Monday, June 30, 2008

DATELINE:SHANGHAI - end of the Official China Tour

Yeah, so today was the final day of our official tour of China. I’ll still be lingering for the rest of the week, as we depart for May’s hometown Dongxing, in Guangxi tomorrow (bright an’ early!! Flight is like 7am) Anyway today we got up, showered and headed out for the day’s duties. After visiting a Silk factory (May and I sat out on the bus, and read our books) our group checked out the Yu Garden, a nice little nature park – more of the same temple-y looking stuff we’d seen, smooshed into the middle of a very modern city. The place was very ornate, very beautiful, with its ponds of fat-looking fish that kept sticking their heads above water in hopes of getting some delectable morsels (they were not too lucky, today). It was a gross, rainy grey day, so not too psyched to be trodding about it in it too much, but it did sort of enhance the mood of the places we visited (made for some cool looking photography, at least!) After this, passed through some crazy bustling marketplace selling all manner of items. Clothes, TShirts, little flashy wheel-things you could put in your shoes, lots of crazy touristy junk and trinkets. We grabbed our final “official tour meal” as a group, it was nothing extraordinary but definitely one of the better we’ve eaten. Then headed out to get a mini-cruise around the river that runs through the town, it kinda stunk since it was raining so it wasn’t very conducive to sitting upstairs in the open-air viewing area, also the city was shrouded in fogginess. Add to this, the general exhaustion we were collectively feeling – the cruise wrapped up and we returned to the hotel, our group dwindled a bit and we bade our tour guide fairwell.

Later that night a few of our group went out for dinner at a local place, we had a very good meal (I got some, err, interesting pictures of the menu items with my camera). We decided to forego eating Worms or Dogmeat, and went for Bees instead. Yep, we ate fried bees! They tasted like Tater Tots. Headed back to the hotel after, i had a couple of drinks at the club inside and tried to chat it up with the locals (their limited English was much better than my severely limited Chinese). I met a girl who told me she was the Devil.. aren't they all though? I got back with my group for a farewell drink, then we said goodbye as we parted ways and headed for bed.

Now it is Tuesday morning, I am sitting at Cheer Way in the airport waiting for our flight outta Shanghai. I am sad to leave this place, Shangha is a cool and interesting place - other than recounting the events "then we did this, then we did that" I have much to say about the people and environment here, more on that later..

DATELINE:SHANGHAI - China's Modern Metropolis

It is currently Sunday night, here’s the recap of the past two days. Saturday, June 28 We awoke at our hotel in Guilin, 2nd day there. Hopped in the bus (a little late!) and motored down to the riverboat tour, Li River – a 4-hour tour (no Gilligan’s Island Jokes please). The boat ride was quite pleasant, very mellow. It was a dinner vessel, not what you’d call fancy of course – they managed to squeeze a good few tour groups per boat, dining hall downstairs and observation deck (open air) upstairs. The weather was considerate, neither rainy nor hot and humid – it was just right, helped on by the breeze. Fortunately not excessively mosquito-y either (though my feet did get a good bit chomped up). We loaded up, sat downstairs for a spot of the tea, then as the tour began we moved upstairs to enjoy the air and the view. Not too too much to look at (more of the same – just a lot of bizarre hill formations and things, which seem to be the main draw) but what there was, was fine. I still do appreciate the surreal landscape – it was nice, and relaxing, though it was nice once the boat ride ended and we got back to land since there was a bit of that waiting feeling sort of permeating the whole thing. For me, the highlight was the “hookers” that would be in the water (no, not those kind of hookers!) on little bamboo rafts, or whatever.. as the tour boats passed by, they’d ride up alongside and literally hook right up to our boat, then the two riders would climb up to the very-thin outer edge of the boat and knock on the windows to get passenger attention and hawk their wares (the usual merch.. little statues of fisherman, lowgrade jewelry boxes, et cetera). It might not sound like much on paper, but it was something to see – those guys are nuts! They’d do their business, then dispatch and head to the next vessel. Their little raft would be tiny (maybe less than 20 feet long, and 4 feet across – and looking like it was always nearly about to collapse and fall in the water anyway, their feet would always be under the water). Nuts, I tell ya.
The ship’s crew would cook our meal at the back of the boat (outside), and after eating and the ride wrapped up, we sleepily exited into the Guilin town of Yangshou (pronounced “yahn-soo”) to check into our next hotel. We walked through a whole downtown tourist district, which was as happening as any we’d seen before (in other words, quite!) to get to the hotel. Checked in, we unloaded our crap, then as my girlfriend passed out I headed back to town (I saw a little local pizza place there, and being a little homesick for American-style grub I couldn’t resist!) They were playing some really chill, mellow music and there was a nice seat right on the sidewalk (AND they were serving some good looking selection of liquors to boot) so I said thanks very much and sat down with my book and ate some ‘za and watched the crowd for a few hours. It was really nice, really relaxing! After a couple of hours of that, and being harassed by the occasional local merchants (no thanks = “boo-ya”) I headed back to the hotel for some dinner (as usual, no big deal) and plans to go out and see what the local flavor enjoy for their Saturday night. Well, I kinda passed out hard on the pillow after my dinner, and we had to be up early the next day for our flight to Shanghai..
That brings us to today. We got up after 6am, shower and etc – something was leaking in the bathroom so as the water ran it got smellier (ewwww) so we kinda hustled. The bus dropped us off at the Guilin Airport, we boarded and flew to Shanghai. Ate lunch on the plane (some beef w/ rice, a couple of veggies, a piece of bread, some warm soda). Disembarked off the plane, walked outside to our waiting bus – we walked by a McD’s, my heart sang (in a gross way, I suppose) but there was no time to sidetrack so we boarded the bus and began our new phase of the journey.. yes, again.
We got over to the Shanghai Ancient History museum, to hang out for a couple of hours, check out the exhibits. Place was packed, mid-day – we waited a good 20 minutes to get in, they ran every entrant thru a metal detector (like entering an airport!) even made us through away liquids. Whatever.. anyway it was pretty hot and gross outside, so it was nice to get in there. But honestly the museum didn’t do much for me, particularly at this point in the trip. I can be a bit of a museum nerd, under certain conditions (well, almost never, I suppose) but the ancient history, while interesting, is not something I care much for browsing in person – I’m happy enough to read about it and scan some images, old-ass vases just get extremely redundant to me. Yeah, I know I sound like an uncultured Philistine (there’s irony in there, see?) but to be fair I did well as an art history (minor) student, I just have my preferences and this period doesn’t do much for me. It’s repetitive. It’s repetitive. Ancient history is repetitive. We looked at some interesting calligraphy and older Chinese brushwork thru the different dynasties, of course that’s way newer than the ancient vases and pots/pans/etc – again, this stuff doesn’t do much for me either. The modern world considers it to be fairly elegant and classy, I suppose, but for me – it’s alright, a lot of it looks rushed and unfinished and redundant. Once in awhile you’ll find a piece that is brilliant with detail, with rhythm, and I can’t argue with that for a second. But a lot of it just feels simple and cluttery. Hey, I am allowed to have an opinion! My impressions are that of a spoiled modern-day student, with exposure to several periods and a hugely vast vantage point. Then again, what I’d call “Art” which comes outta me, most would consider some kind of trendy lackluster boring prostitution. This is another discussion for another time, probably.
We left the museum, ate another dinner (started out alright, got kinda gross) and walked over to a huge shopping area, Nanjing Road. Kind of like the 3rd Street Promenade or Newbury Street of Shanghai, sorrrrt of. Lots of malls and overpriced boutiques and all sorts of crap… lots of cute girls. Didn’t get to hang out too much, but it had a little of that Harajuku feel, I guess, is the closest way to describe it. After this, we caught another theater show, the final of the trip – we were all a little burned out on these by now, but whatever, it’s Shanghai, let’s indulge them I suppose (though I think many of us would have been happy enough to lounge around the shopping district and enjoy the local flavor instead). The “acrobat show” did turn out to be worthwhile after all, they truly threw in “everything but the kitchen sink…” It was remarkable, I wish I could have got some pictures for posterity. We had more of the “folding people” we’d seen the night before (the folks who could contort their bodies into outrageous positions, while balancing atop one another) – then a bunch of fellows dressed in suits and top hats doing crazy juggling/catching stunts.. a couple of body builders doing wild feats of strength and balance – girls spinning plates on poles, while moving around an climbing one another – girls balancing and climbing while bicycle riding – a magician (with birds, sword-through-the-box, sleight-of-hand, etc) – a cheesy laser light show to techno music, and then the finale was one of those giant caged domes with 5 motorcycle stunt riders careening around inside the small enclosed area. Yeah, it was pretty impressive!
After this our group retired to the hotel, a few of us young’uns were itching to investigate the night life of this crazy city however. We got a tip from the concierge to solicit the Xin Tian Di district, hopped in a cab, and then walked around, eventually we followed a German dude who was in turn being led into a disco by some slutty looking Asian chicks on his arm (yeah, very wholesome, I know, what d’ya want). But it worked, we found a cool little spot, the music was booming and the layout of the place was pretty neat. It looked kind of like a lair from Tron or something, very angular and heavy on the shiny black plastic/bright neon panels. It was rather early, on a Sunday night, so not very wild inside, but there was definitely some energy and a couple of maniacs on the dance floor. We had a round of drinks and I got to exert some energy (yeah, I actually had some left!) and did my usual routine, it had been awhile and it felt good to let loose. The drinks were quite expensive, it was fortunate that I was the only boozer in the crew otherwise it would have been damaging on my wallet! Anyway half of our crowd was quite young and not used to such atmosphere, and everybody was generally quite beat from the trip at large, so we just hung out for a spell and then cabbed back home to our hotel for some shuteye. I was happy to find another club right here in our hotel, though the music booming out of it was quite large and invigorating, the interior was the biggest of no-no’s (that is, utterly dead) so I immediately turned around, marched upstairs and passed out in bed, next to my sweetheart.

Friday, June 27, 2008

-- on vacation in China! --

yeah. the past week i have been touring through china with my girlfriend (and a tour group). I have been keeping a journal on my personal blog:

I'l be back early July, when we get thru with this i will return to business and put my microscope back on the gaming world - i have been out of touch, but so much can happen in a short amount of time!


Well okay, so I have skipped a day of typing, it’s been some busy times for me! Here is the rundown of the events of the past two days for Ron and May in China.

Thurs, June 26 – day #2 in Xi’an, and so we got up and headed out, the group saw a famous religious area “Yan Pagoda.” I wasn’t paying too much attention to the particulars, it was an area with a large golden Buddha statue that people would prey to, and burn candles and light incense in front of. For me, it was a good spot to get a ton of photo reference, and so I did exactly that. Afterwards, we were due to visit the "ninth wonder of the world" (or was it eighth?), the Terracotta Warriors. An Ancient Chinese Ruler had an army of close to 10,000 statues built, I believe the count was, to defend his underground tomb. This dated back a good several hundred years BC, I think around the same time as the construction of the Great Wall. Hell if you want the details, go to Wikipedia! Anyway, first they brought us to a factory where they create souvenier warrior statues in their likeness, so you can bring some of your own home. Then the usual spiel of all the gaudy things you could buy. Then off to another place (in a ghost-town feeling area) to eat lunch, another tourist restaurant of course - while we ate, they would unroll enormous wall scrolls and try to get us to buy them. After this our bus headed to the pits where the actual Terracotta Warriors were (still) being unearthed, they were originally discovered in 1974. Though a lot of people generally seem interested in this topic, I must say it didn't really do too much for me compared to many other things I have seen - I mean, it doesn't rank up there with something like the pyramids or the grand canyon (i haven't actually seen the latter in person, but you get my drift). Still I can appreciate the awesome size of the exhibit, and the weirdness that it was just discovered barely 30 yrs ago - and is still undergoing excavation and reconstruction.

Following all of that, we chilled out in a tea house and I kicked back a couple of beers while we waited for the remainder of our crew to wrap up. Then of course, back to the hotel for dinner, though May and I decided to journey into the town and seek out some local bite to eat rather than another subpar "meal for tourists" (note that the food isn't "bad," per se, just boring and really the same fare over and over again). Anyway we headed downtown in Xi'an and found a place with some pretty damned tasty spicy beef, if I do say so myself. A couple of college art professors from our group joined us, and we all shared the food - they also ordered trip ad Ox Tails, which weren't bad. A little bartering with the locals, and then back to the hotel - disappointing, as we were in a hustle and bustle area and I wanted to get a chance to chill out with the locals for an evening. Instead I just relaxed in the hotel lounge and drank a few glasses of whiskey (not enough to do much damage, as they were quite small and the atmosphere was ubelievably mellow).

Last night I slept pretty horribly, I had some dream about answering a knock at my door and some kid riding his bike up to it and pointing a gun at my face, I woke up with a real jump. I fell back asleep and dreamt about losing my apartment ("my prized possession!") and I was in some relationship with some random girl, we always fought - eventually she left me for some other guy, but they lived with me and wouldn't leave me alone (they were always reminding me how I was a failure in love + career + etc) Of course I got pretty bitter and started saying disparaging things about the both of them, a lot of my friends started to get offended by this and would send me angry emails and answering machine messages. I woke up once more and felt exhausted from this stress, obviously I did not want to sleep anymore! I went to the bathroom feeling quite queasy - at last the dreaded upset stomach of the chinese vacation had caught up with me! (For the record I'd been noticeably bound up much of the past week). Wonderful things to read, I am sure, but certainly worth mentioning. I had fears of it hitting me in the middle of a Death March somewhere, or long bus ride - fortunately, it's been easygoing as those things go, and I have been trying to take it easy on the ol' digestive tract today.

Anyway, on with the tour recount - after spending some quality time with Mr Toilet, and being the last one to file onto the tour bus, we rocketed out of our hotel and towards the airport, then flew without incident towards the next stop on our destination, the somewhat tropical region of Giulin. A quick flight over (maybe 1:30?) and we piled into the next bus. This area has an interesting look to it, compared to our last stops - much, much more rural, bizarre and interesting landscape. Crazy surreal mountainous region, the likes of which I have never seen before. While much of the rest of China (that I have seen) feels like a dry dusty desert which had urban elements plopped into it, this region feels like it was until recently quite wild and...well, like I was saying, Tropical! It feels like the roads are barely freshly paved, and that's not to say they look neat and tidy - just that there probably wasn't much in the way of paving going on here 30-odd yrs ago, possibly. Lots of poverty around, lots of tiny hovels, the first 30 min we cruised through town in our bus I noticed nary an actual traffic light. As we got further in, the town built up somewhat, like the other cities in China we have visited it's just endless and always bustling, plenty of people traveling back and forth all over the place, slipping and sliding past one another. More than Xi'an, this place was even more humid and warm, fortunately it cooled as the day grew later. Also to note, it had a lot of the rice paddy field-things you read about in elementary school, the ones that look so clean and perfect, like they would be fun to run through or something..

We stopped in this weird huge cave, a big tourist trap - they've done up the inside with colorful neon lights hidden in it's crevices, giving everything this bizarre otherworldly look that's party feeling like a fake-movie set, almost. You knock on the cave walls and expect it to feel like plaster! Walking inside the cave was really a treat though, as it was so misty and cool compared to the draining gross heat outside. Also it was just a surreal and comfortable, I guess, experience, that it made me sad that we kind of poured in and out of there so fast - I could have hapily spent a couple of hours zoning out in there. It was hard to get "normal" pics in there due to the crazy lighting, but it was wonderful to generate plenty of abstract photography for the same reasons - experimenting with motion and prolonged exposure produced a lot of wild and interesting results. It was a lot of fun! Almost all my pics I shot in there look like a crazy rave..

After this, our group bussed over to some famous hill (I forget the name, bah!) and hiked up a bunch of stairs to get to the top. The heat made it a little annoying, but the climb was much more bearable than the Great Wall of just a few days earlier (by a longshot!) We got up there and shot some pics of the great 360 degree view. It was pretty cool, and I was probably a little too beat to appreciate it - you could really see a lot of interesting terrain and (rundown) cityscape from up there. That is the problem with this trip, I should say - we do see a LOT of interesting things, but it's gotten to the point where we're all so overstimulated from constant running around all over the place that there's not really any chance to "stop and smell the roses." That's the thing about taking an organized tour, you just gotta go with the flow, stay on your toes, and process it all later on. One of the reasons I am trying to keep this vacation journal at such a (relatively) hectic pace is so that I can keep track of Up and Down, since my whole sense of perspective is slippery at best, after this madness...!

Tonight we ate -- yeah, guess it, come on, another subpar chinese dinner at a tourist-serving spot! Then it was off to a local theater to see a show (I think 1.5 hrs) showcasing the traditional costume and dance of some of the local ethnicities. Like many of the shows we've seen on this trip, it was quite ghetto, though it's the first one I didn't find myself nodding off during. The previous one was easily the most lavish, though this show had some outrageous gymnastics going on. You know, those people with the unbelievably limber bodies who could lie on their chests and bend their legs all the way around and pretty much scratch their heads with them, as they were balancing on a couple of other LAYERS of people. It's amazing the amount of control some people can exert over their physique, absolutely amazing (if not also somewhat grotesque!) The show was enjoyable, but it was a long day and I think we were happy to wrap it up and head to hotel number three. We passed through Downtown in our bus, it was completely bustling with throngs of people everywhere, looking like a great time. Like I mentioned, everybody seemed completely exhausted and so I've no idea if anyone was gonna venture out into that madness - already 10pm and another day coming up of more running around to look forward to, as I type these words my drive to spite them and go out alone is diminishing. Also I am kinda colored by the night I had out by myself in Xi'an, it was cool but I felt way out of place and ill-equipped of the nerves to go out and cause a ruckus. I might just have to save my energy a little for Shanghai and May's hometown, I mean -- hell, we still have another WEEK of this trip to contend with!!

Anyway, so that's where things stand. A four hour boat tour tomorrow, followed by I dunno what else, then we'll stay in a different hotel tomorrow night, then fly to Shanghai the following day. Whew.

Some odds and ends are in order. Firstly, May wanted to point out that the post office (in the Beijing airport) ripped her off the other day when they made her mail out her Zippo Lighters, they cost US$30 to send out the US$80 set.

In Beijing, we passed by something creepy called Disney Gardens, a more-than-proposed Disney Theme Park which actually seems to have got a fair bit of the way under construction before the whole thing got shitcanned. I mean, you drive by and see cartoon buildings and cinderella-castle looking things before you notice it's something which never got completed and possibly (?) never will. The tour guide was mentioning "take a lesson, you should plan something out properly before getting far into it!" But considering it's Disney, and China, I am sure some hairy politics must have been it's undoing. A day or two later we passed another unfinished amusement park in a strange out-of-the-way place, I mean it's nothing but creepy to see those rollercoaster tracks that just abruptly stop, in the middle of a ghost town.

I know my girlfriend, and parents, etc will love reading this, but I noticed that one can not view porn on the internet over here. I dunno if it's the firewall of the hotels we are staying at, or some blocker program on my girlfriend's computer, or what, but my personality is such that when I can't access something I start to kinda dig into it and try to find a way around it, just for spite if nothing else (hell, I am a problem solver!) I did find, I think maybe ONE quality picture of a vagina. And there wasn't even any foreign objects trying to violate it, for crying out loud! Regardless, for my efforts I keep waiting for some crack military assault squad to arrive with helicopters, bust through the walls, confiscate the laptop and arrest the entire tour group, and of course do something horrible to all of my entrails to set an example for others. Hmm, something like that. Anyway, mental note, next time bring own porn. While on topic, I should note I don't believe I have seen any whores/weird sex things yet. I think we passed by a massage parlour but it looked legit.

Hanging out in Beijing was bad enough but Xi'an was worse, in regards to traffic behavior. Obeying traffic lights and such seems like more of a suggestion than anything else - the way people drive her is absolutely crazy retarded. It's just - I don't know, organic. Survival of the Fittest. Call it what you will. Being on a bus is one thing, but cabbing it is another universe altogether. You see pedesstrians (even.. little kids! Like LITTLE KIDS BY THEMSELVES!) stranded in the middle of the street while cars and trucks just whiz by them, nonchalantly. It makes one feel like traffic back home is incredibly tame, by comparison. It's quite a rush to watch, and more than anything - well, one tends to look at the faces of the pedestrians while they are INCHES FROM BEING POSSIBLY SIDESWIPED BY A BUS, and their look is just nothing, business as usual. "Oh, I almost met my maker. So, who cares." I wonder how people like that can adapt to driving in the states. It's so remarkable.

Sigh. Almost midnight. Need to be up by 7. It looked like a really good time out in the city tonight, and it's just up the road, but Lorda Mercy I think i am gonna cheese out (awww!) and give my depleted constitution a bit of the brief respite. I know, I will regret this...!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

DATELINE:XI'AN - The Guts of China

Sigh, another day gone by, in this weird so-called vacation of mine. I must note, for those wondering, I passed the International Date Line when arriving here, obviously, so usually as I am typing these things it's past midnight where I am at, while many of those who read it are just getting started with the previous day. Weird, right? It's just past midnight, Thursday morning, here in Xi'an, China - back in Los Angeles, it's Wednesday morning, 9am. Boston is a little easier since it is an even 12 hr difference (so, 12 noon wednesday there). Anyway, you get the point.

So to get right into it - last night I was hoping to get out and party, but that didn't end up happening (once again) for various reasons, mainly I will chalk it up to the fates conspiring against me. Still, May and I did escape from our tour group in order to meet up with a local friend of hers, in Beijing - she brought us to a really tasty hot-pot spot (shabu shabu of the non-japanese variety). Yes, best meal we've had this entire trip, easily..

Today (Wednesday), we hopped up out of bed, packed all of our crap, and met the group in the lobby, as it was time to depart the capital city of Beijing and head to the next stop on the tour, Xi'an (a former capital of China). We bussed out to the aiport, only to find out that may + my tickets weren't available along with the entire rest of the group (one of the guides' tix was missing as well). We had to bus over to a different terminal (which must have been, honestly, a good ten miles away - not kidding!) We got in, hurrying to catch our flight on time, they scan our luggage and SHIT there's a problem. May bought Zippo lighters (real popular over here) back home and brought as gifts for some friends, well I guess those don't mesh with procedure so they started going through our bags and trying to throw the lighters out. She was pissed, as they were worth like $80 altogether, and convinced them to let her ship them at the airport's post office. So we rush over there (clock is ticking!) and they had just finished washing the goddamned floor of this little tiny hovel of a post office.. " you have to wait for the floor to try before you may enter!" They were being dicks, arguing with us and the security guy. Anyway they won and we waited, dropped in the mail, ran to get on the plane, bingo all set. Short flight (2.5 hrs or so, if that) and when we got there, found out that the plane the rest of the group on got delayed anyway so we hadda wait another hour for them to show up.

We finally met up and trucked through Xi'an for some sightseeing. very, very different place than Beijing. The latter being a building-up Industrial, modernized city, Xi'an feels like a bit of a dustbin by comparison. It just feels like someone decided to plunk a huge endless city into the middle of a heaving-dry desert - even at nighttime, it's disgustingly swealtering. I imagine the local folks are quite hardy for living here. The visuals were amazing, kind of unlike any environment I have ever been in - I must have snapped hundreds of photos. The buildings were lovingly detailed with pipes, Tubes, AC ducts, and exposed wiring the likes of which you'd see in a late 70s cyberpunk flick. Horrible and gorgeous at the same time. It's all doused fairly evenly with a laer of poverty, no doubt aided by the climate, so it's fair to say there's a very particular mood exuding from this place not quite like one I have noticed elsewhere. At the same time, in some ways, very familiar. Sort of like a more urbanized, non-mexican van nuys in certain ways.

We got dinner at a Dumpling Specialty place - nothing wonderful, but certainly better than the past several meals they've fed us! After that was a traditional dance show, which was impressive, but overlong. It tuckered everyone out, all were back to the hotel and in bed by 10pm, wild huh? The thing is, we pack so much into these days that I think people's batteries are just being superdrained..

As for me, I was determined to go out and sample some of the local flavor. As I've no accomplices to accompany me at the moment, I had decided to go out my lonesome - which is good for some reasons, bad for others.. but regardless I shoe'd up my already-exhausted dogs and hit the pavement. A bellman pointed me in the direction of bars, though 15 minutes looking that way yielded nothin', so I just kept wandering. I didn't wanna just call a cab and say "take me to a club!" for a number of reasons - I was by myself, what if they took me somewhere super-far away and it got expensive, or to some place filled with boring-ass tourists (tourist trap), or the other kind of tourist trap where you could get ripped off, mugged, etc (yeah, this sorta seems sketchy enough to be that kind of a city). Anyway I wandered aimlessly, past 11pm on a Wednesday night. The streets were pretty active, considering, between cars and peds.. lots of people hanging out on the side of the road, on their motorscooter things or just chilling on stoops, or wandering with their girls to or from wherever. a few stores open here and there but nothing enticing looking. I wandered for awhile, still nothing, eventually i ducked down some really narrow alley that looked like it was brimming with activity. it was sketchier than the main drag but at least it looked like there would be something interesting going on (if anything, maybe there'd be some bars down here!) Just more of the same, lots of people in little clusters, hanging out.. tiny rooms that looked kinda like barber shops, filled with people jawbonin' and smoking (the rooms just looked like thick clouds). People were grilling up all sorts of stuff on either side, tony dens of people playing mahjhongg, chess, stuff like that. It kept going, i kept walking, but it was getting late and nothing was looking like it would be welcoming to a white dude who spoke only english, so I started heading back.

it felt awfully weird, obviously they didn't get many white folks down this way, i really felt out of place. Sort of like a ghost drifting unnoticed thru the middle of the street, something for people to avoid and try to ignore, as it was breaking up their rhythm, their regularity. it felt both cool (to interrupt and disturb it) and awkward (to not know where to go or where to belong) at the same time. I am a city guy, a night guy, so wherever I am I will gravitate to an area like this, the off-the-beat area where the regular tourists wouldn't wanna be, at crazy hours of the night when stuff is dead and people are crazy (I guess they don't wanna be there for a good reason..!)

It is hot here, hotter than Beijing. Even in the dead of night it was uncomfortably hot - today should be worse. This place isn't bad, it's very interesting and unique but I look forward to getting somewhere that I can relax more, shortly.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


oh okay, i got to write this one fast, as time is tight. we just got home from dinner and will be out for a night on the town, shortly.

So, today we rose and hopped on the our bus. They carted us out to a "jade factory," where they fashion jade into all manner of ornamentation and jewelry. It was very, very gaudy.. anyway they brought busloads of people into this giant factory/store, like... well, busloads of tourists (white people!) There were American high school trips coming here and stuff. Who do they think is gonna buy this stuff? It was packed with people from a good 10 different groups, maybe.. anyway we kind of avoided the sales folks and talked amongst ourselves. Then we piled back into the bus and headed over to check out the great wall.

Leaving the business section of Beijing was a trip - unless you've been under a rock in the past year, you are aware that Beijing will be hosting the Olympics here next month, and it's quite a big deal (1st time in China!!!) We drove by the main Olympic drag. I have never been by such a thing before, it is OH MY GOD huge. The main starting area (the "nest"), the Water Cube, a whole bunch of other areas - as we drove by, seeing these surreal building designs, coupled with the fact that they were so ginormous that they felt hard to comprehend in scale. Very bizarre, very interesting though!

The Great Wall was also interesting. I didn't know what to expect really - I knew it would be a spectacle of some sort. People always talked of "climbing the Great Wall," I wasn't sure what that would entail. Upon seeing it with my own eyes, I realized what they meant - HUGE STAIRS THAT ASCEND STRAIGHT UP INTO SPACE, and quite steeply, and forever. It was a daunting sight, just this huge steep hill that crawls endlessly upwards, peppered with all manner of people, and intermittent towers with little shops speckled along the way up. Screw it, I thought to try my best and just headed up at it with the best of them. Starting out, steep immediately, some steps were up to my kneecaps (and there's all manner of exhausted-looking people coming down towards you from all sides). I spent a good half hour or so just trudging up - it WAS exhausting - but determined to go the distance. I reached what seemed to be a pretty high point, rounded a corner, and then BAM another shop and another endless series of stairs winding further upwards. It was noon, and our bus was due to leave in 30min, so sadly I turned around and began to return. Next time!

Afterwards we went to another shop (....), A cloissone factory/restuarant. They had people making vases with very intricate patterns on them. There were miserable looking people painting detailed birds/flowers/crap on the sides of these things after they'd finished firing in a kiln. It seemed like a much lower-paying version of my job... Anyway we ate some subpar chinese food afterwards, this place was completely ful of tourists also, then back to the bus. We then headed far out for a plaee called the Summer Palace, where the Empress lived. Another packed public area, hemorraging with tourists and locals. It was cool though, very picturesque. I shot a lot of photos there, after all! The highlight of this place was a long, decorative corrider, with all sorts of Chinese Historical stories/fairy tales/etc depicted along its walls. The thing stretched a good half mile (yes, it was pretty long!) We ended the day with a short boat ride on a Dragon Boat, then back to our bus.

But not done, then we stopped by ANOTHER factory/restaurant - yes, this was three in one day!! Pearl factory, where they make necklaces and jewelry. They harangued us for a little while, then brought us upstairs to eat more (you guessed it) subpar chinese food. Ah well, nothing offensive, it's just getting to be enough already! Joked with our fellow group members as we ate, then bac to the hotel to call it a day. As I type this, May and I are getting ready to go out for a night on the town with her friend (one of her "fans") who is a local and can show us some of the good sights. In spite of all the pushing, Beijing seems like a very interesting place, very strange, I can see having a few good times here - I am psyched to go out for a wild night!

In spite of my tone, the trip is fun, I am getting some exercise, haven't got sick yet (yay!) and seeing some interesting things (and getting a TON of photo reference, as usual). Having fun with my girlfriend. The trip business bothers me, of course, but at least it exposes us to some cool things we'd not otherwise be privy to, so I can't bitch too much (yet).

Tomorrow we depart from Beijing, hop on a flight to the next area, Xi'an - a city I know nothing about. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 23, 2008

DATELINE: BEIJING (beginning a journal of our trip to China)

okayyyy, so myspace blog is being a fiasco to load, so i must type in the blogger site instead - so, yeah! Here's the quick rundown of the beginning of our trip to China.

Friday, regular day of work - I wanted to finish up the section I was working on, since I would be gone for a couple of weeks (...) I left the office at 2am that night, then came home to clean up my apartment and get ready and all of that. Since our flight was gonna be a long one, May and I decided to just stay up all night so we could sleep on the plane. Long story short, we were both pretty exhausted all night (especially me!), got out the door at a reasonable time and boarded the plane for our flight @1:30 saturday afternoon. The flight was longer than any I'd been on before - about 15 hours to get to Shanghai, then chill at that airport for a couple of hours, then get our connecting flight to our final stop at Beijing (another 2-3 hrs). So, yeah, it was a long mother of a day! I guess I slept about half of the travel time, I didn't wanna knock out for the full trip since we had to get to bed as soon as we reached our hotel anyway (it was past 2am) - and we had to get up today, Monday, for our first day of the tour.

So that's what went down. We got up, met the tour group in the lobby, loaded up the bus and headed over to the Forbidden City for a couple of hours. Very interesting! This is basically where the Emperors of past dynasties would live, and keep all of his thousands of concubines, and address his people and so forth. As the morning wore on, so did the dry humidity, and there was tons of walking and picture taking to do. After some hours of that, we blasted across the street to Tianman Square, walked around a bit more, then headed over to a slightly beat-up looking part of town to get a ride on the rickshaw bikes (some old guy rides a bike with a two-seater attached behind it). We were all lined up in a row, it was pretty crazy. We checked out this old-fashioned style of Chinese apartment, Hadouen or something - basically four separate apartments jammed into one another surrounding a courtyard.

Then it was off to eat lunch at the de riguer Chinese restaurant. Food was tasty, reminded me very much of the Empress Pavilions back home, very much so. Getting to know our tourmates a little bit, devouring tons of food, yadda yadda. As we eat, it poured outside, so we went to get a foot massage (of all things!) afterwards. That was odd, to say the least! In my head it sounded good, some hot asian chick lotioning up my foot and ladeling attention all over it, yeah I could think of worse ways to spend my vacation time. Well, this turned out not to be exactly what the tour had planened. Instead we all got led into this room, and this business woman starts to lecture us about reflexology and how all the major organs have nerve connections ending in the foot, and likewise in the hands, and how eastern medicine prefers to go this route as opposed to the chemicals like the west uses. Then all these people (mostly dudes) come into our room with big wooden waterbasins, boiling water with some herbal mixture in there, and we soak our feet as she lectures... then the dudes massage our feet for the next 45 min or so while they bring in a bunch of official-looking professors and other people to read our palms and look at our tongues and tell us about all of te things that are wrong with us (bad hormones, bad liver, bad spleen, don't work too much, etc etc). Basically trying to get us to buy hundreds of dollars of funky herbal medicines. Yeah, it was weird! Just a big sales pitch for some useless bullshit that no one needs, but then, that's what these types of meetings are known for. Trying to scare you into buying stuff! I was not psyched to have the poor guy working on my feet for that long, if the massage was good I guess I wouldn't complain about it, haha. Whatever, we left a little rudely (didn't buy anything) just thanked them and split.

After tha, the day was getting on but we still had another major area to hit - The Temple of Heaven (there's lots of places with names like that in Beijing). Basically the place where the Emperor would go to have his audience with god -- This place was basically a national park, smack in the middle of a built-up section of the city. So it was pretty crazy to shift from all the packed industry into sort of wooded forest area so suddenly. Anyway walking inside, there's a bunch of little cabin-like areas (sort of) setup with tons of old people playing cards, very excitedly. Then there's little groups of old people playing hackey-sack - their hackey-sacks are different than the American Beanbag style, theirs are just little pointy things with a bunch of colorful feathers sticking out. Further still we heard some weird operatic singing, I thought it was being piped over a PA but it was actually little groups of people practicing their wailing (again, older people). Yeah, very very weird! On top of all of this, the place smelled sort of like what you'd picture the Midway on Ooney Island would smell like, sans the fish or beach (kinda stale popcorn-y smell). We got past all of this to the actual Temple area itself, which just seemed old and outdated - but it was pretty weird, also as the skies were dark and menacing with booming thunder. It felt ominous and strange, and everyone was eager to get outta there before the next downpour came.

Next up we hit a little Peking Duck place for dinner - supposedly this dish is all the rage in Beijing. Well, the food was alright, they stuck us in these little claustrophobic rooms in the basement of this very tourist-catering restaurant (at this point in the tour, I am starting to become quite wary of the scheme!) The food was passable, I have had much better Roast Duck at Sam Woo BBQ in Van Nuys. Mostly, no one was that hungry for this enormous meal as we'd just had a rather filling lunch merely a few hours ago. As we wrapped up and left, dozens of other (obvious) tourists filed into the same place.

No! The day was STILL NOT OVER! After all of that, we bussed over to "The Red Theater" to see a Kung-Fu show. Again, this place was filled with 90 percent Whitey - most of them older, at that. The show was alright, it was a live stage show, a bunch of guys performing crazy ninja posturing and acrobatics. It sounds cooler than it was, though it did have its impressive moments. Basically by this point in the day I was very drained and tired of doing touristy things and wanted to get the heck out of there. And after that, we headed home.

I was planning to go and explore the city a bit tonight, find some random club to go be a little wild in - but the night got late kinda fast, and obviously it has been a LONG day following another few long, long, LONG days, so I guess I am chilling for a night to try and get a little better synched to the local schedule, I gota try and keep my stamina up you know? Tomorrow night one of May's local friends will take us around, so I can get my fill then..

Anyway China is very cool! There is so much to see here. Visiting a different culture is always weird and fun. I am still kind of shocked to be so-suddenly thrust into it, but what the hey. More good times to come, then...

Tomorrow is (ulp!) the Great Wall..

Monday, June 16, 2008

in the belfry

yeah, as usual, "no time to type," and that is officially my calling card for how I'll start ALL blogs. About EVERYTHING, mateys.

Lots going on in the game world, of course Metal Gear Pizza released some days ago, and it's captivating the scene right now. I've not yet played it, of course, and in fact I have barely made much headway thru even the first MGS on PSone.. but I have respect for a venerated franchise. Anyway it's cleaning up in the ratings dep't, looking at it real quick it doesn't really excite me but it looks all well and good. I am interested in messing around with the last-gen versions at some point (perhaps that should've been in quotes). Something about the slow sneakiness of it all has never been too endearing for me. I did mess around with the old GBC reissue of it years ago, never got too far into that either but I had fun for what it was worth. That's worth throwing on a flashcart, I'll admit..

I did finally pick up a couple of other titles which need examination, considering what i am up to these days - Mass Effect (the Force, indeed) and yes, Gears of War. Neither have I gt thru very far at all (under an hour with each - it's been busy times!) but I intend to at least get some notable headway long enough to see what the fuss was about. In GOW's case, well, as we are using the Unreal engine, I would say it's fairly necessary to see how it performs in the hands of it's creators..

We had a party this weekend at the ol' homestead, busted out the Rock Band for the usual goodtimes - I am quite sick of the setlist, singing-wise, it would be nice to see a good 80 or so new tracks dumped en masse. I can wait! I still am a novice (to put it lightly) on the drums, and haven't even touched the axe, so no hurry, really. I did shell out for a second guitar, perhaps foolishly i stuck with the RB model rather then pick up Guitar Hero 3, my girlfriend would probably have preferred that. But all the compatibility notes have left my head spinning of late, so whatever! Anyway, at least we hve the full setup accessible at this point, so no more asking the buddies 'could ya please bring your guitar over tonight!" Also on deck was Boom Blox, my new favorite game on Wii, maybe new favorite game on anything for a few minutes, actually - I might've mentioned it in passing recently, I heard about it and tracked it slightly as it neared release, but upon hearing much praise for the thing I decided to shell out and see for myself. QUITE WORTH the 50 clams. I would recommend this title to anyone who actually owns a Wii, and has friends. So worth the money! In fact, just due to this game, I coughed up an extra $90 for two more Wiimotes to make sure the game could go as smooth as possible. Ough, my ass, but worth it. Very very fun. Sad to hear it's not selling well at all, this thing deserves praise in heaps.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

shea stadim's the radium

okay so i don't feel like blogging right now. life is too damned busy and stressful. Instead i will steal the blog of a fourteen-year-old boy. What a mean jerk i am, right!

May 27, 2008

We got our yearbooks in school today.

Some kids were teasing me cause there's this girl I look [look? like? look like? where the hell is the quality control in this kid's blog? how the hell is anybody supposed to know what the devil he is talking about? so careless.- R].

I can't wait for school to get out.

Summer is only four days away.

I started swim team today and I'm the only 14 year old guy on the team.

Music I'm listening to: Summer of 69, American Pie.

May 23, 2008

Today I was off school and I went and saw the new Indiana Jones. I thought it was Ok but they should have done something other than aliens. Shia LeBeuf did a good job and so did Kate Blanchet but Harrison Ford is getting to old. The computer graphics ruined it to. The old movies were more special because they had limited special effects.



Wednesday, June 04, 2008

the hell with this.

what's up, dramamine drinkers? taking a break from your favorite drug to read my writings on 'em? pull up a chair and chug-a-lug!

things are oh-so-busy in gamerland. work has been continuing to pound the crap out of me lately. i have been putting in some extra late hours lately, got lucky to actually be working on some stuff thematically that's a little nearer and dearer to my heart than usual, so when those moments arrive one does his best to take advantage of them.. anyway i am happy with the stuff i have been working on, of course i can't really post it right now but when the dust clears, i'd sure love to..!

Speaking of, there went up a new batch of Alpha Protocol pics up the other day, slowly they are disseminating. I look forward to see what gets released next. I wish I was in charge of helping to choose what was shown, eh?

A bunch of shots of the Gearbox Alien title got published as well, recently - our studio hasn't got anything to do with that of course (Gearbox is doing the FPS, whereas we are doing the RPG = 2 separate games). Their game wasn't looking too stellar when I'd first seen the images, but the new batch has me thinking strongly otherwise - it looks great! I grabbed a bunch of the images for my personal reference, actually - I am not on Obsidian's version that project, but I'd sure like to be at some point!

A lot of things have happened since I wrote the above paragraphs, but as usual I have been too busy with work and life (but mostly work) to pay much attention to my own blog. A few interesting games have passed my hands lately (boom blox), I have much to say about a few key things going on right now. I will get to it shortly!