Tag Archive | tips

Checklist Traveling – Seeing the World as Opposed to Experiencing It

Sometimes it's tough to just sit and let nature entrance you. I use it during stressful times in travel as "a bring me back to earth" tool.

Sometimes it’s tough to just sit and let nature entrance you. I use it during stressful times in travel as “a bring me back to earth” tool.

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).

A temple way out of Beijing. Jietai Temple and Tanzhe Temple were beautiful daytrips, off the beaten path, that we could enjoy at our own pace without the throngs of people, as well as not feel the need to SEE it out of innate urge to complete something.

Temples way out of Beijing. Jietai Temple and Tanzhe Temple were beautiful daytrips, off the beaten path, that we could enjoy at our own pace without the throngs of people, as well as not feel the need to SEE it out of innate urge to complete something.

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.

Lamont, Alberta. Never heard of this place? Very cute town near Edmonton. Buildings, like Churches, for me, act as inspirational places during travel to just sit in, engage with, immerse yourself in and possibly be inspired. These structures, are many intricate parts woven together that are worth paying attention to, exploring and considering. Imagination runs wild in these places, all you need to do is let it.

Lamont, Alberta. Never heard of this place? Very cute town near Edmonton. Buildings, like Churches, for me, act as inspirational places during travel to just sit in, engage with, immerse yourself in and possibly be inspired. These structures, are many intricate parts woven together that are worth paying attention to, exploring and considering. Imagination runs wild in these places, all you need to do is let it.

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.

The Details. Yes it's a butterfly. They exist everywhere. but this specific butterfly lives where I was, within a specific moment I saw it in. That alone is special enough and can be appreciated without adherence to a standardized hierarchy of importance.

The Details. Yes it’s a butterfly. They exist everywhere. but this specific butterfly lives where I was, within a specific moment I saw it in. That alone is special enough and can be appreciated without adherence to a standardized hierarchy of importance.

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Disneyland – China’s Interesting Tourist Industry

Chengyang Villages – Famous for their Wind and Rain Bridges. Like many Chinese towns with some cultural wealth, this group of towns charges an entry fee, though reportedly, the fee does not go to the people, but rather the government. The area remains in constant renovation as the Chinese tourism machine moves in.

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).

I could possibly do a whole blog on mistranslated signs that I found. I think I will...

I could possibly do a whole blog on mistranslated signs that I found. I think I will…

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.

Around 20km away from Yangshuo, unlike the other famous stone bridge, Dragon Bridge, this 600 year old marvel remains unscathed by tourism and the fleets of river boats. The question is for how long?

Around 20km away from Yangshuo, unlike the other famous stone bridge, Dragon Bridge, this 600 year old marvel remains unscathed by tourism and the fleets of river boats. The question is for how long?

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.

The Do’s And Do Not’s of Bike Travel As I See It – Part Uno

Do and Do Not List seem to be popular these days, as reading has become somewhat of a lost art. Kidding. There are just not enough hours in the day to read elaborated written paragraphs, so I thought I’d try at least one point form list of travel via velo:

DO – updated your passport. If it looks like mine aka waterlogged, an over-read novel, a coffee coaster, you may have issues at the border of certain countries and they may try to deny you access. Not to name any names, Croatia.

DO NOT – Pet the wild life. This isn’t a zoo and certain animals that seem cute and cuddly, are most definitely not. Specifically DOGS. To you it may look as if some kind owner trusted his best friend to run around off the leash with a bunch of his pals. No. These are wild dogs. They want to eat you. Don’t let them eat you by using cutesy voices and trying to lure them to you with food. They will eat the food and then you are desert.

DO – Talk to people. Anyone and everyone is worth getting to know, whether briefly or over a pint. If language fails, beer never does. Humans, in general, communicate beyond language barriers with hand gestures, charades and laughter. It doesn’t matter if you can’t ask him or her about the adverse effects of the rise of neo-facism in his or her country. I shared a wonderful moment in Romania drinking with some Serbian priests and laughing at who knows what. You can have that much fun too, if you just keep open, listen and respond a lot. The worse thing that could happen is that don’t respond or chase you with a weapon of some sort. The second option, from my experience, doesn’t happen to much, unless that weapon is ice cream.

DO NOT – Be culturally insensitive. World War One monuments are not jungle gyms and religious icons aren’t photo ops for getting your cleavage pic with Jesus. Some people will tend to ignore you, even though inside their head they are running at you with a pick axe. Some may actually run at you with a pick axe. Not only does cultural sensitivity rely on your common sense, but it also begs you to learn a thing or two about the place you are visiting, so that you don’t blurt out something that is rude, disrespectful or in some cases, could have you trying to learn the phrase “not guilty” in a foreign language.

DO – Learn the traffic rules and regulations. They aren’t the same all over the world. In some places, bicycles rule the roads, yet in others cyclists live parelous lives in a world of no signs, lights or lanes. Only bike in areas that fit your comfort zone. Exiting that point  blank may add unwanted stress, panic attacks and a silly mistake that could prove not good at all. I am not saying to challenge your comfort level, because that is a very important thing if you want to get anywhere besides your back alley, but always have an experienced cyclist with you, to spot you, talk to you, and lead you in the ways of pedal wisdom.

DO NOT – Click click click photos like it is part of some part of automatic, necessary response system. People always look so desperate to capture moments and will do pretty much anything they can to get that right shot. There are a few problems with this. The first, being, that while you may have captured the image of a moment, and even color corrected later to the proper exposure and tone, a camera has no functional quality in capturing the feeling of a moment. Since you are taking the picture, you also reduce your chances of just being in the moment, taking in the smells, feeling the gentle breeze at the top of the Eiffel tower, really admiring a piece of art, nature or architecture. You then can only remember the moments in between the pictures and nothing beyond the pint size image your glued to in your view finder. And to be honest, the awful truth to some who think they are taking the most unique photograph the living earth has ever witnessed, will be distraught to realize that millions of pictures have been taken, from every angle you can think of, of all historic monuments, natural phenomena and other tourist interest points that you visit. I recommend being selective of what you shoot, because later, when you are sifting through your 8 billion photos, thanks to the digital age of mass proportions of knowledge, the images will quickly stream by with little care to what they were and are. Take photos of things that spark your interest, details, funny people, human moments, friends doing things, meals, a non-tourist destination. Those are the moments that you can use photos to jog memories, but again, they can never replace them.

DO – Explore. Seems simple, but most people are drawn to the big signs that say “YOU MUST SEE THIS THING BEFORE YOU DIE” and then tend to ignore everything else. For me, I think it is important and interesting the see and understand a place beyond what the tourist bureaus tell you to go to. Go inside buildings that look fascinating, find out from locals cool neighborhoods, follow odd signs that catch your fancy, go beyond the map of the city centre, with all it’s advertisements for rip off restaurants and silly guided tours (not all silly, but sometimes they are substitutes for a lazy type of 5 star tourism that does not appeal to me).

Tuzrakter in Budapest. I stayed here due to the wonderful international community that is couch surfing.

 

DO – Couch surf. I won’t get into the grand scheme of couch surfing philosophy, but to get an in depth, personal and cultural experience that is unique to the individual perspective of the person you are staying with, this is the best way to go. This is the only way to be part of the local scene, go to the best local haunts, try the best local cuisine, see a slice of everyday life among thousand year old church spires and plazas. Maybe play golf in Lyons? Irish dancing in the Czech Republic? Who knows!.

DO NOT – Wear bike gear or purchase bike “stuff”, that you aren’t comfortable wearing or using. Okay, tools may be excluded from this, but clothing and pedal type and panier placement, that is all a personal choice. If you are going for 16 hours a day and you hate the sound of rain pants to the point that the swishing sound gives you a headache, chances are you should not wear them. The travel portion should be as just as much fun and stress free as the places you visit.

BE SPONTANEOUS! EAT NEW FOODS! MAKE FRIENDS! TALK TALK TALK! HAVE FUN! LAUGH UNTIL YOU ACHE!

http://www.couchsurfing.org

– Ira

Part Deux – A Very Biased Opinion on What to Bring on a Long Haul Bike Trip

With GPS, I would have never found this random Church!

 

So GPS, is a nyet for me. So what should you bring on a long haul bike trip that I think is vital for survival and sanity? Alright, here it is, I can do this…Two more things to add to your bike list

With all of the following stuff…make sure that at least the bike repair stuff is new. The paniers, the bike, etc etc can be hand me downs, but if you are even thinking about replacing a shotty tube with it’s equally as shotty brother, you are going to hulk smash something or someone sooner rather than later.

1. A Bike Pump – This is one of those things, along with a Patch Kit that you most definitely cannot skimp on. A friend of mine learned that the hard way. Pop goes my wheel and my friend offers me her handy dandy, generic, completely made of plastic pump. The purpose of a pump for this cyclist, in layman’s terms, is to fill my tube (inside you wheel) full of air and make my bike happy to ride again. Well, for with this little blue devil, being a helping hand was not in the cards. POP! Part of the bike pump is launched into a German cornfield, almost making it’s way directly into the noggin of an unsuspecting cow (or maybe it did suspect something, I think it’s just in their demeanour to always look lost). Make sure you know what your tube’s valve (the metal part you attach the pump to) type is. There are a few types, which I shall explain later in Numero 2.

A patch kit is also a very important thing to have with you. While there are many ways to jerry up a substitute (with pieces of rubber, glue…twist ties…I’ve heard many interesting inventive choices) nothing beats the actual thing. It’s the choice between tobogganing in the snow or tobogganing down your stairs. The end result with a real patch is lasting results and no surprise ending. Also patch kits come with everything you need, including the sandpaper and the adhesive, so you don’t have to play Inspector Gadget. Both a pump and patch kit can be bought at pretty much any bike shop or Canadian Tire.

By the way. This is not a bike pump, this is a pumped bike:

2. Xtra Tubes – That’s just an extra tube…I’m trying to be cool with the kids (last time I was cool with the kids, staircases was a rad type of haircut). First off, with the tubes and wheels that on your bike currently, there are a few things you should know. These are basic, kiddlings. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t know about ’em either. Puncture Proof. Know if your tires are puncture proof. If they aren’t, I would highly suggest you pick up a pair of puncture proof tires. Just go into any bike shop and say that you are going to do a bike tour and they will say the same. Unless you have a fetish for patching tires, sitting on the side of the road, ear to your tube, trying to hear air escaping above the sound of whizzing cars, then please, please, please get puncture proof tires.

Okay. Now that I got that out of my system. I can get to your tubes. Make sure your bike tube valves match your bike pump. Some bike pumps can pump numerous types of valves, but some do not. I recommend getting the multiple system pumps, just in case you find yourself on the road with the other option as your only replacement. Here are your options:

Schrader Valve

Presta Valve

Learn these well, the names are quite universal. Also, dependent on what country you are traveling to, one valve type may be more common than another. Just do a quick search on the inter-ma-nets and stick with the most popular valve type.

3. Paniers – Do not try to do a bike tour with a backpack, please, or by the end of it you will be as bent over as that perverted old man in Family Guy (talking about his physique, not his perversion). I did the backpack thing and could barely lift my head while riding to see straight. I looked like a reject costume for the Rocketeer movie and was in constant pain.Each person has their preference for paniers and their setup. I am a big fan of zippers (even though they break) and only doing back paniers, because for me, less room to store stuff means less crap I decide is necessary to haul along with me and weigh me down. Lots of compartments means more places to separate things into some form of organization, but it also means that banana you forgot about two months ago may be the culprit for why your panier smells like a dead or dying skunk. Whatever setup you try, test it out before the big send off day. While wear and tear is a way of life, starting off on the wrong foot can be avoided.  Make sure the securing system to your rack, actually secures the paniers. All you need is one of them to fling off, mid pedal, into traffic behind you (or into that unsuspecting/possibly suspecting German cow).

More to come with Part Trois!