a blondie in the crowd

believe it or not i am not the only blonde(ish) hair colored person in xining. buy you would not believe that the others are actually chinese.

every once in a while i will be walking down the street and some blonde head will pop out of a shop or walk by carrying a load of boxes. these are the salar. not all of them are blonde. in fact most of them are not. but those few that are look more like they should be walking the streets of prague or zagreb. they look totally eastern european. in fact they are central asia, and of a very special and mythic heritage.

a few years ago i remember seeing a documentary on central asia nomadic herders and part of the show dealt with these blonde-haired, blue-eyed outliers. apparently there was a tribe of warriors, many of them female, who roamed the central asian grasslands. as they went along pillaging and conquering, individuals settled and began having children. so, these blondies that i see are supposed to be the children of some warrior tribe from centuries ago. it's really quite neat to see them and think about this. i wonder if they know about this myth?

on another note, the salar are from the former empire of samarkand. for you history buffs you might recognize this name; they were the ones who controlled a major portion of the silk road and even pressured the western parts of china to be tributary states in the 14th-16th centuries. they are a very famous people in the history of western china.

so, the moral of the story: even though people in xining stare at me all the time, i am not the only blonde head in town, and in fact, i am not even the most unique blonde hair either. that's a relief.


it's official

well, it's official. i am partly color-blind. some of you have long suspected as much. so now everyone of you who i have argued about a color with can take this as vindication you were right. well, only if it was red we were arguing over.

you see, i had to have a health check today in order to be approved for my visa. the very last stage was an eye check. so this lady pushes a book in front of me and tells me to read it. i look up at her and say what? there's nothing on there but colored shapes, and they don't have any pattern. she kindly tells me that it says 15. she flips the page and we go throught the same exchange. but this time i look up at her almost not believing that she's telling the truth. so i pick up the book and look throught it, i can't see a thing. then this indian guy i met a few days earlier walks in for his eye test. she opens the book to a new page and asks him to read it. he quickly says, 88. a new page, and again, without hesitation, 75.

you know, i had long thought, and even said i was partly color-blind, but i was never really sure. now i am. i could barely see anything on those pages and everyone else in the room quickly read the nymbers. even after they pointed out what to look for and told me the correct number, i saw different numbers. so, like i said, i was wrong. but only if the color we argued over was a shade of red.


not much new here, but...

so the days here are none too eventful, but i have some news to report.

first, the weather has warmed up considerably, from a cool 55 to a rather warm 75. still, one can not complain having come from texas, right? it's still feels so great to sleep with the windows open and let the evening air cool me off. but that brings me to my second thought...

leaving my windows open is great for sleeping, that is until 7am when the school bell rings to let everyone know they should be at PE. that's right, PE! one of the first mornings here i got up to look out and see exactly what was going on. to my surprise, it was 5th grade gym class, except these are 20-25 year old college students. a few times since i have watched these exercises and each time i laugh to myself. jumping jacks in unison, running in place while moving your arms in tight circles to your side. at times it looks more like practicing for a line dance competition. well, funny you should mention that. they have competitions for this stuff! not kidding. just last weekend there was one here in xining. can you believe this, not only are they suffering through elementary gym class again, but they have to do this stuff at competitions. okay, that's enough.

third, i bought myself a nice little chinese cell phone. it kind of cool, but i did buy the absolute cheapest one they had. but now i can walk around town and when someone calls i pull out my phone and look like a local white person. ah, i'll never blend in, especially not wearing sandals like i do.

anyway, your welcome for some useless news. but things will pick up soon. i will be traveling around soon. so get ready for pictures of really tall mountains and monks doing their thang.


brrr! it's cold here

it's kind of hard to believe, but the last three days the temp. has barely gotten to the mid 50s. it's june right? i met some americans the other day who were looking for the nearest place to buy fake north face coats because they had not planned for this type of weather. it rains every night and when i wake up a texas fall breeze meets me. it's so much nicer than texas heat.

on another note, there seems to be an infestation of monks wandering the street with one english phrase in their arsenal, 'give me money.' what a shock the first time i heard it. i kind of laughed it off as coming from someone with little real understanding of what he was saying. but as they keep coming i have become less and less kind in the way i dismiss them. they find me everywhere; in the market, at the bookstore, while i am writing this blog entry (for real, this is not just to prove my point). since when have monks been so interested in money that they swarm you everywhere you go. this is not the kind of begging where they let you come to them and look at you with needy eyes. these monks are pulling at your clothes and acting like they are your friend in order to get that phrase out there. 'give me money.'

if you know me, you know i love the tibetan people. but come on. this is horrendous. it is unbecoming. what am i to do. i know they are just hard up for money, but going about it like this?

well, my rant is over. i still love them. i'll stick around too. but i hope this is just a short term happening.


some new photos of xining

i know many of you are concerned about the growth of my facial hair, so i decided to post updates on the progression of my beard. this is right at a weeks growth. don't worry all you ladies, there are no women here to scare off with a horrendous beard.
my kitchen. it is a little small, but it works. it is also down the hall from my room, and i have to unlock a padlock everytime to use it. i bought an electric skillet today and cooked my first proper meal--stirfry veggies.

my desk and computer. there is just enought room for a chair at the end of my bed.

my lovely, hard as a rock bed. but you know what, i have already grown used to the hardness. i sleep very well.

next week i might be traveling with a new friend to sichuan provence. if i go expect some great stories and pictures. i'll let you know.


X marks the spot

well, i have been in xining for about 4 days now. this place is far and away different from anywhere else i've been in china. it's more like a frontier city. think old west, with dirt roads, people walking everywhere, general mayhem, and the interaction of two groups of people that don't always get along real well. that is my new home.

i am renting a little, and i mean little, room at the foreign students dorm at the local minoroties college. it actaually suits me quite well. i had taken some pics to post so that you could see what my place looks like, but it appears the internet cafe i use will not read my usb drive. perhaps later.

last night i attended a tibetan rock concert. it was actually a lot better than i would have expected. the bands, at least a dozen of them, varied in sound from lynard skynard-like, to metallica and heavier speed metal i've never listened to. but it was fun. i was the only whitey there, so it was like being a celebrity. tibetan rock might even make it into my research. imagine that, sitting in clubs and seeing shows as research. ha! we anthropologist have the world eating out of our hands.

not much else has been happening for me here. i pretty much try to meet people, talk with them, find old friends, and watch a few boot-leg movies. today i got spiderman. i'm only mildly excited to see it. things will pick up as time goes by. this is just a time to get back into the community and make friends.

i'll try to find out how to post pic's soon.


travel advisory, and other things

this just in, actually it came in a few days ago, anyone planning to travel in southwest china needs to reconsider their plans. there is considerable flooding near guilin and yangzhuo. please be advised that rain will continue to fall and conditions will only worsen. also of note, i am not near wither of these places, and it has rained only a little where i am located right now.

but, i will only be located here for another few hours. off to the xining soon. i finally worked out my travel arrangements and booked on a flight. i hate flying withing china, trains are much more fin and cheaper. but alas, i was tired of waiting here in guangzhou for trains to be open.

on another note, it really chaps my hide to see the spurs cruising to another championship. that team might be luckier than any in recent memory. if the mavs hadn't choked the spurs would not have beat them. man, what a crappy basketball season.

on yet another note, i watched a bootleg copy of pirate of the caribbean yesterday. it was not that bad. i had really low expectations mind you, but it was okay. it was astoundingly average, which is a step up from the second one. the only problem i had was the issue of will and elizabeth's relationship at the end. come on, the entire movie is cliche and then at the end you decide to move away from the expected. boo!

one final note, it seems that almost all backpackers are pretty much the same. the slightly grungy, go anywhere do anything crowd. but sometimes you get a few rare birds, i am usually one of them for different reasons. but is appears there is atrue rare bird among us in guangzhou. a 60+ year-old pervert of a man. i think his sole purpose of travel is to find the message parlors and to pick up young women. he's really creepy. it's just so sad that someone could view these women like that, and that they are so naive or vulnerable to someone like him. that is not to mention that he walks around the hostel in his whitey-tighties. just wrong!

sorry to leave you on that thought, but that's exactly what i am doing. the next post will be coming from X, that is what i'll call xining from now on.


one more post for today, and it's music

go check out dj lobsterdust's newest mashup of marvin gaye and mary wells and the album leaf. if you know me at all you know i love mashups. this one is especially fun, it combined the soul of marvin with the the hypnotic beat of the album leaf, with a little carpenters to give it a morning pop sound. enjoy.

collage of pictures

a junk moving across the water in front of hong kong island. it was quite spectacular to look across and see such fantastical buildings and then to see such antiquated boats still roaming the surrounding waterways.

the afore mentioned prison cell hotel room. rather cozy, eh? not exactly what i thought i was booking from the website. i got a better room the next night, one with no windows. but hey, without these types of happenings what would i tell about when i get home.

this was supposed to be part of a series of photo's i was taking, each of a completed nytimes crossword puzzle where it was completed. i wanted to get my collection published in the times. but yesterday i forgot to repack the book after doing a puzzle on the train from hong kong to guangzhou. so the project is no more, what a bummer.

just waiting to reboard the plane in taipei. what a messy place. as you can see, though, i am having a great time.

oh, the life. sitting on the lanai at my north shore bungalow. if only it could be like this all the time.

p.s. if anyone liked my post 'lo, i am with you' then read mg's comments on the 'hong kong' post and be very encouraged.

lo, I am with you

i don't know how many of you have truly felt lonely before. i think i might have before, but if not, then i have now.

as you know, i was planning to catch a train today to my final destination. but alas, no train actually existed. so, i am now in guangzhou, now officially in china. it's like a calm version of hong kong, complete with colonial architecture.

this morning i left from hong kong on a speed train--not so speedy in reality. i arrived at guangzhou east train station about 2 hours before i wanted to catch my connecting train. loaded down with one pack on my back, one on my chest, and a bag of dirty clothes in my hand i wandered that train station for the better part of an hour. i looked for where to buy the ticket, where to exchange money, and where to ask for help. every time i thought i had things figured out another snag would arise--find the right ticket office, can't find a place to exchange travelers checks. so, i gave up. my shirt was soaked through, my hair was dripping, really it was, and i was completely flustered. this was not supposed to be this difficult, hard, but not like this.

thankfully this morning before leaving hong kong i grabbed a friends lonely planet and looked up a place to stay, just in case. so i flung my hand out and hailed a cab in the pouring rain. not really, i was puring, but i was under a covered area, where cabs line up to take you places. i gave the guys the address and we took off. 20 minutes, all the while my mind is racing, trying to figure out what to do, and how to get on to xining.

after a phone call we found the hostel and i checked in, 50 yuan per night--about 6 us dollars. cheap. and nicer than my place in hong kong at about 1/3 the price. i got a bottom bunk too.

every good hostel has a ticket desk, and so i found it and set to work. trains to xining? sold out for three days if you want a bed. and i do, remember this is a 30 hour train. flights to xining? sold out except for first class. how much? 2590 yuan, or about $360. too expensive! how 'bout a train to shanghai and then a flight to xining? it's cheaper to fly to shanghai. 550 yuan, and there are no flights to xining from there. okay, how about a flight from hong kong? i can just go back tomorrow morning? no flights available. okay, hmm, i don't know. any other way? no. let me think about it for a bit. thanks.

that was my conversation, in an abridged form, with the ticket desk. three people, no answers to my problems. but not their fault right. so, don't get mad. back i went, trying to find a way. twice. to no avail.

all the while i throw up these 'show me what to do prayers.' but nothing seems to be working out. so i set out to walk a bit. i am really unsure what to do at this point, and i really don't want to be in guangzhou for one night, let alone several. i start walking and find no peace, only shops and a 7-11 to eat lunch at. coke, pringles and a snickers. that's on top of my snickers and oj for breakfast. the china diet for westerners on the move before restaurants open up. in my head i think, 'if i eat like this for too long i'm not going to feel too good. oh well, i don't want chinese right now'

a lap around the block later, and feelings of total ambiguity and insecurity later i go back in side and grab my lap top. it needs to be charged, and while walking i stopped in a starbucks to see if they had wifi. they did, and it's free. what! free wifi at a starbucks. nice, things are getting a little better. at least i can send some emails and change my dead for three days computer.

for you novelist, this is the climax of the story. things change and our hero, me of course, sees what is going on. his view of events is changed and things come into focus. so, read on my friends.

walking up to starbucks i notice an inordinate number of westerners. young, acting like they live here, and moving in packs, even hordes. they seem to own the starbucks. i step to the counter and order a coffee, the least i can do for free wireless, and only a little over a dollar. 'medium coffee please.' for you starbuckers, they don't have venti sizes in asia, that is only for us americans. the guys hands it to me, and like i were back on knox street i turn for the cream and sugar. then i sit down, pull out the laptop, plug it in and alight myself on the comfy bench seat. then in walk to more westerners, but they look like all the rest. a guy and a girl, probobly college age. around the chairs and the low wall they come, setting down their bags right next to me. it was like when someone is out 'sharing,' they get that locked in look in their eyes. i look up at the guy and we give the courtesy hello. but then he says, your from the states. huh? where? texas. you? lousiana. ah, what are you doing here? i proceeded to tell the story of my trip to guangzhou. you two? it turns out they are here with a bunch of friends the 'gather' with. two months here in guangzhou. for the next few minutes we talk about our trips and what we are doing.

i don't know if it has become aparent to you yet, but the tone of my day swung dramatically with that encounter. i had been walking the streets feeling terribly lonely, unknown, and just unsure what to do. i had no idea what was going on. but my Father did. he was teaching me. this entire trip is new for me. you may think that i have traveled a lot, and that i am this wildly independent person that just goes and doesn't worry. but its hard traveling alone, even when you meet new people all the time. doubts and fears were besieging my heart. i knew what was going on, and was trying to respond in faith. so my needy cries of 'i need you now' were answered. i felt alone. but i was not. our Father showed me where i was. in His hands. and quite literally surrounded by brothers and sisters. you know we all have those moments where things in our heads spin on a dime and you supernaturally feel different. that's what i had. instead of this being a moping story of loneliness, it's one of hope, of provision, and one to remember so that the next time i am not so prone to the wandering and unbelief of my mind.

and off my new friends go. but i am still within His grasp, well within His provision. i share this for your sake too. it means something different for each of you, but take it to heart, He is good, even we are unaware of His presence.


hong kong

i tell you, hong kong is at one time amazing and repulsive. it's something about the pulsating commercial districts that spread over miles and miles, the opulence, the glitz and glamour of asia's first city, and the hawking of all things real and fake on every corner.

i am glad to be leaving here tomorrow. though i am not glad to be embarking on more than 30 hours of travel, all by train. i enjoy train travel, but i only just finished flying from hawaii.

strangely, too, i have found myself looking for that rooted feeling. for order and habit. for normalcy. for the same people for more than a few days. for people that share my hope. but alas, that will build in due time in xining. but moreso than at any other time, i feel ready for the changes and the difficultiues coming. my heart is set upon His face, and that makes me know it is well with me. some internal fortitude takes me over when my flesh is weak. praise His name that it is so.

still, more pictures are coming. hold tight and you will be rewarded in a few days.



what a day. it started at 6am, after a rough, sweaty nights sleep. hawaiian hostels are a party all the time, even when they say they have quiet hours after 11. then i spent an hour in line, the only line in all of the honolulu airport, waiting to check in. not so bad really, i paid five bucks to a skycap to skip the majority of the line. wait, did i mention that i bought a ukelele? no, well, i did. its my new traveling companion. i have learned two notes so far, c and c-sharp. anyway, sitting waiting for my flight i busted that thing out and two japanese women came over to ask me to play for them. i kindly refused, it was too early to perform.

i boarded the plane to find out that i had an emergency row seat, praise God! plenty of leg room and two jovial travelers beside me. a very pleasant flight. but then we landed in tokyo and i begin to wear down. i lost the 6th of june almost totally, at about 11am i switched to the next day. what a mess! eventually i reboarded the same plane in the same seat, but only after going through security again.

another good flight, lots of stories of travels. there were five americans sitting next to each other and we were increasing becoming the minority as we flew on. too many stories of drugs and the mekong delta, or fights over waves in maui. only a four hour hop and we were in taipei.

let me just tell you, you can tell what a countries like by their best airports, and if taipei, being the capitol looks like that, then it's not a very nice place to look at. another round of security, the same plane, a different and of course more crowded seat, and we were on out way to hing kong.

by this point i've been traveling for nearly 19 hours and i've lost a day. i am literally falling asleep every time i stopped moving. remember, only about 4 hours of sleep the night before. yet a redeeming moment lurked ahead. i think they must fly you past the hong kong skyline on purpose. it was amazing. tom, hong kong is what i expected tokyo to be. magical. i was on the correct side of the plane to stare glassy-eyed out at the thousands of skyscrapers. colored every way imaginable, yellow, blue and red bridges. and mountains lurking behind every monstrosity. but the amazing feature was the soft pillows of clouds that reflected their colors back. it was like i was flying through a dream, colored lollipops and floating marshmallows. ha, well, sort of. but it really was an amazing approach. what a beautiful city from the air.

things change once you land though, but not right away. but you'll have to wait to hear about that, and my prison cell of a hotel room. stay tuned...pictures are to come, but for now a shower and a meal.

by the way, i ate four airplane meals yesterday, that's all i ate.


souvenirs of remembrance

i was once a very shy fellow, and i still am in some ways. but times they have a changed. there is something totally awesome about meeting random people, well, when they are cool.

in the last 24 hours i have meet five people and carried on totally random but real conversations with them. four girls and one guy. ryan is a bit of a ladies man if you did not already know that.

so, i went to eat dinner by myself last night, 'haleiwa eats thai' was the place. i spent about 20 minutes talking with my waitress about my research and her moving from california to hawaii for the laid-back lifestyle. then i struck up a convo with the hostess, all about skateboarding, her new job as a massage therapist, living in hawaii and what it's like to grow up a local. then today, i walked around waikiki with a girl i met on the bus and talked about life, travel, what we hope to be doing in 5 years, and about meeting up in hawaii with some other people to watch the big surf comps in december. tonight, riding the bus back across the island (2 hours) because i left my passport and money there, i offered to help a girl finish her crossword puzzle. she looked really flustered. and then we talked for an hour, some really weird stuff. she is a strange girl. then, finally, standing at the bus stop to come back to town this surfer i had seen the day before on the north shore told me all about this girl her says he loves and how she is so awesome and i told him i was riding buses all over the island for fun.

i am not sure why i felt like you all should know about these encounters. actually, i wanted to challenge you. life is better if you break out every once in a while. practice being random and after a while you will be. these were just short moments with these people, but it made mine and their life better. so, go out and strike up that random conversation. ask them about what their doing. ask them something, or tell them something about yourself. stop being 'respectful' and act like someone who cares about other people.

thats all for now, no more lemon drops of wisdom. but listen to me, i am wise from traveling you know.


the north shore

for those of you that don't know, the north shore of oahu is the mecca of surfing. and that is where i am staying right now. in a little hostel across the street from the beach, i sleep in an open air bungalow with 5 surfers and divers. one 50 year-old englishman, a 20 something aussie i have been traveling with, a 30 something arizonan, a young somewhat professional girl from nyc, with the attitude to match, and a montana rancher. what a mix, and what fun.

today i woke up and rented a beachcruiser bike and rode down about a mile to snorkel at shark's cove. decent snorkeling, with a few of the most amazing fish i've ever seen. so bright, so amazingly beautiful. i had a bit of a brush with danger though. at the mouth of shark's cove is a gap in the wall of lava rock where the open ocean spills in a fills the cove during high tide. i did not pay attention to the rising tide and was caught up and pushed about 50 yards in a few seconds, smashing against the rock, and in protecting my face, my hand was impaled with sea urchin quills. ouch! and they bleed a lot too. two of the tips are still in my finger; like with a splinter, i have been advised to let them come out on their own, so as not to risk letting any more poison out of the quills. really it was not that big of a deal, minus the sea urchin i was left unharmed and only slightly shaken.

after snorkeling i rode down to the world famous banzai beach and watched surfers for a few hours. i was surprisingly mesmerized by their bravado and skill. not to mention their disregard for body pain. they take a pounding to surf big waves. that's not for me. so here are a few photos to show what i was watching.


art? or arts and crafts gone awry?

i don't know how many of you keep up with the art scene like me, but i came across this completely grotesque piece. you know i don't really keep up with modern art. in fact i generally find it to be too self-important, and obscure, and usually garish just for the sake of being so.

so, to damien hirsch's new piece, entitled 'for the love of god.' the title is courtesy of his mother by way of questioning this project. it contains well over $100 million worth of diamonds. hirsch's purported intent was to flaunt beauty and transcendence in the face of death. you know, to be able to overcome death. ha!

so, i guess you can tell by now that i am not a fan of hirsch's newest piece. it smack's of pride, vanity and pomp. not much of an art critique, but my opinion and my blog. the piece is however dazzling, i mean look at the diamonds. but such a waste.

sometimes i like to rant. and today was one of those times, though mildly so.


already this blog has been more prolific than its previous incarnation. i'm not sure why, but i just enjoy the whole thing a lot more this time around. well, due to that i am posting a few pictures for you all to look at, one of zion canyon, utah and one of a hike i did today on oahu. in a way these pics are an homage to jp and izzy. i hope minneapolis serves you two well, and you it. enjoy.


moments of vulnerability...

every once in a while i will post things on here that are more personal than random thoughts. you see, it's almost necessary for me to do so. i am traveling alone. more than 18 months, so i have few, if any, people to share my thoughts with. and sometimes it just helps to voice them. to share them. it's therapeutic. so here is the first installment.

i've always wished that i were more like other people. you know those people who are super athletes, or are really really really ridiculously good looking, or creative to an extreme, or amazingly intelligent. in my heart i've always wished i could trade them places. well, this morning i was thinking about that as i looked out over waikiki beach and worked on my paper for the conference. but this morning was different. i wondered why some people were gifted in the ways they are. why does God bless people with beauty or intelligence if they are not going to use it for His sake? but in my head it had a complaining, grumbling tone. immediately the Lord spoke very clearly to me that i had been gifted with a far greater gift--that of faith. we are told that it is by grace that we are saved. and that is true. we are gifted with the grace to believe what is foolishness to the world. with these words my spirit was immediately lifted. wow! i had been grumbling about receiving the greatest and most costly gift of all. and when i think about it, all the others are irrelevant.

nau is the time

today was a good day. well, beside getting a little too much sun. a package arrived for me from nau clothing and i was more than pleased with the clothing sent to me. two pair of shorts and a wool shirt. the shorts are like a dream; they fit perfectly and are very comfortable. i have yet to wear the shirt yet, but its a neat one, merino wool, soft and with the features of travel clothing (hidden pockets, etc).

yes i am trumpeting their clothing, but hey shouldn't i, they're giving it to me free. and i hope they continue to for a long time. anyway, its great stuff. go to nau.com, just for a look. go now! at the very least its an awesome website design.