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May 23, 2005

Tian Chi (Heaven Lake) and Xian


Hey everyone-

This is Aimee. Just a little update & pix from 2 places (although this is about 2 weeks past). We're in Bangkok now and heading down to an island for relaxing. During that time we're going to work on some pix from Kashgar - a really cool place that we want to share. I'll also be posting something soon about our kick-ass Star Wars movie expereince in Bangkok. Until then, here's some stuff from Heaven Lake (Tian Chi) and Xian.

Heaven Lake (Tian Chi) lies at about 2000m in the far Western region of China. Its turquoise waters and grassy meadows are a far cry from the dusty desert and dirty cities in the area. The area is inhabited seasonally with Kazakh people, who are semi-nomadic and live in yurts on the lake and in the valleys. The people are beautiful - dark skin, light eyes. Many had features that reminded me of Tibeteans. Apparently many had not come back to this area yet (it's the end of the off season) so we literally had the whole area to ourselves. During the day we hiked through the valley with towering snow-capped mountains always in view. At night we stayed at a yurt on the lake (one of the only ones there at this time) with four other travelers.

The yurt itself and the whole cluster of them reminded me of something someone would make a burning man. The blankets used on the inside were bright colors and the outsides were often decorated with large stencils. Inside was a burning stove which kept us plenty warm. If any of you have ever rented a tent cabin in Big Basin you know what it's like to have too much heat. It turns into a sweat lodge of sorts where you're down to shorts and a tank despite it being cold outside. We slept well tho, a little too well. After oversleeping our 9am horse ride "appointment" (due to some late night drinking of cheap Chinese booze), we all eventually got out of bed about 12pm and rode the horses up some steep mountains to get some amazing views.

This place was one of my favorites in China. It was such a retreat from the pollution and the noise. Plus, I'm a huge fan of mountain areas like this not matter where in the world I am- spruce/pine trees, grassy meadows, the sound of the air when you're deep in a valley. Ahhhh….peaceful, happy. I'll take it anytime.

Check out the photos here:

We also have some photos of the Terracotta Army in Xian.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this here's a little info (courtesy of Nate): Discovered in only 1974(?), the Terracotta warriors are (self-)billed as the "8th wonder of the world". From about 200 BC, they are an ~8000-strong lifesize army of exact replica soldiers, in formation, that were designed to protect the tomb of their emperor (Qin - the same emperor as in the movie Hero). From the torso down they are from one of a few molds, but from the waist up they are all unique. Unique faces, unique hair styles and hats, custom real armor, and real weapons. Though their armor and weapons have deteriorated in the last 2000+ years (hilts, blades and arrow heads still exist), they originally were completely armed and ready for battle. There are regiments of archers, horsemen with lifesize horses, swordsmen, spearmen, sergeants, generals and all the others, exactly as they were in the flesh at the time. In fact, it's said that they're an exact replica of the actualarmy at the time, down to this faces and hair. Part of the story is that the 200,000 craftsmen who created this secret army to guard the secret tomb (both secret even at the time) were buried with the army so that the secret wouldn't get out. It took a farmer digging a well less than 30 years ago to discover them.

It's totally amazing to think about, but it doesn't really warrant a stop to Xian. Xian is a walled city which means that there's tons of people with no where to go. Although there were some interesting things, it was very crowded and dirty/polluted (just like any other city) so I didn't enjoy it much. This is partially attributed to me needing some country-time at this point tho so that my opinions with that in mind. Really tho, seeing the Terracotta Army in real life wasn't much more stimulating that the millions of pictures of them. You can see our contribution of photos at:

More to stuff coming soon. Really looking forward to beach, beer and Thai food. Smile. If anyone wants to join us, the hut door is open.

May 23, 2005 at 10:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 17, 2005

Funny Things from China


Hi everyone - Aimee here. Don't want to send too much text in one day, but we have a connection and I've been wanting to send this little piece. In addition to laughing our asses off, Nate and I have been trying to keep track of all the funny things we’ve seen/experienced. Below is a partial list that you may find funny (either b/c they are new to you or perhaps b/c you have experienced them).

Assless Pants

Funny1Babies wear "assless" pants (imagine a big rip down the seem of the back of their pants - see picture) so that they can urinate/shit when they need to. For ex: Nate saw a mom holding her baby over a planter while he pissed. It’s really quite a funny site - a toddler dropping bombs on the street. Even funnier would be "curb your baby" signs like we have in SF for dogs.


Funny2Speaking of urinating... They have no doors on the stalls in many public bathrooms. Not only that, but the partitions, if present at all, are rarely more than 1-2 ft high. Although I had read about this before experiencing it, it doesn’t prepare you for the real thing. I have been ""on stage" while peeing before - In Laos the bus pee breaks involved the bus pulling over and everyone squatting on the side of the barren road. Knowing this, I always had a skirt on, but China is another story (and I’m not always wearing a skirt). There are 2 kinds of situations I’ve been in 1) the row of pits/toilets facing the bathroom doorway and 2) the row of pits being perpendicular to the door. The first allows absolutely NO privacy. You and the person next in line are eye-to-eye. Real nice. The second is a little better b/c you can go down to the last one and get at least some "privacy" while you are peeing, but pulling down/up your pants is still a public affair since those damn partians are so low. Today it was only me and a local woman in there. She stared at me the whole time and I laughed in my head thinking about what must have been

more odd to her - a westerner peeing, my thong, or my tattoo that takes up a good portion of the side of my ass. In either case, I think we both went home with a story. The ultimate utilitarian bathroom experience is the open room with a long trough running against the back wall. PIck a spot, squat and pee. Don't mind all the other people in the room who are doing the same. See pic for more details on the Chinese bathroom experience - this is taken from the perspective of someone waiting for a pit.

Meat, Inclusive

Funny3They really do eat dog here (in some provinces anyhow). In fact, they don’t waste a single damn thing - duck chin, braised pig belly, sautéed chicken feet, etc have all been found on menus. Nate has been a vegetarian throughout most of the trip since the meat that he does eat is often in an less "preened" state. He says "they cut it the wrong way" - I call it the "Itchy and Scratchy" cut (if you’ve seen the Simpson’s you’ll know what I mean, they just cut it lengthwise with the bone still in and the marrow sticking out). Some other funny menu items were found on the menu in the picture -- yummm!

Personal space and queuing

There is such inconsistency with the whole queuing up thing. Some people will cut you off unless you are right up on top of the person in front of you  - some of these "line cutters" aren’t even in the line. THey just walk in from on where and "bamn" they are at the desk and you're standing there like an idiot. For ex: I was in line at the airport and the person up at the counter bent over to put their luggage on the scale and someone came out of nowhere and handed their passport and tickets to the agent. The agent served them like it’s wasn’t a problem and no one else said a thing. Crazy. Other times people will yell at someone doing this or they will even let you go ahead of them. B/c of this it makes it hard to really hold your ground w/o feeling like an asshole. After losing my spot countless times in line for the ATM, hotel checkout, bathroom, etc I have learned to not give an inch of personal space. One other funny thing is trying to get out of an elevator while a group of Chinese are getting in - that just makes sense to let people out before you in, no???

Public Exercise Equipment in Playgournds

In cities, there are lots of outdoor community spaces for all ages (similar to our playgrounds). They are amazingly inclusive and it’s really fun to observe all the activity. Included are all the usual kiddy things, along with ping pong tables & outdoor fitness equipment. The fitness equipment is the same big old clunky metal that the palyground stuff is made of (we're not talking nice, high-end equip outside) and even painted with primary colors. "The old people LOVE the exercise equipment - you have to see them on the elliptical trainers & these twist-machines! They are so damn cute. (picture of this coming still)

Brother - Soccer - Six!

The language barrier is pretty thick here. Recently, Nate and I have realized that we are talking like those people in the T-Mobile ads who  are trying to reduce their airtime minutes (ya know the "brother-soccer-six!!" ads). We try to reduce everyting to one or two words to convey what we want - just a minute ago I called the front desk and said "bottle opener" instead of  "hi, I need a bottle opener please". I finally got what I wanted after talking to three people and reducing my original request to "beer" and "open". Typically, I can *try* to speak the language, and I do, but Mandarin is too tonal and people don’t know what I what I am saying (I have about 10 words and that’s it).

Funny English/Chinglish T-Shirts

Chinese people wear t-shirts with English on them that make no sense whatsoever. I doubt many of them know what they say at all. For example, in a protest march we saw a lady of about 65 yrs of age wearing a shirt which read "sexy girl" in rhinestones. Many others contain funny sayings that most often contain broken English or concepts that don’t really translate or words that are off by a letter. Yesterday in Kashgar, I saw a guy about my age with "Century 21 Doritos" shirt. I think we have some pix of these which we will post sometime. It's fun to see since in the US there are so many asian printed things - many of which who knows what they say. Paul Frank had a good one out a few years ago - it was a t-shirt with japananese on it that read "I'm a stupid American tourist". On that note, I feel a little funny walking around with my chinese tattoo but no one seems to say much. I actually get more of a reaction from Chinese Americans than I do here.

May 17, 2005 at 09:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Beijing Photos: The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and Dashanzi Art District (798 Factory District)

Sorry we’ve been quiet lately; all is well. We’ve been in remote parts of western China, and what little web access we did have didn’t allow us to upload photos, so we’re a bit behind in our posting. This post contains four sets of photos from Beijing: The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and Dashanzi Art District (798 Factory District).

After these Beijing photos, you can expect Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors; Urumqi (a western, part-Muslim city); an overnight hiking trip to Heaven Lake including a night sleeping in a local’s Yurt; a 24 hour train ride to Kashgar on the far western edge of China near Pakistan and Central Asia; Kashgar; and photos of the wild, amazing, weekend market there.

Today we’re back in southeastern China, in the city of Chengdu in the heart of the Sichuan province. We‘ve got a few more creature comforts, including broadband in our room. Thursday we fly to Thailand. I hope to get more posts up before then.

Forbidden City (29 photos)

The Forbidden City was crazy - tons of people, lots of construction going on, etc. There was even a Starbucks  located within the city walls! It’s pretty funny when you think about the history of this place and how it was so off limits, only to find an American company within it's walls less than a century later. The complex is comprised of 9999 buildings/rooms. It was kept under 10,000 because 10k meant infinity and had other religious meaning. Many of the rooms contain various museum collections, such as metal work, sculpture, art and pottery. We breezed through a bunch of them; they were all fairly crowded and I’m not well versed in the art so it didn’t grab me too much. Some of the larger buildings were pretty impressive and imposing though. Long sweeping rooflines, with good colors and shapes. As you can see on some of the photos, the eves of each roof have various generally-animistic sculptures and decorations. Lots of people and it was pretty hot so we kept moving.

Tiananmen Square (18 photos)

After a few hours at the Forbidden City, we left and walked south toward Tiananmen Square. We were there during Labor Week (May 1-6, and a country-wide holiday) so it was extra decorated and populated. It had been a long day in the sun, so Aimee went home before I did. I walked around for a while, and lots of people came up to talk to me and even take pictures with me. It was actually pretty funny, kids, teenagers and parents would flag me down and ask to take a picture with me. At one point, I actually had a line of people waiting to take photos. It was a pretty weird feeling, but everybody was nice and it was fun to help them practice English and answer various questions. For me it was a treat to have locals that spoke English to speak with and ask questions. I learned a lot that I wouldn’t have otherwise. (True to the guide book, after chatting with one 20-something couple for 10 or 15 minutes, he told me he was an art student and walked me to his gallery. That I was a backpacker with no way to transport things was my out, and he was very gracious.) I really liked the square. It was intense to be there and think about it's history and important. At the same time, it was nice to see so many people having fun and enjoying the weather and the public space. As evening came, literally 100’s of people brought out kites, and parts of the sky filled with all types. Also with evening came large groups of Chinese soldiers marching across the square in formation, preparing to lower the flags at sunset. Quite a sight. Quite a site.

The Great Wall (16 photos)

We opted for a “bike and hike” trip to a part of the The Great Wall that is free from tourists and unrestored. As a result, we got a chance to see the real wall in all its faded and crumbly glory. Much better than a reconstructed one with people chasing you down to buy postcards and t-shirts. The scale was impressive. The side walls were at least three big bricks/blocks thick and the tops of the sides have custom-angled tops instead of the much less labor-intensive flat standard top. It was definitely built to last, and it was clear that a vast labor pool was accessible (to say the least). Even though the dusty (smoggy?) air drastically reduced visibility, it was still awesome to see the wall dip behind a distant hill only to reemerge on the next and the next.

Dashanzi Art Festival, aka 798 Factory District (18 photos)

While we were in Beijing, they were holding the annual Dazhai Art Festival. Nate had read about it in some magazine at home (SF) so we were excited to see it. The coolest part about it was the area itself. Old brick warehouses, German designed, that were once military factories (some kind of Soviet-Chinese venture). The spaces were amazing, but the art was only ok. They also had performance art and other events to go to. Inside this district we ate at this delicious Sichuan place which was filled with local artists. It was cool to see how like-minded people live, eat, dress, and make art in China.


That’s all for now. So far, Chengdu seems to be one of my favorite cities in China (Aimee). We spent most of today at a monastery - ate at a vegetarian restaurant and slowing walked around the grounds - lots of trees and ponds filled with turtles. An oasis in the city. At night we met up with these Israelis we had met a few weeks ago and tried the local “hot pot”. This is where you order a broth, which is placed in the center of the table and is heated through a gas burner. The broth begins to boil and you order tings to cook in it - meat, tofu, veggies.  We had half mushroom broth and half chili oil - it was HOT and good. Highly recommended experience.

Can’t believe we are almost a third of the way through our trip. In both senses: it’s been a long time already with lots left still, yet a big chunk is now behind us. We are sad to leave China, (even though there are some thing we won’t miss -- more on that later).

May 17, 2005 at 08:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 04, 2005

The Panjiayuan Market

The Panjiayuan Market in Beijing is commonly called the Weekend Market or the Dirt Market. It is a massive mainly-outdoor market for Chinese arts and crafts and other goods. There are more than 3000 individual stalls, and it covers a reported 48,500 square meters. About 90% of the space is under a roof, but the outer ring of stalls is exposed. The day was hot with a blazing sun, but we still managed to explore for about four hours. As you can imagine, they have an incredibly wide range of the things for sale. It was pretty conveniently organized, with long rows dedicated to jade and coral jewelery, chinese paintings, tea pots and accessories, books and prints, statues, beads, calligraphy stuff and then a massive assortment of the true meaning of "other".

One of the most interesting aspects of the market is the necessary bargaining. Luckily, when we initially got to Beijing we picked up an english-language magazine, that happened to have an essay on bargaining tips. The most important tip being always begin the bargaining with a counter-offer of no more than 10% of their initial offer. 10% is much less that I would have known to counter otherwise. The other advice was that a happy dialog is much more effective than a stern bargaining stance.

It's 800 for this nice small metal box! (Shown on handheld calculator that's passed back and forth between seller and buyer)
Hahaha (slap sellers shoulder and smile)... Hmmm, 100?.
No no no (smiles, shakes head, points to ground indicating 'too low')... 750.
(Smile) Hmmmm. (Pause). Type 130 in calculator.
... 4 or 5 more rounds of this....
Settle on 40-50% on sellers initial offer.

(update: turns out I read the article wrong, and you're supposed to offer no more than 50%... d'oh!., But, it actually seemed that my 10% strategy worked out pretty well, and landed me about 40-50% for final price.)

It was a very enjoyable day. Bargaining was fun, and I think I did a pretty good job. Oh, there are two other tips: First, know up front how much it's worth to you. Lots of things in the market purport to be antiques, but are actually reproductions. Instead of trying to appraise each item, just decide how much you personally like/want it. I guess the other tip is to remember that you're playing with Monopoly Money: I spent 15 minutes moving a price from 150 RMB to 110RMB, only to realize that I'd saved US$ 3.50 and paid just $13.00 for something that would easily go for $50 in any asian imports store at home.

I wish we were flying home from here directly, so that I could fill a carry-on bag with stuff. Instead, Aimee and I limited ourselves to few, small and easily packable items that we can a) afford to ship home; b) manage to carry for the next 2+ months.

I'm still working to post details of our Beijing adventures to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the up-and-coming Dashanzi Art District, where we're headed today. Tomorrow we fly to Xi'an, and after that we're heading 3000 km west to the mainly-Muslim city of Kashgar on the extreme western edge of China, once a Silk Road junction of China, India, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Here are some (7) photos of the market, though they're not very good this time. This guy's site has some more photos and a writeup if you're interested

Thanks for reading!
Nate (and Aimee)

May 4, 2005 at 09:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 01, 2005

Dazhai - Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, China

  Initial Walk Into Village 
  Originally uploaded by natekoechley.
Rice Terrace Closeups
  Rice Terrace Closeups 
  Originally uploaded by natekoechley.
New Friends
  New Friends 
  Originally uploaded by natekoechley.

Here are 33 photos from Dazhai that show the terraces, people and buildings.

About 80 km north of Guilin China is a vast region of terraced rice fields--Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces--the most amazing in the world. They were built over 300 years from the late 1200s to the early 1600s, during the Yuan and Qing Dynasty's, and are still actively maintained and farmed today.

Aimee and I stayed for two days in the small village of Dazhai in this region, a town that has only very recently opened to tourists.

We hiked up and down amongst the terraces +/- about 1000 feet, of 2500ish, and between several of the villages. We stayed with a beautiful and sweet local family who operates a small guest house. (Aimee and I earned a pretty scary spider story at their place!)

The locals in the region are Zhuang people, one of 55 distinct Chinese minority groups.

My time in this town was my (nate) first experiences surviving completely without language. We played with some of the little kids, and tried to teach each other words, using just pictures, smiles, guestures and body language. We had a small phrase book with they loved, and after some struggle we got their address and agreed to send them one when we get home.

It's hard to describe the true awesomness of this region, on many levels. These photos are good, but it really needs to be seen to be even partially comprehended.


Once you've looked at these photos as a set, check them out individually (start here  then click "next") because Aimee and I each added descriptions to many of them with more details.

May 1, 2005 at 08:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack