Moving out…

November 22, 2010

I made a move, over the weekend in a new digital home. From now on the blog is going to be here: update feeds. I ll leave with a useful? fact, the beautiful pictogram above is designed by Yukio Ota a Japanese designer. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!


The weekend explorers, might as well be a name to define the activity of trying to reclaim oxygen and freedom that has been suppressed throughout the week. Unfortunately having working Saturdays in the program translates to: Every Other Weekend Explorers, this gives plenty of time for planning and daydreaming thought, which in turn feeds everything else. Drawing a 250km circle around Hangzhou, Huangshan (yellow mountain) is the first thing to stand out. Famous in China for the spectacular views, pine trees and unnatural granite rocks it attracts a lot of attention and millions of tourists. A plan is set, the colleagues at work get really excited, draw me maps and advice me to dress warmly, my plan to sleep on top amuses them. Announcing the plan to Ben brings two more happy climbers and the rest is history. Early wake up, grab a bus from west station heading Tangkou, a small village/city next to mt. Huangshan.

Having my passport happily residing inside some immigration office drawer we made worst case scenarios for our accommodation. Without one you can’t book a hotel room which is quite a drag, James is in the same boat with me, having forgotten his one back home. To our surprise a cheap hotel finds us (through the form of an English speaking girl, which also happens to be the daughter of the bus owner, a thriving business) the moment we step out of the bus, no questions/passports asked, a room is produced and we settle inside for 40RMB per head. Taxi ride to the entrance of the mountain and after a hefty fee we browse through waves of people searching for the path to Lotus peak. Back home i ‘ve only experienced crowded beaches but here mountains are the place to be. That brings numerous armies of internal tourists and an impressive supporting structure on the whole mountain surface dedicated to them. Read the rest of this entry »

As with every weird sight in Hangzhou i didn’t let the first impression get the best of me. After the thousand baby butt on public display though, something started smelling, metaphorically and literary. Was this some strange plot we couldn’t comprehend? Were all Chinese babies enrolled in a rapid potty training national program? Was this a carefully thought and designed system to eliminate the need of diapers? Apparently it’s a common method for babies as you can see them all wearing clothes with quick release embedded exits which allow fast & convenient disposal of smelly substances. I have only observed the middle to end result but the basic system works like that: The parent / carrier senses through some invisible way the exact time frame milliseconds before explosion, he carefully lifts and aims the baby at a convenient location and delivers a controlled detonation with as less victims as possible. If done correctly this is a sustainable and rather clean system that uses the cradle to cradle principle following the natural circle of things and providing good fertiliser for plants (and not creating redundant waste in the form of diaper mountains). As every delicate and unstable device though, there are numerous drawbacks. Instability of babies can lead to undetected explosions either on the mothership / parent / carrier or in some inconvenient place (super markets / shops etc.) either way the result is messy. Babies seem quite happy though, being free of the diaper humiliation / constrains.

Peripheral vision is a great evolutionary trick, you gaze forward but scan motion to a wider angle, i suppose old desperadoes had mastered this skill. If you are a foreigner walking around Hangzhou you need to be prepared for regular shootout attempts. Usually you get attacked from sideways or behind, the Innocent looking opponent pretends to shoot squirrels in west lake or garbage binσ until you let your guard down and BANG! he got you, another laowai bites the dust. Everything lies in concentration and precise, rapid, hand/eye coordination. As you scan the area for possible hostiles, a group of photography students on the loose, cute couple giggling on the bench, you turn on the camera, holding it facing the ground. Staring far away till you detect motion, SNAP, twist like a professional tango dancer while bringing the camera to eye level, single shot mode, auto focus and crack, shutter down. This gives you the element of surprise and a nice counter collection of natural expressions of people caught red handed. Of course the excitement can die prematurely if people ask permission to take a photo of you which is an equally frequent possibility.

I read that doing something you hate yields more potential for satisfaction if followed to completion. Timed running was enforced by authoritative figures in the past making it an absolutely unsatisfactory ordeal. I despised running in school and loathed it in the army. The exact turning point is not clear but after i removed the elements of screaming orders, sprinting and confinement it actually started becoming more enjoyable. You always have to drag your body for the first kilometers, but after the muscles warm up you just run like a fine tuned machine. Summer night runs along the river eluding fishermen, electric scooters and backward walkers while you get drenched in ridiculous amounts of sweat. Autumn and suddenly you run alone breaking the tranquility of couples in parked cars. Marathon comes somewhere in the process like a distant goal, uncharted territory of body and mental limits. Plans, runs and destruction of cheap imported shoes that takes a toll on knees. Trying to find a no. 46 pair of running shoes proves to be harder than anticipated, solution comes from taobao (Chinese e-bay) and a fine pair of fake Nikes with rough stitching arrives shortly after. The anticipated time arrives and i found myself squeezing inside a bus at 6:00 A.M. heading for Yellow Dragon stadium in a fine Sunday morning. The empty streets / full bus paradox ends when i start spotting red running bags on the shoulders of every passenger. The stadium is in full fledge party mode when we arrive, sponsors, music and a sea of people, i got the familiar giggling and wide eyed staring although there are a few more laowai participants. I gulp down a banana which later will stubbornly try to ascend into daylight for at least an hour through the race. It is then that a repeating squeaky sound emerges from the front of my right shoe (photo).

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Staying in China for more than 3 days and you ‘ll encounter random explosions around houses, gardens, outside supermarkets and inside river banks. Usually there is a lack of time planning (aka it can happen anytime) but given the state of public amusement it produces you understand the reason why. Duck and cover is not necessary as local detonators have good aim after so much practice. Trying to find a pattern is meaningless, here you light the skies to celebrate small, trivial everyday things, like a successful bunch of fried dumplings or a perfect cup of green tea. Another possibility is that all explosions are but a meager target practice for Chinese new year which, if i take the rumors seriously, might feel like the bombarding of Dresden… The title is dedicated to an overzealous neighbour that decided to test his arsenal at 7:00 A.M., only to get a morning shower of Chinese curses from Jeff.

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In a Chinese phrase, Hangzhou is described as heaven on earth. (more precisely, in air you have heaven and on earth you have Hangzhou), this proved to be a very successful pitch. Not only did it made the city one of the old capitals of China but it also skyrocketed the place as a major tourist spot for internal travellers. Multiply this fact with some million people cramped in buses and you know why you should avoid West lake on a sunny Sunday.
Once you cross the bared cultural wasteland (but technological breeding ground) of Binjiang, the road towards city center is full of sights, retreats and natural escapes depending on your choice. Tiger Spring was always the epicenter of controlled tourist explosions. Small armies from the outskirts of China constantly disembark from their vehicles, stretch, and immediately assume carefully planned formations for maximum efficiency. Equipped with small flags, valor, energy, water bottles, matching uniforms and a fearless leader that screams in shrivelling (ear torturing) bursts, they attack every chosen landmark on sight. Amid tourist guide battle cries, marching flags and rhythmic songs you, the lonely mercenary that just happen to be on the wrong place at the worst possible time, have to reach the ticket booth, pay the ticket, (if you are below 1.2meters entrance is free) and push your self inside the gates.
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Waiting for the bus, small rectangular patterns on a poster draw you closer through familiar optic recognition, it is indeed a collection of mug shots on public display. I didn’t have any bilingual friend nearby to explain the description, wondering about the nature of their crime, something more intriguing than pickpocketing. Some funny faces, does it actually serve any purpose, nobody seems to give a damn, just another clutter of information tugged away inside distant neurons. So far i haven’t seen any cruel crimes, on humans at least, cause i experienced a brutal murdering of mice while cycling to work (a group of people were sadistically burning their mousetraps full of live mouses inside) animal rights are nonexistent in China… At least it gives me comfort to see some happy stray dogs and cats roaming around without the fear of ending up on a dish, maybe it still happens further to the west. Read the rest of this entry »

Last night in Hong Kong, grabbing some fuel for a late picnic and catching bus no20 towards a peak reputed to hold the most spectacular views of the city. Swarms of people, the aura of a place that has been photographed a billion times, funny enough you can avoid the thousand tripods if you just walk 50 meters to the right, like flocks of sheep, tourists stay together and don’t stray from the shopping lights. The view is indeed spectacular, feels almost fake, like living inside a video game, Blade runner comes again into mind a little fog and pages from Philip K. Dick’s books come alive. Climbing on hills to gaze the city at night. Some skyscrapers stubbornly protrude trying to beat this unofficial height game. You need to go higher, to transcend the man made in order to get a clear view and an undisruptive field for your thoughts. Only then the city becomes a sea and the unified concrete mass projects a liquidity if only as a deception of the fading forms through the distance. Cities from above, through airplanes, mountains, satellites, you need to resurface for air from time to time in order to dive inside again. Maybe in distant cycles like a whale but still necessary if you don’t want to drown.

Best way to wipe the sweat of a ride in a dragon’s back is to wet your nose inside a new unexplored sea. This happened to be the South Chinese Sea, in Shek-O beach, south east of Hong Kong island. Lack of anticipation for high temperatures and warm seas left our swimming suits moulding inside wardrobes. After hard bargains with an 80year old Chinese shopkeeper we managed to get some tattered second hand Hawaiian rip off trunks for 20 HongKongDollars. A friendly sign informs the unaccustomed laowai of the local fauna which is a little more poisonous, with elongated teeth and alluring blue rings, than what i am used to. Just avoid chatting with passing barracudas and god forbid don’t tickle that small innocent octopus, looks can be deceiving as you actually facing a tentacled serial killer (as always thought to provoke him you ll have to draw first). Water is strangely warm, the spell breaks as you enter and realise the transformation of idyllic green to a brownish tint. A barracudalless swim later, bodies stack in a fugitive double decker 8 time zones far from London, gazing emerging skyscrapers in the green scenery and minutes later you are back in a buzzing city center. A swim in early October, courtesy of Chinese bureaucracy and nomadic mentality. Slowly but steadily updates are finishing for Hong Kong, the bet is to reach present while still in China : P Read the rest of this entry »