Getting Good at Having No Clue: The Traveller’s Journey

No Lying

Always look for local advice.

Never do I feel quite so self-satisfied as when I enter a Chinese subway.

As you exit Shanghai Central from the intercity trains to the metro, there is a long, horrible corridor coated in sadness and human suffering. There are banks of ticket machines for the subway, each bracketed by greasy aluminum barricades to hold in the masses. As each train lets out, hundreds and thousands of people flow through this hall as they move to the subway. Almost every machine is constantly utilized by people who have absolutely no idea how to work such a machine, nor how to use money, or possibly even their own fingers.

For months I huffed and grunted and tapped my feet, waiting desperately as dozens of people tried and failed to use the machines that worked so simply. I grew frustrated even as I knew that I could cast my speedy technological gaze over the device and have my own tickets and theirs produced in several seconds. Worse yet, experience meant I could probably manage to use the hulking brute in English or Chinese and still get in and out in just a moment. In recent months I have taken the extra step of self-congratulation and have purchased a reloadable metro card, which allows me to bypass the line and feel deeply, undeservedly metropolitan at the same time.

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The Reporting Fugue

The studied among you may have gleaned that my writing is sparse, laboured, and frighteningly irregular lately. Alas I have faltered in my daily writing goals, those regulated flows of verbiage that I feel help to calm the raging flatulence and oh-look-a-pretty-sparkly-thing distractions of my weary being. I often feel like these words are my steam valve, the coal exhaust of keeping the engine of my heart working each day.

But sometimes even the exhaust gets exhausted, most particularly when real life intervenes. Some of you may recall that I am now a gainfully employed person. Thought my demeanour and usual writing topics may imply that I am shiftless bon-vivant surviving on nothing but smiles and summer wine, I do actually work for a living, and we are rapidly approaching the end of the year.

The end of year: a time of tumult and assessment and grading. A time when the students get used to the phrase “please be independent” as I call over this or that child to add or count or read or tell me their thoughts on inventions. A time of murky, sticky hot summer days that stretch out into forever. A time for dreaming of an ice cream truck. A time of goodbye, a time of preparation, a time of reflection. A time when the children shake like unbound electrons, barely contained within four walls, so prepared are they for Grade 2, for summer, for all the sunshine and freedom they can possibly imagine.

It’s also a time for report cards.

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When and Where You Can Photograph My Dumb White Face: A Guide

This was around photo number 43.

Very occasionally famous.

As a flagrantly white person living and occasionally roaming around Asia, I sometimes stick out. Whether through the rarity of the wild honky or through lingering effects of the many times with which my ancestors brutally wedged their big noses into other places, or some mixture of the two, I tend to be an object of occasional fascination and consternation. Why does my hair curl just so? Why is my skin so pale, and why does it ripen like a fresh tomato after exposure to a moderate amount of healthy, life-sustaining sunshine? How is it possible that a human being with my configuration of body parts, complexion, hair texture, and eye shape can manage to breathe, eat, speak other languages, walk in a straight line, and perform simple arithmetic? Truly, it is a mystery for the ages.

As a walking enigma, I am sometimes photographed. I have grown mostly at peace with this practice, as I’ve also taken photos of other humans before, for reasons just as nebulous. (When asked, I will usually tell the person, “Because you look really cool in front of this thing!” This usually does not clarify the situation). But sometimes I am also photographed against my will, captured in perpetuity in a desktop folder entitled White People Doin’ Things. Sometimes people jam a camera right up in my grille, camera-lens-to-eyeball-lens, and they breathe heavily as they seal my face into their personal digital memory banks without my consent.

As such, I present a helpful guide to all the times when it is perfectly cool to take my photo, for whatever weird, crazy reason you might want it.

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Hangzhou Photoglut: Experimental Gloomtography

Hangzhou Title Pic

Behold glorious Hangzhou, city of a very nice lake, some cool pagodas, and actual woodlands! I can barely stand all the nature. Alas, like most weekends of late this particular weekend was shrouded in dark clouds and a hazy mistglob that covered all the lands in grey. Well, being China: greyer. Luckily, the Hangzh’ was still very pretty in its own dreary, spooky way, and I have collected a day’s worth of photography for you to point your oculoids at. Continue beholding.

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Visions of Sickness From Faraway Places

Friends, Romans, and countrymen and -women, I have fallen ill. It has been a gross several days of torturous hot-and-cold, toss-and-turn, binge-and-purge grossness, the details of which I will spare you. Well, mostly. I went to the doctor, who diagnosed me with tonsillitis. He helpfully described the pus forming on them as a “cheese.”

You will be proud of me in that I totally did not barf on his shoes at this description.

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Media Delirium Tremens and the Missing Ocean of Crap

It was strange to be the 194,563,906th person to see Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” on YouTube. Stranger still was that I had never heard of the song before.

A friend linked me to a remix which I found infinitely charming, and it struck me that I had not heard the original. I sought it out and gawped blankly at my screen. This was obviously a popular song, a hallowed member of the current cultural zeitgeist of the homeland. This was something that had already become an assumed fragment of cultural heritage, a shared globule of media experience to which all North Americans, and many other global citizens, had already absorbed. In fact, Happy was beyond the saturation point when I came across it. It had already surpassed osmotic spread, whereby every human in that hemisphere had long since realigned their neural networks to simply include the song’s existence. It was something everyone already knew, had talked about, and gotten over.

And I had never heard of it.

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Seeking Lonely Mountain Peaks for Companionship, Fun, Nothing Serious

So Long Huangshan

If this mountain is cool with being alone, why not you?

The bus from the hotel to the Huangshan transport depot was brief. The other teachers from the school had risen early with visions of a hearty hike before them. According to guide books and a thorough wiki-ing, the steep walk could be evaded by cable car, and one could be treated to the splendours of a half-dozen mountain peaks and hours of trudgery without ever having to climb up one long, bleak side of the mountain itself.

A few of the others balked as I purchased the single ticket to the alternate destination. They were a posse of eight, forging up into the wilderness and the unknown of China, while I was one, alone. I would be solo on a mountain for hours, with no real knowledge of my companions or when I might meet up with them. I had a decent, though vague, reconstruction of a Google map imprinted on my brain which I would consult along with my compass. I had a good book, a nice camera, and money to purchase water and goods on the mountain top.

I had no companions and no one to talk to. Cell phone reception would probably be spotty at such altitudes. I would definitely be on my own. I waved my goodbyes, shouldered my backpack, and soldiered on.

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