vendors selling chachkies and pre-fab, historical facades. One of China’s famous UNESCO heritage sites, Lijiang, almost lost it’s heritage status for attempting to rebuild the ancient black tiled roofed town as a resort, after one of it’s many earthquakes. It’s everywhere. Look in your China guidebooks. 9 times out of 10, the historical building you are standing in has been rebuilt. From Qianmen Business District in Beijing (torn down and rebuilt exactly the same) to large sections of the Great Wall.
Though maybe this is a very North American stance on tourism. Maybe China is focused on local tourism, since for Chinese nationals, it’s very difficult to impossible to leave the country. On that subject, I simply have my observations of large buses, unloading their leader with their volumed up megaphones and umbrellas, followed by hoards all wearing the same hats, so they know who they should follow, blending into an earthen colored mass, filling up quaint, quiet and historical places with bursting commotion, noise and refuse. Pictures are snapped, mechanically, fingers are held in peace signs, or two hands come together to complete an unbelievable heart, occurring in no matter what venue, winding cobblestoned street or tranquil holy temple. I fear though that the “real” China that the international community strives to locate is fast becoming theme parks, parades or simply, like the hutongs of Beijing and Shanghai, being demolished for shinier, newer facilities, that cheaply emulate something that could have stood for a thousand more generations.