Last Stops

All right, so my last big trip is coming up. Where will I be going this time? To China’s northeast (dong bei) region, hopefully in time to catch some fall foliage!

I will say that there are some marked changes between this trip and the last. One being TRANSPORTATION. Remember how in Qinghai, there were vast stretches of uninhabited land that was virtually inaccessible? Not so with China’s east coast! I was checking train tickets, and assumed that they would be slow ones that took well over 20 hours. But…surprise! There’s a high-speed train that gets there in 8. Just…high speed trains. Everywhere. The other, more subtle difference, is that I’m personally more restricted by budget and time. Much of this is because I’m a student, and so most of the trips I’ve taken in the past 2 years have had to undergo some creative gymnastics to even happen, such as volunteering in certain areas for a stretch of time. This time, I’ve been pretty choosey about what I’m seeing, and have definitely picked up some spare work to raise up some funds for what I assume will be an ungodly amount of dumplings. (Those files may have taken me a full week to translate, but it’s all for you, 饺子!)

But that’s not why you’re reading this. The real point: just where will I be going?

Like my trip in the summer, I’ll be starting with the Shanghai Literary Review people (who probably think I travel all the time now). For China’s National Holiday week, they’ve rented a villa in the water town, Zhujiajiao, to have a writing retreat. There will be activities, writing, and probably some BBQ. I’m not actually staying the full week with them, but for the last couple of days.

After that, I hop on a train and head to Panjin, Liaoning province, which is where seaweed grows red in their wetlands area. I’m coming at the tail end of the season, but have heard that the colors are at their best near the end. It’s always possible that I’ve miscalculated, which happens, but the wetlands sound nice anyway. Once in Liaoning, I’ll hop on over to Dalian, which is a big sea-side city that I’ve only ever heard people gush on and on about. I don’t think I even know what makes it special. I’ve read that people have seen UFOs, floating cities, and glowing beaches, but I’m guessing they were referring to the seafood.

Once out of Dalian, I’ll then go to Jilin. Now, initially, I planned on going to Changbaishan, which is a gorgeous ecological nature spot. It has a dormant volcanic crater lake on top of a mountain, which also serves as a border between China and North Korea. Plans have changed (and you can probably guess why). While I’d never planned on actually going to the border between the countries, given the recent political climate, I think I’ll just stay far, far away. Oh, and also because the recent nuclear missile tests out of North Korea have triggered seismic activity around the mountain, and some even say the volcano could erupt again. If you just read that last sentence and thought “Holy shit,” buddy I’m with you. (Also, fun fact: there’s a bunch of lore about a loch ness esque monster inside of the volcano…metaphor for North Korea? Let’s hope not). The likelihood of any of those doomsday scenarios happening? Pretty low. But, there’s no reason to tempt fate.

Luckily, Jilin is a big province, and so I can go there without being in close proximity to the world’s most insane country right now. (Seriously, Mom, don’t worry! So long as I’m well within Chinese borders, there’s no safer place in the world than China when it comes to NK). Sadly, the biggest and best thing to see in the province is FOR SURE Changbaishan, but I’ll also check out Jilin’s meteorite museum, go to some national parks to catch the red leaves, and (you guessed it) eat lots of NE food. Best part? There’s actually another lake with a loch ness esque monster allegedly inside. I’m starting to think the NE is totally bonkers.

I’ll finish out my trip by going to the end of the Great Wall, which tapers out into the sea. A perfect spot for brooding, and also to end what has been a wild ride of traveling in China!

Stay tuned for more info as the trip unfolds. And, if you want to know more about specifically traveling in China, you can check out my other blog here. It’s both in Chinese and English, and is all about China travel (as the name suggests).

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The End of the Tours

As many of you might know, I’ve almost been to every single province/territory in the Chinese Mainland (and have also been to the “One party, Two Systems” areas like Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, aka the “Don’t mention them if you don’t want to get in an argument” regions). In one month, that “almost” will change into “have,” as I hit the last provinces, Jilin and Liaoning and complete years worth of tours and circuits.

Had I planned to go to every province when I did my first backpacking trip in Spring Festival, 2013? Of course not! But, here I am, and man it’s been a ride. I’ve been up in the mountains, out in the deserts, swimming in the ocean, hitchhiking on a wagon, and even biking in a valley. I’ve stayed with nuns, worked at a beach-side hostel, and even visited Chinese Hell.

What lays in store for me next month? Well, I’m not going to pretend that it’s going to be the best of my trips, because I’ve already had great trips. And true, it might have made more sense to have saved Tibet for last, but I’m happy that my last major trip is more akin to what I’ve done in the past: just me and the road.

Be excited.

30 Days of Poetry and Beyond

Well, Hangzhou’s whirlwind month of poetry has come to a close now. ‘Good while it lasted,’ I couldn’t help but think as I planned for our first poetry slam in a couple months at the end of this poetic venture. Our wechat group had been alive and buzzing with new original works for the past month, but I knew it would come to an end sooner or later. Would it continue? That’s the question Katie and I ask ourselves all the time about this little poetry group that could: will it stay alive after we leave Hangzhou? Or, as with many start-ups in China, will it die the moment the founders leave?

That night, it would come alive in person, whether I soliloquized about it or not. I schlepped the our poetry box and duffel bag full of English books onto the subway, (getting more than a few strange looks, but that’s nothing new) and made my way to Underline Cafe.

When I got there, I was met with several pleasant surprises. First, we had a good turnout, who was there ON TIME (for once). Then, I had some friends who had been meaning to show up actually show up to the event, AND share their own works that they’d never shared in public before. THEN there were people I’d never met who’d done the 30-day poetry challenge who were excited that an group like ours even existed in Hangzhou. THEN I was approached by people asking when submissions would kick off again, when we’d meet up again, and that they’d share more original work next time. A friend of mine from the Shanghai Literary Review came all the way to Hangzhou, and actually won second place in the slam, and by the end of the night, we had more members in our group.

It’s hard to say what will happen in the future. I might be participating in a mental health awareness event by reading an original poem. We might be having a “black history month” event in the near future. Our website might get more traffic. A couple of years from now, who knows? It might grow, it might die. But one thing’s for sure: god, will it live.

Slowly, but Surely: the Thesis Saga

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been participating in a 30-day poetry challenge through the poetry group in Hangzhou. And always, in the back of my mind, is the mammoth thesis paper that I will be completing next spring. So far, I’ve done a fair amount of research, and am zeroing in on my direction/outline.

For a marriage of these two ideas, I present a recipe poem I wrote about what it takes to write a thesis. (All in good fun, naturally).

“How to Write a Thesis”

Ingredients:
10-20 Academic articles
3 cups overconfidence
1 computer
4 existential crises
1 bottle whiskey
2 eggs

First, take 10 Academic articles and mix in with 2 cups overconfidence. Pour them into your computer and let sit for several months.

Next, remove what should be a bony, flesh-less lump and stir. Do not add anything, but perhaps remove one article.

Wait one hour, and put said article back in.

Insert 1 existential crisis and stir.

Let sit for another month, before picking up the remaining 10 Academic articles. Add another existential crisis into the concoction, but do not add the Academic articles. Just hold them and insist that you will.

Make an omelette out of the two eggs to avoid looking at the rest. Let one more existential crisis fall into your omelette. Convince yourself that it’s “All part of the process.”

One week before the deadline, throw in all remaining Academic articles in no apparent order, mix in your final existential crisis, all while slamming your bottle of whiskey.

Heyyyyy thiss islooking prettygood

Sprinnkle in tha lasy cuppa ovrecofindence

Print tha betch

You did ittttt

A Song of Summer

I decided to bike out along West Lake because I thought there were free tango lessons in one of my favorite bars, Carbon. But once I got there, it was as though being transported into a different Hangzhou. One that better resembled the one from a year ago, during the G20 International Summit.

Though I don’t know the particulars, some kind of Important Person decided to drive around West Lake, which meant that police had to block it off from regular traffic and stay stationed to make sure no one did anything stupid. At least, that’s what the people puzzling the situation on the sidewalk told me, trying in vain to cross the street to see the lake in this rare calm.

And it is rare, to feel such calm in a big city, or to find a pocket of stillness in a life blaring with all kinds of distractions. I often find myself feeling overwhelmed at the end of a day, not because I’d done a lot per se, but because I’d been immersed in a lot of noise: the Internet bogey, the stream of events happening in Hangzhou. It’s like a quote from a book I read recently (The Circle, by Dave Eggers): “You know when you finish a bag of chips and hate yourself? You know you’ve done nothing good for yourself. That’s the same feeling, and you know it is, after some digital binge. You feel wasted and hollow and diminished.” Harsh words, to be true, but true nonetheless.

And perhaps that’s what made it so marvelous, that summer evening, by a still and eerily quiet road along West Lake. I could hear crickets chirping, and see the street lamps reflected in the dark waters while lotus leaves rose in their majesty to the full, yellowed moon. I could walk along blackened waters with waves ruffling through them, and admire without commentary, which is the most precious thing of all.

I ended up staying in Carbon, although the street blockages meant that no other customers were there, and that I was also hilariously wrong about the tango lessons. I stayed there alone because I could, and I sipped a cool mojito on their rooftop terrace, as if the lake was my own.

And it felt like the perfect song to end a summer, and to transition into a fire-tipped fall.