Wednesday, May 21, 2003

China Unmasked 8

Hello My Friends,

Well I truly feel like a diplomat now.

Monday, I went to the Forbidden City. Opted not to get a tourguide and used my guidebook and the signs to get around. Again, there were not very many people and I had lots of time to marvel, take photos, sit down and wander aimlessly wishing I had a guide to tell me what was what. The place is huge (so huge it has a Starbucks inside - seriously - and yes, I think that should be forbidden) and, if you had to be the Emperor of China and holed up somewhere, it was not a bad place to be holed up.

Same for the Summer Palace. Went Tuesday sans guide and wandered around in temples and gardens and along the lake. Saw a boat made of marble and the grand stage where Emperess Dowager Cixi used to hang out and watch the opera. I'd tell you more about her if I could but...

Tried to go to one last temple but it was closed. Turned out to be good as I then went to arrange a tour to the Great Wall and spent an hour walking up and down Jianguomen Beidajie like a Macau hooker, trying to get a cash advance on the visa to pay for the tour and the hotel. Lordy.

Only one section of the Great Wall is open (Badaling) and police or local people prevent you from getting to the others. So I went today with the only option available to me - a private driver and private tour guide! It was really too much. But the guide was really friendly. She was the agent who set up the trip and usually she doesn't lead tours but she called some guides in their early 20s and their parents wouldn't let them do it. She is in her 50s and said even her mother-in-law asked her, "Aren't you scared of the girl who has been traveling all over China?", to which she replied, "Well, she's not scared of me and I'm from Beijing." And thus, an aliance was born.

We were two of very few tourists on the Wall. It was great, indeed. We spent 3 hours and were able to walk along two different sections. I took far too many pictures which I will have to edit then share. The wall follows the mountain like a spine or a snake laying across the top. It is pretty amazing to see.

After that we went to the Ming Tombs and even though they were only open for 10 more minutes, the ding dong people sold us a ticket then started closing everything. Sigh. I had told the guide while we were on the wall that I felt like a diplomat but the only thing I was missing was the secret service. Ask and ye shall receive. At the tombs... because we were supposed to be heading to the exit, not wandering around, two uniformed security guards started following us. The guide told me, "here are the guards just for you". It was funny.

Oh and the other day, I visited the Lionbridge office in Beijing (close to where I'm staying). The site manager was not there but everyone was really nice and they showed me around and I stayed there almost an hour talking with people. Very cool.

I will meet the Germans again for dinner tonight and then run home to pack as I found out my flight time changed and now I must leave tomorrow morning at 9:00. I guess this means no pickled corpse of Chairman Mao for me. ;(

Should be home Thursday afternoon and will start downloading all the pictures. After laundry. Because, lordy lordy, laundry really needs to be the first thing on my list.

See you soon!


Sunday, May 18, 2003

China Unmasked 7

Well, I am in Beijing on the last leg of my journey... hard to believe it's almost over.

I spent the last two days in Xi'an. "In defense of SARS" many things were closed and there were no organized tours (to help you see the spread out sites) so I had to take a bus to the Terracotta Warriors and get myself another private tourguide (a tourguide for money, do what you want me to do).

While there are usually 20,000 visitors to the site per day during this time of year, I counted 6 plus myself. Now I know what it must be like to be a foreign dignitary and have sites closed down so you can tour them alone. Anyway, there are 3 pits of warriors with the first one being most impressive. 6000 warriors in total, though only 2000 are uncovered right now. They are mostly destroyed and a team of 20 archeologists puts them together by site... taking 6 months for each one. Should be finished up in the next 40 years. They are very detailed with different facial expressions, uniforms and fingernails (well they have fingernails that is). Wild.

Oooh, plus, the poor dudes who put the warriors in the pit. Because the emperor wanted it to be a secret, they had to get shut in with the statues when it was all closed up. As did the concubines that didn't bear any children, which is I'm not sure how many out of the 3000 concubines homie had. 3000! Lordy.

Later, I putzed around in Xi'an proper, which has an excessive number of clothing stores and an absolutely unacceptable number of young girls wearing blue eyeshadow.

While there I went to Dayan Ta (Big Goose Pagoda). It was cool and I climbed to the top but I think I'm getting templed out. I also stumbled into this I don't know what but ended up walking down two long, dark, cold hallways which at times were guarded by statues of men with multiple arms, holding snakes and grimacing (and of course sort of in the dark so I started freaking out... too many horror movies). At the end was I think the crypt of Xuan Zang, this monk who translated all these scriptures he brought from India, but I could be makin' it up. I just know there was money and cigarettes thrown in front of it, it was guarded by lions and I was convinced the gates would close and no one would hear me scream (and cue music). It was spooky so I left but I still have no idea what it was.

In the evening I went into the Muslim quarter to walk around and get dinner. I was feeling like a dork because I ate breakfast at McDonalds and lunch at KFC (all sad but true) and stopped chosing food at a Chinese restaurant the day before because I saw "nutritious beef penis" on the menu and was afraid I might point to it by accident. Moving on.

Outside the restaurant, people were grilling up, what I beleive was lamb and possibly beef. I looked at the menu, which had English on it, and pointed to "sweet smelling and crispy chicken" thinking I would get some kabob-like thing. As it was hard enough to explain that "yes I wanted the chicken" and "yes I wanted rice, but only one, yes both but one of each" I didn't think I could ask how the chicken was prepared. Too bad. Crispy = dry, almost to the point of being unrecognizable if it wasn't for the head which remained on the plate. This is why I should only eat at places where you can point at a picture. I will never mock Denny's again.

This morning I flew into Beijing, went to an antique market and then wandered over to Tiananmen Square and watched people fly kites for awhile. I am getting good and lollygagging around. This way I will be able to leap into action when I am home.

Tomorrow night, I will meet the Germans from Yangshuo for dinner and try to figure out if the Great Wall is closed, which is what I hear but that makes no sense. Though, that doesn't mean it isn't true.

Since the internet is in the hotel, I should be able to check in once again before I head for home in a few days.

See most of you soon!


Tuesday, May 6, 2003

China Unmasked 6: Breakin' the Law

Hello My Friends!

I am back here in the bubble that is the Clifford Estates in Panyu and I am fine.

The last week... the shortened May holiday... I've been with Mary Kay in Yangshuo, just south of Guilin and the place that is always painted by artists. I can certainly see why.

There are a few rivers which intersect and cross through fields of mostly rice. Surrounding them are mountains that don't stick together so much in a range but seem to pop out of the ground individually like fingers reaching towards the sky. I named one, "Kristian flips off the Chinese government".

The 'Mountain Retreat' where we were staying was absolutely fantastic. Tucked away from the tourist area of Yangshou, we could sit out in front of the building alongside the river and watch the bamboo rafts float by. Most excellent.

So, we arrived Tuesday night and spent Wednesday hiking around the area then running into town for some shopping and food. Rumor had it that the town would soon be closed. Hmmm... I sense a trend.

The next day we took a bus to the town of Fuli (said 3 times like Fubu... and which we decided stood for 'for us lucky individuals') which was having a market. Lots of chickens in baskets, piles of medicinal twigs and berries and plastic shoes. Mary Kay bought a basket used for catching fish which made everyone think she was crazy. Could have also been the matching hat she bought.

Friday morning, we had made arrangements with a guide named George to go kayaking on the Lijiang river. He recommended we meet at 8:00 before people from the government were around. We thought he was kidding.

We take a bus into Fuli (okay once was nice but...) and go sit in someone's shop while he goes running by with the kayaks. He whistles to us and then tells us to put on the life vests as quickly as possible and paddle to the middle of the river... the government is here but temporarily distracted. Ah! Once we were on our way, it was great. There was hardly any traffic on the river (being that it was illegal to be there) and we half paddled and half floated for about 3 hours. It rained on us near the end of the trip but it was a warm rain. The worst part about it was that it made the streets of Puyi (our destination) quite muddy and since I was wearing flip flops, I flicked so much mud on the back of my legs it was nasty. I don't think it was good Calistoga type mud.

Feeling victorious, we take a bus, then cab back to the Mt. Retreat. At the turnoff, there are police in face masks and they prevent us from making the turn. It seems that all tourists are being kicked out of their hotels (after they've donated their money to the failing airline industry by flying into town...oh in Guilin, they look at you with some crazy camera to try and measure you body temperature I guess to see if you have a fever). We are not allowed to go and collect our things, we are told that someone from the hotel will pack them up and drive them out to us. Muddy. At the side of the road. With nowhere else to go. We begin minor flipping out. We try to convince one cop to escort us in, watch us pack, then escort us out. No go.

While we wait at the side of the road and try to stay calm and consider our options, two of the staff come down on the backs of motorcycles and the owner comes riding down on his bike. He is an American guy who has been in China for the last 8 or 10 years. This is very good. He talks to each cop. Government regulations, what can you do... they will lose face if they let us in. He explains, he will lose face if his guests can't come back, plus we haven't paid. Fine. We can go in, but must be out by 3:00. It is almost 2.

As we walk back with him, he explains that we will think of something else. Maybe we can stay in the villages with the staff from the retreat. Maybe we can start leaving when they arrive and then arrive when they leave. Also, he mentions, there are about 40 striking farmers at the retreat because they built a watershed on what the farmer's claim in their land. The gov't told the retreat to pay 5000 yuan (about $600) which they did but the farmers aren't satisfied.

We get back, there are yelling farmers everywhere, health people inside negotiating whether or not we have to leave. While we are taking showers, half packing just in case and talking to the other guests, the farmers go up to the watershed and start to throw tiles off the roof and take it apart and a man comes in wearing a lab coat, mask and surgical hat with full on Ghostbusters gear to spray the retreat. The farmers leave, the Ghostbuster leaves and we are allowed to stay... however, we can not leave the area because we are supposed to be gone and once outside, will not be able to come back in.

The next few days we go hiking up a mountain but miss the correct path and when it starts raining must turn around again so we don't slip slide to our doom. We meet a German couple living in Beijing and decide to go hiking with them on Monday.

On that 4 hour hike, we cross a bridge and realize that if we continue up this road we will run into a police blockade which is no good since we shouldn't even be in here and technically are breakin' the law, breakin' the law (duh da). We turn back and there are now people at the bridge who weren't there before. They don't know that we are going back to were we came from, they think we are entering for the first time.

A man in a yellow shirt starts yelling hello, waving that we can't go across and standing in front of us to block us. We say out loud (mighty convinient to be able to make your plans out loud) pretend like you don't understand and keep walking. He follows us for a bit and since we are not sure who he is or who he may call... we get off the main road and walk back through the rice fields, jumping over streams and going on a path up and over another mountain. Lordy.

The night before we leave, we find out our flight has been cancelled. We reschedule to a 3:00 flight with the airline, which we find out when we arrive at the airport, does not exist. The only flight to Guangzhou that day has left and Mary Kay needed to be back at school this morning.

We consider our options (train 13 hours arrives next morning, bus 9 hours arrives next morning, flight to Hong Kong arrives that night but no more ferry service to Guangzhou). In the end, we pay $200 US for a taxi to drive us from Gulin to Guangzhou (kind of like SF to LA). We will be refunded our flight money so it will only be $25 more each and certainly cheaper than a night in Hong Kong.

And here we are. Back at the Clifford Estates for a few days of laying low. So, I'm off to buy some food and do some laundry.

Sorry to have been out of touch for so long but it's hard to email when you're runnin' from the man.


Tuesday, April 29, 2003

China Unmasked 5: Meiguo Go Home

Hello My Friends,

Well, I got to Lijiang on Saturday night and went to get a room at a place I read about in a guidebook and I was told... we have rooms but we're not allowed to rent them to foreigners. Fortunately, I met a girl on the street who had a guesthouse and I was able to stay there on Saturday.

Sunday morning, I went walking around the Old Town as it was scheduled to close down any minute. It's got all these canals running through it and is home to the Naxi people. Imagine little wrinkled old ladies in blue Mao hats and blue skirts carrying baskets of whatever walking down cobblestone streets. Now mix in a little Fisherman's Wharf and you've got the picture.

When I went back to the guesthouse at 11:30.. I was told the police had come by and I basically had until 3:00pm to get outta Dodge because they would be swooping through again to make sure there were no foreigners (as we are now being pegged as the chief spreaders of SARS). There were only two hotels in the new town that would take us.

I went back to a cafe to eat before I had to leave and ended up meeting these two Australian women who saved me. They are living in Lijiang and speak Chinese. Long story short, we got me checked into one of the hotels and then all went on a bike ride. At 8000 ft. I was going pretty slow. We ended up going to one of the few restaurants that was open and belting out "My Heart Will Go On" from the Titanic while we ate... it was quite a moment.

I spent yesterday rearranging my plane tickets, going to the Black Dragon Pool Park (very scenic and nice without so many people) and then meeting the Aussies and some other people for some Sichuan hotpot. Basically put some boiling hot liquid on the table and then dump your food in it to cook.

Today I am in Kunming at a hostel Mary Kay recommended. The Aussies suggested I go to a different place but when I got there the guy asked for my passport. When he saw I was from Meiguo (that means beautiful country and USA) he told me they were booked. I asked if they were booked because I was Meiguo. He said no, we're booked. Then you could have told me that before you knew where I was from. Then he said... government regulations because of SARS.

China has swung from the extreme of denying there was a problem to now quarantining blocks of people, shutting down towns, relocating the foreigners, and frequently squirting everything with some chlorine solution. (My cab got squirted on the way into Lijiang). I don't think this is especially helpful.

So basically, I'm headed to Guilin tomorrow to meet Mary Kay and after that everything is flexible.

I am healthy and being careful and will let you know what happens.

Talk to you again soon.


Friday, April 25, 2003

China Unmasked 4

Hello My Friends!

First of all, thanks to everyone who offered to wire money. You'll be happy to know that I found a bank that will give me cash from my credit card (for a small fee). I'm stocked up for awhile and know that this is an option if I can't find an ATM that works for me.

Note: this ended up being a long one so... since it is Friday morning for most of y'all, I suggest getting a cup of coffee before you start reading this.

Someone please tell me why, when I'm not much of a trekker, why I think I can go trekking the minute I leave town?? And a question for the runners... do you think 16km is about 20 miles? If it is more tell me, if I am confused and it is less, don't tell me because I am amazed I hiked that far. But I am already ahead of myself.

So, Wednesday, Sarah the guide and I catch a 2 hour bus to Menghai, bus stop of the trough. For the boys who have complained about the trough at the Eagle, I now feel your pain. Imagine you go into a bathroom and there is a trough on each side. Step up and get situated so everything lines up the way it's supposed to and you don't fall through. While you have a little wall sheilding you from your neighbor on the side... there is nothing to keep you from seeing the person across from you. Except, I suppose, that you are supposed to be facing sideways. I have never gone to the bathroom so fast in my life. I'm sorry everyone in China has to talk about the bathrooms and spitting. Someone from a 2nd story spit on my arm tonight. The only thing that made up for it is I had this chicken (white meat, no bones) and ginger stir fry at a Thai restaurant for only $1.00. $1.50 if you count the soda.

So, then it's a bone jarring bus ride to Xiding – a one yak town if ever there was one. We get a room at the guesthouse, which is also the bus stop, and go to the restaurant in town for some fried pork and fried potatoes. Yum.

Afterwards we go walking around the mountains, which are covered with tea bushes, and Sarah starts playing her flute. It was all rather lovely, though she's not very good but I'm sure that fact will be romanticized away in time. Then, as the sun was setting, we started picking these little orange berries and eating them. They were yummy.

After the lights were off, every noise I heard, I was convinced the market was starting and it was time to get up. Knocking on another door, talking, tractor going up the hill, the whipping sound of someone convincing an animal to go up the hill. Between that and the hard as concrete bed, I didn't sleep much. Finally about 7:30 we got up and went to the middle of town (about 10 feet from the outskirts of town).

What had been an empty plaza the night before was now filled to the brim with people. Most of the people were Dai (the majority minority group down here) while others were Aini (who are Anka if you and they are in Thailand). The Aini women either had a red and white scarf on their head OR this fully decked out metal Grace Jones kind of headdress thing. It was cool - and yes, I took a lot of photos.

Mostly for sale was food. Vegetables, potatoes, honeycomb complete with bees, fish in a pile some still flopping, and pork sitting in the sun and cut to order. There were also shoes, shampoo, music, etc. for sale.

I ended up buying some bananas from this old woman who then sat me down in her seat and when I started trying to sell her bananas to passers buy, started giving me tea leaves, some fruit that was I don't know what and telling me that this fabric I bought could be used to make a purse like all the women had or a jacket or these leg warmers that they all wear. I started taking pictures with the digital camera, then with the polaroid... lordy it all broke loose with everyone wanting their picture. It was totally fun. Then the woman took my hand and started leading me around the market showing me what I could buy to eat and where to find a purse. She hugged me goodbye when we left.

And leave we did... after lunch, we began a 4 hour 16km hike. From 12-4... I'm convinced the hottest worst time of the day. Sarah started seeming more and more like David Carradine's kung fu character. She's got a shaved head and was wearing this little cone hat and she would just walk and walk and walk. Was I dead on the trail behind her? She don't know. I was not pleased.

At the top of the mountain, I was commenting on the lovely view and taking pictures of the valley... I didn't realize we were going to hike down into it! At one point, she decided to try a different route. This one went along the side of the mountain, through a field of banana trees (which was good because they were the only thing that stopped us from sliding all the way down) across a goat trail and finally to some flat land.

I must say, though. Once we finally got down there, it was like how you imagine China should be. Fields of sugar cane and rice with people farming them, yaks tied up to pole benefitting us all somehow with their chewin' and pooin'. We walked to this Dai village and when we got there Sarah realized that this wasn't the one she was aiming for. Fantastic. Now where do we sleep?

In China nothing is done right away, there seems to be a lot of beating around the bush. So, we hung out at this shop where little kids were laying on the pool table and the traveling doctor had pulled up her chair and was examining people as they came in from the fields.

Evenutally, Sarah started chatting this one lady up and that led to another and so on and so on. The breaking point was when an older lady (who wanted me to know she was 66) came up to me and said "Hello". Then she mimed that the berries I had just eaten would give me (from the looks and sound of it) explosive diarreah. Hooray. But now the miming and joking was on and soon the camera was out. It turns out, I was the first foreigner who had come through their village - and what a commotion. Pretty soon, there was the age exchange, more joking and a miming frenzy.

Just so you know, the fashion, if you want to be first on your block to have it... Easter bonnets and gold teeth. The gold teeth seem to be mostly the older women.... the other older women don't have so many teeth. And younger women seem to sport the Easter bonnets. Walking down the road, going to the store, working with the rice. Every day is Easter here.

We ended up staying with a family who had the traditional Dai house... wooden house on stilts with you in the top and the pigs and chickens living below you. No wonder why most of the flus start in China. They did have a recent addition of concrete which is where we slept - hot but no rats!

While we were sitting and I had convinced 10 girls to teach me how to count to 10 in Dai (all I remember is that 5 is ha and 6 is ho) I heard a banging and looked out the window. Papa was grabbing at an eel that was sliding across the floor and then banging it's head against a bowl where his brother lay already knocked out. Hmmm, I thought.

Later, we go into the stick house for dinner. I see the bowl with the eels which are now sliced open and covered in blood. Anyone going to rinse those off? No. Mama is going to take some stuffing that she just chopped up, put in in the flayed eel, bend it in half and tie it with bamboo. Then it's off to be deep fried in pork fat! How I wish I didn't see that. I convinced myself that if boling water kills germs, boiling oil must do wonders. It was actually tasty. It certainly was fresh. There was also some sour, hot green I don't know what, some beef, pickled radish and boiled cabbage. And lots of rice. It was good but I only ate a little as I was scarred by the woman's miming earlier in the day.

At 6:30 the next morning everyone was up and we had some sticky rice with many of last nights dishes plus fried up little fish (which I just couldn't eat) and fried pork skin (which I tried but I'll stick with potato chips). Even though the food was not my usual selection, it was amazing how hospitable these people were considering they didn't know us a few hours before we were in their home. The woman now has taped on her window a few polaroid pictures and a postcard of Chinatown.

We left and were going to have to walk 1.5 hours to the next town to catch a bus but two of the girls from the village gave us a ride on the back of their bikes. You have to let her get a running start then try to run up and jump on the back over the wheel and sit sideways. Now I landed wrong and my butt was too far forward so I was holding up my legs and using my backpack to try to balance. It was like doing a giant situp... but better than walking. After awhile, we had to get off. We walked some and then got a ride in the back of a truck - most excellent.

We came back this afternoon and I spent all afternoon walking around in the blazing heat getting my money and buying a plane ticket to go to Lijiang tomorrow. Though now I hear from Mary Kay and a travel agent in Kunming that all travel to Lijiang is banned and the sights will be closed. I'm in the same province so I think I can fly there but what will I do? Plus, if travel from province to province is banned, I don't know how Mary Kay and I will meet or how I will get out of Yunnan. More and more I feel like Patricia Arquette in that movie where she was in Burma and mostly she laid around looking hot and miserable and every now and then she looked at border guards wishing she could leave - that's all I remember but it's starting to be how I feel. I'll figure something out.

Oh, also. When you ask someone a question and the answer is "yes". No one says yes, they say "uh" or sometimes "uh, uh, uh" if they are trying to tell you, "yes, yes, that's it exactly".

So there you have it. Thanks for listening, thanks for writing back and I'll catch you with part 5 from Lijiang.


Wednesday, April 23, 2003

China Unmasked 3

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times?

Well, Monday morning, I rescued my ATM card only to have it still not work. I've got all the cash I have plus a loan from the bank of Mary Kay.

After accidentally spending $25 on brunch in the hotel where I got my card (not a good idea when you've only got $400) I took a cab to the airport, a bumpy plane to Kunming... sat around in the airport for 3 hours.. then took a plane to Jinghong, got a minibus to the $10/night hotel (which I hear someone else is only paying $5 for and I am being ripped off) and spent the evening getting sick (from my $25 brunch?). At least I have my own bathroom.

The next morning I got up and found a cafe where the guide I was looking for had moved to the US and there were no other tourists. Had some ginger tea and toast then found a place to send a whiny, panicky email to Mary Kay and became convinced I wanted to go home.

When I went back out in the afternoon... I found some other tourists from England, Germany & Canada and struck up some conversations. I also found the other guide that can take me to the Thursday market. So all is much better.

I went to some lame ass park where there were a bunch of peacocks, people representing the different minority groups in the area that were supposed to be dancing but just were sitting around listening to Chinese disco and then I was accosted by young girls who gave me a massage for $2.50, which was fabulous except My shoulders are sore from the one girls’ strong poky fingers. Ow...

The trek will be two days and will involve staying in a Dai family house, which is where Mary Kay stayed and heard the rats running around. Mm. Maybe it's not rat season anymore? Well, when in Xiding...

Last night I went by the night market at the foot of the Mekong river. People set up for you to shoot balloons, like at a carnival, a tent of young dancing girls in red skirts and little black bras who weren't really dancing but at least they weren't stripping, and Dai bbq. Pick out your fish wrapped in lemongrass or other meat and vegetable delights and they will cook it up for you right there. Also rows and rows of pool tables where people hang out and play.

Okay, I'm off to breakfast and then to try and cram 2 days of trekking requirements into a small backpack.

Catch up with you over the weekend.


I'll be back on Friday and have to let you know about it.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

China Unmasked 2

Hi All,

We've been reading the news about the jump in cases. Mary Kay is waiting to get confirmation about what will happen to her vacation from school.

I'm on the move to Jinghong this morning. I've got to take a bus to Guangzhou, try to get someone from the bank to get my ATM card out of the machine. (In China the numbers 123 are at the bottom so it is a bad idea to only remember the pattern of your PIN - do learn from my bad).

Friday I hung out at the Clifford Estates buying food at the store and watching the chickens butchered while you wait counter. Fascinating like a traffic accident only.

That night someone in Mary Kay's building had a Seder and we went and learned all about Passover. I also learned that wasabi makes a poor substitute for horseradish and when combinded with some apple and cinnamon concoction, I feel the bitterness indeed.

Saturday we went to another town and bargained up a storm at a market. I got a pig, which I've learned says something all about good fortune on it's head. Hooray. We also saw lots of horses with monkeys on their backs. Since I am the year of the monkey and Mary Kay is the year of the horse, she had to get one and I will look for another. Apparently, monkey and horse people are supposed to be good friends!

Saturday night was comedy and improv on the roof of their building. Most excellent and well received.

Yesterday, we had an Easter brunch complete with chocolate eggs, pancakes and mimosas! Then we took the bus into Guangzhou to go to the fabric market. I'm getting a suit made which is a copy of one from the J. Crew catalog. There it cost a little over $300. The cost for me buying the fabric and having it made? $38. So excellent. I'm also getting other stuff made and will pick it up when I swing back through town. After that, I lost my ATM and here we are.

I plan on going to Jinghong, then Lijang and hopefully meeting up with Mary Kay in Guilin but we need to see what happens.

I am being safe, washing my hands and do have the face masks and I will continue to do so.

This will probably be the last email for a few days until I figure out what's what at the next stop.

Talk to y'all again soon.


Thursday, April 17, 2003

China Unmasked 1

Hello My Friends,

I have arrived and I am fine. I'm hanging out in Mary Kay's apartment while she finishes school. When she's back it's yoga, food and massages!

The flight to Korea was only 12 hours, a nice surprise, as I was thinking it was much longer. Fairly uneventful and few face masks at this point.

After 4 hours of walking all over the airport, sleeping on the chairs, changing money and reading magazines, we finally left for Guangzhou. Some of the flight attendants were wearing masks and they handed them out to everyone on the plane. I would say 1/5 of people wore them... until we were ready to deplane. Then about 1/3 of people put them on, including me.

As I was filling out my quarrantine form, I contemplated checking the box saying I was having trouble breathing because I was. Not anything SARS related... wearing the facemask was like trying to breathe through a maxi pad. With wings! By the time I got to baggage claim, I was fogging up my own glasses and giving myself a heart attack so I took it off. I will try the ones I brought along... they don't seem so upsetting.

First impressions - Guangzhou is very grey. The sky is grey, the buildings are grey. Drying clothes hang from every balcony, without exception, like so many wind chimes. I tried not to pay attention to the driving, though I did notice that my cab was going faster than the ambulance. I've made a mental note on how to transport myself to a hospital.

The Clifford Estates are a bit of a plastic bubble separated from the giant city. Mary Kay's apartment is tiny but fabu. I'm about to find out how fabu her shower is.

So, until I have something more interesting to say, just know that I arrived and all is well.