As the number of our species grows, greater becomes the need for the tolerance of others and the understanding of ourselves.
智 忍 慈 愛
It’s been too long. The last time Kerrie and I were in HK was in July of 2014. Yeah, a year ago, but still, it seems like yesterday. The trouble with being so close with people all over the world is that they’re all over the world. I wonder how big of a house I’d have to have to throw a house party with every single friend and family member I had.
That’s enough of Asia for one sitting, I think. It was China for three weeks, one week off, and then Japan for two weeks., yesterday at one a.m., we get back from a fortnight in Japan.
The one country in the world that I would certainly live in forever. Taiwan too; I could live in Taiwan. This time in Japan we travelled from Nagoya all the way down to Kagoshima on the southern tip of Kyushu. We took several students with us this time and finished off the last night with a Karaoke birthday party. Happy Birthday, Miguel.
Just got back on Friday at 1 a.m. Slept Friday. Work Monday.
Good to relax. Until next time, Japan. I’ll miss you.
You have not heard from me in about three weeks, right? ‘Tis true; I’ve been away. “Where?” you ask. Soul, China, HK, and back to the U. S.
Here’s the rundown of my past three weeks.
Time: 21 days
Seoul – Wish I could have seen more here. But, I’m glad I’ll get to do that with Kerrie. The truth is we were in the hotel (a nice one) and working for two days straight before we had a little bit of time outside and in country. But, what we did see was pretty cool. Here’s a little snippet of that night. The bar was the major attraction of the evening.
Dalian – The next day we went to Dalian, China. It’s in the North of China. One of my impressions of the city was that it covered a lot of area. There was a lot of space, and things were full of surprises. On one morning, I had to step outside the hotel and see what was going on outside. I took a stroll and found something like these. You’ll notice the Convention Center of Dalian (a huge silver building, lighted up at night) which covered a lot of space. Overall, a nice town with good seafood.
Beijing – The Northern Capital is a place you have to see at least once, preferably outside the hotel. I was happy to meet up with an old friend of mine. Rui took us up an down 王府井 (Wang Fujing) road and I was able to procure and purchase a pair of swimming trunks in under a minute. We had a wonderful Hong-Kong style dinner and then just a few hours to chit chat. So good to see her. Oh, and I tried scorpion. Tasted like a potato chip.
Shanghai – We were in a beautiful area of the city. It was called the Bund. A usual spot for the foreigner, yet sadly an area where many people were trampled during the New Year’s celebrations. That seems like a nice lead into my next sentence. Shanghai – overall a pretty cool place. There are lights, nights, Chinese vibes, and a shit ton of foreigners who like to act like they run the place. We were only there for a few days, but were able to go out for a night or two and enjoy.
Shenzhen – There is a marketplace right next to the Hong Kong boarder called the Hu Luo Center. It’s just a large hollowed out building with shops filled in it from the floor to the ceiling. Once you’re inside, there are people trying to sell you everything from hats and wallets to manicures and faux crocodile handbags. Everything. They got it all, and it’s for a price. I’m not too big on the haggling thing, so I’m probably not the best kind of person to patronize these places. What did I start off with? Strawberries. My companions went on to purchase a whole heck of a lot of other things, but at the time I wasn’t really into getting anything. What did I really need?
I wish I could have seen more of Shenzhen, but we just weren’t there long enough to see some other parts. But, you know what? What we saw is what we saw and I was happy with it. There was a great pool in the hotel and I took advantage of it each morning for a nice refreshing swim. That’s really my only impression of Shenzhen – all I really have to comment on. The area of town in which we were situated surely wasn’t the best representation of the city, which itself is vast and filled with all variations of things that relate to things outside of the very Western-Hotel environment I was in.
Hong Kong – Simply stated, it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. I don’t say this merely because I have very close long-time family/friends there, but just because of the way the city works, and how it’s basically very different from much of the Mainland. It’s a beautiful bustling port city with all kinds of activity going on every day and every night. The city and the denizens thereof have long attempted to establish a culture and social design of their own, separate from that of China.
I had some time to get out and be a part of the city. We went out and had some lunch, toured a beautiful area of Hong Kong called Sai Kong (known by many as the last garden in Hong Kong). The drive was green, plush, and without the ubiquitous traffic jams that are normally a part of this region of the world. Barbecue grills lined areas of the street, dotting the foreground of the coastline that followed us. After we were done with that, the day was falling and coming to a close. Wai Wai and I headed back to New Town Plaza in Shatin and stopped by a music store. We lamented the fact HMV had sold out or been replaced with another sort of generic cd warehouse. Whatever. I was able to get a 3-cd set of Beyond. Love them!
Finished off the evening and the trip by spending time at the Chan house eating 上海麵 and hanging with my people.
Chengdu – this was my first time and I was happy to be there. The town was dark and full of a certain mist that I had heard is omnipresent in the city. Historically, Chengdu falls in a particular part of Chinese culture. One claim to historical fame is in the fact that Chengdu has never once crumbled since Ancient China. That is to say that many ancient cities are no longer, but Chengdu is still there. I think I have that fact correct, but I may be wrong.
Hot Pot is supposedly a big issue in Chengdu as it’s a part of Sichuan (四川省) province. And, guess what. It was the one thing I didn’t try. I figure I can get Shabu Shabu in Japan when I leave on Tuesday. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure the food is great. Oh, also there’s this other thing that I thought was weird – rabbit head. They eat that shit. Yeah, they throw bunny heads into pots of boiling water and gnaw off the meat! Serious. The people were great. The city was really pretty, what I saw of it, that is. Other than that, there was one last thing I had to see and I made it happen – me and the Maoster.
And BOOM – that was it. It was over. In the blink of an eye it was like it never happened.
Whoa! What an experience.
Life, the Orient, and everything after – love this shit!
A departure beginning with an embrace,
A frigid evening, a driver,
The black back seat, my own silence,
My own space,
An airplane ride,
Commotion, all things foreign,
The hanging smiles bewilder me,
Crossing miles, I’ve crossed cultures,
Days occupied with meetings,
Shackled am I underneath the formalities,
Of these business layers,
And at night, each night, all I do is miss you,
“It’s only three weeks,” they say,
“You can do that in your sleep.”
My head nods, my heart hangs,
Transcontinental flights, 13 hours away.
I’d go longer to see you.
Does my return begin the same way?
We’re staying at the Hyatt on the Bund in Shanghai and what a view! There’s a pretty nice bar at the top. Lights are dim, red and there’s always some degree of fervor created by the patrons there. Tables are taken up and, with the exception of the one or two lonely empty seats, most bar seats are occupied under either a dimly lit table or the more contemporary snazzed-up bar proper.
But then there’s a staircase. It curves around from the just outside the bar and winds in a curve upwards to another level – the highest. From there is where the view is panoramic, and Shanghai at night is a sight to see. You get to the top of the staircase and have to exit the bar to an outdoor patio. It’s nippy, but certainly bearable. There are tables and even beds out pushed up against the outside glass – the only wall between the top of the building and what would be a long, but eye-pleasing drop to the still ebullient streets of the metro below.
Yeah, beds and a hot tub. I’m not sure what kind of environment they were all going for here when they designed it, but, it looks like they were satisfied with it.
The view is great here. There’s the radio tower (the one with globes of varying sizes as it rises), and other beautifully colored buildings surrounding it. The area here is called the Bund. There’s a river here and commercial buildings, shopping, and entertainment all along it for miles. It’s a nice walk, if you have the time.
I just learned several days ago about the young woman in Oregon, Brittany Maynard, who has chosen to end her life on November 1st of this year. If you don’t know the story, you can read the rest of this piece or go to her web site.
Her story started with headaches, minor at first, and then stronger and stronger until they were unbearable. Who knows how many times she went to see a doctor. Think about it, every time you go to a new doctor, you just want him/her to tell you that the previous six doctors didn’t know what they were talking about – you’re gonna be fine.
But it’s not, at least not according to the seventh doctor. Maybe an eighth?
Brittany’s condition was one of those rare beasts which asked the medical professionals to reach into the dusty section of their bookshelves, and thereafter figure out how to tell the family the unpleasant news.
“You have cancer – one of the worst.”
“Six months at best.”
From a social standpoint, can it get worse? Sure. She’s 29, and she just recently got married.
The short and sweet of it is that Brittany thought about it and thought about it, and in the end decided she didn’t want to put her family through that. With the support of her family and friends, she came to her own decision, that she would end her life on November 1st this year.
In understanding Brittany’s story, I look again at the silly notion that some countries have suicide is illegal, or at least any attempt at suicide is illegal. Why? I don’t get it. Okay, don’t kill anyone else; yeah, I get that. Every person life is their own and no other person has any other right to take the life of another. Got it.
But what’s the deal with making it illegal for someone to take her/his own life? What do you care? I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but if someone wants to go, there’s no one, family or otherwise, who has any right to tell them that they’re not allowed. Their life is their own.
I find myself in admiration of those who see their road ending prematurely and choose to ride it out to the end, simply because its their road to walk and no one else’s. They don’t want to switch paths; they don’t want to ride on someone else’s path; and they don’t want to spend the time trying to go against the Universe and make a completely new path – one the Universe never intended them to have in the first place. There is a great deal of admiration I have for these people. Aside from Brittany’s tale, how many of these types of people have you heard about? It’s not all that often that we get to hear of people who take full responsibility of their lives at all costs.
The reason I say this is because the goal for most in our society is live a long life. We often forget that along with the ‘long’ bit we want to live a healthy live. It’s not so much important to live long as it is to live well. But that’s beside the point. The thing is, in her video she talks about what she’s doing to enjoy life before she passes.
She talks about what it is like going through this. Her parents talk about it, how hard it is to deal with it, and amid all of it, there is a constant return to how much pain there is involved. But the pain mostly comes from her parents (her mom). Brittany herself seems to be at peace with it all, which seems natural in a sense. It’s sort of the kind of strength one would expect her to show considering her state.
She has talked about what she has decided her final resting place to be, where she will pass, who will be there, the music that will be playing. It’s almost romantic in its finality.
We wonder, when we hear stories like this, what it must be like for the family, her husband, certainly, to whom she has been married for a year now. What is it like for them, those who will be around her when she passes, being there with her, to hold her hand and watch her transition from the world of the living into whatever comes after that.
It’s weird even for me, to write this about her here and now. I’ve never spoken with this girl, never heard of her, and if she weren’t terminally ill, I probably wouldn’t think twice about her. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, of course, but just seems like it’s the truth. But here I am writing this about her now, and I feel somehow connected to her. Not that we understand each other, but that there is a wavelength, a thread, somewhere in the picture, the picture that none of us have been able to make out in our human history. I feel connected to her in that I’m connected to all of us, as we all are connected to one another, and I am saddened by the forthcoming loss of a piece of my spirit. John Donne said it so poignantly in his poem No Man is An Island.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind,
I write this in celebration of Brittany Maynard. You inspire me and I have a great deal of admiration for you. Thank you for another reminder of how beautiful and precious life is. May blessings and love sing you into eternity.
“大家好!” (da4 jia1 hao3*)
These were the first words my Mandarin instructor greeted the class with when I first stepped into Chinese 101 at the University of Hawai’I Manoa somewhere around 1999. Cutting to the chase, I’ve maintained study in the dialect (Mandarin. There is no true “Chinese language.”), but before June of this year, had not really spent any considerable time in a Mandarin-speaking country. But, that has since changed.
We took a 3.5-week hiatus from all things North American and journeyed to the Far East for a nice sojourn in China and Taiwan.
BEIJING – 北京
After a six-hour layover in Moscow, we opened with Beijing, arriving at one in the a.m. without a ride. Shuttle service to our hotel (three minutes away) stopped running at midnight, and the meterless taxis either didn’t know where it was (despite the printed address in my hand) or charged too much. But we learned about the prices afterwards. The gentleman who finally agreed to take us charged 200RMB. Was that a good deal? Kerrie and I looked at each other and shrugged. Sounded like it may have been cheap. Sure.
… it wasn’t.
First impressions – thumbs down.
Let’s just get some sleep and discuss in the morning.
Our time in the capital was limited to a total of three days and we woke up at around 5:00 a.m. the same day (body clocks were jacked) and made our way for the Great Wall. From the airport, we made our way into Beijing and went another couple of rounds with the illegal taxi groups – the ‘black cars’ as they were affectionately known. No; we won’t mess with that again. There had to be a bus. There was, and thank the gods; the heat was just too much.
The trip to the Great Wall (of the many entrances available, we were headed for八达岭 ba1 da2 ling3) was short and air-conditioned. All seats were filled with either other tourists or students on a school trip. Once we were there, it was just a matter of doing what everyone does at this architectural marvel – walk. I can’t venture to guess how far we walked. We just wanted to take in the experience. It was up and down, and flat, and jagged, and full of people, heat, and incredible scenery. And for some reason, people were coming up to me asking me to hold their children and take pictures with them, using their cameras. When did I reach celebrity politician status?
Tiananmen Square was next. It was bigger than I imagined, and on the day we went to see Mao’s body, it teemed with people. I laughed at how many bag checks there were. This wasn’t just at Tiananmen Square either. It seemed that no matter where you went, you had to check your bags. Subway station? Bag. Getting on a bus? Bag. Tiananmen? Bag. Bathroom, restaurant, need tissues/chopsticks/chips? Bag.
They rushed us through so quickly that I really couldn’t make out whether his ear was truly falling off or not like the rumors were saying. Cool experience, nonetheless.
The city is chalk full of so many beauties, and though we were happy to have been able to get to all the known tourist destinations, we certainly were saddened not to be able to see more of what the city had to offer.
SHANGHAI – 上海
Shanghai was next and we knew it would also be a swift stint of sightseeing. Definitely in possession of more of a cosmopolitan feel than Beijing, this city On The Ocean seemed to be in full developmental bloom, and as I had long heard, fashion and shopping were perennially en vogue.
There was an anomaly which seemed to catch our attention on the first day there, however, and that was the Jing’an (静安寺)Temple. It was the location of the temple which caught us off guard. It’s Shanghai, right, so you’re thinking high rises, commercial edifices, municipal/civic buildings, maybe some parks. You think of temples too (it’s China), but you just don’t think of them being in the middle of the city, which was where this particular temple was – in the middle of the city. There were the high rises, buildings, etc., on all sides, and in the middle of all of that was this revered temple called ‘jing an’ (literally: Quiet Peace). It was inlaid and constructed with beautiful golden materials so that it shone in the middle of the day. The architecture on the inside was very pretty, intricate, and worth the visit.
There’s this saying in Mandarin which states that ‘Heaven is above, and Suzhou and Hangzhou are below,’ equating these two towns to Paradise. Suzhou was pretty. We only had a few hours there (took a tour), but the places that we saw were very nice. There were some gorgeous gardens in this small town, and the river tour was excellent.
For the Western tourist, you’re used to quietly touring – that is, touring on your own and going at your own pace.
Doesn’t work that way in the Chinese world; they’re talking all the time. The bus ride was fine until the tour guide got on this microphone at the head of the bus and speakers above us rained down an ear-splitting cacophony that made me afraid. It was as though the voice of an angry god were unleashing some loud fury upon my ear canals
…and it didn’t stop.
It was all-day thing. Every time we got back on the bus, we had to listen to this man yell at us. <sigh>
So that was fun.
No, seriously though, Shanghai was great, and there was quite a bit to do in the city if you’re into fashion and modern China. If you want to meet the old China, it’s just a short trip outside the city.
HONG KONG – 香港
One of my favorite places in the world, Hong Kong delights. We flew in at around noon from Shanghai (we must have somehow booked a flight run by the same company as our tour group because again, speakers of loud cacophonous demonic advertising invasiveness hovered above us the whole flight – sucked), and took an easy airport express into Kowloon. Our hotel, the BP International, was superb, located in the middle of the city, with easy access to everything (busses, subway, trains, food, prostitutes, more food…it was great).
We were in the city a total of nine days and were able to meet up with some long-time family-friends and enjoy many of the marvels of this incredible international port city.
One of the first stops was the Great Buddha (大佛) statue at the very edge of the MTR network on Lan Tau Island. If you’ve ever read the timeless book Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse (the all-blue paperback from the ‘90s), there is a representation of Buddha on the cover. This Great Buddha in Hong Kong was the one used for the cover of that book. At least that’s the story we got, and we believe it, so that’s that (I just tried looking it up and I got nothin’… so must be true).
During my time at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), I did a presentation on Macau**, and was fascinated by it. I knew that, at some point, I would have to go there, to be there, to see it. And that’s what we did – woke up early and took the nearest MTR (subway) to the ferry port, hopped on a ‘super ferry’ and rode over to Macau.
All of the ferries I’ve been on, apparently, had no balls. They were pussy ferries. I say that because when we were on this ferry, I asked if I would be able to get out and walk around on the outer deck. My dear friend, WW (蕙蕙) told me that it wasn’t the way it worked there. The inside of the boat should have given me a clue – it was the same seating arrangement as the airports (assigned seats, seatbelts, drinks, etc.). And once that thing was out of HK harbor, it moved.
We were in Macau in 30 minutes because our boat was a rocket.
I had to gamble in Macau because:
A: I didn’t know when I would be back (knew I would be, just didn’t know when) and,
B: I had to say that I had gambled in Macau.
So, I played Craps until I was up $30US (~500HKD). SWEET!
We then proceeded to take several busses into Taipa (氹仔) to see the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The walk was quick and we were on a time crunch, sadly. But we did it. Portuguese architecture was omnipresent there, noticeable in everything from building exteriors to the black-and-cream tiled walkways of the plazas abutting the ruins themselves. We did not have the time to examine any of the local cuisine, which wasn’t that much of a loss for me. I know Macao will happen again, and when it does, I’ll be waiting.
The food was unreal in Hong Kong, and there was a limitless supply of it. Kerrie and I are vegetarian, but our dietary ethos is modified a bit when we travel. We tried every part of the pig, I think…well, I guess not every part of the pig, but a liberal portion. It was Kerrie’s first time to try chicken feet, which she enjoyed. And yes, she’ll tell you that personally if you ever ask her about it.
The time, as always, flew by, and nine days later, we were on our way to our last stop in Asia.
TAIPEI – 台北
Japan has always held a special place in my heart, and Taiwan, in many ways, brought me back there. There are reasons for this, on which I’d rather not take time to spend on here, but let’s just narrow it down to location and history for the time being.
It wasn’t as hot as it was in Hong Kong, but Taipei was still heated.
We were able to see the respective memorial halls of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, which were nicely presented and well-guarded. At each of these exhibits, there are two fully uniformed guards facing each other on pedestals. They are frozen, mannequins, positions they hold for an hour, at which point they have to be relieved. There are red ropes, and onlookers are given peremptory commands to turn off their flashes. The ceremony can then begin.
Taipei is a city of convenience and we found there to be much more social order and courtesy than in Mainland China. I mean, you can sit there and argue that places like Japan and Taiwan are small, and you’d be right. Geographically, they are small, but they also know how to make effective, efficient, and frugal uses of their resources. Public transportation is easy and convenient, the general populous is made up of gregarious people who are courteous hosts, and there’s no real feeling of being rushed.
We patronized more night markets and sucked down more bubble teas than we could count, and we loved it.
It would be a lie to tell you that I’m well-versed in the area of evening entertainment in Asia. But I will say that in my non-well-versed experience, no one does the night market better than Taiwan. It’s just something they’ve perfected over the (100+) years. There are tons of people huddling and shifting down a main walkway buttressed by small single stalls and stands selling foods of varied shapes and scents – everything from mouthwatering melon slices on skewers to sausage plates or noodle-and-vegetable dishes.
Regarding Stinky Tofu –
I’ll cut to the chase. Since I was young, I have loved food and can eat anything. For many years I have heard of the “stinky tofu,” and how it tastes better than it smells. This I have believed. I thought, when I go to Taiwan, I’m going to try this stuff, and I’m gonna love it.
I was wrong.
I tried it, and yes (by perhaps a degree) it tastes better than it smells.
But, let’s just say that it’s not my favorite and call it good.
I wish we had time to go to Hualian; I really would have liked for Kerrie to see it. It just wasn’t the right time on this trip, and there’s so much to see in Taiwan outside of Taipei. We love this city.
We flew back to Seattle via Seoul, and were content to know that we filled our time with wonderful memories and beautiful people.
Mainland, Hong Kong, or Taiwan – if you have even the slightest desire, you must go.
* – in Mandarin, each utterance, each Chinese pictograph carries its respective tone, numbering 1 to 4.
** – the proper noun is spelled (properly) as ‘Macao’ in English, though it is more commonly seen as ‘Macau.’
Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m in Portland, ME, but I’m not writing about Portland, ME right now. I’m writing about me being tired and still writing at some weird (but, at the same time, great) “business center” in the Hampton Inn at midnight – yes, midnight. Actually 14 minutes past midnight. I’ve had my hot chocolate and my bowel movement, and it’s almost time enough for me to head back to the room and complete my slumber for the evening. Oh, more importantly I came down to the hotel’s “business center” to get some writing in, my daily dosage, actually, and I did.
We drove something like five to six hours to get here today and tried a fantatic place for lobster. Yes, lobster, it was the entire reason we drove that long and risked that much sleep deprivation to get here. I’m still experiencing that. Tomorrow, after I wake myself from this soon-to-be-incredible slumber, there will be some sight-seeing, some more seafood, and probably …I don’t know..probably some pictures taken or two.
Okay, bed time.
Family’s been in town, and starting tomorrow, family will continue to be in town. Spring Break is how things are working out for us, and life is all kinds of good in that regard. My brother just jumped ship and headed back to ABQ today. They (he and his wife) were out partying in the Hamptons, and in the process, we all spent somewhere over 18 hours playing Dungeons & Dragons…and yes, it was spectacular. Just wanted to pass along an update.
Another set of family to arrive tomorrow night. We go to Costco and dinner before then.
More later. For now, however, I roll for a Spot Check.