Buenos Aires So Far

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HOLA! I arrived in Buenos Aires on Wednesday, today is Monday, and now finally, I am muchos happy in Argentina. I am writing from a very, very hot and even more crowded train (the commoners train as my Ukrainian called it). There is a bicycle to the left and right of me, some neighbor’s sweat against my own, and a group of my new five friends are four rows of people in front of me which is also just two feet away.

My first two days, I stayed with my friend George, whom I’d met in Thailand 3 years ago. He lives here temporarily from the UK and thankfully had the perfect couch to surf. As he’d done before, George impressed me with all the things he’d learned about this city, and of course, his kindness in making me feel welcome and safe on my own.

My first day, I went to the Recoleta Cemetery where there are wildly ornate tombs of presidents, artists, celebrities, and other important Argies – Evita included.

I quickly met an American from Boston and after, we wandered together to a vibrant art museum and a park. At the park, I saw my first Jacaranda tree – filled with the prettiest shade of purple leaves you’ll ever see. Now, I realize the jacarandas are everywhere and aesthetically, they’re what I love about the city most.

That evening, I met George back at his apartment. We ordered pizza and caught up since the last time we saw each other at the Full Moon Party in Thailand.

Day two in BA, George took the day off to take me sightseeing. He told me about Argentina’s crazy President who dropped the voting age to 16 to get more votes and who also is trying to change their constitution to get rid of the two-term limit. For many other reasons, there are always protests in BA, which I found fascinating. On any day, you’ll see hundreds of protesters outside Congress lobbying for union rights, marijuana legalization, and more. Men in the front of the protest wear balaclavas and carry wooden sticks to beat cars with when they try to pass. Despite the image, all the protests I saw did not look dangerous. The Argentinians were just loud and fired up, and that’s how they are when they dance too – full of passion and it seems they could never stop.

Later that night, my new American friend met George and I at a Parrillas. And when I say later, I mean at midnight we sat down at our table – it’s normal for restaurants to be empty until 10pm. Parillas are all over the city and they are basically steakhouses, only better. The word parrillas (pah-ree-shjah) literally means grill and the meat that’s cooked on these parrillas is to die for. I’ve been eating less and less meat these days, but if I lived in Argentina, I’d be riding the meat wagon more. We also enjoyed a bottle of Malbec that was delightful and 13 dollars.

Anyways, earlier in the day, I’d checked into a hostel so I could meet other travelers. Many, many times I have traveled without a plan, but never have I done so on my own. The first few days, I was quite sad and very lonely in the silent moments, and this country is also way bigger and more expensive than I thought. I cried to my nearly broke and lost self a few times the first two-three days, but thankfully I’ve now met a group of travelers that I love very much! Two Italians (m), one South African (f), and one Argentinian (f) – they are loads of fun and very easy to be around. Fabulouso.

On Saturday, the six of us romped around town stopping at markets, restaurants, cafes, and a few other touristy areas. There was dancing and music all over the streets.

From an artist, I bought a cup for mate (mah-tay) – an herbal drink Argentinians have almost daily. It’s somewhat tea-like (my Argie friend yelled at me for saying so), and it is meant to be shared. You take turns drinking the steeped leaves while talking, listening, and relaxing with friends and family. It´s a great tradition. After a very long day, we continued with dinner and Folklore dancing. I´ll have to tell you more about that later, though. Ciao for now!

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it’s all over..

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With so much Asian influence, Honolulu was the perfect buffer back to the 48 great, but not as great as Hawaii, states. The best example of the apparent culture blend was right outside our hotel; there was an Udon noodle bar on one side of the street and a Taco Bell on the other. Especially with my being known to eat the Bell three times in one day, it shocked me that I’d chosen a bowl of noodles over the long-deprived Crunch Wrap Supreme. In all of Asia, we’d seen McDonald’s, Burger King, Arby’s and even Dairy Queen, but we did not see a single Taco Bell. That Great Wall has sure kept some gems out of the area.

Anyways, I realize it’s been two weeks since I’ve last posted and, considering this blog serves as my digital diary, I thought a gap in my records would run my memory awry for future nostalgia.

So I’ll write some things about our last stop in Asia, Beijing.

To get around this massive metropolis, the newly paved metro is your most efficient bet. You can quite easily navigate and conquer sprawling Beijing, although you must be willing to forgo all personal space with China’s inescapable crowd pollution that plagues even its underground roads. The trains are so overflown they make the morning 6 train to Wall Street seem spacious, and, though I hoped it was always just Greg, I must have been ass-grabbed several times in said overflow.

Regardless, we used the metro often, hopping from one sight to the next, as we rounded up China in its capitol city.

We started with Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City, the latter being more to our liking. Tianamen is neat but nothing, other than it being the largest public square, we haven’t seen before. The Forbidden City is undeniably more distinctive with it being the palace for Chinese emperors during the country’s millennia-old dynasty history. Now, after the cultural revolution in the mid-1900′s, the palace is no longer forbidden (though it continues to bear the name otherwise), and it swarms with tourists of all nationalities. We rented audio guides that used GPS to signal the automated English voice of where we were and what we needed described. It’s a great concept, but it’s hardly mastered. I would be standing at the entrance of the Palace of Heaven and the guide would start giving me a lesson on the Imperial Garden out back. I was completely confused, but managed to grasp one overarching theme: the palace grounds had a specific room for everything. One room was used to receive documents, another was to read the documents, another was to ponder them in, a fourth was to pray on them and then a fifth room served to sign the documents. I felt it somewhat unnecessary but then I thought, it only took a half a century to build each room, so what’s the harm in that?

We also visited the Summer Palace, another complex beside a breezy lake where royalty would go to be spoiled by serenity. Of all the sights in China, the Summer Palace was the most beautiful to me. And I do include the Great Wall in that call. Though the lengthy barricade slithered through a gorgeous mountainside, I was still left slightly unmoved. Perhaps I’ve seen it overplayed through media, or perhaps the unwelcome overcast clouded its full potential, but the experience didn’t engulf me like seeing the Taj Mahal in India or the ultra-futuristic shopping malls in Hong Kong. It also could have been the blazing humidity or severe incline (sure to dissuade many an intruder) that stifled my thoughts. Whatever the case, I wasn’t completely unsatisfied; I was still impressed at the feat of such an edifice of defense. Put all the gratuitous gates around Beverly Hills homes to shame.

Like the last few destinations, Beijing tourists all have the Olympic park on their agenda as well. We were most roused by the national stadium, the bird’s nest as it is called in slang. Concerning present architecture, I’ve never seen anything like it. The outside layer of the stadium looked like a maze of steel and it made little sense how the puzzle pieces flowed together to support the structure. The other buildings were pretty ratty and offensively rundown considering they only have three years of living under their belts. Restorations of B.C. architecture looked to be more maintained and fresh than some buildings in the toddler-aged park. There were also silly misspellings that made us question how much effort was put into the details of the 2008 Olympics on the Chinese’s part. If you’re going to host one of the largest international events, you might want to hire a non-dyslexic translator so that the word “squat” to proceed the word “toilet” isn’t misspelled as “spuat” on all the bathroom stall labels. Anyways, they know for the next time the Olympics come to town.

The very last experience to note in Beijing was the Pearl Market. From electronics to perfumes, beads to clay tea pots, this three-story, tourist-entrapping house of shopping really sucked Greg and I in. Three times. The first time, we ran into a busload of MBA students from Greg’s undergrad alma mater, Babson College in Boston. It’s always a fun coincidence to run into traces of back home when you are so far from it, so we became distracted from shopping until the joint closed to relate with the students. On our second try, we came across some awesome gadgets- including these computer mouses shaped like a woman’s body, with the left click button looking like a large left breast, and the right click button looking like the large right one. We called it a tit mouse, which is actually a type of animal, and definitely bought one. We snagged enough goodies to overstuff our backpacks (figuring that it was the end of our trip, it was okay to wastefully purchase inessential, sure-to-break-upon-returning-home trinkets, by the hundreds). The third and final trip we made was because I’d decided to go back and buy my dad a pair of the headphones I’d bought for myself. He’s the biggest fan of Pandora, though he refuses to pay to eliminate the commercials, so I figured he could use them to accessorize his hobby. Plus, they are those hip, rad Dr. Dre Beats kind, and my nearing 60-year-old dad totally rides the trendy wave.

Anyways, we flew from Beijing to Hawaii, stayed there for 5 days and just now flew back to mainland America. This two-month trip sped by faster than that Maglev train in Shanghai (again, that’s about 270 miles per hour) and I can’t believe, nor do I want to, that it’s all over. My collective thoughts would get lost in the length of this post, so I’ll have to compile them and save it for another day. Until then, I’ll be enjoying an In-And-Out burger in San Francisco and figuring out what in the world is next.

PS. Dad- I know you turn only 59 next week (and happy almost birthday), but you are the closest you’ll ever get to that 60 number when all the birthday cards start to have large font and dirty old man jokes…It’s my duty, and my pleasure, to help keep your image looking younger than reality. Love ya!

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These flash bulbs are starting to hurt my eyes…

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Almost everyone in China is a professional photographer, or at least they outfit themselves as one. They have those chunky manual cameras and use zoom lenses that could shoot all the way to the Grand Canyon.

Since Greg and I white kids are easy to spot, and apparently an absolute phenomenon, we become the focal point of many pictures. The photographers always try to be discreet, but I’ll tell you one thing, the words discreet and Chinese have yet to mesh as well as dirty and India.

Some of the gutsier girls will run up giggling and ask for a picture. Bless their fragile little daring porcelain souls, of course we will make like best [stranger] friends with you and hold up our hands in that two-finger peace sign shape. I can just see it- Greg and I’s American smiles plastered on the family photo wall next to a portrait of an old Chinese emperor.

Anyways, we really are more than happy to do it.

In other cases (the “discreet” ones), the less approaching photographer shoots in our direction but fakes like the plain grass behind us has Pulitzer-Prize potential. I let it fly because I too realize how alien-like Greg looks.

Yesterday we were walking along the West Lake, a sprawling and crawling with tourists lake 2 hours from Shanghai. It was our most photographed day on the entire trip, and it was weird because it’s not like we looked much different from other days- I mean, we really only have one outfit in our backpacks. Maybe word had gotten out that a former Governor and his staffwoman were strolling through China…

Anyways, we decided to live up our glory. The next time we noticed a “discreet” paparazzi, we struck overly dramatic poses that would make the cover of a magazine cringe. I shoved peace-sign hands out as far forward as they’d go, gave my best attempt at an annoying peppy cheerleader smile and lunged the camera’s way. Greg spread eagle and shot his hands victoriously up to the sky like he’d just made it to the top of Everest. It happened at the same time that four long-lensed Chinese were pointing our direction- the photographers ate it up, and we heard no less than 20 shutter clicks in a matter of 5 spotlight seconds. We tried to keep our faces straight, but inside, we were dying with laughter. The attention was ridiculous, and for the last week of our trip, we’ve now decided to go this extreme during any photo scene- we will officially be hams on the streets of China.

It’s sometimes just so funny to mess with two opposite languages and cultures. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had full, long, almost tiring one-sided conversations, and surprisingly it’s usually the Chinese on the vocal side, expecting us to understand a full-fledged lecture in the hardest language on earth. I get it, if we are in their country, we should know at least some of their language, but we look so obviously confused from the second they start talking, how do they just keep rambling? Sometimes Greg will throw some English into the conversation, fully aware they wouldn’t know a word, and say “Oh cool, can we can colonoscopies there too?”

And then with kids-it’s like they are seeing Winnie the Pooh or Mickey Mouse when they realize we don’t exactly look like the rest of their friends. I know it’s totally okay for kids to stare- there’s nothing rude about it when you are four. It just gets hilarious when the kid is long gone by at least 200 feet, and he still cranks his neck around at three-second intervals to make sure we really happened.

We will occasionally mess with the kiddies, like we did the paparazzi, too. Either we’ll blow out our cheeks or crunch our eyebrows or just wave with such charisma that, if scared of clowns, you’d be scared of us too. Kids bug out, needing to double-check reality, and some start to hold mom’s hand with noticeably more aggression.

Some times and some kids are funnier than others, but with only 7 days left of this two-month Asian adventure, we’re not giving up on new experiences. We’ll continue to make nosy photographers’ blood rush and to punk the little ones, and we’ll do it with obnoxious American style.

Here’s to one more week in the orient! Ah!

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I’m here for the Shang-Bang

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Yesterday I got my nails done for a buck fifty in Shanghai, and I chose a fancy glittery color to match the town’s vibrancy.

I thought it was my first time in a big city, the way I admired Shanghai’s shapely skyline. We were on the west side of the Huangpu River which divides the sprawling metropolis and we were staring at a curved string of modern architectural development. The focal point was undoubtedly the Oriental Pearl Tower, a modern product of ancient influence that convinced me I was still across the world in a city with BC history. On our side of the river was a strip of European-style buildings that if not for peripheral vision, you’d think you were along France’s Seine river. Then, of course, sprinkled on both sides of the river were ultra-modern buildings that reminded me I was in one of the world’s most advanced and technological metropolitans. The blend of cross-features made the city exude such uniqueness. Where as some cities seem so replicated that I could easily confuse one with the other, Shanghai’s unmistakeable and eclectic horizon is what I admired most.

Today, our second day in Shanghai, was equally as eclectic, energy-full and a lot of it, down right nutty.

This might be the first time on our soon ending 2-month trip that Greg and I planned our day out so precisely, so check-listly. It went: Maglev, Tom’s World, 50 Mogosuan, then Shanghai Circus World. Only four things, but we as we suspected, Tom put quite the dent in our time frame.

Shanghai’s airport shuttle, the Maglev train, hits a queasy superlative- the fastest ground transportation on earth. No other mode goes even close to the 270 miles per hour that the Maglev does with ease and in eight measly minutes of its ride, you’re 25 miles clear past the city. Greg and I rode it to and from the airport this morning as our first to-do of the day.

Inside the train car, there was a digital speedometer that kept track of how close we were getting to the speed of light. I felt almost there when halfway through cruising, we topped out at the big 270.

When going at such speed trying to focus on any one object, or even trying to look so much out the window, plays games with your perspective. My eyes have never had to readjust so instantly-it gave me some motion sickness, though the adrenaline hushed away most of the symptoms. What a rush to fuel the day. Put Greg’s way, we felt “giddy as heck” smoking cars on the parallel highway, and in our speedy 8 minutes of glory, we were superheroes zooming by the lowly commoners in their fancy German cars.

Next stop was Tom’s World. It seemed like eternity before we got there, having to take the regular metro and all, and not no swift Maglev…

When we started walking downstairs to the underground arcade, I felt as excited as I did waiting on the catwalk for my turn at slip ‘n slide. I went head first into my wallet to exchange bills for tokens then hurried my way over to the juvenile gambling hall (mom, I am your blood). Greg said he’d never seen such an intense drive in me as when I threw my money into this certain game. It was the one where you drop a token into the abyss of other tokens, hoping the one you added would cause the front line of them to slip off and into your jackpot. The coins you did win turned into tickets which could be cashed in for sweet prizes. We got a keychain that split in half, like those best friend necklaces, but for lovers. We got two bobble heads of this “Tom” character who ran the arcade joint. We got scented mini-highlighters, and then we lastly got two rad eraser-less pencils. I’d say we done well for ourselves after our pouring our day’s budget into that place.

Third stop was 50 Mogoshaun Rd. It’s a curvy road stacked with art galleries and trickled with a few coffee shops. Some galleries had photography, others had oil paintings, or digital art, or sculptures of babies. In the tens of galleries we trotted through, not one was like another, and not all of them had an Oriental slant. We could have easily been in the middle of one of Manhattan’s many artsy districts.

Our last stop of the day, which by then was the evening, was the Shanghai Circus World. Greg wondered if there would be clowns and cotton candy; I wondered if there’d be movie-theater popcorn (hello 2-month long craving).

Instead, it was a team of chiseled, compact Chinese men and women doing all sorts of Cirque de Soleil kinds of tricks. Some parts of the show Greg and I gasped in disbelief, other times it was out of pure horror and fright that tonight was the night we’d see the end of someone’s head. In one of the sets, there were 7 motorcycles inside a spherical cage, running around each other, bumper to bumper and even upside down. Greg said he’d seen the same trick before but the same size cage only had 3 motorcycle. Each time a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh cycle came out, Greg belted in shock. We both were also shocked when one of the drivers took their helmets off and a long set of girly black flowed from her porcelain skin. Go, girl, go.

There was also a hamster wheel, but for disgustingly daring and all-muscle Chinese. They didn’t play in the inside of the wheel however, they scampered over the top of it, 40 feet off the ground and with no protective harness as they flipped, cart-wheeled, juggled fire and blindfolded themselves around the wheel. We could see some women sitting across from us in the circular theatre -they had their hands tightly over their mouths and were leaned as far away from the stage as their bodies could angle them.

Contortionists were molding their bodies into each other and trapeze artists swinging one another by their big toes. There was a guy flipping on stilts, and a trampoline shooting another into 17 consecutive acrobatic jumps.

My goodness these nutty human capabilities threatened the superhero persona we’d felt earlier in the day on the record-setting high-speed train but all in all, the day was a spectacular romp around Shanghai.

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Almost a world wonder…

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China’s Terracotta Warriors, like a ton of other things (including myself), claim to be the world’s 8th wonder.

Now after visiting the warriors in Xi’an, a middle province of China, I give them the OK to bump me in line for the honor.

The simple storyline behind them is fascinating, and so satisfying that I found myself having unusually little inquisition for below the surface, pun intended, details.

So it goes during a very recent 1974, a few peasant farmers, with no further agenda than to drill a simple well, punctured one of the world’s ever most famous archeological discoveries. They hit an underground collection of life-size warrior statues, existing in great numbers above 7,000 and remaining far absent from anyone’s knowledge for an unbelievable 2,000 years.

The soldiers’ creation was instructed by China’s self-declared first emperor, who began his reign at the short age of 13. In his accomplishments, Qin Shi Huang centralized long divided regions and states of China under one unified and standardized government, and his establishments served as a model for subsequent dynasties. He instituted substantial public projects, though he enslaved hundreds of thousands of his people in a cruel and tyrannical way to complete them. He also abandoned the beliefs of Confucianism, banning its practice, burning many of its records and even burying alive some 400plus of its top scholars.

To continue his reign after death and for continued guardianship, Qin Shi Huang enlisted 700,000 workers over 38 years to craft an army of soldiers around his tomb. In a civil uprising after his death, a lot of his underground army was destroyed and no signs above terrain existed. Now, two millennia later, the discovered Terracotta warriors, brittle and damaged, have rightfully claimed close rank to a world wonder.

Archeologists are still unveiling wild discoveries about the Qin dynasty through the terracotta artifacts and are still putting together broken pieces as to reassemble the full fleet. Even in my visit, there were areas around the tomb still waiting to be excavated and retouched, and archeologists were working diligently to reinstate their alignment.

It was truly a mind blow to see something pulled out of the ground almost yesterday that had been silently posted during China’s first emperor ruling, through the Renaissance, Columbus sailing the ocean blue, the Titanic and World War 2.

Let the magnitude of this far-hidden and fortuitous discovery remind us that when we, individually or as a world together, think we’ve reached it, know it or done it all, there is always much more digging to be done, and much, much more beauty to be found.

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