Tucker in Asia

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Where is the blue sky of China? (from the 27th, oops)

China has a major pollution problem. When we were in Beijing we visited the Summer Palace whose estate includes a small lake around the size of Golden Lake (for you in MN, otherwise it is pretty small, but could be difficult to swim across). The smog in the area prevented us from seeing across the lake. Unbelievable. There seems to be smog everywhere and visibility in the cities is never very far. The buildings fade away very quickly. As we travel across the country by train and I stare out the window every corner of land seems to be of use with a home, an apartment building, an agricultural field, or a factory with a huge pollution, I mean smoke stack. Sometimes I think that what these regions are experiencing is similar to what the U.S. experienced 50 years ago during the industrial revolution, but on a massive scale that is much more harmful to the environment. A few days ago we were traveling from Xi'an to Chengdu by train and at a small town stop I looked out the window and counted 16 smoke stacks. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that half were no longer in commission and the remaining 8 had scrubbers and filters on the top. I don't know. The past few days Justin and I hiked up Emei Shan, a sacred Buddist mountain and we didn't emerge into clean air until about 1500 meters above sea level even though we had been in the forest since 700 meters. I am told the sky is blue more often as you travel south and inland. We shall see.

I guess experiencing this smog/pollution problem of China makes me realize the importance of strict international environmental policies in order to avoid similar catastrophic air pollution effects in other areas. In some ways it is uplifting to know we live in a relatively clean air country but it is certainly discouraging to know the path that the current regime in Washington is taking us on.

Having said this, I could be wrong on where the pollution is coming from. My second theory to the industry one is the cigarette smoking. My personal polling suggests that 99% of the Chinese smoke cigarettes, and 85% of the population smoke more that two packs a day. There are more than 1 billion people in China. That is a lot of cigarettes. I think we are all in the wrong business. It is amazing to witness. If the smoking is not disgusting enough you can hang out to watch a few more minutes to witness the spitting that follows. Actually the spitting happens all the time, not just with the cigarettes, and I am not completely convinced that it is due to the cigarettes, it could be a side effect of the air pollution. The spitting here is not a simple spit of saliva; it tends to come from the back of the throat in a loud, sickening manner as though the person may keel over and die at any time.

Switching gears, the food here is quite tasty. We have tried a vast array of dishes and found most to be most delicious (although we have not ventured enough to try stomach, intestines, frog, song birds, scorpions, sea horses, ect). Some of the highlights are the Sichuan dishes, roast duck, and other names that I cannot remember. Most of it is really good. Another highlight is the good, cheap beer. I drank the cheapest beer of my life in Beijing for 2 Yuan, equivalent to about 25 cents, oh yeah, and it was a half a liter. We also found PBR, that's right, Pabst Blue Ribbon, maybe the best beer in the world, in a grocery store in Xi'an. We have pictures to prove it. They were the same price as at home.

The last couple days were spent hiking up the sacred Buddha mountain. It was quite stunning, nice to get out of the cities and into the wild (sort of wild that is). The pictures will tell the story on this one, hopefully I can take some time to figure out how to download some photos on a faster computer soon. We will be in Hong Kong within the week, that could be the ticket. Tomorrow we start the 3 day tour of the Yangtzee. Apparently the dam is finished and the water level is rising fast so the river is not as amazing as it once was but is still a great journey. I think this is all for now. tucker

I actually typed this on the 27th of April but the web page was in Mandarin and I accidently only saved and didn't publish so here it is now.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Yesterday we visited one of the greater archelogical finds of the 20th century; the Terracotta Warriors. They were discovered by a farmer digging a well in 1974 and contain vaults housing thousands of soldiers in battle formation protecting the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. At finding the ceramic warriors were complete with weapons, horses, and chariots, but maybe the most impressive characteristic is that each warrior has a different face. The three vaults that are now excavated may be just a small section of the armies as other excavations could take decades. The armies are protecting the "first" emporer of China, Qin Shi Huang who reigned during the Qin dynasty over two thousand years ago. The site of the warriors is quite impressive, I can't imagine how much time and work went into constructing it.

In the days ahead we are heading south to do a monastary trek, see some Pandas, and do the Yangtze river cruise. Well I guess thats all for now...tucker

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dynastic China and Beijing

Week one of China travel is over; we have figured out how to say about two words in Mandarin (Thank you, actually that might be one word here) and have been able to both eat and sleep with no problems. Speaking is apparently the most difficult for me (as is reading Mandarin and this whole blog site is currently in Mandarin, damn) because when I hear a foriegn language spoken to me and am expected to respond in some sort of form I speak in Spanish. I guess this is because it is the only language other than English I sort-of-can-get-by-with. I have found myself muttering Spanish quite a few times here and not just to the hawkers who can speak English but not Spanish or French but cab drivers and hostel staff, oops. The best form of communication for me is really to point at something and mumble, that way the mumble sounds to them as though we are trying to speak Mandarin but don't completly have it figured out, but it works out because they know what we are saying by the pointing. This works really well for food and we have been largely successful. In Beijing we ate the famed Peking Roast Duck. They just bring out a roasted duck and cut it up in front of you. Sort of neat and it tastes pretty good. Other food is tastey as well, everything is famlily style so we order for the table.

We started our journey in Beijing in an effort to see the ancient, dynastic China. Sites we saw included Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, The Lama Temple, and The Temple of Heaven. Everything is very large and so arrogantly grand. Built solely for the Emporer these places represent power and self proclaimed greatness showing the evils of a monarchy, however, because of the size and architecture they are magnificant to gaze and gawk at. The city of Beijing is almost under complete re-construction in preparation for the upcoming 2008 Olympics. Indeed this will be a great year for the city of Beijing and the country of China as they will have the oportunity to show off today's China. Although Communism is very much alive here and thousands of people line up each and every day to see the pickled body of Mao Zedong the surface of China is bustling with economic growth and expanding mega cities. The population of Beijing is just about 14 million people. It is big enough that cruising around we were not able to comprehend a size.

Out of Beijing we took a trip to see and walk the Great Wall. It really is an amazing engineering feat. It is so huge and spans across the tops of mountains. Crazy. We walked about a 10km stretch.

Last night we took an overnight train to Xi'an, in central China. This is where the Terra-Cotta warriors are located which we will see tomorrow. From here we will continue south.

So, I hope this makes it up onto the web, there are web filters in place that will not let us view blogs but it seems we are able to post. Catch y'all later. tucker

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Preparing to depart Bozangeles

Today is the last day to relax in this comfortable environment of home; tomorrow Justin and I embark on a new journey, to places which I am imagine to be intense, new, and very different from here. I guess the population of Beijing is close to Bozeman's 30,000 residents but ahh....we shall see. Justin and I are leaving tomrrow for a few months hoping to see a bit of China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. We are starting in Beijing and then heading south with a goal to end in Bankok. I'm sure we will visit all of the tourist hotspots but we are hoping to get off the gringo trail when we can to see the real, impoverished, developing, but colorful and vibrant counties. We have no strict plans (or any plans whatsoever other than to fly home from Bankok) so will just go where we feel like going when we feel like going there. I am going to use this space to write a few notes on our travels once in awhile, adding pictures when I can. So check back periodically, enjoy, and let me know what you think. And if anyone has any suggestions of places to visit in any of the selected countries let me know. tucker