Saturday, October 29, 2011

Seussian Clouds

What a special sight greeted me at day's end the other night!
click on the picture for a larger view!

These unusual Kelvin-Helmholtz wave clouds are formed when two different layers of air move past one another at different speeds. They're rarely seen because they usually only last for a minute or two before dissolving.
In fact, in the minute or so it took me to grab my camera, they had already unfurled from tight curls to these gently undulating waves.

I think they look like Dr. Seuss birds, don't you?

I wonder if these swirly clouds were the inspiration behind Van Gogh's Starry Night?

Desert Mummies

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum houses a collection of mummies, beautifully and naturally preserved by the dry desert climate and salty deposits of a long-ago dried up salt lake.

yellow face paint is still crisp and vivid

These mummies, dated at approximately 1800 BC,  have stirred up quite a controversy with the Chinese government when genetic testing in 2005 revealed them to be Caucasian, not Mongoloid - proving that Caucasians roamed China's Tarim deserts about 1,000 years before East Asian people arrived.

long blonde braids

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

There's Gold in Them Thar Hills

I've still got plenty of notes and pictures to share from my visit to China, but I wanted to show you what I came home to.
This is the view from my back door. Jealous?  
Traveling the world is a wonderful experience. 
But coming home to Colorado - damn.

(you can click on any of these pictures to see them bigger!)

 I've lived here off and on for 28 years, and most days, the views still take my breath away.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sparkling Uyghur Women!

Day 7: Flight to Urumqi
As far as I can tell, we are the only Americans on the flight.  It’s a long flight, from one side of China to the other, a good 2,000 miles.

I have an aisle seat, and a lively card game has been in play for the the entire duration of he flight in the seats across the aisle from me. “Lively”, as in “6 men standing in the aisle watching, laughing, smoking (!!) and bumping into me” for the past 3 hours.

Urumqi - the most landlocked place on Earth - is the capital city of  Xinjiang Province - or, more accurately, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. 
Xinjiang Province borders 8 countries - Russia, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, & India.

Urumqi is in the Taklamakan Desert in Central Asia, close to the border of Tajikistan & Khazakhstan - you know, where Borat is from.

This is a predominantly Muslim area, although there are still many Han Chinese. The majority of the people here are Uyghurs. They don’t look what we think of as “Chinese” at all - and looking around at the mosques and bazaars, you’d think you were in an Arabic country.

The women are beautiful. I am seeing all manners of dress for women. Skintight jeans, fancy dresses, full coverage burkas . .  and heels. All of the women wear high heels. Sparkly, crystal-encrusted shoes are the fashion here. I LIKE it!

Most, but not all, women wear head scarves, tied in as many ways as you can imagine.

The  women really like sparkle here! Today I saw a woman in a full-length black robe with a wide row of colorful embroidery and sequins trailing up her arms.

Dinner was at a Uighur restaurant. Upon entering, we were led to a basin where water was poured over our hands three times. We are then given a towel to dry our hands - or as my colorfully translated guidebook says, “offering of a fowl with which to dry the hands”. 

Funny - so much good food, but what I remember most is the insanely delicious mint tea.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Scary Farmer's House

Lunch at Happy Farmer’s House
Mutiyanu, about an hour outside of Beijing 

Happy Farmer’s Houses are places for families to go to escape the urban life -  just a place to  unwind, have some country cooking, play some ping pong - a farmland park outside of the city.

Walter & Lily at Happy Farmer's House


Happy Farmer’s House is where I discovered I’m not quite as adventurous as I’d thought I was when it comes to food.

I have been game to try a variety of exotic foods while here - I knew, of course, that what we call “Chinese food” in America bears little resemblance to REAL Chinese food.

Happy Farmhouse proved that to me today.
Lunch consisted of fried fish heads & tails, jellied dofu, black fungus, a bland cornmeal cake, a thin, watery congee, and some kind of stewed chicken - with the chicken head floating amongst the skin in a slimy gravy.

<cue scary horror flick music here>
another kind of cock's comb

I tried to be gracious, and I did try a tiny bit of (almost) everything - but this is the one day I went away hungry.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... 
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do."

Steve Jobs

‎"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. 
And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. 
If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. 
As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. 
And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on." 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

These Toilets are the Pits

Poster inside toilet stall in Shanghai

I get the paper
up and aim at the wastebasket.
A throw! The
paper lifted
up after being 
released. Ha,
a nice shoot with a goal!
I am a strong
man in civilization

In China almost all of the toilets are pit toilets.

In the fancier hotels and airports, you may find the occasional “western” toilet, but for the most part, resign yourself to squat. If you have bad knees, well, you’re shit out of luck (pun intended). 

The plumbing in China is shitty (there I go again!), so you can’t flush toilet paper - you have to throw it in the trash can next to the squatter.
This, as you can imagine, makes the bathrooms most aromatic.
You never have to look for a toilet - just follow your nose.

So the simple act of relieving oneself becomes, for those of us raised in the States,
an exercise in strength, stamina, and agility.

Very few public toilets have toilet paper, so bring a pack of Puffs or wet wipes.

First, approach the toilet with trepidation, opening all the stall doors to find the least offensive one. Don’t try to hold your breath to ward off the stench - you don’t want to get dizzy and pass out and fall IN the toilet. Better to accept the smell, and give thanks for your shiny, white porcelain throne back home.
One experienced traveler recommends a smidge of Vicks Vap-o-Rub under the nose to block the smell.

If you’re lucky, your stall will have a lock on the door.
No, wait - if you're lucky, your stall will HAVE a door!
If you’re even luckier, there will be a hook to hang your purse. 

Roll up your pants legs a bit, or they’ll be soaked in the urine left on the floor from the other Western tourists who were too scared to squat properly, missing the pit altogether.
Don’t be one of them - get in there and do it right.
You came to China to be immersed in the life and culture here, didn’t you?

Feet go on either side of the pit, obviously. 
Drop your pants, taking care not to let them touch the floor, bend your knees, squat, and let ‘er flow.

This is where you'll be happy you’ve practiced your Kegels - if you can control your flow to something between a trickle and a gushing fountain, you won’t have to deal with backsplash.

Now, still squatting, grab your tissue (you DID take your tissue out of your purse before you hung it up, right?), steady your balance, and finish up.
Don’t forget - don’t throw your tissue into the squatter!

Now go wash your hands - every bathroom has a sink,
but in the 2-1/2 weeks I’ve been here so far, only 2 or 3 have had soap.
And then shake your hands and wipe them on your pants, because none of them have towels or hand dryers. 

Here’s another tip for the Western woman traveling in China - you, too, can pee standing up.

I brought a handy dandy little device called P-Style  - I call it my Port-o-Peenie.
It’s a hard plastic tunnel-funnel thingy that . . . well, use your imagination.

Suffice it to say that I fear no pit toilets - I can take it like a man. Heh. 

Still can’t write my name in the snow, though.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Great Wall of China

Today, we climbed the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu.

Located about 45 miles outside of Beijing, Mutianyu is a bit more rugged and less crowded than the more famous Badaling. Over 96% of Mutianyu is covered by trees and orchards. 

The Great Wall at Mutianyu was originally built in the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577), and restored in the early Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). 

The climb TO the Great Wall is daunting - from the parking lot it’s about 1/2 mile of steep, steep walkway lined with vendors hawking t-shirts and fans and hats and embroidered cloth and cold drinks. 

Then it’s another gazillion steep steps up to the cable car. 

A 10 minute ride even farther up the moutain, and we’re there. 

MORE steps to the base of the Wall. 
Then MORE - and we’re on the Wall.

The Great Wall of China.

My Mom is amazing! 
80 years old, and she is game for any challenge. She wasn’t about to let her age be an excuse for missing out on anything. 
We walked from one watchtower to the next, slowly, stopping to catch our breath here and there.

“Betcey,” she’d say.

“Yeah, Mom?”

“We’re climbing the Great Wall of China!!”

“Yeah, Mom, we are!”