Archive | November, 2012

Engaged!

29 Nov

Surprise!

Chuck from last fall’s kickball team.

Just kidding.  But for real, my trekking guide from Nepal – Som – just got engaged.  Here’s his engagement photo:

As you may recall, Som guided my friend Timmy and I on a trek in the Annapurna region of Nepal two months ago.

He’s 27, the same age as me.  And he told us, back in September, that when he returned home to Gorkha around this time, he was to be married.

“To who?,” we asked.

“We have no love marriage.  My parents decide.” he said.

“Whoaaa.  Can you veto their selection?”

“Veto?”

“Can you say no to who your parents pick?”

“Oh.  I have 1 hour to decide.”

Timmy and I are silent.  I mean, where do you go from there?

A picture I took of Som on our trek.

People say you travel to understand other cultures.  So far, I think that’s bull.  I haven’t even scratched the surface of understanding.  All I can say is that I’m now at least aware of the existence of other cultures.

And I’m thankful, and I’m awed.  I could be Som, and Som could be me.  He’s the oldest son of a schoolteacher, and — luckily for him — was born into the highest order of the Brahmin caste.  Still, that hardly guaranteed him a silver spoon.  He worked as porter for several years, carrying trekkers’ crap over terrain that a mule couldn’t manage.  Along the way, he picked up enough English to go to the 6-month-long guiding school and become a trekking guide, which he’s been doing for the last 10 years.  He’s never left Nepal, nor he will likely ever.

We spent a lot of time together and, to this day – despite the fact that we exchange regular Facebook messages – I have no idea how he feels about me.  Envy?  Pity?  Ambivalence?  Has he even thought about it?

I look into his eyes and can’t help but feel that he is so much wiser than me — and yet, in a way, he’ll never know as much as me.  Am I sacrificing Shangri-La at the altar of knowledge?  Le sigh.

So Som will be married before the year’s out.  And I as well, all too soon, will make the pilgrimage home to find my mate.  But, groan, my Dad won’t have him waiting there draped with an orange lei.  I’m expected to scour the freaking earth for him.  But hey, maybe I’ll look a little happier in our engagement photo.

Speaking of which, if you’re looking for a New Year’s kiss to ring in 2013, yours truly may just be available for a limited engagement.  Please note that while I am amenable to wearing this dress again:

Ringing in 2012.

I will look more like this:

Okay, maybe I’ll leave the MRI at home.

A Day in the Life

28 Nov

Backdated: November 9, 2012.

Today, I kept a diary of my day, 10-year-old style.

I woke up in Yangshuo, China.  My roommate immediately was like, “holy sh*t, Lucie.”  I was like, “what?”  Then she relayed to me how she got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.  She was attempting to return to her bed when I suddenly sat up in bed, yelled at her to “stop right there!” and “don’t move!” before rolling over and going back to sleep.  Oops.  I told her not to worry (though I may or may not have mentioned the time during field hockey camp in Florida when I mistook my bedmate for an alligator and socked her with a pillow).

I did some Chinese calligraphy.  Early on, however, I became bored with attempting to understand the instructor lady and copy her Chinese swooshes and dots and what not.  So I started doing my own stuff.  The instructor lady was not impressed when I explained it was “American calligraphy.”

Then I stopped by the post office, where I stuffed my Chinese calligraphy into an envelope and (attempted to) mail it to my Dad.  It cost me 6.5 yuan ($1.04) and supposedly will take 10 weeks (10 weeks!).  “What?,” I asked the postal lady, “is it going by carrier pigeon?”  Obviously, she didn’t understand.

Sick by the thought of eating another noodle or rice kernel, I then went to McDonald’s and tried to order a hamburger.  In response to questions posed to me in Mandarin, I nodded my head.  I ended up getting a cheeseburger, Coke, fries, and a bacon lettuce tomato double beef burger with chili sauce.

It started pouring so I obtained some rain gear and resumed my primary pastime of walking around aimlessly.

My ankle is still a little tender so when I saw a sign for “Chinese physician cured foot massage,” I was like, great, that’s exactly what I need.  I walked in and the lady said some stuff in Chinese.  Of course, I just nodded my head.  She took me up to the second floor of the house, chased the kids away, mixed up some egg whites and whiskey, and massaged it on to my feet/ankles, being careful to punch my ankle bones every once in a while.  [Seriously, “punch” is the best way to describe it.]  My ankle totally felt better afterwards.  [But obviously, for the record, was not “cured.”]

Later that night, after a dinner of dumplings, I put on my bandana, zipped up my North Face, laced up my hiking shoes, and walked down to the river to go “night fishing.”  Night fishing consisted of a man on a raft with a bunch of cormorants (birds).  The birds would dive under the water and hunt for fish, but they had a string around their necks which prevented them from swallowing the fish they caught (at least the big ones).  So the fisherman would reel ’em back in and steal their catches.

Yangshuo is easily identified by its stunning karst limestone peaks, seen here in the distance.

Sometimes you’re the fisherman, and sometimes you’re the bird. And sometimes you’re the fish.

An Elephant Sat on Me

25 Nov

He is a really big one, and his name is Life.  And he quickly deflated my little bubble of an existence.

It looks as if I’ve triumphantly set off on this one-year trip around the world to figure it all out (hah), only to limp home four months later.

Go ahead, read it again.  And yes, I mean limp home literally.

I am a wimp!  I am a failure!

Remember when I fell off that curb in Thailand and twisted my ankle?

Okay, well it was a big damn curb.  [And I’m making up another story that sounds better… stay tuned.]  I’ve spent the last 7 weeks and 4 countries waking up, wrapping the ankle up, and then… climbing the Great Wall, trekking through rice paddies, biking city walls, and more generally just carting around myself and my 44 pounds of worldly possessions.

But on the plane out of Asia, I met a lady named Theresa, who drug me to the doctor.

Theresa and me — overlooking Perth, Australia.

Who told me, post-ultrasound, that my ankle is a little busted, and I need to get surgery if I want to play sports again.

Since I got the news last week, I have ripped my fingernails off.  Eaten my weight in kebabs and chocolate.  Not brushed my hair.  Stayed up all night.  Slept all day (uncomfortably, in the Australian heat).  Read three horrible books.  And woken my Dad up in the middle of the night twice (speaking of which, he needs to come up with some better lines; his response to the news was “well, flexibility is the key to airpower.”).

It’s really affected my self-conception.  It’s like I woke up with green skin and a hook nose (okay, maybe I’ve been listening to the Wicked soundtrack on repeat).  I’m suddenly inanely self-conscious.  And jealous of anyone with a serviceable left ankle.

I must look like hell (after all let’s not forget the bed bug bites on my face) because last night the lady at the airport cafe gave me a meat pie for free.

Remember in Tiananmen Square when I said I felt so… strong?  Well yesterday on the plane (Perth to Adelaide) I was thinking how I felt so… weak.  Like a reed bending the wind.  And the next gust might emotionally snap me in half.

Then I was like, okay, Luce, really, stuff a Hong Kong BBQ-pork-stuffed pastry puff in it, get a grip, and claw yourself out of this melodramatic abyss of wallowing and self-pity.  Get your MRI (tomorrow) and then hop off (hehe) onto other adventures.

And, more generally, just attempt to pull your head out of your arse long enough to appreciate that this could be your street:

Kathmandu!

This could be the alley to your home:

Kathmandu!

And this could be your job:

Kathmandu!                                                                                                                                                                                      Try with a hurt ankle.

Life is good, even a little gimpy.

E-mails from Last Night

25 Nov

E-mail sent from my iPhone last night at 2351 hours

To: Alex

From: Lucie

Subject: Bed bugs in my pillow

Body:

E-mail sent last night at 2357 hours

To: Alex

From: Lucie

Subject: Also

Body:

Would you think twice about riding an elevator with this sign outside it?

In fairness, I did ride this elevator once. It did not instill confidence.

Sorry, busted ankle, we’re taking the stairs!

E-mail received last night at 2359 hours

To: Lucie

From: Alex

Subject: Re: Also

Body:

um, I think the moral of the previous two emails is that you should switch hostels…

Unfiltered Thoughts from a Chinese Hostel Room

22 Nov

Awesome Things About China:

  1. You can wear anything you want.  It’s not fashion-forward; it’s fashion-upside-down.  [Sad note: the pictures below do not do my point justice.  I’ll have a word with my photographer.]  I myself have gotten into the Chinese spirit by wearing my beach cover-up over jeans and hiking boots.  I’ve also sported shorts and ski socks.  

  2. There are no kids around.  To scream, yell, throw tantrums in the grocery aisle.  Woohoo, One Child Policy!
  3. Employees are motivated!  For instance, every morning at 10:30 a.m., before they start work, employees at this hair salon must go out on the street and do a dance to get them ready for the day.
  4. You can hock loogies anywhere.  The louder, the better.  It is ridiculous.  When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Questionable Things About China:

  1. People are constantly hocking loogies everywhere.  Seriously, is that necessary?  I max out at one a day.
  2. Mandarin is a freaking redonkulous language.  Upon learning that no one here speaks English, I made a solid five-minute effort to learn basic Chinese until tour guide Bruce informed me that not a single one of the 1.4 billion people in China would understand my pronunciation of any Chinese word.

    The street my hostel was on.  My pronunciation: “Dogshit Alley.”  Bruce was not impressed.

  3. You can’t smoke on the bed.  Real bummer.  I swear: you can smoke, spit, and urinate anywhere — except on the bed, apparently.

  4. Bookstore selection is extremely limited.  This giant bookstore had 5,000 copies of every classic ever – Austen, the Brontes, Dickinson, Shakespeare, the whole lot.  Finding many of their characters to be rather insufferable, I searched out the “History/Political Science” section.  And I found approximately three books, including — drum roll please — “American History” by Dengchongzhangliu (some Chinese guy, you get the picture).

    Proof that size isn’t everything.

    There is, however, a good selection of Oreos.

Megalomania

21 Nov

Backdated: November 3, 2012.

I spent the last few days in Xi’an, an ancient Chinese city world famous for its Terracotta Army, one of the greatest archaeological finds of the century.

The Army is a collection of life-size terracotta sculptures that the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, had built and buried with him for protection in the afterlife — which began, for him, over 2,200 years ago.

Each warrior is different — right down to the facial features.

Let’s just say Qin Shi Huang went a little overboard.  The Army took 700,000 men to build.  It consists of over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 670 horses, as well as other non-military figures like officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians – the majority of which remain buried, as only a portion of the site has been excavated (the rest delayed due to expense and inadequate technology to preserve what is unearthed).

And the Army just guards his tomb.  The tomb itself (which remains unopened) is city-sized, measuring 56.25 square kilometers – the largest anywhere in the world.

An excavation site in progress. What a job…

Our tour guide was going on about the greatness of Qin Shi Huang – and indeed his obit writers had a few things to write about – like how he unified China for the first time and ushered in nearly two millennia of imperial rule; linked piece-meal sections of the Great Wall together; constructed a massive road system; and standardized measurements and currency and even the length of cart axles to facilitate transport on the road system.

Feeling it was lacking, I tried to provide some perspective to the group that Mr. Qin Shi Huang did all of this, impressive as it was, at the expense of many lives and great human sacrifice, but I’m not sure how it went over.  [Okay, there’s a chance I called him “a ruthless, genocidal, war-mongering, egotistical nutcase who burned books and buried people alive.”]

We also biked the Ming City Wall around Xi’an, which is the most complete and intact city wall in China.  It’s 13.7 kilometers in length and over 600 years old.

Also (maybe I’m going a little overboard now?), Xi’an was the starting point of the Silk Road, an ancient trade route connecting Asia to the West.  In the 8th century AD, it was the largest city in the world, home to one million (now that’s just a small village in China).  Almost a third of that population were foreigners who largely resided in the beautifully preserved Muslim Quarter of the city:

Tootles!

The Great Wall

20 Nov

Backdated: October 30, 2012.

My love affair with China continues.  Today, I walked ~7.5 miles of the Great Wall between Jinshanling and Simatai.  It was stunning.

Like a mighty serpent, the Great Wall winds 5,500 miles across northern China.  Construction started as early as the 7th century BC by independent kingdoms wishing to keep out marauding nomads.  The first emperor of China, after uniting the country for the first time, linked the wall together circa 200 BC (2,200 years ago!), and it’s been renovated in centuries since.

I stuck back with the group at first and took pictures and hemmed and hawed about this or that.  But then, I put in my earphones and charged ahead until I saw no one else, and then charged further, and marveled in the sense of deliverance that washed over me.  At once I was both very small and yet very big.  Very small because I felt, at my core, the impossibly small space I occupied – in this one tiny sliver of time – in this one little corner of the world – in a vast universe amidst vaster-yet universes.  I’m just the tiniest crumble of something I’ll never understand — something incomprehensibly ancient and immense and byzantine.

And yet it made me feel big, too, because it lifted the weight of the world off my shoulders.  The prospect of inconsequentiality, it turns out, is freeing.  It makes twenty-first century, twenty-something worries at home seem incredibly silly.  Does he like me?  Does she like me?  Am I fat?  How fat am I?  Who am I?  Who should I be?  Fruit shake me, mate.

Don’t live your life for the world.  That’s the golden ticket to inconsequentiality.  ‘Cause the world will forget you.

The Great Wall unlocked for me one of the great gifts of this trip: a grand sense of humility.  I’m learning to accept – the hour of the day, the city I’m in, the bedhard surface I’m sleeping on tonight, the people I’m with or not.  And, most importantly, myself.

Something magical happened in Beijing.  It’s like I shed an old coat, puffy and plain and comfy and sentimental.  And I put on this bright red, effortlessly sleek cape with big black buttons and deep, casual pockets and an upturned collar.  As light as a feather, as if unburdened with a care in the world, I bantered with an Australian dude who thought I was 21.  I cracked up half the hostel when I sprayed him with my hair-spray-masquerading-as-pepper-spray.  I wore long underwear to a bar.  I drove him up the wall by talking pretending to understand some hot German in a business suit over gin and tonic (yuck) and a cigarette (yuck).  While my warm Tsingtao beer waited by the stripper pole.

When the going gets tough, it’s all too easy to sever yourself from the world outside your gate.  To erect Great Walls to keep out would-be invaders.  But by making your world smaller, you make your problems larger.  And you miss out on the stingingly sweet breeze that tingles your lungs and cherries your cheeks – and that one can imagine has blown just the same across the plains of time.

Don’t find yourself amongst your colleagues or peers or friends or family.  Find your place in the universe.  Trust me, it seems a lot easier.