Sunday, July 29, 2012

great wall

i took the subway to the long distance bus station. when i got there a little old woman came up to me and kept pointing at my journal. she was correct in assuming it contained a list of where i needed to get. i showed her my journal. i had written the city i needed to take the bus to, and then the village i needed to hire a mini-bus to take me to. before i left my hostel that morning i had gotten one of the receptionists to write my directions in mandarian so i could point if necessary. i also wrote the mandarian pronounciation down too, just in case.
after i showed it to her she pointed down the bus station to the very end of the tunnel, where it started to get dark. she followed me as i walked speedily down the tunnel. she guided me into the right line up and everything. then when i got to the front of the line she was there to meet me again. she told the ticket lady where i was going, and then before i got on the bus she shouted at me.
"fire station! FIRE STATION!"
what the heck? she held up a flat palm at my and kept saying fiiiiieeeeer station.
i smiled, nodded and got on the bus. she was still shouting.
the bus started up and i was off! about an hour later we hit my first stop, miyun. miyun is a small city...i would compare it to a chinese windsor, ns. i was half asleep when we got into miyun and wasn't really paying attention. i could feel the bus come to a stop and then i heard shouting and someone grabbing and tapping my shoulder.
'miyun here, MIYUN NOW!'
well i rushed and grabbed my pack and hopped off the bus. i assumed the person shouting at me was the driver, who had overheard the kind bus station angel telling me where to go. but as i walked off the bus, i saw the driver sitting in his seat. when everything clicked it was too late. i was now standing at a bus stopped surrounded by vulture-like cabbies.
'where you go?'
'how much?'
'lady come me!'
'you go wall? i take now, gooda gooda price rewe cheap just fo you'
i was infuriated. they had seen me on the bus, i was white, they made the connection.
then i saw another bus drive by, same number as the one i was on. same bus line. so after i thoroughly reemed out the cabbies i waited for the next bus to come by. i flagged it down. it stopped and the cabbies pushed past me and onto the bus. they were talking to the bus driver...presumably about me. i pushed past them and showed the driver my ticket. he said something and pointed to the stop outside. i started rambling back to him. they hate the language barrier. i sounded like an idiot, but they didnt know what i was saying.
'im not getting off, these men are assholes. take me further into town and then ill get off. you can just start driving. im not going anywhere dude. im stubborn and sweaty. im DRIVE!'
it worked. he got flustered at my talking, or annoyed or something...and he started up the bus.
then all of a sudden 'FI-ER STATION' made sense. one hour and then fire station...five stations....five stops. i needed to wait until the fifth stop in town. and i did.
when i got off at the right stop it went much smoother. i was still surrounded by cabbies, but they were nicer. not as rude. the one that i settled with even flagged down some girls around my age to do the translating for us. i bartered until i got him to agree on driving me to hexi village, one hour down the road, for 100Y. which is about sixteen dollars.
when i got to hexi village the minibus dropped me off at this staircase and the driver pointed to a ticket booth style looking window and then drove off. i walked up to this completely run down ticket booth and pointed to my journal where it read 'entrance to wall?'
the old man shook his head and started to get up. when he did that i started to walk over to where the stairs were. that is when his wife appeared and also when he started to limp/chase after me. this is also when the charades began.
he got chased up the stairs after me shouting. grabbed my pack and then my jacket, still shouting. he got in front of me and pointed at me and shook his head and finger. i acted out walking - sleepy - tent - wake up - more walking. he countered with rain hands - big arms x's - and more head shaking. he was also adding sounds. rain hands came with a thunder and lightening auditory add-on.
so so yummy. tiny village dinner.
this continued for a while before i gave up. i had gathered from our interaction that i couldnt go on the wall tonight because it was supposed to be bad weather that night, that i would be going to stay with a woman who lived down the road, i would be giving her 100Y for the accomodation and dinner and breakfast and that i could meet old man guard guy at 9am tomorrow morning to see if the weather was better and then i could go on the wall.
i felt defeated. not being on the wall on my first night. but im all about the journey not the destination. so if this was part of it all, then so be it. i enjoyed the most delisious meal so far that night. the woman cooked me up a feast! and in the morning i had a great breakfast too. as i was getting ready to leave the woman sent her son over to me with a piece of paper that read 60Y food. i was pissed. she was trying to rip me off. i laughed at the boy, wrote 100Y on the paper and then circled food and sleep beside it. he ran it back to his mom, who then came over to try and explain further. i got what she wanted. what she didnt get was that im not a push over. i pulled out my 'babble english till they fold' card, and it worked again.
'no im not paying that much. i already gave you 100, and we agreed that it included food. im not an idiot, 100 is already far more than enough. i dont like being ripped off. i was having a pleasent time up until now, and it's too bad you had to spoil it'
i picked up my bag and left immediately. it was only 7am but after that unpleasent morning encounter i didnt want to chance the old guy not letting me on the wall again, so i headed straight there. when i got there i was pleased to see he wasnt at his post yet. so i started up the steps. there was a man at a bus stop on the same road. he started shouting at me as i started going up the steps. i didnt turn around. the shouts got louder. i kept thinking 'dont turn around, if he wants to stop me enough he'll come after me'. he didn't. and at last, i was on the great wall of china!
the next two days and nights were spent keeping watch on fellow great wall explorers as they approached my tower, reading a novel, sleeping through massive thunder storms and exploring the surrounding watchtowers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

im famous in beijing

well yesterday i got the crushing news. i am not the winner of my dream. ive got all emotions right now. bitter, jealous, guilt, sad.
i feel like i let down my family and friends. i also feel like i can more strongly relate to american idol contestants when they get eliminated. not in the first rounds, but far into it. when they have made friends and have gone past the restyling process.
so thanks again for all of your support. i really can't express how shocked i was at all of you who were puling for me. it meant so much to know how many peole care for me. so thanks :)
so yes. back to beijing. i heard the news yesterday after i got back from a morning spent at chinas national museum. it was HUGE! now picture huge in your mind. take a second. picture the highest ceilings you can imagine, picture a football field just for ancient pottery. now DOUBLE it. yeah it was really big. so i did a few halls and then took a break on a giant wooden bench to do some writing in my journal. while i was sitting down i noticed a family had come sit down on the bench beside me. i kept getting that feeling someone was looking at me and when i would turn to see what it was, i saw one of the girls in the family pulling a classic camera stunt. she was pretending to take a picture of something behind me, when really she was just taking the picture of me. so when i turned and saw her doing this she got embarassed and pushed her younger sister at me.
"we photo you please?"
uhhh sure? i then proceeded to get my photo taken with each member of their family. even the grandma. and surprisingly enough it happened again when i was in the road to revolution hall. a little girl, maybe seven, and her friend came up to me and asked "photo?" "sure thing". then her friend snapped a couple pictures of us surrounded glass cases full of old chinese tools. she then looked at me and said "hug you". which didn't really seem so much a question as a statement about what she was about to do. as if she was just giving me warning. and then she opened her arms and came in for a big ol squeeze.
after my celebrity status at the museum wore off, i headed back to my hostel, found out the sad, had a beer and then took a nap. i still am not fully adjusted to the time. which makes my days run with a wake up around 3am and i start getting tired around 7pm. so i figured a nap in the afternoon would give me the juice needed to stay up late and head to a party.
i had heard of a belgium national party through the two germans i met yesterday. nina and astrid. so i met up with mike around six. headed out for beer and supper and then we set off in search of a distant belgium party. after what seemed like ages of wandering up and down the same street, studying chinese characters to try and find the right road...
"well we are looking for triple equals sign, robot with two arms, triton with an antenna - street"
we finally found it. and after the party we discussed how it wasn't so much a belgium party, it kind of seemed like an "if you're white" party. there was even a beijing beatles band. when my yawning became too much to handle we decided it was time to grab a cab. easier said than done. a local told us not to pay for than 20 yuan for a cab back, and since we screamed tourists we got laughed at when thats what we offered to the cabbies standing around the busy intersections. there were also lots of rikshaws offering to take us for the price the cab would not. but we both knew that we had quiet a distance to cover to get back. i kept thinking unless your first name is lance, im not getting on that bike buggy with you. suddenly a young guy came up to us and motioned for us to follow him, that he would drive us for our offered fare. but when we followed him i realized he wasnt even a taxi driver. and he spoke no english. so we repeated tianamen square aloud several times to clarify the drop off point and then hoped for the best. soon enough we were stopped on a random street i didn't recognize. but he got out, pointed in a general direction and assured us that tiannamen square was just around the corner. just around the corner turned out to be a slightly exagerated statement. but with several map consultations we were on our way "home".
i was in bed and falling into sweaty slumber by two-thirty.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

the first twenty-four

sensory overload.
when i got to beijing i got off to a bad start. i had my perfect little post-it note of directions frmo the airport to the hostel via two easy swings of the subway. but after i bought my ticket and went through the bag scanners (who knew they had scanners for a subway...not a kid from wolfville) i was asked if i had a knife. sure did, my leatherman. i am afterall i master woodsmen. so i was refused entrance to the subway. i had to go return my ticket. which was an ordeal and a half because i kept saying return but the only english word they knew for what i wanted was refund...which took me far too long to figure out. it also made me very aware of how much europe and even thailand teased me with their basic knowledge of english. for the rest of the day i found myself using hand gestures and trying my best without butchering the to pronounce the streets i was trying to find. after being refused on the subway i had to make my way to a bus which lengthened the twenty minute journey to two hours, and three transfers. after the first hour and a half bus ride, and spending ten sweaty minutes walking along side a major highway looking for my next bus, i gave up and headed for the only route i knew, the subway. i pulled a sneaky and put my knife into my sports bra, so that it wouldn't come up when i put my bags though the scanner. i was right! with ease i made it to my next destination. and during the quick five minute journey i basked in the airconditioned, yet packed train cars. i walked the ten minutes as mapped out on my post-it from the last train stop to my hostel.
after getting settled, and by settled i mean showering off the layer of sweat, and skyping mom and dad, i went for a stroll. i was in search of food not sold on skewers in the street (for now) and cold cold water. after meandering past men who walk with their shirts above their belly as if they got stuck on their way completely off, hearing street vendors shouting their products at me, and seeing so many tourists snapping their cameras, i found a little restaurant with locals only inside. i went in a was greeted by an excited girl, around my age. she was thrilled to practice her english. i ordered a basic, veggie dumplings. they kicked all dumplings i've ever had butts. the waitress brought a younger girl to sit with me. im assuming it was her sister. she told me they were from mongolia. i got out my journal to show her the map i drew of mongolia and where i want to go. she was smiling constantly. i got out my itouch and let her flick through photos of fmaily and friends. and while i ate she would ask me qustions. where? who? friends?
after dinner i practiced my first chinese and said goodbye. which they were delighted to hear me practicing. then i headed back towards my hostel. on the way i remembered that loraines cousin mike had mentioned something about leo hostel. it was right beside mine. so i went in. loraines cousin mike has been traveling the world for over twenty years. by the end of this year he will have been to every country. he has kind of been like a travel idol. i follow his adventures on facebook and through his colorful emails. and last week i saw that he was going to be in beijing at the same time as me so we planned to meet up. and that we did. when i walked into his hostel i saw him right away. i walked up, introduced myself and joined him for couple beers and a couple hours of exchanging unreal travel stories. i hope to see him again over the next week, while he is waiting in beijing for his north korea visa to come through.
and that was pretty much my first day. right now it is early. i am heading to find the mongolian embassy today in hopes of getting my visa started.
and i am still looking forward to that moment like i experienced in switzerland. i had been traveling for about two months already, and then one day out of nowhere it hit me. i was walking down a street in lausanne towards a great big lake in the middle of the alps and it hit me like a wave. you are alone, you are traveling, this is it, you are in it now. i have a feeling that moment will come a lot quicker this time, but i am twenty-four hours in and still waiting.

Friday, July 13, 2012


keep your fingers crossed! 
so i know this is long overdue. but i made it! i made the final six. i am the only canadian in the race for arrival magazines dream job! for the next three weeks they will be giving the finalists task to complete, and each week they will be eliminating two contestants.
i am even more riddled with nerves than i was before. now all i can think about is the contest. i know i have another adventure of my own steadily approaching, but i can not even focus on it. my mind is devoted to this contest.
each week after the applicants send in their completed challenge, the selection committee at arrival magazine narrows the list down by two! the first round of eliminations will be happening late this sunday night. and i am terrified!
so whenever they post our next challenge (which will be a video) make sure you head on over to Arrival Mag NZ on facebook and tell them who should win! or follow @arrivalmagazine on twitter and tweet the crap out of them!
so thanks for the support and keep it up!
i'll try and get one more entry posted before i head off to beijing.
talk soon folks :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

i found a boy

it is quarter to midnight and i am wide awake.
when i wake up in the morning i will know if i have made it on the shortlist for the arrival magazine job. it is hard to tell yourself to picture the worst. imagine myself not getting it. to close your eyes and run through what your emotions would be if you found out you weren't selected. that you were so close, but just didn't have enough.
my home in nova scotia is at the top of a hill. my dad would always tell me to look down at the ground when you walk up it. that way it looks flat, and you'll trick yourself into thinking you are walking on a flat surface. i remember him telling me that every time i walk up a hill.
i am packing up my bedroom. it is the night before my last night with this family. the eve of the eve. i am wearing a hot pink maxi dress with a big grey sweater on top. my hair in it's most comfortable position, a top knot.
my best friend alana arrived in calgary about an hour ago. our friend loraine picked her up. i am meeting alana tomorrow morning and spending the day with her. i feel like loraine and i are a separated couple and alana is our child. we are just starting to adapt to the in's and out's of shared custody. i made alana brownies yesterday. there is only one row of them left. i make really good brownies.
packing up my stuff. putting my possessions into boxes and shipping them across the country. i am glad  i am occupied with that tonight. because if i wasn't i would be pacing back and forth in my room wondering about my dream job with arrival magazine. i would literally be pacing my room. developing calluses on my feet from repeatedly pivoting on the same spot on my foot. most likely listening to something ridiculously inappropriate for the moment, probably adele's i found a boy. i am the worst at choosing a life soundtrack. my ipod playlists are one of the most embarrassing things about me.
by the time anyone reads this it will already be decided. i will already know. this insane contest will be one step closer to conclusion. five people will have smiles plastered on their faces. i am a great smiler. so hopefully i get the chance to show it off. humble.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

2009 california white

i spent the weekend away with friends.
i hiked a mountain. my butt is sore. while bringing the rear of the troup up the mountain i thought a lot. i thought about how i love to write. and how i haven't done it much. if i need to make time to do something, is it actually something i should be doing? shouldn't i just want to write, and the time will come naturally? well this all got me inspired.
so when we returned back to calgary. and i came back to an empty mansion. i decided to spend my evening writing with a bottle of wine.
this is the result. enjoy.

writing turban
i am a writer. 
a writer who doesn’t write.
i wonder if i should have to make the time for it. if i need to. shouldn’t it just come naturally? 
it comes naturally. the writing that is. but the time, the time does not.
tonight i’ve allocated the hours of my evening for prepping the house for the family’s return tomorrow (laundry, dishes, making beds, vacuuming etc), and for drinking a bottle of white wine while writing. 
and in the morning i will guzzle down an electrolyte pumped gatorade and edit.
for dinner i started with onions. i sliced them, threw them in a pan with olive oil, added grilled mushrooms, and then burnt them. i am now adding pasta and parmesan. 
in the movie love actually colin firth’s character is a writer. he finds his wife cheating on him with his brother and he packs up and heads out to a cottage. you come to learn that  on several other occasions he has rented this same cottage. he goes there to write. to be secluded and to write. the cottage backs on to a large pond surrounded by foliage that i can only assume is a kin to what inspired monet in paris. 
i think of doing this. 
making time to write. when i imagine it the locale is different. i imagine going to thailand, renting a house from my friend susanna and spending a month there. just writing. going to the market in the morning to buy my forty cent breakfast, and a large pineapple. i picture myself wearing big full butt underwear and an oversized plaid shirt  sitting on the deck of her house listening to the waves crash against the sand below. and i imagine myself pausing between taking sips of warm thai beer to look down through the cracks in the wooden deck to see the water moving the garbage still left from the tsunami around to a new home, several feet away from its last. 
the pasta was cold by the time i ate it. the wine in a plastic stemless wine glass, meant for camping. which is ironic because the woman of the house who it belongs to couldn’t be farther from someone who lists camping as a hobby.
this weekend i went to canmore with my friend and her boyfriend. we stayed at their married friends house. i was the fifth wheel. on the drive we listened to joel plaskett. i could feel the bass rumble through the car doors. like a baby being patted on the back it soothed me. i sat with my legs stretched out over the back seat. i was staring out the window and was watching the rocky mountains pass by. i blinked and they were gone. dum da dum dum - dum da dum dum. the music made my eyelids heavy and made the corners of my lips turn up into a secret smile. i remembered looking out at the scenery in all of the different countries i have been in so far. looking at the mountains pass me from a train in austria, watching the night fall upon open fields in turkey from a cramped bus seat, and staring out at the pacific as i rolled down the highway in a beat up land cruiser. 
now i am eating the cold pasta. the sun is still out, i can see it from the kitchen windows.
i am very much a believer in the saying “it’s the journey, not the destination”. and also karma. 
i just walked into the home office. i stared at the oversized mom desk. it was covered in pink and yellow post-its with piles of papers about birthday party rsvp’s, school head lice warnings, and fall activity registration sign up sheets. i saw her large monthly calendar. it was flipped to september 2012. prepping for the upcoming school year. she was already jotting down appointments. kid 1 swimming three nights a week, kid 2 dance lessons sunday mornings, kid 3 art class thursdays, kid 4 starts pre-school. i smiled. i wouldn’t be here. 
i just finished the laundry and my third glass of wine. and in an unexpected turn of events a pan of brownies is in the oven. 
now i’ve made a cup of coffee. instant. i mixed together my instant coffee while beside me on the counter sat a five thousand dollar cappuccino machine, that i have purposefully not been taught how to use. 
the sound of music is playing. the movie, not the sound track. right now baroness schraeder just walked onto the balcony to find captain von trapp looking down onto the courtyard. his eyes following maria as she paced back and forth in front of the large iron gates that topped the staircase to the lake. one of my favorite movies. 
now maria and the captain are sitting inside the glass gazebo. discussing why she returned from the abby. it’s awkward and playful. they start to sing. 
“for here you are standing there loving me
whether or not you should
so somewhere in my youth or childhood 
i must have done something good”
the sun has left the back deck now. in the sky there are dark rain spitting clouds, tip toeing in closer and closer every time i look up. 
i left the writing for hours. now it is completely dark outside. my coffee is cold, the brownies are done and so is the bottle of wine.