Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Anticipation keepin' me waiting!

So I've currently got about the worst case of Pants Ants I've ever had in my life!  I am so wound up about this trip I can barely concentrate!  I believe I may be addicted to travel and those of you who know me may one day have to perform some sort of painful intervention.  There is no other way to explain how close to running up and down the halls here at work screaming "WOOOOOOOOOO!!! I am at the moment!  I mean, it's Vancouver, which I've been to before only a year ago and is remarkably similar to the place I already live.  And we're only going to be there for four nights.  I have no business being this freaked out!  If I don't temper this, I'm going to need some kind of grief counseling when I get back.  But in the meantime:
WOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOO!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Upcoming flights of fancy


IMG_1361
Originally uploaded by lesliegardner.
I'm DYING to go on vacation and I've got two lined up that I'm super excited about. First, Dag and I and a few others who may or may not want their names mentioned on the internet will be going to Vancouver, BC for New Year's eve. NYE is such a high pressure Holiday and can often be disappointing and a pain. Everyplace that is normally cool is suddenly $30 and full of stupid drunk people. So more money for less coolness! The idea here is to go out of town so everything you do is automatically cool because you're ON VACATION! Plus Vancouver is really awesome. This photo is from last December's Vancouver trip. I brought along Sock Boyfriend as part of a very long-story-you-had-to-be-there style inside joke that I'm not sure I even remember. But I had lots of fun posing for photos with him and actually, this is in Seattle so we were still a day away from Vancouver.
Second, I will be meeting an old friend in Puerto Rico in the most annoying part of the year for Portland, weather-wise...early spring. Still four entire months to go before any real warmth but it's not winter any more so you're expected to be all happy about that. Bah. So my friend's mom will be in PR and we will be hanging with her. It's exciting to me because in all the 10 years I've known my friend, I've never met his mom and it got to the point where some other friends and I teased him that he was making her up. Also I'm very excited because I haven't seen my friend in about two years. And I've never seen Puerto Rico so that is also something to look forward to. It's very tough to keep calm while all this travel is ahead of me. Early fall is looking a little like Thailand or some other Very Far Away place using Imtrav like we did this year for China.
Now I am all worked up!
Luckily, Vancouver is only two weeks away or I might pop!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Home again!

Just wanted the "EEK I'm stranded in Mexico City" to not be the first thing one sees in my blog. I am no longer stranded in Mexico City and have fleshed out the China portion of the blog with more photos. It may be worth a second look!

Friday, September 30, 2005

Trouble in Mexico City


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Originally uploaded by lesliegardner.
O…M…G! I am still in Mexico City, having missed my connecting flight to Portland!!! Leslie does not do this! Leslie is always the one three hours early sitting at the gate doing crosswords! I got in my head that my flight was at 6:50 instead of 6:10 and I missed it since I was sitting in a cafĂ© chatting with a colleague from Germany. Everyone at the airport was very nice, even the guy who told me I could really really for sure not get on the plane three times (I was groveling to the best of my ability). The next flight is tomorrow – same time – UGH! So I spent half an hour on the phone to AMEX emergency travel services (thanks adidas!) and they made me a reservation at the Holiday Inn which is probably a 7 minute drive from the airport but it took the shuttle 30 min in traffic. Now that I’m in the hotel, I’m over the anxiety of the situation completely. Originally I was planning on punishing myself by spending the night in the airport but when I called Dag he insisted I get a hotel room and I’m so glad. Using the lesson I learned in China, I’ve brewed three pots of water in the coffeemaker, pouring them into all available mugs and glasses to cool for drinking water. I got to use my small Spanish vocabulary tonight in the hotel bar: “Tengo Novio!” No one here really speaks much English. I’m pretty sure I was asked to dance twice. I sat at a table and beat my high score in bowling on my Nokia. Now all the DVDs I brought for my laptop will come in handy. I will be watching episodes of Are you Being Served in several minutes (Mistah Graingah! Miss Slocum!). Breakfast (Desayuno) is included in my hotel bill as is the aeropuerto transfer tomorrow. This appears to be a sketchy part of town IMG_5975so I’m not sure if I’ll venture out tomorrow or not. I’ll take the opportunity to sleep in like crazy and maybe watch some cable. I’ve crossed the line from calamity to delightful humor so all is well.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Fiesta!

streamers
Yeah, so dinner started at 9 because it was just an excuse for a big theme party with sombreros, streamers, mariachi and silly string. The food was incredible - I particularly enjoyed the mole. Tequila shots abounded and at some point suddenly everyone had silly string and in about 30 seconds flat we were all completely covered in the stuff. After a silly string fight, where do you go from there? I took an opportunity during the lull afterwards to slip out and back to my room for a good night's sleep. From the sounds outside my balcony, a bunch of others giggled by the pool til the wee hours. My suspicions were confirmed by the sombreroed statues, rocks and utility objects I saw on my way to breakfast this morning.

Temporary setback

Yesterday I got one of my MEHs.  Disaster!  I napped in the afternoon but it continued to get worse.   I dosed on my homeopathic remedy knowing it would likely get a LOT worse as a result but also end sooner.  I skipped out on the evening movie and dinner with the group, which was difficult as I'm supposed to be here to meet people!   But it turned out to be a very good decision.  I slept from about 8pm to 6am and this morning the headache is reduced by about 80%!!   This is the quickest I've ever come back from one of these since I started getting them.  And as a bonus, I'm now on the early-to-rise schedule I've wanted to be on since arriving.   Now I can get to breakfast when it opens and get to the business center when it opens and maybe take a siesta this afternoon to solidify my progress with the headache.

 

Headache completely gone by late morning – a miracle!  Worked from 8 til 4 with a long lunch break and decided if I were going to experience the beach and pool, I'd better get to it since the sample order is due tomorrow and I will be busy all day I expect.   The ocean was so warm…that's always a shock compared to Oregon's frigid waters.  By the pool, I cried reading the final chapters of the Josephine Bonaparte fictional journal series.   What a heartbreaking love story!  For some reason, dinner is at 9 so I'm going to eat lightly and get to bed early (hope there will not be too much pressure to drink and salsa dance).  

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sunny Again


Last night after dinner a band played for our entertainment. Lots of traditional sounding music – I learned some salsa or meringue or something – maybe a little of both. Eager to appease every nationality, the band also played medleys of American Rock & Roll. Like Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones and even a little bit of the Beatles. I was out on the floor doing this dance step that everyone was doing and just getting the hang of it when another American came by and said to me “I’d just like to let you know that you’re doing the Electric Slide”. I just thought I’d come right out with it here and now before you all find out from reading the society pages. I also did the YMCA…with gusto. At periodic moments, the front man would also yell out the names of each of the countries he knew were represented in the room in order to get people to yell a lot. So he’d go “BRAZIL!” and all the Brazilians would totally freak out…”MEXICO”…freakout…and on and on. Then he’d go “USA!” and I would go “WooHOO!” all by myself. Hee hee. An interesting thing here is that as soon as the band started up, everyone just ran out to the dance floor and went for it. In America, of course, everyone has to sit around fidgeting for several songs until a brave couple or group gets up the courage to be first out, then everyone else will slowly join.
I found out yesterday that the “Sports on the beach” that was on the schedule for pre-dinner was not, in fact, elective. I found out from one disappointed-in-me female colleague that I was on a FOOTBALL TEAM (soccer, y’know) and since there weren’t enough women, she had to play the entire time. I felt sort of bad but if I had a time machine there is no freaking way I’d use it to go back and voluntarily expose my sports ignorance on the waterlogged beach to a bunch of people whose respect I’m trying to earn. Criminey.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Flamingos!


Flamingos!
Originally uploaded by lesliegardner.
The weather here is a bit strange. It’s warm and pleasant yet intermittently rainy and gusty. People here say that it’s quite uncharacteristic and they suspect it’s related to the hurricane action we’ve been getting in the US. Even when it rains, though, it’s warm. It’s like it doesn’t deserve to be called “rain”. Rain is what we are used to in Portland – it’s cold and makes everyone on the bus smell musty. Acapulco rain feels like liquid sunshine. I spent yesterday getting acclimated to this hunormous resort. We are being treated very well. Can I just say that I LOVE Mexican food? The restaurant adidas is paying for us to eat in is buffet-style so I get to sample lots of different things. Favorites so far are Ceviche, fish in lobster sauce, refried black beans, and chilaquiles for breakfast. And papaya for every meal…it brings tears to my eyes. Work-wise things have been very productive. I’ve met lots of people that I’ve only communicated with through email for the past five years. The business center is without power for laptops at the moment – hopefully that’s a temporary condition as my battery is only good for a couple of hours at a time and I have no high speed port in my room, which is odd because I do have a balcony facing the beach, TWO bathroom sinks and TWO walk-in closets. I’d trade one of each and the TV for a high speed port!

Acapulco


I've arrived safely in Acapulco.  It was a harrowing journey.  Before boarding, I looked around at the approximately one million small children who were going to be on the plane with me, and realized I'd forgotten to pack my earplugs.   Horror.  I was seated next to a man with particularly large elbows that spilled into the seats on either side of him.   The child who had been inconsolable at the gate was seated with his family in the row directly to my left.  I grabbed a pillow and blanket which were promptly yoinked back from me by the executive class attendant and sat in the overhead storage for the remainder of the flight.   The mother of the yelling baby reached over and gave me their pillow, insisting it was just taking up valuable space in their row, which was so sweet and made it impossible for me to grumble when her baby cried, which was a lot.   The airplane was uncharacteristically hot, as planes generally go, and elbow guy started to get a little ripe smelling.  When we reached Guadalajara for a quick stop and customs check, they said we could leave any bags behind that we wished, which I did, only discovering after being dropped off by the bus that my customs documents were in the front pocket of the left-behind bag.   They had to shuttle me all the way back to the plane to retrieve them.   Finally in Acapulco, the baggage claim carousel stopped with no bag for Leslie.   I pantomimed my way to the International arrivals baggage claim on the other side of the terminal where someone checked my tag and brought my bag to me.   This is when everything got sunny…as I was unsuccessfully trying to fend off all the taxi hawkers, a friendly guy in a red shirt said "Leslie Gardner?" and drove me to the hotel, where everyone was expecting me and everything was perfect.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hong Kong and HOME


IMG_5765
Originally uploaded by lesliegardner.
We're back safe and sound today. I promise photos as soon as I can get them organized and weeded.
Here is a park we went to in Hong Kong Monday evening. I have a colleague who lives there and we spent the day together. We began with Dim Sum in a restaurant in the same building as the adidas office. The food and the view of the city (and of course the company) were divine. We were joined by another colleage and then after a quick tour of the office, met up with Dag and Larry at the Star Ferry Terminal. We rode the ferry across and hiked to the Peak Tram, taking city photos along the way. The tram ride reminded me of many recurring nightmares I've had about being in a car with no brakes careening backwards down a hill. Only no careening of course - it was just so steep it seemed like we might at any moment! After this, our vegetarian colleague departed for home and the remaining four of us had a carnivorous Korean BBQ feast. I have never seen that much food in all my life. We had to walk around the night markets to digest afterwards. Sorry for anyone who may have wanted any cheap knockoffs - we were all shopped out by the time we hit HK that all we could do was shuffle through the rows of stalls gawking at the goodies.
Today we got back all the hours we lost flying over so we arrived in Portland seven hours after departing, which is pretty good considering the flight from HK to Vancouver alone was 11 hours long. It's nice to be home but of course I am also feeling some post-holiday blues. It was such an amazing adventure that it's hard to let it go. That's where the photos come in!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Last day in Yangshuo

Yesterday I got up early and had a massage by one Dr. Lily who was recommended by our leader.  It was very aggressive and I think her thumbs poked every muscle I have.  I tend to be very ticklish so a lot of it wasn't the most pleasant, but I think it probably did me a lot of good anyway.  Later, Dag and I joined 9 other groupies for an excursion to a local cave.  The cave was beautiful but the transport and organization were a bit harrowing.  I guess we are all spoiled by how well our tour leader has all of our activities laid out for us.  This was booked through a local guy she recommended and involved a lot of waiting around, squishing into vans with questionable suspension leaping across boulders.  We all piled into canoes to sail into the entrance of the cave, once having to get out into calf-high water and push.  Our English guide didn't know any more about the cave than we did, but he would stop us at intermittent vantage points to tell us what the stalactites and stalagmites looked like:  "here we have an elephant" "here is a group of people on a city street"  "this is the world's largest foot" etc etc.  But when I asked how long it takes for one to form, he said "I also do not know".  Ah well.  We skipped out on the giant pool of mud that you could jump into.  Just to the left of the pool, they had a COMPUTER station set up so they could sell you digital photos of you wearing a mud shirt.  When we returned to the point where we had gotten off the canoes, our guide got on a TELEPHONE to call for the boats to come pick us back up.  15 minutes later, two boats showed up but somehow with not enough employees to row us all back.  We were growing impatient so Dag joked that he would just row us back and the guide nodded and handed him the paddle!  First thing we did was a giant 360 which made me shriek with laughter as I tried to keep us from hitting the rocks with the giant bamboo pole.  We got righted quickly and tried to make our way with paddle and pole until we got high centered on the sandy bottom.  Dag got out and pulled us all the way to the mouth of the cave - what a hero!
For dinner, we all boated an hour into the countryside to a small village with an amazing restaurant facing the river.  It was so peaceful and beautiful - definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip for us.  We were greeted with huge trays of watermelon and purified water.  The group has really bonded now so everyone was snapping photos of each other left and right - just one giant self-loving paparazzi!  There were people washing clothes and themselves in the river, giant herds of ducks roaming from place to place, and water buffalos cooling themselves in the water or eating grass near the houses. 
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For dinner, we had duck, bamboo steamed chicken, beef clay pot, breaded tofu mixed with cilantro and vegetables, two different plates of stir fried veggies, and banana bread for dessert with coffee or tea.  After an hour of lazy after dinner conversation with a background of flute playing courtesy of one of the village residents (he was not playing for us, I don't think, it was just what he did at night), our guide led us through the village by flashlight to our bus.  We were able to peek into the living rooms of the villagers on the way (all doors were wide open).  Everyone was watching a local talent show on TV - Our guide says they are all the rage these days.  The walls of one house we saw were completely covered with Mao posters.  In the cities, you do not see this anywhere, ever.  But the farmers still hold him in very high regard.
We are all on the road to stinkyville as we leave this humid place, checking out of our hotel at noon today, taking an overnight train to Hong Kong with no shower in sight until tomorrow afternoon.
Once in Hong Kong, our tour unstructures and we are left to our own devices.  Monday morning the tour is officially over and Dag and I have booked one extra day.  We fly home Tuesday around 2pm.  It's hard to believe it's almost over but also feels like I've been gone so much more than two weeks.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Yangshuo

Thanks to all for your comments!  It's so great to hear that people are following along!
To pick up where I left off in Louyang, we took the overnight train at about 1am.  When we arrived, the giant courtyard in front of the train station was completely filled with sleeping people - all waiting for their morning train.  When I climbed into my middle bunk, I was too tired to care that I had no pillow and fell immediately asleep.  It had been so long in the heat without a shower that I couldn't tell which was dirtier, me or the train - both were pretty shocking!
A quick bus ride through Yichang where we boarded the boat.  I learned that the three major products of the city are Tangerines, Hydroelectric power, and "black gold" (Caviar) of the Chinese Sturgeon.  Then we were on the boat and the pace of life slowed by about 75%.  We passed through the three gorges in the first 24 hours - they were gorgeous as expected.  I took a lot of film photos and am pretty sure they all look roughly the same but when you keep seeing beauty, it's hard to stop snapping that shutter!
Yangtze1
  I spent the first night with my fingernail scissors cutting the sleeves off my remaining t-shirts.  Half of them went in the trash along with most of the socks I brought.  Only one big packing regret - my hiking boots.  Haven't even considered wearing them since we got off the plane in Beijing and they are consuming prime real estate in the ol' backpack.  The boat consisted of a lot of eating, sleeping and lounging on the sundeck watching the scenery glide by.  After all of our running around, it was the perfect respite.  We were joined on the cruise by two other ImTrav groups and a bunch of geriatric Australians, who were a complete hoot.  The boat crew organized all these activities for us - a talent show and a masquerade ball, which was mystifying because not many of us brought costumes along in our packs!  As I can't resist a chance to dress up, I wore my nightgown, which is a respectable calf-length red cotton knit Gap number with straps.  I fastened one of the room towels around my shoulders with a barrette to create a luxurious looking wrap.  My dark sunglasses and sandalwood fan added mystique and the slippers from the room (white to tie in with the bath towel shawl) completed the look.
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  I was a huge hit!  Several of our group members didn't recognize me - hee hee!  My favorite part was sitting on the sundeck after dark when it was cool and breezy and the boat was rocking gently.  We had two short excursions - one canoe trip where the locals got out and pulled the boat through the shallow parts and one hike up a pagoda.  It's strange to think that in a few years, when the dam project is finished, a lot of the things we've seen will be completely submerged.
Overall, the boat was nice but felt pretty touristy in comparison to the places we'd been prior.  I had no idea how much this and the heat and humidity would be amplified once we reached Guangxi Province.  HOLY COW it's hot here.  I am pretty sure I don't have anything in my life experience to compare it to.  The fact that I said it was hot in Louyang and on the boat makes me laugh...or it would if it weren't too hot to move!  I have no idea what the temperature is but let me just say it's 9:30 PM and I have the hem of my tank top pulled up to my armpits and I'm dripping in sweat.  On the upside, I can justify an ice cream bar any time of day!
Yangshuo is a small town with breathtaking countryside. 
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The town is like 50% European tourists and 50% locals.  It's a bit of a letdown, culture-wise, but the scenery makes up for it. 
Last night our group went out for dinner and ordered some "exotic" dishes for the table.  Dag and I both passed on the dog, rat and snake.  I had a bunch of the snails though - they were super tasty.
This morning, while it was still "cool"  (felt like 80 degrees by 7:30am - no joke), we all rented bikes and rode out to Moon Hill - about an hour bike ride along gravel roads through rice paddys (sp?) and farm land. 
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The more adventurous (insane) of us, hiked up Moon Hill.  Those with heat stroke paranoia (can you tell I was one of them?) stayed behind in the cafe eating peanuts and drinking iced tea.  The more political minded Americans at the table were explaining the current administration to the Kiwis in the group.  Later, naptime.  This is definitely an area where you want to siesta at midday and do all your necessary moving (very slowly) in the morning and after sunset.  OK, my hour is up here and I'm due for some ice cream.  Dag and Larry are going to get up at like 5AM to do this super grueling groovy hike which is supposed to deliver some incredible scenery.  I will have breakfast and finish up my souvenir shopping - which is just a dreaded chore.  Bargaining has got to be my least favorite thing and when I'm overwhelmed by heat it becomes even more difficult.  BUT!  At 9am I have a massage scheduled!  1hr for 50 RMB!  (Like 6 or 7 bucks!).  I may just do that the next day too!  Dr. Lily!  Also scheduled for tomorrow afternoon is a cave excursion and then a group dinner in the countryside.
I will be online again tomorrow or Saturday for sure.
Hope all is well for everyone!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Louyang

We arrived in Louyang after a six hour train ride yesterday.  The heat and pollution were stifling but I am enjoying this place so much.  There is almost no tourism here except for other Chinese.  We are seriously the only whiteys as far as the eye can see, which makes us quite interesting to the locals.  Some just stare, some venture a "Helloooo" as they walk past.  A few will strike up a conversation if they know English - and sometimes even if they don't!  The big draw of this town was for us to see how the real people live.  Our hotel is right across from the town square where seemingly the entire city comes in the morning between 6 and 8am to practice any number of different kind of excercises from Tai Chi to ballroom dancing and all things in between.  Dag was brave enough to join in and I shyly did the same.Tai Chi
  No one looks at you funny (if at all)...they are absorbed in their own experience and it doesn't seem to matter if you don't do the moves right.  All over the park there are groups of 30 or so people all in rows with one or two experts leading the exercises.  Some have little tape players for any necessary accompanying music.  Afterwards we ate a buffet breakfast feast in the hotel for 15RMB and set off in a tour bus to the Longmen Grottoes, which was spectacular but sooooo indescribably hot.  I have had like four servings of ice cream today - it's almost as important as water around here and as easy to come across on the street as a latte in Portland.  After the grottoes we went to the White Horse Temple - the first Buddhist temple in China.Luoyang22

We had dinner in a rotating restaurant overlooking the city on the 25th floor of...well...some building.  It was fantastic.  They had ice cream.
Then back to the square, which is just as full of people after dark but the activities consist of old men playing instruments I am not at this time able to identify.  Like a long stick with a square box at the bottom and it's played with a bow and appears to only have one string.  Also a variety of horns and drums and one guy standing there singing.  Large crowds gather around and listen.  At one point I bumped up the exposure on my camera and snapped a photo.  One or two guys standing around became fascinated by the image that showed up on the LCD screen so I was showing the image around and they were looking back and forth to verify that the image was the same as the scene in front of us.
  Demonstration
To demonstrate, I snapped a photo of myself and the guy standing behind me which was a HUGE hit and suddenly I was completely surrounded by probably 25 people, all wanting to get a look at the screen and I scrolled through the other photos I'd taken in the park in the past half hour.  It was an overwhelmingly cool moment.  There were a few older men there practicing their calligraphy with huge brushes and water on the stone floor.  Three others were cracking whips in another area, one of them keeping two tops spinning at the same time with the whips.  In the center was a "disco" sort of poppy Chinese music that everyone ballroom danced to.  Men have to pay to get into the ring but ladies get in free!
In about 45 minutes, we get into taxis to the train station for an overnighter to Yichang and we'll cruising the Yangtzee until Wednesday.  I am definitely ready for some calm...and that bunk that's waiting for us on the train.
And never mind what I said before about not being able to read comments.  Jen reminded me I am receiving emails for each comment, but I was not checking Yahoo.
Over and out!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Beijing Railway Station

Here I am sweltering in my long pants as we wait to board the train to Xi'an! Our tour leader is the one sitting down with the curly hair and the yellow shirt.

Xi'an

Just time for a quick note.  It took us an hour to find the internet cafe, being pointed in a million different directions by everyone we asked.  Apparently the "save face" compulsion is so strong that it is common for people just to point confidently in some direction just to complete the interaction and put you on your way.  So we took the overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an on Wednesday night.  We took a fleet of taxis from the hotel to the train station and ours ended up in standstill traffic.  Little by little, we started to see people abandoning their taxis and running along the street with their bags.  I looked back and saw the entire contents of a city bus emptying into the street as people cut their losses.  Our driver started pointing forward and we realized the train station was in sight.  Out we went with our 30lb of luggage each and hoofed it to the station along with everyone else.  The train station was absolute madness and hot as an oven.  I was exhilerated just to be there.  On the train, each car was filled with columns of six bunks facing each other - two sets of three.  Our group was together and most people stayed up til the 10pm lights-out telling stories.  We arrived in Xi'an at about 7:30am and took a bus to the Terracotta Warriors.  IMG_4956I hadn't realized that the statues had been found 99% destroyed and have been painstakingly put back together piece by piece.  Our guide said it could take up to one year per statue!  Although they know that many warriors are still buried, they are not going to excavate them until they can develop the technology to preserve the color.  As it is, the moment they unearth the pieces, the color disappears.
Energy-wise, I was pretty zonked.  Both Dag and I have been getting to sleep easily and staying that way for the full alloted time each night - so fortunate.  But for some reason, maybe I slept fitfully on the train, I was walking through jello most of the day.  We got settled in our (super nice) hotel in Xi'an and went for a walk in the Muslim quarter.  Many of you will not believe that I am capable, but I haggled.  (!!!)  I think I did pretty well but I won't tell too many details since some of you reading this will be the recipients of the things I bought.  I got down to about 43% of the original asking price so yay for me.  I now know I can do it but I know I'll never like it.  It feels like a fight to me and that's something I'll never be comfortable with.  Also, it makes any simple purchase a Major Ordeal.  For the already cheap prices, most of the time it hardly seems worth it.  That was yesterday (Thursday).  After shopping, a smaller group of us attended a dumpling banquet and Tang Dynasty dance performance.  We had something like 13 courses of dumplings filled with various meats and veggies.  For one course, they came with a flaming pot and cooked little miniature dumpling soup right there at our table.  Problem was, by the time we got to the enormous pink room to watch the performance, we were so full and sleepy that most of us spent the entire show just struggling not to fall asleep...not all of us succeeding.  Afterwards we spent an hour trying to find this street our guide said had lots of fun bars on it.  We never found it - I think I wrote the directions down a little garbled.  We did go to a place called the Monkey Bar where a local band was playing sort of rock ballads.  This morning we slept in til 8 then decided to forgo the local sightseeing for internet and more shopping.  Dag and Larry are now off to bargain in the Muslim Quarter and another tour member who just happened to be seated next to me at the IC is emailing me a photo of us all waiting for the train that I happened to be in!  I'm going to attempt to post it - woohoo!  OK, today we train to Louyang (sp?) - I think it's about a four hour journey.  After that we'll be getting on the boat at some point so I'm not sure when I'll be able to get online next.  For some reason, I'm unable to view my blog except in editing mode so I can't see if anyone has posted comments.  If you have any questions you want me to answer, please email them to me and I'll try to answer them in the blog.  I still can't even begin to describe what an amazing experience this has been.  And there is still so much left to go!
Tips for Tim, Diane and Candy - your shoes are REALLY REALLY REALLY not broken in - are you working on that?  It is freaking hot here - do bring tank tops and shorts.  So far long pants have just been a waste of space and we're only getting closer to the equator.  Bring handiwipes in addition to hand sanitizer.  Especially useful on the train.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Big in Beijing!


Greetings friends and family!  Sorry it took so long for an update - we've been so busy since arriving safely on Sunday.  Contrary to my inital convictions, we *were* picked up at the airport by a jolly college student who guided us to our hotel in a taxi.  Dag and I spent the first evening walking around getting oriented and I bought some cosmetics, thinking I'd left mine behind (found them in a secret pocket later that evening).  We had a spectacular eggplant dish at a nearby restaurant and then walked to the gates of the forbidden city (it was closed by that hour) and back to the hotel where we found Larry, who had just got in and was luckily full of enough energy for three.  We sat up and talked for a while before completely wilting.  Next day we got up around 7am and took a taxi to the Summer Palace, most of which, as every single plaque reminded us, was restored after having been "burned to the ground by the Anglo-French in 1860".  As it turns out, whiteys are quite a novelty and I ended up getting my photo snapped three times that day.  That evening, we met with the rest of our group and went grocery shopping for our great wall adventure, which was a challenge in itself (the shopping, I mean) because for most things, there is no way to tell what is inside the package.  We lucked out with some spicy vacuum packed tofu and mysterious sweet and spicy trail mix.
Today we were up at 4:30am to catch the bus to the wall at 5:30.  Too excited to sleep on the bus - there is just so much to see!  The wall was absolutely stunning and I'm pretty sure my legs won't be working at all tomorrow morning. At the beginning of the climb, we were joined by a whole group of Mongolian women, whose task was to fan us, give us Mandarin lessons, carry our stuff, hold our hands forcibly on the craggier spots, in order to get us to reciprocate by purchasing lots of their wares.  I managed to politely as possible make my adopted buddy go away so I could enjoy the sights internally, which is my preference, although I did feel some pangs of regret seeing how much fun the other groupies were having with their new friends.  Slept on the bus home, ate some noodly soup at a local place, and took in the Acrobats - basically Cirque du Soleil for 100Yuan instead of $100.  It was spectacular!  Tomorrow we visit Mao's masoleum and Tiannanmen square (sp? on both) and then a free afternoon. I'll be voting for a visit to the Forbidden City.  And then on to Xi'an for Terracotta Warriors.  Not sure when I'll be able to update next.  I apologize for the short overview but it's hard to fill in all the details when so much has happened already.  It feels like the tour must be half over already but it's only just begun.  I can't even describe how excited I am for all that is still yet to come.  This tour is the perfect mix of hand holding and independence - I highly recommend it!  Now some tips for Tim, Diane and Candy who are on this tour a few weeks after we return:  an inflatable pillow is indespensable.  Uh...I had lots more but have blanked out - Oh yeah!  No matter how broken in you think your shoes are that you have recently purchased for the trip - you are WRONG in so many ways!  Go on a serious hike or two in them if you want to wear them on the wall.  It is gruelling up and down (highly rewarding - don't get me wrong) and moleskin doesn't stick to sweaty ankles.  Sorry for the visuals there, folks.  OK, everyone take care and I'll try to post again as soon as I can!  We're all having an amazing time!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Waking waiting


Less than six hours until Dag and I catch the Max train to the airport. We're trying to stay up since it's mid afternoon in China now. Headed to the Roxy in a little bit to have some caffeine and grease!
Next time I post it'll be from China!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Yuan Renminbi


DSCN1005
Originally uploaded by lesliegardner.
Here I am familiarizing myself with the only type of currency I could get my hands on today: the 100RMB note...about $12.35.
So much for my plan of learning about all the different denominations up close and personal. Luckily there are websites with pictures!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Last minute details


IMG_4716
Originally uploaded by lesliegardner.
Today we stopped by the camera shop to make sure Dag is fully equipped to bring back the coolest photos.
At this time I would like to address the two very good questions Jen asked in the comments of the last post.
First: How long is the flight from pdx to china?
We fly out of Vancouver BC and (OMG I just remembered we have to confirm our flights today! This is how I'm thinking now - random ideas slapping my brain with a front and a backhand) the flight is 11 hours and 20 minutes but because we're crossing so many time zones, we arrive 27 hours after we depart!
Second: Will you be sleeping on the plane, or do you have to stay awake for one million hours in order to acclimate?
It is my plan to stay up as long as possible Friday night, even if that means one million hours, sleep on the Portland to Vancouver flight, sleep the first five or so hours of the Vancouver to Beijing flight and then force myself to stay awake the remainder (we arrive at 2:40pm local time which is 11:40PM Portland time so that should be fun!)
I will be experimenting with Melatonin.

Today I'm a bit stressed. I'm really starting to get a sense of time running out, both at work and for trip preparation. There is not much left to do - most importantly I want to get some Yuan tomorrow so I can lay it all out and figure out what's what so I don't inadvertantly tip the cab driver $100 or something. Also I'm trying to get everything squared away for a business trip I'm taking five days after we return. Also I want to buy a gift for a coworker of mine who will be showing me around Hong Kong a bit on the last day of the tour - any ideas? What is cool and American that you can't buy cheaper in HK? Also I think I have something overdue from the library.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Everyone Loves Vacation


In almost exactly five days, Dag and I will be in Beijing instead of in Portland, meeting our friend LR who is flying in from a pre-vacation in Japan. I have the contents of my backpack laid out to see what is missing or what should be taken out. What do you think, should I leave the lamp behind?

In case you are ever curious as to where we are, here is a rough itinerary:
Sept 4-6 Beijing
Sept 7 Beijing-Xi'an
Sept 8 Xi'an
Sept 9 Xi'an - Luoyang
Sept 10 Luoyahg - Yichang
Sept 11 Yichang
Sept 12-13 Yangtze river cruise
Sept 14 Chongqing - Yangshuo
Sept 15-16 Yangshuo
Sept 17 Yangshuo-Guangzhou
Sept 18 Guangzhou - Hong Kong
Sept 19-20 Hong Kong

I will do my best to post from the road, but you never know. I may not be able to find an internet cafe' or I may just be too busy eating!