Friday, June 17, 2011

End of an Era

We're officially back in the U.S....which means we no longer believe our stories are interesting enough to entertain our three dedicated readers.

Although, to be fair, we've just done a bit of a tour of the South and I have to say some of the food we've experienced certainly rivals in creativity much of the food we've experienced around the world.  Examples:

The Hot Brown (Lexington, KY):  an open-faced sandwich with turkey and/or ham, cheese, tomato and bacon.  Whoa.

Frogmore Stew (Charleston, SC): corn, sausage, shrimp and potatoes all boiled together and served with a variety of sauces.

May I also mention that our stomachs of steel that can handle Chinese street food cannot handle the aforementioned foods.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Weddings aren't for me, but if they were...

I eloped for a reason.  I hate making decisions.  I get menu paralysis in restaurants with only eight options and I simply don't understand how you ever look at the 10,000 different flower varieties out there and settle on just one or two as THE flower(s).  The same goes for venues, first dances, menu get the picture.  Also, believe it or not, I hate being the center of attention.  It makes me extremely anxious.

That said, if I were to ever suppress everything about myself and have a big wedding (I've always told Juan he's a good starter husband), my friend Christine did it just about right.  I mean, check this out:

Hay bales (not to be confused with straw bales)* as wedding seating with parasols to keep the sun off.

The most gorgeous dress EVER.  I mean look at that beige lace.

Both parents walking you down the aisle (why should Dad have all the fun?)

Someone you know intimately that's qualified to marry you  (we're not talking about someone who gets a phony internet certificate online, this woman is a proper judge -- a judge that Christine worked for in NY for a couple of years) and who makes 10b-5 jokes during the ceremony.  Hilarious (in a nerdy way, obviously).

That scenery.  Can't beat 190 acres of horse pasture as a backdrop.

Not bad, Christine, not bad at all.  We wish you all the best and more.

*Christine is now an expert on all things to do with horses, farms, etc.  Horses eat hay.  They pee on straw.  So, thanks for not making us sit on the pee bales.

Monday, June 6, 2011

My New Life's Work

"Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms round the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage."

One of my favorite quotes from Cloud Atlas pretty much sums up why, after a few too many infuriating email exchanges with Real Gap, I've decided to dedicate my unemployed life to taking them down.  Well, maybe not taking them down, but at least writing enough reviews, and messaging enough people on facebook, to lose them substantial money.  I think it's a worthy use of my time.

A few highlights of our interactions:

Me:  In no way, shape or form was this class for "all levels" like you said.  On day two we were being asked to perform dangerous acrobatics with people who had been at the school for up to a year.

Fisa Liddmore*, Real Gap: Safety is paramount at the school and in the shared acrobatics session, the moves students were asked to carry out were tailored to ability and longevity of stay. You were carrying out moves of differing difficulty levels to the students who had been there longer.

Me: Unless you were hiding in the back of our class, you don't really seem qualified to tell me what we were and were not asked to do.

Fisa Liddmore, Real Gap: We are satisfied that the services you received at the academy were consistent with the programme information you received before you arrived.

Dear Real Gap.  You messed with the wrong retired lawyer.

**The name of the Real Gap representative I found so useful has been changed due to a cease and desist letter sent by Real Gap asking me not to name their representatives.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Where have you gone, my folly of youth?

You know how you feel invincible to injury when you’re young? Well, we are officially no longer young. It’s always been a weird goal of mine to study kung fu in China and when I got Juan on board it seemed nothing could stand in my way. Boy was I wrong.

Nothing could have prepared us (except maybe 5 or so previous years of intense martial arts training) for what awaited us at the Rising Dragon Martial Arts Academy in the Fujian Province of China. Sold by RealGap, a company that organizes gap years and similar programs for all ages, the program (anywhere from one-month to years) was marketed as being for “people of all levels and abilities.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. Within the first two days, we were being asked to do squats with people on our shoulders, run a minimum of 6 miles a day, do knuckle push-ups with our feet on the wall, perform backward somersaults into hand-stands, crawl down stairs on our hands, do headstand flips and more. Seven hours of training on about 3 oz of protein a day and often no running water for showers… It didn’t take long to realize we were in over our heads; every aching muscle and daring stunt further convinced us that we were likely to sustain some sort of injury if we stayed. Oh, how I miss the folly of youth that would have scoffed at my present self’s aversion to risk.

We quickly retreated to the class where everyone else of lower ability was hiding: the internal tai chi class. Unfortunately, performing the same basic movements for 7 hours a day was mind-numbingly boring and we decided to high-tail it out of there. Sadly, I think this means I’m about 10 years too late to become a kung fu master. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll find a more suitable area for self-improvement. Suggestions welcome.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Scouting the next big sci-fi set

It's hard to get excited about rocks. This may come as a surprise given some of the other stuff I find it easy to get excited about these days (i.e. not carrying my own toilet paper around with me). Nonetheless, we motivated for the 2-hour trip to Shilin for a visit to the Stone Forest. We even convinced a hungover stranger from our hostel to split the cost of the van with us. Score.

At first glance, this place was all tourist trap, no untouched beauty. But promptly after Adam exclaimed ,“This is the worst place in the world” we found the narrow, hidden pathways that the tour groups don’t explore. We wound ourselves through the Lord of the Rings inspired landscape, had underwater tea parties, surprised little kids into squeals of terror and generally made this sci-fi inspired landscape our playground for a few hours. Take it from us – a couple of people who generally can’t entertain themselves at tourist attractions for more than a couple of hours – this place deserves almost a full day.

Bring a picnic. And binoculars. We still don't know what that thing we dubbed a bumble-dragon was...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Crotchless for Comfort

It's been a common sight to see kids with crotchless pants.

The purpose?

Easy access for when you want to squat on the street.  Why are children allowed to take care of business on the street with impunity?  Apparently because the by-products of children are "pure."  Yep, pure.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Real life fantasy

Ah. Now we find yaks. Not agreeing on what they looked like, we kept mistaking hairy water buffalo for them on our way north. Until our journey led us to the legendary city of Shangri-la where we beheld them at last, grazing in the scrub hills, back-dropped by blue, snow-capped mountains. Sounds like something out of a storybook? Well, technically it is. A few years back the Chinese government unilaterally decided that the city of Zhongdian would be renamed to Shangri-la to spur tourism. There is no such place.*

Still, that didn’t stop us from going. Equally intrigued by the name as much as tales of yak butter tea and Tibetan monks trained in French wine-making techniques, we hired a car along with two Brits to get there. Didn’t end up trying the butter tea or the wine, unfortunately, but we did manage to find a Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery that transported us to the set of Seven Years in Tibet: medieval-looking buildings with thatched roofs, long set of stairs leading up to the main temple, blackbirds circling overhead, brightly (almost gaudy) murals, expansive views across a majestic landscape, and a very big Buddha. Not all has remained as it was years ago; the monks could often be seen chatting on mobile phones and had cars parked next to their straw and mud brick buildings.

Danielle inhaling oxygen for altitude sickness
At 3,300m altitude it took us awhile to make it up the stairs and every time we spoke for more than a few seconds we had to take a deep breath… and continue. Luckily, Danielle had started taking altitude sickness pills the day before and had a miraculous recovery; just in time to explore the winding, cobbled roads and exquisite artisans of Shangri-la’s old town.

* - It’s actually based on the novel, Lost Horizon, by James Hilton