Saturday, April 29, 2006

Spaghetti Marinara, Chinese Entrepreneurs and The Ming Dynasty

We flew Shanghai Airlines from Guangzhou to Nanjing on Thursday afternoon. I liked Nanjing very much. The weather was cooler with much lower humidity, there was little haze, and the buildings were attractive and pleasingly arranged. I also ate my first full meal since Zhuhai in Nanjing that evening, at an Italian restaurant. I had a plate of spaghetti marinara. Plain, but non-threatening. It felt good to taste food again.

We visited Nanjing in order to meet with a potential new supplier. M is a man in perhaps his early 40's who was once a college professor. Finding, however, that being a college professor made him about $10US per month, he decided to become a wealthy entrepreneur instead. This seemed like a rational choice to me. His business associate, C, is an attractive thirty year old who spent two years in Holland studying international business before returning to China to work with M. He is also -- get this -- a nature photographer. We hit it off immediately.

C was our tour guide Friday morning. Nanjing was the seat of the Ming Dynasty, so he took us first to the Xiaoling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty.

Trees. Cool breezes. I was very pleased.

Approaching the tablet room.

I get a kick out of photographing old roads. I photographed the cobblestones in Toledo, Spain as well.

In the tablet room.


I must say, I'm heartily annoyed that Blogger isn't letting me upload any more images on this post. I'll try again on a wholly separate post.

Trailhead Hits the Head

As you can well imagine, I have little objection to the squat-and-pee maneuver that goes along with a hiking hobby. It's easy, fun, and low-mess.

I'm not so fond, however, of having to do it in a tiny stall, with regular clothes and shoes, and far too narrow a target field. This is why I did not enjoy my bathroom experience at the Guangzhou airport. Remember this post from last November? Though very clean, that was the sum of my peeing experience at the airport. I'm not a fan.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Tank Creatures Rise Up, Throw Off Their Chains and Revolt, Storming My Digestive Tract

There is a limit to the degree of physical suffering one can endure before descending into savagery and beyond the influence of polite civility. When I found myself on Wednesday morning blithely brushing my teeth after spending the night on the floor of my hotel bathroom-turned-vomitorium, it occurred to me that I had reached that point. (I admit, this paragraph was edited to make it much less graphic. You get the idea.)

It started about four hours after the meal in Zhuhai. I spent the three hour-ish journey to Yangjiang in the backseat of the van, watching the new and different landscape roll by. By the time our driver pulled into a small resort-like town on the South China Sea, my stomach was beginning to protest. I thought I was mildly car-sick. I was able to get out and walk on the beach and pose for a few pictures in the rapidly waning light.

Our hosts and Bladerunner are examining a statue on the beach.

We got back into the car and drove up a mountain to a new resort being built. By the time we were walking around the newly-constructed veranda, I'd broken out in a cold sweat. I sat down weakly at a table and began to tremble. I realized I needed to get to the hotel. On hearing this, our hosts immediately ushered us into the car and continued on to Yangjiang. Jacques insisted I sit nearer the front, and began to fuss over me, offering me pillows, water, and "traditional Chinese medicine." I insisted that I was fine -- and at the time, I thought I was. I thought I just had a bad case of motion sickness combined with lingering jet lag.

But as we sped across the countryside toward the city, my perceptions took on a sort of twilight surreality. Chinese characters seemed to make me feel worse. The landscape looked duller and more threatening. As we approached the city, the constant sound of car horns made my head pound. I was starting to realize that something was going on. After what seemed like whole hours, we pulled up in front of the hotel.

The Yu Tian Hotel is, I am told, the nicest hotel in Yangjiang. And, consistent with the rock star treatment we received throughout the entire trip, we landed the nicest suite in the joint. It was a very large room with a beautifully tiled bathroom and a huge elevated tub and separate shower. On the other hand, the drain to the tub was malfunctioning, a state of affairs that apparently had carried over from the last time Bladerunner had stayed there in November.

But the smell of stale cigarette smoke was everywhere. I cannot tolerate that odor. This hastened the inevitable, and I fell on the tiled floor of the bathroom and began to purge.

I hate throwing up. I will fight it until I cannot fight it anymore, but at some point, I recognized that if my body wanted to get rid of what was in my stomach, it would probably be a good idea to let it. Over and over and over again that night I returned to the cold tile floor, until I had nothing left. In the middle of each bout I would return to the bed, shaking from head to toe, and would go into an odd sort of half sleep populated by nightmares and exaggerated fears, until the nausea awoke me another time.

I would rather go through labor again than experience that another time.

When morning came, and I had rid my body of every bit of food I'd consumed the day before, I felt better, but completely drained. I spent most of the day sleeping, while B met with his suppliers. He would check on me in between meetings, torn between sympathy and frustration that I was missing part of the trip. This led to the following conversation, part of which Wasteland posted for your reading pleasure last week:

"I've been where you are, you know."

"What? No you haven't. I don't recall you spending a night throwing up on previous trips."

"No, but I've had diarrhea."

"Diarrhea? Please. I aspired to diarrhea last night. I prayed for diarrhea. When it finally arrived, I threw diarrhea a goddamn ticker tape parade, because diarrhea is like winning the fucking Powerball compared to throwing up seafood and bits of your stomach lining in a hotel room in South China every twenty minutes until there is nothing left to throw up anymore."

This was clearly inarguable, and, apparently recognizing that this was not an argument he was going to win, he went back to being sensitive. He even achieved the heroic deed of securing me four pieces of plain white toast from the hotel restaurant (but only after being brought four pieces of french toast first.) I also received a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. It was absolutely delicious, and I am convinced it enabled me to live through that day.

When evening arrived, I was still too weak to attend dinner, only having been upright for more than ten minutes twice that day.

"It's probably a good thing you didn't attend dinner," he said after he returned to the room.

"Really? Why?" I should have known better.

"I really don't think you want to know."

"I think I can hear it now. Why?"

"Well, there was this pastry thing with a sort of gelatinous goo on it and there was something in the middle that looked kind of like a grub."

I winced. What an idiot I am.

"Did you eat that?" I asked.

"Yeah, I took a bite. I try almost everything they offer me. It's respectful."

The next morning I was able to make it to breakfast. Two pieces of plain white toast, and more of that divine orange juice.

"I am very sad," fretted Jacques at my condition when we joined him at the table.

"Oh, no, please," I protested. "I'm quite all right now, and you were wonderful to me Tuesday night. I'm only sorry I didn't make it to dinner last night."

Jacques takes his role as host very, very seriously, and I felt I needed to do all I could to minimize his concern.

So, all I saw of Yangjiang I saw from my hotel room, from the road out to Guangzhou, and during the briefest of shopping trips Wednesday night. And I missed the opportunity of a lifetime. Jacques had offered to take me to the village he grew up in on Wednesday to meet some of the people and photograph the rice paddies. But obviously, being able to stand for whole minutes at a time is a prerequisite for such a trip. It kills me that I missed it.

Nine days later, my appetite still -- still -- has not completely returned to normal. And most of you know what an affectionate relationship I have with food. I feel physical hunger, but it's almost as if there's a mechanism in my brain that has switched off.

I suspect the lobster noodle dish, as it was bathed in a sauce that, on reflection, could only have contained butter. This is prime habitat for the kind of unfamiliar microbes that afflict travelers everywhere.

Argh. I feel a little sick just writing about it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sea Worms, Crocs and Passport Control: Different, Yet Similar

The ferry to mainland China, in our case to the city of Zhuhai, leaves from the Royal Pacific Hotel in Hong Kong. The term "ferry" conjures up hopes for a breezy, relaxing ride with ample legroom and an open view. But alas, this was not to be. This ferry is a working boat, a catamaran filled with airline-sized seats and enclosed in frosted glass. I was deeply frustrated at the frosted glass. It seemed to offer no practical advantage other than to block the passengers' view of the sea. My American mind found this maddening.

I think it must be a universal precept that the people staffing passport control in every country be hand selected from that nation's surliest motherfuckers. In the business of policing the barriers that humans construct around themselves, the Surly Immigration Officer -- who stamps your passport reluctantly, as if he finds you a grossly wanting speck of humanity -- can serve only one purpose. This is to remind you that you are at the mercy of a foreign government, and to behave yourself, or else. It's foreign policy posturing at the grassroots level. Americans are hardly exempt from this, and we add an additional boot to the neck of the hapless entrant: the requirement that entrants fill out their entry cards in English. Contrast that to the fact that I've never once had to depart from my native language while filling out immigration forms in Europe and Asia, other than to issue a crisp "thank you" in Mandarin to the mainland immigration control officer. Hardly a feat of linguistic dexterity.

After we had all contended with the passport control officials, we got into a van driven by the father of one of Bladerunner's suppliers, an attentive, kind young man I'll call Jacques. (I call him this because the American name he selected for himself is also a common French-ish name.) Jacques' dad welcomed us all warmly, then drove us to this restaurant:

To get to this establishment, the name of which roughly translates to "Ship Close to the Moon," you drive down a long peninsular drive with water on either side. When we entered, we were immediately led to the tank area. Yes, the tank area.

You know what's coming, don't you?

These aren't so bad. Crab, fish, we eat those all the time. Then you walk around the corner.

Sea worms.

Oddly phallic looking sea life. These things were swaying back and forth hypnotically, like groupies at a Barry Manilow concert.

All I could get out of O, our translator, was that these are fish organs of some kind.

Who knew the ocean had so many worms, eh?

Stone fish. Cool, huh?

Then we turned another corner. It was here that my husband, runner of blades, chaser of bears, cliff-diver, car-racer and fearless thrill-seeker extraordinaire, whose pulse seems rarely to depart from the flatline, turned, shrieked like a frightened toddler, and began to search out the exit. You see, he cannot abide a reptile. Even a mere turtle seems to unease him; geckos and chameleons make him recoil a little; snakes produce a palpable horror, and a crocodile is enough to make him truly hysterical.

Snakes. Lots of them. Slithering.

He was visibly shaking as he took this photograph, but I credit him for taking it at all. According to O, these small crocodiles are imported from Thailand. Had we wished it, we could have eaten this:

We did not. O had tried some the last time he was here, and he advised us that it was nothing special, just your basic meat. With a repulsed quiver and a grimace, Bladerunner declined the croc.

In the end, we ate some snails, a very tasty and delicate fish, gigantic prawns (whole, with eyeballs, yum), and a lobster noodle dish that I liked a lot. I loaded up on the lobster and noodles. And loaded up again.

I would pay for this later.

Tomorrow: Revenge of the Tank Creatures.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Goodbye, Hong Kong. Hello, Mainland.

But only the one, now.

Wherein Your Blogger Successfully Avoids Little Yellow Seafish, but not Jackie Chan

There is a mall at the top of Victoria Peak. Because, presumably, when you go for a fantastic view of one of the world's most interesting cities, you want to make sure you have the opportunity to spend perfectly good money on useless items.

I suppose I'm being unnecessarily curmudgeonly with respect to this issue, as I did come by a painting for my brother here, and our hosts purchased for us some frightening dried food item they referred to as "little yellow seafish." I could perceive nothing yellow in them at all, but I thought it better not to explore the matter in any detail. I pled fullness from too many margaritas, but Bladerunner had no choice but to try them. Yum. Little yellow seafish.

Of course, by Tuesday little yellow seafish would be looking pretty good. But I'd better not get too far ahead of myself.

Buzzed as I was, I still managed to get some snapshots from the peak. I did not bother with the pro gear, as the light was just not pleasing enough for anything but snaps. I am advised that the skies are clearer in autumn.

Here is the tram that carries passengers up and down the mountain. It took me approximately four tries to get a decent picture of the tram. **cough**margaritas**cough**

I also understand that Jackie Chan lives on this mountain. What Sean Connery is to Scotland, Jackie Chan appears to be to Hong Kong. His image is everywhere. Jackie Chan on the boardwalk by the Art Museum, Jackie Chan on TV, Jackie Chan on Victoria Peak. I'm sure he's a lovely gentleman, but I really had no idea he'd be such a ceaseless traveling companion.

Escalators and Margaritas

Make you too buzzed to hike up Victoria Peak. So you ride instead. This makes you a complete loser, but fortunately, the same margaritas that turned you into a loser who can't hike also render you unable to conjure up even the smallest amount of shame about it. This is one of the more attractive things about drinking margaritas, and also why I so rarely do it.

This is the Central Mid-Levels escalator, one of the more creative modes of public transportation I've ever encountered. Riddled as this city is with hills and steep inclines, using an escalator as public transportation is really a touch of genius. The "Mid-Levels" are so called because the area is midway up the peak. The escalator runs down in the morning, up in the afternoon and evening. The entire system of escalators is 800 meters long. You can get off at regular intervals and explore shops and such on either side.

We stopped off the escalator at a Tex-Mex restaurant, Caramba (excellent food, by the way). This was where my friend J taught our mainland Chinese friends how to do shots of tequila -- you know, licking the salt off your hand, doing the shot, and immediately sucking on a lime. There is no drink that these gentlemen are unwilling to sample, and so we all had a great deal of fun that afternoon. Fortunately, we had a driver. Unfortunately, this means I never made it to the trails on the peak. [Hangs head in shame. Kind of.]

Bonus pictures of a random Hong Kong street:

Victoria Peak pics later.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Monday Morning in Hong Kong

Our hotel was on the Kowloon side, and overlooking Victoria Harbor, as you can see here. As so often happens, we got up early the first day and so decided to stroll along the walkway on the water. The short building with the cool roof is the convention center. Victoria Harbor is a very busy waterway; boat and barge traffic is brisk and constant. As you can also see from the pictures, the humidity hangs in a sort of haze over the city (this was the case all through our travels on the mainland in South China as well). The temperature was comfortable, but the humidity was palpable.

They're Baaaaaaack

I am jet lagged out of my friggin' gourd, friends. But we have arrived home safely.

My appetite has still not returned from the food poisoning (your surmise was correct, Rose). Five lost pounds later, I have concluded that the South China Diet has South Beach beat all to hell.

And it wasn't the tequila. That's just what happens when you stop into a Tex-Mex restaurant in Hong Kong for lunch and stick around for the rest of the afternoon. Heh.

I gotta get some rest, then I'll download the pics and start posting on the journey. Wasteland is in Portland till late tonight, so I have to rest up to have dinner with him. More later.

The comments were hilarious, by the way.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Like Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive"

Thus sayeth Trailhead in her most recent e-mail. Following an absoutely hilarious reconstruction of a conversation between Trailhead and Bladerunner about Trailhead's condition (which I will allow TH to share if and only if she decides**), TH provided the following encouraging close:

Anyway, the timing of this little plague was actually pretty good. It hit right when we arrived in Yangjiang, and I'm much better this morning. This is a darn good thing, because we're leaving in an hour to drive to Guangzhou and catch a flight to Nanjing, which I'm told was the seat of the Ming dynasty.

This e-mail is from today, though I received it yesterday. Wrap your mind around that one!!

**Okay, I will share this snippet from TH's email: "Diarrhea? Please. I aspired to diarrhea last night. I prayed for diarrhea. When it finally arrived, I threw diarrhea a goddamn ticker tape parade, because diarrhea is like winning the fucking Powerball compared to throwing up god knows what in a hotel room in South China every twenty minutes until there is nothing left to throw up anymore."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Funky Computers and Funky Food

Alas, dear friends, I have received word from TH that all has not gone according to plan in China. Bladerunner's computer is refusing to allow her to upload any photos. So, I have none to post. Add to that this recent correspondence from TH:

I have spent the last 24 hours in my hotel room in Yangjiang throwing up something I ate at some point, along with all the stomach lining I've built up over the last 35 years. I would be tempted to blame the seafood in Zhu Hai except that it was extremely, uh, fresh. In the last 30 hours I have eaten a single piece of bread, some orange juice, and two bites of a croissant. What a diet plan. This also means that I missed the opportunity that was offered to me to go into the countryside and meet and photograph a typical farm family and their rice paddies (which are a lovely green). I would have loved to, but vomiting on unsuspecting people is not the best way to represent the West, eh?

Fate, cut the kid a break for goodness sake!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Check out the trailer of Al Gore's new movie. If you can't view it from this site, go here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Post with No Name

We leave for China on Saturday. Wasteland will be posting the digital images I send back, but most of the commentary will be posted upon my return.

You know, I struggle with the ethics of travel, especially international travel. Such activities are energy-intensive, as well as money-intensive. On the other hand, I think Americans are far too insular for their own good or the good of the rest of the world.

So I go. Because I want to see how the rest of the world lives. I want to meet people in other countries (and other parts of this country), and partake respectfully of their culture. And, I admit, because I love it. I love seeing places that before only existed for me in my imagination.

When I get home, I have a whole season of photography waiting for me. The end of April will find me on the hunt for the fairy slipper orchid in the Columbia River Gorge, and visiting the Tom McCall Preserve in the Gorge as well.

After the close of summer, I hope to settle in for awhile, and just live. There hasn't been enough of that in the last three or so years. Then again, I'm probably not very good at it in any event!

Time to make another run up Laundry Mountain.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Creeping Rhinoviruses and Pre-Trip Dread

So we're having a fairly busy week. Each of us has big, time-consuming projects going on at work, there is a laundry mountain in my house that grows by the minute, I'm trying to squeeze in progressively longer hikes each day, and we're preparing to leave the country for 8 days.

So naturally, cue The Cold. TS came down with it in wicked form on Sunday morning, and I'm waiting, transfixed in clammy dread, for the hammer to drop on me or TK. I really don't want to be in the throes of a nasty bug on a ten-hour flight, and I really don't want my son to be sick when I leave for said flight. I tend to get a low-grade anxiety before I embark on a trip anyway, and I don't need the prospect of illness to add to it.

I'm probably vastly overstating my own importance in the whole TK/illness situation, as the child is blessed with two appallingly indulgent grandmothers, one of whom will be presiding at Trailheadquarters (I really like that word, Wasteland!) during our absence. I expect that, approximately four seconds after "Mimi" arrives on Thursday night, TK will forget that his parents even exist.

Hell, he thinks we're going to China to get him a new bathtub fish. He'd probably prefer that we get after it already.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Law of Nature #86957

The degree of shitheaditude exhibited on a Sunday morning by a three-year-old is directly proportional to the severity of the migraine/cold suffered at the time by said three-year-old's parents.

[My small voice crying "Help meeeeeeeeeee...."]

Friday, April 07, 2006

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Vultures Are Back

I think I have it figured out.

Setting aside for a moment the disturbing fact that Trailheadcase is number one when you google "vulture anus," I think I understand why people keep googling that phrase.

Consider this paragraph from the third site listed under "vulture anus:"

If hyenas don't deserve their reputation as loathsome scavengers, vultures certainly seem to. When we arrived this hapless zebra was half a zebra. Athumani said it probably died from natural causes earlier in the day. The squawking, squabbling, grunting vultures started at the anus and worked forward from the inside - vulture beaks cannot penetrate the thick zebra hide. There was constant turn-over as new vultures swooped in and the group fought amongst themselves for good spots.
(Emphasis added.)

Mmm. Yummy. Eww. So I guess everyone googling this phrase just wants to know -- is it really true? Do vultures eat the anus first? Well, folks, I think you have your answer.

Anyway, this still does not fully explain the first google in this category, which was, more specifically, "does a turkey vulture have an anus?" Perhaps this original googler was more concerned that the turkey vulture might be subject to the principle of what goes around, comes around. Vulture karma, if you will.

I should go back to blogging about slugs.

Update: As I continue to get hits from those of you googling this phrase, would one of you kindly drop me an e-mail (see sidebar to the right) and let me know whether my surmise is correct? Or is there something I'm not getting here?

A Theory of Lawyer Assholery

In my super-cool niche law practice, I don't spend a lot of time on the phone with other lawyers anymore. Bloggerdad and I have our share of interactions with opposing counsel, but due to the geographical situation, he conducts most of those communications nowadays.

But I'm handling a small matter for someone back in Indy that required me to make a phone call to another attorney today. This reminded me of what I hated most about my old practice: that the prevalence of assholery among lawyers is far greater than in the general population. And it's not just garden-variety assholery, like the wanker who cuts you off on the road, or the person who really isn't an asshole all the time, but is just acting like one in a particular situation.

No, the kind of assholery that's more prevalent in lawyers is an aggressive, almost accusatory I'm-going-to-impugn-your-worth-as-a-human-being kind of assholery. I have encountered it both in men and in women. When I first started practice, I used to cower quite a bit more in the face of this bullshit than I do today. Today, after five or so minutes of her hostility, I said to the Asshole Lawyer in question, "Is there something wrong with what I'm proposing to you? The tone of your voice suggests you have a problem."

"No," she sniffed. "I don't really care one way or another."

Yeah, fuck you too.

Even though I don't take this shit lying down anymore, it still annoys me for the rest of the day. And that's where people like this get their power, I suppose. But you know, paybacks are hell, and what mystifies me is why these people don't understand that.

You never know when a lawyer you've shit on is going to be in a position to do you a favor or not do you a favor sometime in the future. It's highly unlikely that I will be in such a position vis-a-vis Asshole Lawyer, given the nature of my practice now. But consider the concept that businesses have come to understand, that one dissatisfied customer tells five people, and each one of them tells five more, and so on. I will probably get a couple e-mails from my lawyer readers asking who Asshole Lawyer is. And I'll probably tell them.

So my advice to new lawyers is this. Get your power trips elsewhere. Maybe it makes you feel all superior to be gratuitously rude and nasty to other people, whether they are lawyers or not. But if the day comes when you're on fire, don't expect anyone else to piss on you to put you out.

Ahem. That is all.

Monday, April 03, 2006

What I Did Last Weekend

These photographs were taken at the upper elevations of Ecola State Park on the northern Oregon coast. The beach in the distance is Cannon Beach, and the funky shaped sea stack that appears in both images is Haystack Rock. The view from Ecola to Cannon is probably one of the most photographed images in Oregon. Of course, I don't care. I still had to do it myself.

Cross-posted at THI. (If you've seen them already or find nature images boring, scroll down and you'll be back in the comfortable bath of angst that is Trailheadcase.)

Miscellany and a China Trip

I am annoyed this morning because Blogger is declining to upload my last few digital snaps from Montana. Fine, Blogger, I'll do it later. Meanwhile, I have film to edit and a new laptop to set up, aside from my regular work.

But for now, a few housekeeping matters. In twelve days, TS and I will be going to China for 8 days. First we go to Hong Kong. While he does work-related stuff, I'll be hanging out with a good friend who moved there a little over a month ago. Then we catch the ferry to the mainland and drive to Yangjiang, a "small" city of 2.6 million on the South China Sea, where TS sources many of his products. Then we go back to Guangzhou and catch a flight to Nanjing, a city 3 or 4 hours from Shanghai. After about a day and a half there, we'll drive to Shanghai, where my friend from Hong Kong will meet us again to spend the weekend.

During my absence, I'll be leaving you in the capable hands of Wasteland Fan, who will post my images and my always incisive, witty commentary that you have all come to associate with Trailheadcase **cough grin cough**. I've told him he's welcome to have free rein of the site, but he's a busy guy, so it will likely be All China, All The Time. Treat him right, or else.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Sunny April Day in Glacier National Park: Better Than a Stick in the Eye

A sunny April Fool's Day on Lake McDonald

Towhead adds some much-needed rocks to Lake McDonald

Towhead and Trailhead Kid confer on rock-throwing strategy