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    Diving the Rig, Malaysia


    When it rains, it pours

    September 29th, 2007 by steve

    I’ve had a lot of free time the last couple days, so there’s been some good progress on photos. Albums from Malaysia, including our scuba adventures with Peter and John are up.

    More exciting if you have plenty of bandwidth to steal from the boss, the video collection has quadrupled in size and is caught up through diving in Malaysia.


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    Live from the train to the roof of the world

    September 29th, 2007 by steve

    September 27th, depart Xining in Western China
    10:15pm The “hard sleeper” cars on this train are crazy. Six bunks stacked 3 high in a narrow compartment with no door.

    September 28th, somewhere on the rails to Lhasa
    6:30am A thin band of sky sandwiched between the endless horizon and the low clouds is glowing a radiant yellow as sun rises over Tibet.

    7am The cabin lights come on and the overhead speakers shout something at us before playing Chinese opera music. I guess it’s time to get up.

    10am We’re running through snowcapped peaks. I’m sure our photos will show nothing but the intense white of the snow fading into the soft white of the clouds that blanket us.
    12:15pm Mary and John can no longer handle the beauty. They retreat to their bunks to hide out for a while and see if they can shake the altitude sickness.

    2:30pm Some people absolutely love riding trains. I’m finding it totally frustrating. Every time I pick up a book or startup the laptop, some amazing scenery shows up and I have to run and get the camera. It’s really distracting. Worst part is that the only windows that open are in the bathrooms. Yech.

    3pm John is still sleeping and Mary feels a bit queasy. I had a little shortness of breath quite a while ago, but it’s been ok for a couple hours. I think we’ve already hit the 17,000 foot pass and should be heading back down, so hopefully they start feeling better soon.

    3:20pm I just finished a whole package of wasabi peas. I’ve already finished catching up on our China photos and there’s nothing left to do but eat and sleep!

    4:30pm The plains just go on and on. Mary and John are still feeling a bit unwell and are back into bed. It’s truly beautiful here, but it just keeps going! I’m almost bored with the constant beauty.
    6pm Mary is feeling worse and John is still asleep. I just put her on oxygen to fight the altitude sickness. I’ll go wake John up in a few minutes and get him on O2, too.

    8:30pm The sun has gone down and left a brilliant royal blue background to the black mountains around us. It’s a beautiful sight. Mary hasn’t gotten any better with the O2 and both of them are still asleep. It’s been a lonely day for me!

    September 29th – Lhasa
    12:15am Finally in bed! The train arrived by 11, but it took us half an hour to gather our gear (and Mary and John) and get out of the station. Luckily, the frantic hostel owner waited for us even though all other passengers and the train crew were already gone.

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    What the -bleep-?

    September 26th, 2007 by steve

    We’ve finally gotten off our butts and posted a few blogs for the last 6 weeks of travel that covers Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau and a bit of China.

    It wasn’t bad enough that it took so long for us to get moving, but when we did we found that the blog is banned in China. Apparently the Chinese censors can’t handle all the uncontrolled content at, so they just block everything. So that’s our excuse for the poor formatting (and writing?) in all the posts below – because we can’t see what we’re posting!

    That’s right, the blogspot domain is blocked so we can’t see our final posts, but the censors haven’t figured out that it is through that all the objectionable content get’s put on the web. Yes, we have peeked at it through an anonymizer, but that’s just too slow and I’m too lazy…

    Better yet for you non-readers out there, the photo albums for Indonesia are posted. Just click on Indonesia in the itinerary list to the right.

    It’s well past my bedtime now, so go read the blogs. We wake up in a couple hours to fly east to Xining where we’ll catch the highest train in the world to Lhasa. Yay!

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    Now Serving 115,495,330

    September 24th, 2007 by mary

    Mary didn’t believe me at first when I said we should go to Beijing on this trip just to have roast duck. But I was serious. I had Peking Duck for the first time when we were here 2 years ago and it was a life altering experience. I vowed then that whenever I returned to China, I would come back to Beijing for dinner. She quickly succumbed to my plan and so we find ourselves now in Beijing.

    We returned today to the 150 year old restaurant near the Forbidden City where they actually track the number of ducks they’ve served during that time to emperors, kings, presidents and us. It’s a magical place, from the duck to the atmosphere, to the giant LED sign on the wall that tells you that duck number 115 million just popped out of the oven. Yeah, maybe it was a little touristy, but mmmmmm.

    As we passed Tiananmen Square today, focused on our impending happiness, we stumbled not across the gate that leads to our ducky wonderland, but a giant wall enclosing block after block of the Qianmen district.

    In preparation for the upcoming Olympics, this historic area that was home to houses, shops and our dinner is being razed to make way for a Chinese Santana Row which will have none of the character or charm of the original. Since this blog is being censored here anyway, I’ll just say that it stinks that China is tearing chunks of real history and culture out (not to mention displacing how many families and small businesses) just to give Olympic tourists a Disney-fied China.

    Fortunately for our stomaches, the Quanjude restaurant does have a temporary location until the reconstruction is complete, so we did get our fix. But it just wasn’t the same. So tomorrow we’ll try our host’s recommendation for the new best roast duck in Beijing, serving #15,621.


    Posted in china, food | No Comments »

    My Achy Breaky Knees

    September 24th, 2007 by mary

    Our last (only?) Everest base camp warm-up hike before the real thing was to Huashan, a group of five mountain peaks a 2 hour bus ride from Xi’an. Locals go in droves to take the cable car up to the lowest peak and walk around a bit. Younger locals start at the bottom around midnight and hike up to the 6000ft eastern peak to catch sunrise. We’re not local and no longer young, so we took the middle ground and started up the windy path from the bottom at 8am, did a circuit of all 5 peaks and stopped for the night at a hotel on the eastern peak at 7pm so we could more leisurely catch the 6am sunrise the next day. That’s 10 hours (1hr for breaks) on an unrelenting stairmaster.

    The trail is typical Chinese mountain style: narrow and random height steps cut into the mountain, often with a precipitous drop on either side. At its best, the steps are cut vertically into the face with a chain to pull yourself up. Half of the steps were only deep enough to land a third of my foot so we had to climb the stairs by sidestepping.

    Then there’s the “Plank Path”, a completely insane set of dilapidated wooden boards set onto spikes set along a sheer cliff face a good 3000 feet off the valley floor below. I’m guessing a bit at the height here because I tried my best to not spend too much time looking down.

    Sunday morning, we were yanked out of bed at 5:30 by a bullhorn announcement in Chinese that it was time to get up and run to the peak. At the top were a couple hundred cold locals, many of whom slept on the hill or just outside our door in rented heavy Chinese army winter coats.

    Sunrise was beautiful, but a bit sad to see the sun rise not over the horizon as much as over the layer of smog that blanketed the horizon.


    Posted in china | No Comments »

    Letting our fingers do the ordering

    September 24th, 2007 by mary

    We don’t know how to speak or read mandarin so when it came to reading Chinese menus we were sadly useless. We found the best way to satisfy the stomach was to point at what other people were chowing down. This ended up working very well as we got to taste some great stuff that we otherwise wouldn’t have known to order.

    Bowl of crossing bridge noodles famous in Xian. It only comes in one size, enormous.

    Hot pot with spicy goodness, a Sichuan specialty.

    Grilled skewers of pork, eggplant, stuffed buns, quail eggs, lotus root, tofu, mushrooms and so much more . Street food at its best in Jiuzhaigou.

    Posted in china, food | No Comments »

    If only Ansel Adams had been to Jiuzhaigou

    September 24th, 2007 by mary

    Jiuzhaigou is one of the premier Chinese tourism locations with tens of thousands of locals visiting from all over China each week. The beauty of this national park is astounding if you can only get around all the other tourists shouting into their cell phones while bumping you to take a picture of their spouse in a Tibetan fur hat. It’s an absolute zoo at the popular sights. We did our best by starting as soon as the park opened and walking the back country paths instead of taking the bus. That allowed us to take photos that make it SEEM like there aren’t a thousand people around, but there really are in most cases.

    All good destinations start with a good meal.
    Pearl Shoals waterfall

    The amazing color of 5 Flower Lake. No photoshop here.

    Crystal clear waters of Panda Lake
    Grilled skewers to finish off the trip

    Posted in china | No Comments »

    The army that time forgot

    September 24th, 2007 by mary

    In 1974 a farmer was digging a well for water after a 3 month drought. Five meters down he pulled up a clay head. He had hit a far corner of the pit that housed the now famous pit of terracotta warriors near Xian containing an estimated 6000 big life-sized statues. It’s an estimated number because maybe a fifth of it has been excavated. The rest is still under layers of dirt and clay waiting to be released. Every night a team of archaeologists painstakingly brush away the debris then piece together the parts. All the soldiers were found in pieces so now it’s a giant jigsaw puzzle of history.

    The army was created by the first emperor of China. Before Emperor Qin China was made up of seven dynasties each with their own currency, spoken and written language. In 221BC he conquered all seven kingdoms under heaven and united them, the new nation named after him. Part of his lasting legacies is a common language and money. One mile to the west was his mausoleum, and here stood his army facing the east to protect him from invaders. After his unexpected death on the way to an inspection his eleven year old son became the second emperor and his stone army was placed inside the ground, covered with a timber and straw roof and sealed from the world. Peasant uprisings spread throughout the country and the inexperienced emperor lost his head. The new ruler broke into the pits smashing the statues and setting fire anything that would burn. For two thousand years the remnants of the soldiers laid buried under ash and dirt.

    Since the first excavation two other pits had been discovered, with the first being the largest by far. The clay that was used to make the army and their tunnels were brought from 50km away and is attributed to the strength and resilience that allowed these terracotta time capsules to last through the ages. They were made hollow to minimize weight and lower the risk of explosion during firing. Each is unique and vary not only in the hair, shoe tread, clothes, height and girth but expressions and proportions. Two hours after exposure to air their color dries up and disappears leaving them the earthy yellowish brown of dirt. To see them stacked in their reconstructed formation is equally as impressive as seeing the partially exumed shards. There is decades if not centuries of work left to be done.

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    The Ow Dynasty

    September 24th, 2007 by mary

    Our first stop in China was to visit the family in Guangzhou. This meant gut expanding dinners with some outrageously good food. The Ow clan is quite large as my dad was the oldest of 7 siblings. When you put their families and kids’ families in one room to eat it’s quite a party. There are a few really fun characters in the bunch to keep things lively. And they all know how to eat the best stuff. My cousin Amy took us to have snake porridge. It’s a weird thing to say ‘You’ve got snake skin in your teeth.’ Third aunt made sure Steve got plenty of hot peppers. They found it entertaining that he could use chopsticks, and was left handed. One of the uncles said Steve was a white guy that looked asian because he was so dark.

    Third Uncle took a day off to take us out to see my 86 year old grandmother, recovering from hip surgery. She was quick to show us her scar. She has no teeth and bad hearing but was feisty, talkative and smiley. This is only my 2nd time seeing her since we emigrated to the States 27 years ago. Our few days with them didn’t seem long enough. But they were going so far out of their way to accommodate us that staying any longer would’ve been too much guilt to bear. Seeing them made me wish we weren’t an ocean apart.

    Posted in china | No Comments »

    Short timers in Macau

    September 24th, 2007 by mary

    Wish we had more to say about Macau, but we don’t. We took the short ferry over from Hong Kong and spent just a short day here. The Portugese influence on Asian culture makes for some interesting architecture and food. We saw these sheets of processed pork all over. Sort of a melt in your mouth pork roll-up.

    There was a bit of work going on in the main square to prepare for some kind of party. Lucky for us, they left the fruity props lying on the ground for us to play with.

    Posted in macau | No Comments »

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