Thursday, October 15, 2015

Story Time - The Day I Joined the Russian Mafia

Monday, October 15, 2012


Sunday, April 22, 2012


Sorry for the delay on some of my posts, but it's been weird with VPNs recently. I will do my best to get the Laos pics and post up ASAP. Anyway, I need your help!

I have started a motorcycle Vlog on youtube, and I want to promote it to the point where I can get partnership, so the more views the better!

It follows the same approach as this blog, but I am on a motorcycle speaking to the camera instead of writing!

Enjoy episode 1!

If you have a youtube account, please subscribe!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Xishuangbanna 西双版纳

A fairly eventful trip to Yunnan led us to hitch a plane to the southern most point of China, Xishuangbanna. This large piece of Yunnan province borders with Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. It's a fairly wild place, home to a large number of minorities, and is one of the few places in China where Han people don't outnumber them.

A quick plane ride brought us from about 0 degrees in Kunming, to about 25 in Xishuangbanna. We got off of the plane at night, and stepped into a balmy, poor, and completely tropical land that didn't represent anything indicative of what I had previously seen in China. Sweat poured down my face as we raced through the small city of Jinghong in a taxi. We flew by eerie neon lights, similar to what one might see in Thailand. The trees were enormous, and the city was filled with them. People on the streets were dark, nearly black skinned, and no one was speaking Chinese.

It was very quickly that I learned that the majority of people were of the Dai minority, and Xishuangbanna was their government appointed autonomous region. It finally made sense as to why everything was so starkly different from Kunming.

There was a fondness of Buddhism everywhere, and everything had that south east Asia vibe to it. People were moving slowly, the food was fruity and delicious, the weather was balmy and hot, and life just seemed simple.

We rented bicycles to see some of the more remote areas of the prefecture, and despite a flat tire, we rode through Dai villages, complete with the houses on stilts, unscathed. The Dai people were fairly welcoming, but seemed pretty set in their ways. People were still shooting birds out of trees for their dinner, huge wedding ceremonies brought everyone out of their huts, and the Sunday market was still the most exciting event of the week.

We headed out on a rented Honda 150 ex police motorcycle the next day, and a chilly, but sweeping mountain ride showed beauty I hadn't seen since the jungles of Thailand. Tiny villages dotted the greenery, and we decided to make the border of Burma our goal. As we neared, the quality of everything decreased. Nature became more beautiful, and the people more and more sparse. The high, red sun lit the way through the banana groves, and the sugar cane to both sides made a sort of a fragrant, sweet tunnel around us as we leaned into the corners.

The patchwork of farmland was a sight to behold. As people toiled away, we rode away from a huge storm cloud coming in from the horizon. Getting closer to the border, the culture was palpable. The language had gone from tribal dialects and Chinese to Burmese. Chinese characters were sparse on the signs, and the circular ring like script of Burmese was everywhere. Unfortunately, darkness loomed, and we had to head back.

We were hardly disappointed though, as the next day we were headed to Laos...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Discovering Kunming...

I ended up with nearly 2 months paid vacation from work for Chinese new year, and my trip
began with a nice visit from my buddy Andy. He came down from Fujian to Huizhou for a small trip, and Vivi and I ended up following him to Kunming, which is in the southwest province of Yunnan; a place I had previously not been to before.

The flight was quick, and upon landing, we were greeted with pleasant temperatures. Kunming is on a mile high plateau, and therefore enjoys the same temperature year round. Some call it "the land of eternal spring."

We had some awesome food, and noticed that all of the ingredients were fresh, and mostly wild
vegetables that we had never tasted before.

Later on, we found a bar that was built in a Mao era bomb shelter. It was well off of the beaten
path of the main city of Kunming, and it was cool
to explore the underground cavern that once served as a paranoid bunker to protect against Soviet/American bombings. We couldn't
get pictures inside of the shelter as it wa
s too dark.We had a few too many at the bar, and ended up playing a drinking game that Vivi had on her phone. The night ended up with us walking out of the bar covered in garbage, and we may or may not have vulgar pictures and uni-brows drawn on our faces.

The next day brought headaches and mountains. The fresh air was potent, and we hired a car to take us out to the countryside. Our driver was fairly useless as he insisted that there was nothing to see in Kunming. We could clearly see
gorgeous scenery surrounding the entire area. The rolling green of Guangdong gave way to stark cliffs and very low clouds. It was very pretty.

We ventured further out into the countryside, and the driver informed us of something very
strange coming up in our direction. He told us that there was a village of midgets, and we didn't
quite understand how something like that could exist. Later, we found out that a
government/tourism project was set up, and a village of more than 1000 midgets had been built. The midgets run everything from the shops to
the shows, and even have their own dormitory and life provided for them. They make a

bout 1000 RMB per month, and it saves them
from the certain discrimination they would face in their homes. Chinese people are not the most accepting of folk, and a statistic says that 70% of the midgets working at the "Dwarf Kingdom"
had previously tried to kill themselves. There is a tirade of politically correct people online who cry that it is degrading and terrible of them to set up an attraction where people can ogle and treat midgets as a novelty. However, what we saw puts any of that politically correct negativity to rest.

To our dismay, the tourist attraction (complete with castle and rides) was closed that day. We were very disappointed. To our surprise, we saw a few small people doing some laundry. After they finished hanging it up, they told us it was their day off, and they were going to climb a mountain. Despite being tired of tourists taking their picture day in and day out, they invited us to climb the mountain. This gesture gave us the opportunity to have a one on one interview/experience with many of the little people who worked there.

Most of the girls were dancers, and the boys did various jobs. Some ran shops, and some did acrobatics. They were very happy at their job, and they said that it was a huge improvement over the opportunity-less liv
es that they led before. Most of the little people came from
different places in China, and it was very nice to see them come together as one community.

As we hustled up the mountain, we reveled in the looks that people gave us. Imagine a remote area of China. Seeing 2 foreigners climbing the local mountain was strange enough for the local people, but 2 foreigners among a huge group of
dwarfs was something different entirely. We can only imagine the conversations that they had at the dinner table.

Throughout our climb, we found that three of the guys and girls were actually dating each other. Initial appearances led us to treat the little people as children at first, but seeing them act like normal Chinese 20-ish year olds eventually allowed us to adjust. It wasn't long before we realized that their deformities had nothing to do with their
personalities. If anything, they were friendlier than the average
Chinese person.

Their incredible athletic ability allowed them to pursue the next peak of the mountain. It was there that we decided to separate and head down the mountain to see some other things around the city.

Our driver went full retard and ended up not wanting to drive more than 20 miles out of the city, so we decided to get some food. We went to a tiny little local restaurant out of a woman's house and we ate very well. She cured her own meats, grew her own vegetables, and made her own alcohol, which she proceeded to allowus to taste. We figure most of it was medicinal, because we couldn't find one alcohol that was even remotely palatable. In fact, after sampling only a few, we ended up feeling as though we had consumed some bizarre drug. Some were made from various fruits grown out in the woman's yard, and some were made from
roots that we couldn't even come close to identifying. I don't remember much from the meal, or the car ride after that, because of how
bizarre we felt. I vaguely remember a terribly boring conversation that I had with the driver on the way up a different mountain, but that is about it.

The mountain was our last attempt at getting our driver to heed our wishes. We got so
frustrated that we ended up forcing him to park and wait for us while we explored on foot. We
ended up finding a really beautiful mountain covered in flowing grass, karst stones, and fading mountain scenery in the distance. We built a
small fire, and we watched the sun go down. The fire ended up being a bad idea, as it was so unbelievably dry up there that we could have set the whole mountain ablaze with a single spark. We ended up staying so long at the peak, exploring, that we had about 5 missed calls from the driver who was anxious to get back. It was unfortunate, because we were hoping that he would just get frustrated and leave without us
paying him. Too bad he was waiting at the bottom when we descended.

Our Kunming adventure ended up in a night market full of delicious, bizarre snacks. We were
surrounded by the minority population of Kunming selling their native dishes. Kunming is home to the majority of China's 56 minorities, and it wasn't hard to find them in the market. You could find everything under the sun here, and we
were on a mission to find some insects. I have had
insects cooked into things when I went to Thailand, and I had sampled some sort of huge
pulsating cocoon thing while living in Inner Mongolia, but I had never had plain bugs. We
found a stall selling grubs and grasshoppers, and we jumped on the opportunity. The locals tried to take me for a ride, and rip me off, thinking I was some sort of foreign tourist going on a bizarre foods adventure (I guess I was, wasn't I?). In the end, I ended up pitting the different insect
sales people against each other, and lied about
how much each one was charging me. We ended up getting two big plates of bugs for next to nothing, and snacked on them over a couple beers. The flavor was nice. I can't really describe the grubs.
They were kind of oily, creamy, and crispy at the same time. The flavor was kind of like nuts and milk. The grasshoppers were crispy and tasted like potato chips or roasted nuts. Overall, not a bad deal.

Our send off and departure ended with some dog meat. Andy had never tried it before, and we order up some ribs. Not surprisingly, it was delcious again, and I really recommend that people get over their fears and stigmas and give it a try. Dog, and donkey meat are two of the best meats I have ever tasted. Give it a try.

After Andy headed back to Fujian, Vivi and I made our way south to the untouched jungle region of Xishuangbanna, on the border with Laos. More to come...