And... we're back. Sort of.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The view from my vacation balcony on a stormy day, taken with the new iPhone.

I'm in China! Country #23. And after two weeks of no blogging I was kind of looking forward to getting back at it. But after just two hours, I've had my first taste of life in China - all Blogger blogs are banned here. I can't compose new posts. I can't update my Last Known Location or recentre the Google Map. In fact, I can't even open the blog. This post was composed and uploaded via email, which is why there's only one picture. I've tried to link the captions of the missing photos to Flickr, so I hope the links work. If so, you should be able to click on the link and see the photo I'm talking about. I'm looking into work-arounds, but they seem to involve things like HTTP proxys and such, and I have no idea about that. Can anyone help? And can someone please email me and let me know that this post appeared, and if the links worked, and if it looks sorta normal?

In the mean time, here is the report from my big vacation and the short, steep road back to... the road.

(Edited on March 10, 2010: I've cracked it! I can now access Blogger, Twitter, Facebook... all those subsversive websites China doesn't want me to see. I've gone back and fixed up the old posts to include the photos, so they're all pretty pretty now.)

The vacation is over. As I write this I'm hundreds of feet in the air, winging my way to Beijing for the beginning of the thrilling conclusion to my big adventure. Getting in the cab to the airport last night was tough. I had a really nice vacation, though I'm hard-pressed to say what I actually did. Mostly this is because I didn't do much that warrants writing about, which was entirely the point. There was sleeping in, reading, watching tv and videos, drinking beer and wine, eating lots of good food, running, working on cryptic crossword puzzles and a lot of general farting around and wasting time. I didn't take out my camera for two weeks. Hell, I didn't even get around to writing that last blog about Nepal. Like I said, it was great.

So great that I'm really not feeling ready for or interested in, you know, the whole CHINA thing. I'd hoped that a break would re-energize me leading into the last three months of the trip. Instead I feel like I've lost momentum. Being in a "civilized" location and not dealing with packing and unpacking and traveling and sightseeing was addictive, and now I'm going cold turkey. I bought the LP China in the bookstore at the airport, and just glancing through it is starting to get me going, but I think it'll be a while before I'm all the way back in the saddle.

When I reported for my flight to Beijing (via Dubai, naturally… GSRED doesn't go ANYWHERE without transiting through Dubai) I checked the Aeronaut, as usual. Then a few steps from the check-in desk I realized I'd forgotten to take my Swiss Army knife out of my day pack; I'm just not on my game these days. I decided to go back to the desk to find out if there was a way to get the bag back so I could check the knife instead of having to abandon it at the security screening. But even though only a few minutes had passed, my bag had already been swallowed up by the airport baggage system, causing the helpful Emirates staff to get on the radio and track it down. I then got detailed instructions on how to proceed: Go to that door on the left. Take the elevator down to the arrivals level. Go to Information Desk Number Five. Tell them you need to go to Swiss Porter. They will give you a security pass. With the pass, walk along until you go by the post office. Take the next right into the secure area. Show them your pass. Show them your passport. They will let you in to the arrivals area. Go to the Swiss Porter area, across from… well, you get the idea. It was a bit of a process.

In the end I found myself standing alone at luggage carousel number four and in a few minutes the horn sounded and the beacon flashed and the whole hundred foot long conveyor system jerked to life in order to delivery my single, lonely bag a total of about eight feet. I picked it up and slung it over my shoulder and realized that to get back to the check-in desk, I had to go through the arrivals area. So off I trudged, wishing fervently that I really was arriving just like I had two weeks ago, and that it was the beginning of my vacation and not the end. It really felt like someone was twisting the knife.

The view flying out of Dubai, including the crazy spiky tower

Here's something fun: I bought a new phone! It's a 32GB iPhone 3GS, so I've had lots of fun figuring it out and downloading useful apps like customizable packing lists and time zone calculators and currency converters, and fun ones like backgammon and Sudoku and cribbage, and really stupid ones like the cowbell noisemaker and the crumpled paper toss game. I bought a local SIM card, but wasn't able to get data coverage on the pay-as-you-go plan, so I didn't get the full iPhone experience. Regardless, I'm finding it fantastic. I even have it syncing with information on my desktop, though it's not nearly as smooth a process as with my poor old Palm. Then again, the Palm wouldn't tell me which way is north and then whup me at ten pin bowling.

I also broke down and got a haircut while I was on holiday, and I regretted it instantly. It really had been driving me nuts, and I decided I needed a bit of a trim - enough so my hair could feel like something other than a sweaty pelt on the top of my head. I just wanted a bit of shape, a bit of style, and a bit of an idea of what to do with it while it continued to grow. I ended up at a pretty posh and trendy salon where I paid some poncey git way too much money to not listen to what I wanted and chop off way to much hair and leave me with a weird asymmetrical nightmare that made me look like Liza Minelli playing Dr. Spock. I was seriously gutted. I mean I've never cried after a haricut before, and that guy made me cry. I got over it of course, and later that night the scissors came out and there was some home-barbering done to correct the most egregious points. By that time I was mostly just angry that I'd lost so much of the growth I'd been nurturing and whingeing about for the last five months. So, Rob H, it's back to the drawing board.

(And here' a time when I am very very glad that I can't post pictures. Not that I took any pictures of that abomination of a haircut anyways.)

Oh, and I had to deal with a stupid thing about my Chinese visa. As I was getting ready to leave Kathmandu, I casually glanced through my UK passport to double-check that all was well. To my dismay I realized that the fine print on the Chinese visa said I was required to enter before March 1st, 2010. It was issued along with the Indian and Nepali visas back in December, and was only valid for three months, so I suppose I should have been paying more attention. I had a few choices – I could try to get a new visa issued from my vacation stop. Or I could send the passport back to the visa service I used and have them do the dirty work and charge me an exorbitant fee. I chose the less-hassle-more-money option, and sent my passport off via a heart-stoppingly expensive courier, and once again the Hash came through with a mailing address for the return delivery. In the end it cost me about $317.00 to get the stupid mistake ironed out, but I'd much rather pay that than have arrived at the airport to check in for my flight only to be told I had no visa… I really should pay closer attention to these things.

Ok, one more end-of-vacation anecdote: When I finally boarded the flight for Beijing I found my seat, 38J, and figured I'd hit the jackpot because it looked like the one next to it was empty – all except for some magazines in the seat pocket. I thought they were detritus someone had left behind and had a quick look through them to see if there was anything interesting. They all turned out to be photography magazines in German, so I put the pile under the empty seat and got on with doing all those tiny housekeeping things you do when you first arrive at an airline seat: arranging the seat belt so you're not sitting on it, riffling through the crappy in-flight magazine, kicking at your carry-on bag until it's crammed under the seat in front of you, emptying lots of tiny, easily-lost items into the seat pocket so you can forget them when you get off… that kind of thing.

The view from 38J

Not long after a tall, older German man walked up from the back of the plane and it quickly became apparent that my spare seat was not spare at all. I apologised for moving his magazines and he was so bizarrely put out that I decided he must be blogged about. He muttered, "Jesus Christ!" in a not very sotto vocce, and then proceeded to radiate such perfect contempt that I apologised again and tried to give him as wide a berth as possible with a seat only four inches wider than me. Really his overall tone and demeanor made it seem more like I'd shit in his chair, smeared the results across his tray table, and then left his seat back in the reclined position… not merely rearranged his reading material. In the end though, I think I got the last laugh, because Mr. German Man was so put out he got up and reconnoitered himself a different seat to avoid having to spend seven hours next to such a dangerous and unstable hoodlum, thus leaving me with the spare seat I always knew was mine. Heh.

And now I'm in China. Fasten your seatbelts. Apparently it's going to be a bumpy ride.

6 Comments:

phoebe said...

Welcome Back Pam. We have missed you! (and I have never met you'-) The first few days back from any vacation are always a struggle. You'll get back up to speed.

BTW...I stumbled on this particular post by pulling up the GSRED site and was not alerted by an email as is the norm since I subscribe to your blog. Glad I did, I suspect that the Chinese ban on blogging has something to do with it.

Be safe,
Phoebe

Global Granny said...

Pam you purely delight me! "...smeared the results across his tray table..." indeed - made me LOL!

Needless to say, so nice to have you "back".

And yes, your sterling mots show up on GSRED just fine, and the links to pics as well (will shortly email you to confirm same.)

But meanwhile, couple of comments:

1. Most interesting the China blogspot ban. I was there ages ago (early 90's shortly after they reopened the borders following Tiananmen). Sorry I can't help with unraveling the technos of jail breaking the ban, but suffice that what you're doing (via email/pic link - even the beach pic itself shows up on the GSRED page) seems to work well.

2. Re: fun iPhone/Touch apps. Most interesting you note a "customizable packing list" - which one did you get? As I'm planning my own South Asia adventure come November, I opted to plunk down a whoppin' 99 cents for "Backpacker Checklist" - a nifty little app that allows for weighting each and every item down to the nth oz. and assigning a "Maybe" status so you can predict exxxactly what your pack will weigh. Presently my total pack (for 5 week trip) is hovering at about 24 lbs. incl. 2 lbs. of "Maybe"s should I opt to light the load further. Very handy.

And the "crumpled paper toss game"? Turns out even more handy - for breaking the ice (read: communication barrier) among my Berber camel trek guides in Morocco. Easy enough for young and old alike to play, no matter the language.

3. And finally - surely am beginning to sound like a GSRED groupy here, but... I also just bought your sweet little Lumix ZS3 camera and oh my but that baby surely is amazing, yes?

Dyanne, who's now off to shoot you an email to confirm that all is well (well sort of, save for pesky bans) ;)

Phonella said...

Super post Pam! And I can SO relate to being bombarded with the likes of "Mr. German Man" :)

Glad you're back -- hope the proxy tips I sent you help you out.

Robert said...

Pam,

Glad you are back. Loved the bit about Mr. German Man on the plane and how you got rid of him. I will have to try that technique...

And the hair thing...no more cuts for you! Let your freak flag fly!

Not even a hint of where you had your holiday from the vacation?

You should really be the one to tell us all. We are all going to find out eventually, anyway.

Now is the time to come clean. It will be very liberating. Come on, do it now...

What if we all just start guessing and one of us nails it by sheer luck?

Have fun - happy trails.

Rob H.

Amanda said...

Rob.... She did go back thru Dubai... Does that mean she backtracked to the middle east? It had to be somewhere with access to TV for the olympics.

Kathryn said...

I highly support the tactic used to get the man to move. I will make that part of my repertoire.

I'm with Rob....enquiring minds want to know. That pic of the view from your room is not enough of a clue. Or you could have a contest...we could all guess.. and the winner gets a baby animal!!!!

Have fun in China - I am a little scared to hear about the Steve's Weird Food experience when it happens. Andrew Zimmern had a Bizarre Foods episode in China and, man, it was, errr.....enlightening! Whatever you do - skip the donkey penis! Just saying....!

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