Vietnam, North to South

Howdy folks!

Emily and I spent three weeks traveling in Vietnam north to south – from Hànội to Ninh Bình to Huế to Hồ Chí Minh City (AKA Sàigòn).

We knew going in this was going to take our travels off “easy mode.” Whereas we had heard nothing but great things about Taiwan, we had been warned both online and in-person about Vietnam. Were we gonna get scammed? Run off the road by wild motorbike traffic?

Well, it turns out we only got scammed twice (no big deal, honest) and did crash a motorbike once. But otherwise? It was fantastic. These pictures are the receipts.

We’ve only got a week left in Thailand and have some amazing photos to show you. Stay tuned for more! Next stop: Israel.

Love,

E&E

Names from Travels – Part 2

Here’s the original post on my name blog: Names from My Travels – Part 2

And if you missed Part 1, check it out here: Names from Travels

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Ethan and me scootering outside of Hanoi
 
I’ve tried to remove anything too personal – FB friends, let me know if I need to edit anything!
Joe-Thibault
Not someone I actually met, but a few Belgian friends told me about the weirdest name they knew; apparently his parents couldn’t pick between the two, so they created a compound name. I gotta say, Joe-Thibault is an unusual mix of styles!
Sibset: Camille (f), Justine (f), Auguste (m)
The lovely Camille was named for an associate of Auguste Rodin, one of her parents’ favorite artists (hence her brother’s name, Auguste). We had a great conversation about names later on (just saying, there’s a lot of people out there who keep lists of their favorite names!)
Nadège (f)
The French form of a Slavic name meaning “hope” (from the same family as Nadia). I’m reminded of another French name, Edwige, and I can think of two currently popular names that end in -ge: Paige and Sage.
Lannan (Eve)
A friendly Chinese woman told me her name means “very smart” in Mandarin (I couldn’t find the right combination of name elements online). She picked her own English name, Eve.
Sibset: Itai (m), Dror (m), Naama (f), Sivan (f), Shaked (f), Keshet (f)
When Sivan told me she was one of six children, I asked their names so fast I nearly choked. Her family is Israeli, and they chose each of their children’s names based on the Torah reading for the week they were born. Itai is a name of one of King David‘s warriors, meaning “being.” Dror means “freedom,” chosen because he was born during Pesach (the Jewish holiday of Passover, celebrating the liberation of the Jews under the leadership of Moses). Naama is a fairly popular name in Israel, meaning “pleasant.” Sivan was named for the third month of the Jewish calendar, which comes from a word meaning “season” or “time.” Shaked means “almond,” as she was born during Tu BiShvat, a Jewish holiday celebrating ecological awareness and the planting of trees. Keshet means “rainbow,” referencing the story of Noah.
Sibset: Talia (f), Alon (m), Shachar (m), Shani (f)
Another excellent Israeli family name group! Talia is a Hebrew name meaning “dew from heaven” (it’s currently fairly popular in the US), Alon is a Hebrew name meaning “oak tree,” Shachar is a Hebrew name meaning “dawn,” and Shani is a Hebrew name meaning “red.”
Special thanks to the incomparable Shachar and Sivan for answering my questions one after another! ❤
Nathan
The third Israeli interviewed on this list, Nathan was named for his grandfather. We talked a bit about “word names” being on the rise in the United States, when they’re very popular in other countries already (see Sivan and Shachar‘s stories above!)
Sibset: Elena Georgina and Isabel Antonia
These gorgeous names reflect Elena‘s family’s roots in Italy and in Puerto Rico. We also both noticed that the middles were feminizations of traditionally male names.
Sigrid
The fabulous Sigrid was supposed to be named Julia, but her parents felt the choice didn’t fit her. They chose her name in part because it sounds like “sie grinst,” German for “she smiles.”
Sibset: JackGraceSamuel
Jack would have been Kate if he was a girl, but didn’t know why his parents chose Jack.
Couple: Una and Aga
This warm Taiwanese couple owned and managed a hostel in Hualien. Una is one of my favorite names, and I love how their names sound together.
Sibset: Erica, Sara, Isaac, John
Erica told me that her parents chose “simple names” for her and her siblings because theirs were more complicated. I hear more about the reverse of that happening: choosing a “unique” name for one’s child because one’s own name is too popular.
Arslan (m)
This is a form of Aslan (meaning “lion”), and comes from Arslan‘s home state of Bashkortostan, a republic in Russia.
Huong (f)
This is a Vietnamese name meaning “perfume” – similar to Jasmine or Rose, perhaps?
While attending Quest Festival outside of Hanoi, I collected a lot of names, but few stories behind them: AymenAtlasEdithLou and LoupJaelMansourNaadirMutiTreyPim, and a ton of Alex‘s!
Couple: Willi (f) and Willem (m)
This funny couple from Amsterdam had been together for decades, with the matching names Willi and WillemWillem joked “If I had known her name, I would have walked away!”
Aladdin (m)
I met a real-life Aladdin, from Lyons, France!
Kurn (m)
When he told me he was Welsh, I asked his name, expecting an unusual Welsh choice. Instead, I got another Hebrew name! His parents chose Kurn (from Koren, meaning “shining”) to honor their Jewish heritage.
So many names and stories! Thanks everyone for sharing theirs with me 🙂

(Late) Disorganized Thoughts on Taiwan

By Emily

It wasn’t until college that I had Taiwan recommended to me as a destination. Honestly, I barely knew its political status related to China, let alone its location on a map. But Christopher (my good friend and former roommate) talked about how amazing it was, how much he enjoyed traveling there. So when we were booking flights through East Asia and added Taiwan to the mix, I had positive associations with it already.

During the four months traveling through Japan, Hong Kong, and southern China, we met dozens of travelers who had been to Taiwan already – and every single one of them LOVED it. We heard almost nothing negative about the entire island, which was a first (every destination has lovers and haters) and I began to pay closer attention. What about Taiwan makes it a place that all kinds of people enjoy?

We’re now in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, looking back at six weeks spent exploring Taiwan’s cities, coasts, and national parks. Here are some thoughts (in no particular order of importance) on the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name).

*****

In every city we visited, we found museums and cultural centers dedicated to promoting the cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. Exhibits on history, lifestyles, and practices filled huge buildings; we saw shows on traditional dancing and singing. At every tourist stop, mentions of the tribes local to the area were included in pamphlets and gift shops.

While I appreciate my elementary’s school’s lessons about the Chumash Indians, it’s pretty well-known that native peoples in the United States rarely get their history included in the education system or in local museums. Seeing Taiwan’s determination to share the lives and stories of indigenous tribes was a breath of fresh air, but brought up some difficult questions.

By promoting these cultures in museums and shops, there was a heavily commercialized aspect to it: “Buy these recreations of traditional clothes!” “Take your picture with an attractive female dancer!” “Join us on a tour through a ‘real village’!” It felt very uncomfortable and exotify-ing, as if this was just another tourist trap rather than a way of life for thousands.

I recognize that travel is often like this – going to another country to see how “others” live, and commenting on it as if your own way of life is superior/natural/default. So perhaps I’m not the most qualified individual to talk about the commercialization of a group of which I’m not a member. At least it’s made me a bit more aware of my actions as a foreigner in another country, and how best I can respect/appreciate other ways of life while avoiding fetishizing them.

*****

Within an hour of arriving in Taipei, I turned to Ethan and accused him of tricking me into coming back to Japan. The basic similarities were striking – the prevalence of convenience stores, the cleanliness compared to mainland China, the amount of shopping everywhere – and I noticed it immediately. Through traveling the island, I learned a lot more about Taiwan’s history and relationship with Japan, and just why the Republic of China felt so Japanese.

One comment quite a few travelers made about Taiwan was as follows: “It’s like the best of both China and Japan in one place.” That did feel true a lot of the time. The organization, infrastructure, and ease of travel felt like the streamlined experience of Japan, while the delicious food, diversity of people (in terms of race/class/clothing) and the language, of course, was thoroughly Chinese. But there also developed a distinctly Taiwanese feeling after spending a few weeks meeting people and studying the island. There’s a sense of pride in being Taiwanese, excitement about their own history and struggles, and a friendliness in wanting to share the love of their country with visitors. There seemed to be a greater feeling of community that I hadn’t experienced in either Japan or China, though, a kind of camaraderie that felt refreshing and unique. It certainly made me miss my fellow Californians.

*****

How to talk about the night markets… They were another aspect of Taiwan I was told about by many travelers. Similar to other open-air markets I’ve experienced – lots of people, mix of games, food and shopping, in a specific neighborhood in the evenings – but there were dozens of them throughout the island. I tried to find out more about what makes them so popular in Taiwan specifically, but haven’t found too much online. If you have an answer tell me in the comments?

My favorite dishes were barbecued corn (coated with four layers of sauces and spices, yum), giant pieces of fried chicken (as big as my head, and I have a large head), xiao long bao (I could eat ten dumplings a day for the rest of my life), and spiced beef skewers (returning to a primarily vegetarian lifestyle in California is going to be next to impossible). I realize I’m courting heresy with this next comment, but I don’t like boba tea. Feel free to yell at me about this controversial opinion when you see me next.

And maybe this is because I am a weak Westerner, but I cannot stand the smell of “stinky tofu” (臭豆腐) and I do not understand its popularity. Why? For what reason? How is this a thing?

*****

I’ve always been drawn to the water – pools, lakes, hot springs – and being in east and southeast Asia has certainly been a treat. (There’s water everywhere!!! As a Californian, I can’t figure out where it all comes from??? Why don’t these regions run out???) Taiwan was particularly lovely for this reason.

At Taroko Gorge (north of Hualien), we scootered through the winding roads of the mountains, along the route of the Liwu River. At one point, we parked and hiked off the main road, climbing around a fence to get to a natural hot spring area. We found a couple of other travelers and a few Taiwanese locals there, sitting in the hot water along the edge of the roaring river. Stripping down to our underwear, Ethan and I jumped right in (while Nancy soaked her feet like a lady) and climbed around the calmer points of the river. The color of the water was a beautiful blue-grey, and being surrounded by marble cliff faces was awesome.

In Taichung, we stayed at a hostel that offered a trip to the “Double Dragon” waterfall, closer to the interior of the island (Taichung is on the west coast). After hiking a ways through thick forest on a tiny trail, we reached Taiwan’s largest suspension bridge – which had pretty much no solid railing. With our Taiwanese leader and four Malaysian travelers, Ethan, Nancy and I traversed the bridge, stopping to take pictures and/or swear. (Nancy helped a particularly fearful teenager conquer his fear of the bridge, while the rest of us pretended not to be frightened as all hell). When we reached the end of the bridge, we found the Double Dragon falls right above us, crashing down the cliff face. One pool nearby was deep enough to jump in off a boulder, and we were able to wade all the way in under the waterfall, an exhilarating experience.

South of Taipei, Ethan and I took a rickety bus all the way up to Wu Lai, a small village with a mining history, and now a tourist attraction for its beautiful waterfall and natural hot springs. Similar to Taroko, we shimmied down to the hot spring area where a ton of locals had set up their own spa, piping water from the hillside to fill large plastic tubs and cement pools. They even hung blankets above and around a rocky area to make an indoor sauna! While Ethan enjoyed the hot water, I took it upon myself to explore the river. The current was incredibly strong, but a rope was set up on one edge to allow you to swim while still connected to the bank. After playing around with that, Ethan and I both followed the “footsteps” of the locals and jumped in upstream to swim to a calmer spot downstream, allowing the current to push us quickly along the edge of the village. Relaxing at the end of a long day, I laid on the bank with my feet in the river, and was treated to an impromptu pedicure by some tiny fish, who enjoyed nibbling the dead skin off my feet (free spa treatment!) Definitely my favorite part of the trip.

*****

On one of our last days in Taipei, Ethan and I went to two museums dedicated to the 2/28 Movement, as well as the 2/28 Memorial Park. For those who don’t know, this commemorates a huge protest in 1947 by the Taiwanese people against oppressive censorship measures of their government, which resulted in the death and imprisonment of thousands. In the past few decades, the government has begun to recognize the tragedy of this time in history, and have begun working with activists to set up museums and memorials to educate the public.

It’s something that greatly impressed me about this place, that the leaders were willing to admit past political wrongdoing and take steps to apologize to the public and make sure the tragedy isn’t swept under the rug. I wish the United States were better about admitting mistakes/errors of judgement/etc in their past, and were willing to make reparations to the groups wronged. To be proud of your country is one thing, but to refuse to admit that your country has ever hurt its own people is another. For me, the only reason to be proud of a place is to see it progress over time, to see it continually get better for all of its citizens. Otherwise, it’s like a stagnant pond that keeps filling up with mosquito larva and pond scum (see our current state of affairs).

*****

That’s all I got for now. Message me to chat about Taiwan 🙂

Taiwan 2k17, the “We Are So Behind on Photos” Edition

Howdy folks! We’ve been in Vietnam for 3 weeks, but here’s hundreds of photos from Taiwan. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Hualien! Taitung! Kaohsiung! Taichung! Sun Moon Lake! Taipei (again)! It’s all here and more, plus plenty of pics of Emily’s lovely mother Nancy, who joined us for 3 abso-scooterly wonderful weeks.

Part 1: Hualien-Taitung-Kaohsiung

Part 2: Taichung and Sun Moon Lake

Part 3: Taipei – Round 2

Vietnam photos are coming soon (we survived)! Leaving for Bangkok in just two days; the trip goes ever onward.

Love,

E&E

Eat Pray Love Laugh Netflix Fatigue Travel

While Skyping with my sister yesterday, she jokingly asked me, “So are you all ‘enlightened’ now that you’ve traveled around the world?” My initial response was an eye roll and immediate assurance that I have not changed all that much; the only changes that I could think of at the time are that I’m more open to eating other types of foods (which is actually a milestone for this incredibly picky eater) and I’m more used to living each day with fewer material objects. But her question stuck in my head after the conversation ended, for a few reasons.

The backpacker life comes with quite a few cliches, both the ones that are projected upon us and the ones we create for ourselves. In the former category, there are the assumptions that we’re all trust fund kids with superiority complexes who don’t actually care about the places we’re visiting as long as they provide good backdrops for Instagram photos. In the latter category, there is a culture of self-righteousness about our amazing journeys that allow us to discover our life’s true purpose through learning from “other” (non-white or non-Western) peoples. While I have met two or three individuals who match up to these stereotypes, they are few and far between. Yes, a few of us have read Eat Pray Love (guilty) or wear loose elephant-print pants (you know who you are) or wax poetic about “life on the road,” but the majority of people I’ve met have been… normal, for lack of a better term.

Some travelers have saved money for their trip, others work on the road to keep themselves afloat. Some wear makeup daily, others have quit looking in mirrors altogether. Some haven’t talked with a friend back home in weeks, others Skype their families every day. Backpackers of all kinds spend a lot of time watching their favorite shows online, complaining about the foods they miss, chattering about their pets, comparing prices of items at convenience stores, asking for tips about their destinations ahead; there’s no singular type of traveler I’ve come across, really. Occasionally I’ve talked to others about the “reason” why they travel, but somehow it’s assumed as a given among the group – if you have the means and time, why not?

Ethan and I went into this trip with similar feelings – we both want to see more of the world, this is a good point in our lives to do it, our financial situations are stable enough for awhile. Very quickly into this trip, Ethan brought up the quote: “Wherever you go, there you are.” We’re the same individuals who left Berkeley 5-6 months ago, just with a higher tolerance for mosquito bites and snoring roommates. I don’t think either of us expected an epiphany while climbing a mountain or a realization of some subconscious goal while eating a dumpling.

Still, there’s always a nagging feeling that we’re not doing/seeing/learning/experiencing enough, that somehow we’re traveling incorrectly. If my previous statement is true, that we’re traveling not for enlightenment but because we can, wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to stay at home and study these places? I could glean more about Chinese history in a week at a desk than I could schlepping a backpack through Sichuan for two months. An immersion program at a Japanese school in San Francisco would teach me more language skills than what I picked up at a hostel in Tokyo. Removing the physical activity, social stress, and money-spending inherent in travel would certainly make learning about these cultures much easier and arguably more amusing.

When I look back on this trip – about 100 days until its end, just a bit past the midway point – I don’t think about all of the history I’ve learned or the museums I’ve seen or the souvenirs I bought. I think of it in terms of moments: watching my mother successfully coax a frightened Malaysian teenager across Taiwan’s largest suspension bridge; singing Eagles karaoke at a Family Guy-themed bar until 4:00 am in Osaka; sitting in an alleyway in Kyoto with my boyfriend at midnight, frustrated after a stressful day of switching trains and climbing stairs. I think of all of the people who I became close with because we were in the same city at the same time and spoke the same language, people who I’d love to see every week for the rest of my life, but can’t because the world is too big.

I guess I don’t travel to become more enlightened; I travel to fit more “life” into my life. And really, one doesn’t need to be in a foreign country to try new foods or meet new friends or have more fun – it’s just that travel reminds you how to do those things when your life at home feels ordinary. The most challenging part of this trip, for me, will be learning to make new adventures without a backpack on, to extend the exhilaration of novelty into a place I already know. So, little sister, get ready to get enlightened right along with me when I come home next year. We’re gonna have some fun.

Top of the Sweet Potato – Taipei Photos

Howdy folks. Ethan here.

TL;DR – Long live Taipei! Long live stinky tofu! Photos here.

If you look at a map of Taiwan, the whole island looks a bit like a sweet potato. At the northern end of that delicious green root vegetable is a big, beautiful city called Taipei.

Em and I had been told a lot of things about Taiwan before we arrived – literally all of them positive. The capital city is wonderful, the mountains are gorgeous, the eastern coast breathtaking, the food to die for…you name it. I had personally gotten a rushed glimpse of Taipei during a long layover back in 2016 and all I had were good memories. Suffice it to say, we arrived with high expectations.

Right off the bat, Taipei started to fulfill them.

Our first week in Taiwan was spent visiting museums, sweating our brains out, eating at night markets, and marveling at the curious mix of China and Japan that Taiwan represents. We also got to welcome the lovely Nancy (Emily’s mom) on our trip for a 3-week jaunt around the island.

And as always, lucky reader, you get to follow along with us! Until our next batch of photos. ❤

Love,

E&E

Macau: Portugal in China

By Emily

I don’t remember what made us decide to visit Macau in the first place. We needed a plane ticket out of China, I think, so we hastily bought the cheapest flight we could from Hong Kong/Macau to Taiwan (yes, they’re all technically part of China, but we’ll cover that more in a later post about Taiwan), and ended up in Macau for two nights. We booked an AirBnB (cheaper than a hostel in this region) and set out from Hong Kong by ferry, no idea what awaited us on the other side of the Pearl River Delta.

While in China, I did some reading on Macau’s history and tourist spots to figure out exactly where we were headed. I was surprised to hear it had once been a Portuguese colony (my colonial history knowledge has never been stellar) and wondered whether it would remind me of the Azores at all. My paternal family is from this tiny group of Portuguese islands in the Atlantic, with the past five generations of Cardozas born and raised in San Luis Obispo county, California (losing the language along the way, but not the appetite for fish nor the desire to cultivate fruit trees). A few years ago, my grandparents were generous enough to take myself and ten other family members to visit the homeland – Pico and Faial, specifically – where their parents and grandparents were born. Beautiful in both nature and architecture, the small towns on these islands amazed me with their ornate churches and breathtaking views of the Atlantic. I was also stunned at how many of the islanders looked like they were related to me – and in truth, many of them very well could have been. We were even lucky enough to meet a very distant cousin – an older man named Manuel who had a hobby of building miniature windmills – who looked a heck of a lot like my grandfather.

Back to the other side of the planet – here’s a brief history of Macau, for anyone who doesn’t know (I certainly didn’t).

Prior to the sixteenth century, Macau was primarily inhabited by the Tankas, an ethnic subgroup in China, as well as Han Chinese people. The Tankas are “boat people” who live by fishing, with community histories in southern China and parts of Vietnam. In the early 1500’s, Portuguese traders arrived in Macau and were allowed by the Chinese government to set up a commercial center. Over the following decades and centuries, the Portuguese influence expanded: a Roman Catholic diocese took root, the Iberians formed their own unofficial Senate, and the Portuguese even defended the region against attacks by the Dutch (well, their slaves did). After the Opium Wars, China ceded Macau to Portugal in 1887, making it an official Portuguese colony.

But the world wars and rapid governmental shifts that shook the globe in the twentieth century didn’t miss Macau. Partially as a result of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Macau’s inhabitants demanded change from their Portuguese administration; and after Portugal’s own Carnation Revolution, overseas colonies began to decolonize. In 1999, Macau was officially absorbed back into the Chinese sphere of influence, making it a special administrative region (SAR), like Hong Kong.

What does all of this history mean for Macau today? Well, their official languages are Cantonese and Portuguese, despite the fact that 95% of the population is Han Chinese and only 2% is Portuguese. This actually made traveling around the city much easier – with my intermediate French and Ethan’s beginner Spanish, we were able to read Portuguese signs and navigate through the historic spots more easily. We also ran into a ton of Portuguese travelers, on their own and in groups, who were exploring the region (and a bunch of them looked like my dad and his siblings. It’s truly bizarre). Macau also has a really great infrastructure set up for English-speaking travelers, providing free walking tour maps and guides (and an app).

Aesthetically, I felt like I was back in Portugal. The black-and-white cobblestone streets with their intricate designs matched my homeland exactly; the brightly colored buildings with European flair made my jaw drop. When I walked into the São Lourenço church, all of my memories of Western architecture classes came flooding back. The older sections of the city feel like a town in eighteenth-century Europe was transplanted to the other side of the world, and China filled in the blanks. Hearing Cantonese outside the Portuguese embassy (an historic building near our AirBnB) felt dissonant, but oddly worked perfectly with the Macanese lifestyle we witnessed.

And the FOOD. Macau has its own flavor, a special mix of Chinese and Portuguese cuisines with a ton of fish and spices (and cheese. Bless my people). We were directed to a nearby Portuguese restaurant by our AirBnB host, and we were not disappointed. I’d post pictures, but we ate the food so quickly that nothing survived to be Instagrammed.

One huge part of Macau that I’m not mentioning – its reputation as the “Las Vegas of the East.” Macau has quite a few large casinos, with eastern branches of the Venetian and the MGM Grand. We didn’t end up checking out these fine establishments for a few reasons: 1. We were only in Macau for two nights and 2. The only traveler we met who had been to Macau told us they weren’t worth our time, comparing them to “shitty Vegas, with no free drinks and the stakes are higher”. Next time, I think I’ll give them a look-see, though.

I’ll absolutely be returning to Macau to learn more about its history and see more of the city. Next time, hopefully, with my family in tow 🙂

China Photos – SAR Edition

Howdy folks,

TL;DR – The Brits and Portuguese left some unusual places behind after that weird colonialism phase. See photos here.

The Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of China – both within and at the very fringes of the Middle Kingdom. For six days, Emily and I got one last taste of the People’s Republic in the two places that least represent it – Hong Kong and Macau.

The former we were experiencing or a second time, though this time around we stayed on Hong Kong Island, did more hiking, and generally saw HK’s non-Kowloon side. Macau, though, was a fresh place, and it surprisingly felt very different from both China and Hong Kong. I really liked it, though! (Minus the oppressive heat) See Emily’s soon-to-be-posted take on it soon.

Stay tuned for pics from what is by-far my favorite place on this trip so far – TAIWAN!

Love,

E&E

Ten-thousand Li From Home – Life in Sichuan

Hello e-travel companions,

TL;DR – Omg cute panda pics, cloudy landscapes, and Ethan getting his ears cleaned by a random dude. Pictures here!

Emily and I recently wrapped up three weeks – half our China trip! – in Sichuan province.

Sichuan is China’s “land of milk and honey,” or as it’s better (actually) known in Chinese, the “Land of Abundance.” It’s name Sìchuān (四川) means four rivers, referring to the waterways that have been tamed and diverted for thousands of years to irrigate the broad Sichuan basin. Free from flooding and strong influence from other parts of China, this region has given birth to separate kingdoms, unique languages, and – of course- really spicy food.

Our home base and first stop was the provincial capital of Chengdu. “Oh, Chengdu!” Chinese people will exclaim. “Did you go for the pandas?” No, we didn’t just go for the pandas…but hell yes we saw them and they were hilarious/adorable. But my favorite part of Chengdu was by-far its more laid-back culture, focused – it seems – on tea drinking, river strolling, and overall having a good time (read: eating). The city is large, but not overwhelming, and its public transit system has far surpassed the efficiency and ease of BART in less than a decade. Pair all of this with a wealth of museums, bars, and restaurants…yeah, Chengdu is already up there as one of my favorite cities ever.

However, half our time spent in Sichuan was outside the city – on a farm an hour to the southwest, as well as a brief stay on a sacred mountain to the northwest. Farm life – for me – was stupendous. Not because it was comfortable, but because it was rewarding. I forged lovely friendships with an Israeli couple, a Puerto Rican-American girl, a wild dude from Maine, and several of our fellow Chinese hosts/workers. I help rig an overhead irrigation system, ferried people about on an electric tractor, learned the finer points of wood sculpting (with a power sander, that is)…all around, it was an excellent Workaway.

Our adventure out of these lovely three weeks was…not so stupendous. However, that I will save for another post, because it’s a funny story that some of you may have followed-along with live on Facebook.

I write to you now from a hostel in TAIPEI, AKA Quite Possibly the Raddest City in Asia. But until we get to here, we’ve gotta get through Hong Kong (round 2!) and Macau pics. So! Until next time.

Love,

E&E

Fine China

By Emily

We’ve been in mainland China for the past seven weeks, navigating our way from Shenzhen to Chengdu, with several stops along the way. While I’ve wanted to write more about this experience, it’s been hard to find any singular topic – for me, so much of the experience has been mixed. I’ve had some of my most fun moments of travel – zipping through the countryside on an electric scooter, snuggling baby kittens, going to an incredible hot pot restaurant – as well as my least fun – mosquito attacks, losing half of our clothing, food poisoning (ugh). I’m also nothing close to an expert on China’s politics, history, and cultures, so am I even qualified to write this? Here goes:

The Negatives:

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“Travel Fatigue” in an image

By the time we got to Hong Kong, Ethan and I had started feeling incredibly tired. After some doubt about our own abilities to undertake long-term travel, we found that it’s not uncommon for such people to experience travel fatigue (check out articles here and here). Often, people refer to our trip as a “vacation” or something else flippant, and I begin to bristle. Sure, we recognize that we have a level of privilege that allows us to do this, but the lifestyle is anything but relaxing. And China has certainly tested the level of discomfort I’ve experienced as a Westerner.

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Guangzhou train station – the clouds should have warned us

The Guangzhou train station is by far the most chaotic environment I’ve ever experienced – we missed our train the first time we tried to catch it, and ended up coming back the next day (two hours early). I’ve found that many bus/train/subway stations aren’t much more organized, and that quite a few Chinese citizens haven’t embraced the concept of “lining up.” Most “tourist information centers” don’t have English-speaking staff, either. While the buses between cities are fairly regular, it’s incredibly hard to figure out where the bus stations are, as well as how to buy tickets for them.

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Hoping we’re on the right bus?

 

After getting spoiled in Japan, we’ve been confronted by wooden beds (without mattresses/pads), squat toilets (my least favorite thing in the world), and a lack of available drinking water. Public urination and/or defecation isn’t uncommon either, especially among young children (at least THEY have an excuse). While I was warned about all of this ahead of time, getting used to it has been… hard.

The Awkward Parts:

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Me showing off my sunburn – and my response to people staring, generally

You know how you felt as a teenager, that everyone was staring at you all the time and judging you? Well, that actually happens to us. I’ve never been stared at as much as I have in this country. At first, it was funny, but after people started taking my picture (or video) without my consent, it got annoying. Just ask, people! I’ve asked locals why it is that I get more stares than Ethan, and I’ve gotten a few answers – “Because you are tall” (I am usually the tallest woman in my line of sight) or “Because you are beautiful” among them. While I appreciate the flattery, it’s hard to believe that my beauty is potent enough to affect small children – who frequently point and yell “WAI GUO REN” (“foreigners”) at us. I’ve responded to this by waving, winking, or pointing at those I catch staring, which usually surprises them. Quite a few other travelers (especially women) have mentioned this phenomenon as well, and while the staring doesn’t usually lead to a come-on or even a conversation, it’s certainly unnerving.

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Ethan getting Civ 6 tips from a friendly 8-year-old

It’s been much harder to communicate with people as well. While Ethan is making great headway in his Mandarin practice, asking questions beyond a few words is very difficult. We’ve responded to this by typing into Google Translate and holding up the results, or using a very complicated gesturing system. Usually, Chinese speakers have a decent sense of humor about our ineptitude, but we’ve been in quite a few uncomfortable situations in which the language barrier seemed particularly acute.

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Ethan on a motor scooter with Xiaolo

While we have driven motor scooters and the like through the countryside, we have yet to get behind the wheel of a car. Part of this is trepidation about driving in China, where the two rules of the road seem to be “Drive aggressively” and “Always be beeping.” As a Californian, I adhere to the policy that using one’s horn for anything other than a near-fatal accident is unnecessary. But here, horns are for communication – honk when you drive by another car, honk when you’re behind someone, honk if no one is around but you feel like making your presence known. Also, lines on the road are more suggestions than rules – many of our taxi drivers have spent at least half their routes driving against the traffic flow.

When Things Are Good, They’re Really Good:

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Ethan plays ping-pong with the Coolest Man in the World™

Even with us lao wai (slang for “foreign”) tourists, so many people in China have been incredibly friendly. We’ve been challenged to ping-pong matches, offered free food and drinks, and generally helped by locals in every city. I’ve seen many more smiles here than in Japan, and received quite a few enthusiastic “Hello’s!” from strangers and passers-by. It’s nice to feel as though you’re in a safe community no matter where you are, and that people are aware of one another.

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Many Americans still think China is like this ^

To continue that, China has felt very safe the entire time I’ve been in the country. Before we left the US, one of the more common questions we got was “China? Are you sure it’s safe?” The fact is, average citizens don’t have access to guns (the local police don’t even carry them), the city streets are well lit, and since people are always outside, hanging out or walking around, you never feel like you’re going to get snuck up on or even bothered. The United States is far more dangerous than anywhere I’ve been in China (especially recently), and one of the more common questions I’ve gotten from Chinese citizens is “America? Is it safe?”

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Me getting ready to devour beef noodles

Let’s move on to something we can all agree on – FOOD. Every single meal I’ve had has been awesome, and I don’t regret a single one (okay, maybe whatever gave me food poisoning, but other than that…) I enjoyed Japanese cuisine, but their favorite spice appears to be salt. Here in Sichuan, every meal has at least 20 different spices thrown in, plus garlic, onions, and all kinds of flavors. We were both challenged by hot pot – in Chongqing, it’s not just a meal, it’s a lifestyle – and the traditional ingredients – goose guts, chicken feet, beef stomach. Still, we persevered, because anything cooked in a Sichuan sauce is worth eating.

Bright Lights Big Cities

Here are some highlights from each city – if it’s mentioned, it’s recommended!

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View of Guangzhou from Zhenhai Tower (Five-Story Pagoda)

Guangzhou

  • Lazy Gaga Hostel – One of the best hostels we’ve stayed at thus far. Excellent facilities, super clean, reliable wifi, socializing space, and even a few groceries.
  • Tristan’s Tex-Mex – We Californians were dying for anything resembling Mexican food, and we found a restaurant run by an American expat! The burritos were heavenly, and Ethan nearly cried when Tristan himself brought out Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas beer from behind the counter.
  • Sun Yat-sen Memorial Museum – Beautiful architecture houses a near-complete history of Sun Yat-sen’s contributions to the forming of modern China, as well as a history of the building itself.
  • Zhujiang New Town – Really cool plaza in the middle of the city, with gardens, art pieces, and tons of people watching. It’s especially lovely at night, when all of the surrounding skyscrapers are lit up.
  • Zhujiang River Cruise – We were lucky to be with a Guangzhou local (shoutout to Annie!) who brought us on this fabulous cruise up and down the Zhujiang River. While it was cool watching the city at night, I’d go back for the daytime cruise, too.
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View of our village outside Yangshuo – check out them karsts!!!

Yangshuo

  • West Street – Very touristy, but it had quite a few interesting shops and services (We had our toes nibbled by fish. Best $4 I’ve ever spent). At night, it’s PACKED with people, but that’s when the local restaurants and bars come alive…
  • Mojo Bar – A paradise for expats, Mojo is owned and operated by newbies to China. Great drinks, free video games, and friendly staff.
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View of one neighborhood (and neat bridge) in Chongqing

Chongqing

  • Qianximen Bridge – In a world full of phallic buildings, yonic architecture is hard to find. This bridge is visually compelling and fun to walk across – during our stroll, we watched a wedding photo shoot happening on the median while cars rushed past!
  • Three Gorges Museum – This huge museum holds a ton of exhibits, both temporary and permanent, and focuses especially on the construction of the Three Gorges Dam (a marvel or a fiasco, depending on who you talk to).
  • Hot Pot Cultural Promenade Yingbin – Just over the hill from the city, hot pot restaurants spread for miles. According to our AirBnB host (shoutout to Coco!) who brought us to this culinary delight, the locals of Chongqing celebrate everything by eating hot pot.
  • Ciqikou – An adorable winding path lined with shops and eateries, Ciqikou has been a shopper’s paradise for centuries. Today, the wares are mostly plastic (or fidget spinners), but we did come across some cool antique kiosks full of Cultural Revolution memorabilia.
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View of Jinjiang River in Chengdu

Chengdu

  • Giant Panda Research Base – WE SAW PANDAS PLAYING TOGETHER AND EATING BAMBOO. AND RED PANDAS. SO MANY PANDAS.
  • Jinsha Site Museum – Amazing preserved archaeological dig, plus a museum of the items found and their historical significance. The park around it is beautiful and pleasant to walk through as well.
  • Mrs Panda Hostel – Another highlight of our Journey of a Thousand Hostels, Mrs Panda Hostel is super clean, inexpensive, and all of their food is tasty. Extra points for having the board games Set and Carcassonne, which we’ve missed dearly.
  • Sichuan Museum – This enormous building houses quite a few exhibits on regional history, highlighting all sorts of arts, crafts, and more. My favorite section focused on traditional embroidery and brocade – the fabrics were incredible.
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Your friendly E’s of AirEandE

Ethan and I were lucky to be granted ten-year visas, allowing us to enter and exit China without issue for the next decade (for 60 days at a time maximum). And after spending a month and a half in the southwest, I can say that I’ll be looking forward to more Chinese travel experiences in the future. Though I’ll bring my own supply of DEET next time.