Trashy's World Rotating Header Image

November, 2009:

In awe – Trashy in China, Part 8

At certain moments during one’s travels and travails through life, there are times of awe. These can be of special personal or spiritual relevance – such as a birth of a child or a marriage. These instants can be at times of exhilaration, such as the successful achievement of an important personal or professional goal. And these moments of awe can be brought on through a sensory explosion,whether it be a visual experience, auditory, or emotional.

I have had the pleasure of many of these special moments and it is always wonderful stumble upon a new experience that again elicits that feeling.

Such was the case on Saturday when I and several of my colleagues made a 2 hour trek to the Great Wall of China. I can count on two hands the number of times I have been in awe of my physical surroundings: the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise, Georgian Bay, Stanley Park, Playa del Carmen, a cliff in Scotland that overlooks the Isle of Skye, all have made me gasp in wonder at the beauty of it all. I don’t awe easily, you understand.

Now I can add one more.

Amazing really, that any invading army would even sanely consider invading China by scaling and overcoming the Wall. Although I have been posting some pics of the place, photos do not do justice the sheer brutality of the terrain that an army would have faced in gaining even the base of the wall. Encampments would have been made in one of the many valleys that lie beneath the ridges upon which the wall was constructed. Sheer faces made of unforgiving rock or treacherous gravel would have been the initial challenge. Then a 40-70 degree climb up to the base of the Wall – over open ground with no chance of cover to avoid arrows shot from those defenders on the wall and in the towers. IF they were lucky enough to gain the base of the structure, they would have been deterred from scaling the face by the warriors perched several meters above firing arrows, hurling rocks and perhaps duping hot water or oil on those below (though I’m not actually sure that they would have done the latter).

In any case, the going would have been difficult – if not nearly impossible for an armed force to scale the Wall and overcome its guardians.

You cannot imagine how the open sky, the massive structures and the wild terrain all combined for and overwhelming sensory experience. It was intimidating beyond belief due to the sheer scale of the setting. I had one of those “OMG, I’m so just a pimple on the butt of the planet” moments. And while pictures cannot possibly capture this, the can provide the viewer with an inkling of what I had the pleasure to experience on Saturday.

I will never forget this adventure and I strongly encourage you, if ever the chance arises, to visit this sacred place that is truly one of the world’s wonders.

That’s one more thing I can cross off my Bucket List.



Heights? Meh. Trashy in China, Part 7

See that bridge waaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy down in the lower right of the picture?


…here I am ON that bridge… some climb for a guy who is heights-adverse…



The Great Wall of China – Trashy in China, Part 6

I’ll post some thoughts later about yesterday’s trip to this magnificant place, but for now:







Ancient Chinese satellite dish

003, originally uploaded by marsjoh.

Who’d-a-thunk that Bell Express Vue was around in ancient China?

I wonder what the Emperor did when the signal cut out or when his screen pixelized?


On the closing of distances and the speed of technological change – Trashy in China, Part 5

Not so very long ago, the sight of my colleagues and I would have brought about looks of curiosity in Beijing. White faces were not all that commonly seen among the average populace. Visitors stood out and were usually visiting government officials of western businessmen. They were most certainly not seen in the alley markets and shops where the common folk shopped.

Today, after the opening of Chinese society to the West, the integration of the Chinese economy with the rest of the world and increased tourism, Western faces are now commonplace. True, my colleagues and I did stand out from the crowd in some places more than others. And true, I would imagine that there are many places outside the urban centres where a white, bearded bald guy would still be a curiosity, but overall, we aren’t that big a deal anymore.

And it is not only the social, economic and cultural changes that have contributed to this demystification of white folks. Think about the time that it takes to travel here. At one time it would take a year or more by ship. Then it was months by train using such magical routes like the Orient Express. The advent of air travel made the journey even less. And today? Well, with some favourable winds over the North Pole, we arrived on Tuesday afternoon after only 13ish hours in the air. In my lifetime the journey has gone from one of days to mere hours.

The shrinking of the distance between our two societies is not confined to the spatial/ physical. Through the wonder of the Net and Skype, I spoke with my family this morning. And using a webcam, could see them as I spoke – in real time. For free.

Culturally, I imagine that the lay of the land is much different now in the early 21st century than it was before the opening of Chinese society and the shrinking of the distance between our worlds. Much of the original culture is preserved – and rather ferociously, I imagine. A theatre listed only 2 of 9 features that were from Hollywood. In spite of a schooling system that insists on 5 years minimum of English language training, English is seldom heard and rarely understood. Rickshaws and bikes are still a prominent way to get around. In side street markets there are scorpions and beetles on sticks – to eat shish kabob style!

014Even in the very modern buffet restaurant where we have lunch each day there are foods that I don’t recognise.

But there is a KFC down the street from my hotel. And apparently a Wal-Mart at a mall down the street. And a Scrawny Ronnie’s too.

My colleagues in the Chinese government tell me that they sort their household wastes into different boxes before pick-up. They compost organics. They worry about landfill space.

We cut through a high-end mall that could have been in Ottawa, Toronto or Montreal… complete with eyeball-searing lighting, model quality floor staff and fashions that wouldn’t look out of place in the Resident Love Goddess’s closet. And Audis and Hyundai’s are replacing the bikes and rickshaws. It might be happening slowly, but ever so surely, western norms are an invasive species.

I wonder what this place will look like in 50 years…


Beijing at night

Taken a short walk from the Jianguo Hotel in Beijing.


Random thoughts – Trashy in China, Part 4

This was the first day of meetings and presentations … yeah, the reason I’m here… so no reports on exotic sites… that will have to wait till after the Saturday trip to the Great Wall. Our Chinese hosts have also set up a tour for Monday afternoon and a banquet for Tuesday night. I’ve heard about these banquets. Don’t expect a new post on Wed. morning.

But I do want to note a number of observations that I have made this day.

  • Despite the fact that energy is very inexpensive in China, compact fluorescent light bulbs are used everywhere.
  • Streets and sidewalks are damned clean. And the technology used to keep them clean – a crude broom – makes it even more remarkable that they are so damned clean.
  • As a pedestrian, Montreal drivers used to scare me. But not any more.
  • Peking duck. The real thing. Can’t begin to describe it. And in a place in a back alley the like of which I wouldn’t set foot in parts of Ottawa.
  • Sharing a subway car with 300 of your closest strangers. Can’t begin to describe it.
  • I love noodles.
  • How do the Chinese stay so slender when all they eat is this delicious cuisine?
  • People spit. Everywhere.
  • Bamboo grows in Beijing.
  • There is a much bigger span between the upper crust and the lower in some countries than others.
  • It only costs 40 Yuan to rent a bike for a day in Beijing… about $6.50.
  • The cost passed on to the relatives of the deceased foreigner cyclist – much more than 6 and a half bucks.
  • Western holiday traditions? Hee-hee. figger this one out:
  • A brunette snow white with reindeer?

    A brunette Snow White - with reindeer?


Lotsa walking – Trashy in China, Part 3

You want smog? You can’t handle the smog!

Walked at least 10 klicks this morning in a fog /smog enshrouded city. A cold breeze combined with the sulphurous air combined to make Trashy a bit wheezy – but it was worth it.

In spite of the conditions, I and my travelling companions trekked to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City… stopping along the way at a number of stores (souvenir expedition on Sunday) and an Audi dealership.

Quite a sight, that Square. A mass of humanity, assorted sights and sounds and so foreign to my Western senses. After a wander through some side streets (Dirt Markets, they’re called, because most of the vendors and wares are from the rural areas).

016After dealing with the complete culture shock that ensured thereafter, we arrived at a nice little park complete with willows and bamboo trees. Not a panda in sight though!

026Then it was on to the Forbidden City.

Quite an architectural, cultural and historical marvel! It is bloody HUGE! If you ever do go there, give yourself lots of time. There is so much to see and absorb.

Everything was so old. So ornate. And so very imposing. If there is one thing I have learned in my very short time here is that the Chinese are somewhat like the Texans in one respect: they like grandiosity!

019And ya just have to love some of the translations!

035Tomorrow, the biz part of the journey begins.


In Beijing, none the worse for wear – Trashy in China, Part 2


I’m writing this at 3:30ish on Wednesday morning – 2:30 Tuesday afternoon for most of you – and that ain’t so bad considering some of the horror stories I have heard about adjusting to the time change the first few nights.

Definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. After a beautiful flight over Mongolia through to Beijing, we were welcomed to the capital by a brownish orange haze that extended to about 5,000 feet. When possible to see the ground on the final approach, a vast footprint of humanity was seen beneath us. It didn’t look like a very highly developed burg from that perspective, but then we deplaned….

And Holy Hot Dumpling, Batman! What an airport! There was quite a bit of new construction that took place pre-Olympics and the airport was one of those places that benefited. Within this monument to modern engineering and sprawling seemingly forever, we went through quarantine screening (they use infrared cameras to detect fevers) and immigration only to board a train to take us to the next terminal to fetch our bags. Not a quick 2 minutes journey was this part of the trip. I have been to O’Hare where there is that little commuter train that quickly ferries you around. No… the Chinese do everything “big” as it seemed though we covered enough ground to take us the next province while in fact we were just shuttling around within the same complex.

And the complex itself? Wow! A huge and beautiful architectural marvel with ceilings about 10 stories above, walls and ceilings of glass and sprawling floor space built to accommodate any degree of traffic. Howard Roark would have LOATHED it!

After that, we were picked up by our hosts and taken on a 45 min. trip to our hotel. After a scrumptious – but fairly light – dinner of spicy tofu, fried green beans, dumplings and rice (and beer, of course!), that was it for the day.

Today? Who knows… probably see some sites before our work in earnest begins tomorrow.

Random thought – I bet the Chinese government didn’t have to deal with citizen committees, consultations or environmental assessment plans when they installed these wind farms!



En route – Trashy in China, Part 1

I’m writing this while happily ensconced in my pod, sipping a Heinekin and munching on cashews out of a little porcelain bowl. According to the map, we just passed over Sudbury and are heading toward the Pole. Figger that we’ll run out of daylight at some point in the not-too-distant future.  I do hope that it will be clear at some point so to see what might be 30,000 below.

All is uneventful thus far. I’m pretty excited about all of this. Who’d-a-thunk that this ex-Parry Sound boy would ever be travelling across the planet to China? Well, I did, I guess. I have always thought that I would get a chance at some point in my life to see a good part of the world. And now it’s happening.

As far as this flight is concerned, my travelling companions are a pretty good bunch with whom will be a pleasure to share this trip. But if that little 8 year old brat one pod over doesn’t chill a bit, a few of us are gonna see what a bratty 8 year old looks like when tossed from a 777!