Wednesday, January 31, 2007

American Interlude

Parenting is easy...
tired
...if you have enough whiskey.

Adventure! Excitement! Exhuastion!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

China Part 4: Eating *things*

If it can cast a shadow, it's edible.
-Guangzhou saying.

Isn't anyone going to eat the head?
-Our guide, halfway through the meal.

window1

My theory has always been that when traveling you should eat the local foods you can't get at home.

I have modified this sentiment somewhat after my first encounter with sandworms. It's now, "When travelling, pack peanut butter".

This is coming from the guy who has cooked up/eaten grasshoppers.
Which turned out to be toxic grasshoppers.

But enough about me. Let's look at some of the things considered to be food in China. Note, some of you might want to skip this post (I'm looking at you, Romey).

alivething
These were swimming in a tank. I have no idea what it is.

snakes2
Actually, snake isn't bad...

snakes1
However, snakes (plural), that's bad.

eels
Mud eels? Yeah, right there with snakes, baby!

turtle
These were advertised as "Local Turtles". Considering the local waterways were cesspools, I can't help but wonder about those who buy them.

toad
I'm assuming the toads taste similar to frogs which taste kind of like...

chicken
Chicken (with aforementioned head).

pigeon
Which is kind of like pigeon.

sign
World-famous pigeon, in fact.

waterbeetle
Big, juicey, moving water beetles. Think popcorn that crawls around inside your mouth.

silkworm
Don't forget the silkworm larva (also available pickled).

sandworms
Sandworms. Okay, given the choice I'm heading back to the silkworm grubs...

bacons
The Chinese can make "bacon" out of anything. Duck pressed flat, coated in lard and salt, then smoked is just one of the many forms of bacon avaiable.

congee
Okay, how about something sweet: Daddy feeding Mambowether boiled rice with bits of chicken.

hoboknife
We spent a few days out where they had never had a Westerner and so they had no forks. Luckily I packed my hobo-knife, otherwise Miniwether may have starved.

dog
One last dish to share with you. I have to admit it was incredibly tastey, kind of like a cross between lamb and venison. It was a special treat prepared for us by the restuarant owner in light of us being the first Westerners ever to eat in his place. Click on the picture if you don't know what it is.

Adventure! Excitement! Protein is protein!!

Coming next, China Part 5: Going native.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

China Part 3: Shopping at 1/8 the price

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
-Arlo Guthrie

I'll stop by the factory tomorrow morning and get you one.
-Assorted Guangzhou shopkeepers

everything
I'll make you a good deal...

As I mentioned earlier, Guangzhou is the commerce center of China. Anything shipped out of China goes through this city. Couple this with an exchange rate of 7.71 Yuan per American dollar and suddenly we needed to buy two more suitcases. We had heard tales of the treasures available in Guangzhou but the last time we were in China we were in this city for only a few hours and weren't able to partake in it's consumerist glory. This time we were there for three weeks. Sweet!

Misseswether and I had very different shopping goals. She want to get stuff for Mini and Mambo such as Chinese-style dresses and materials to help them learn the Chinese language.

bookshoping books
Books books books.

Me? I was after Ren-bling!

bling pipe
Assorted jewlery, baubles, and accessories for my Renaissance Festival garb. Dig the opium pipe carved out of ox bone!
Note: I neither use or promote the use of any illegal substances (except for certian pesticides or anything with a fuse).

I spend a lot of time on ebay looking for stuff to improve my Ren garb and noticed a lot of "antique" stuff comes from China. On a whim before heading to Guangzhou I printed out pictures of some stuff I was interested in and brought them along. I showed them to various shopkeepers and they all responded the same way, "Yes, I can get that from the factory tomorrow morning before I open. Can you come back then?". True to their word the next day they would have the brass compass etched with dragons or the incense burner I saw on ebay. Better still, depending on the shop their prices were about a tenth of the ebay costs. The cheapest/best shop for this was "The Shop on the Stairs". Ask for Peter and tell him, "the really tall guy sent us." Peter (the name he used with Americans) could get anything I wanted at half the price of other shops in the area. We spent a lot of money at his Shop on the Stairs.

Adding a few more shiney-pointy's

blades
Number of knives/swords currently in reach: 31
Total number: 50-ish

Another cool thing available in Guanzhou are granite etchings. Give them a picture and in two days they'll have chipped it into a peice of rock!

granite granite2

Granite3 granite1
Will not fade for 24.7 million years or your money back!

The other bonus of our long stay was I had time to get custom clothing made. Yep, more RenFest garb! I had two silk Mandarin-style shirts, two silk pants, two silk vests, and a royal robe made all for less than $200 American. Sweet! You'll have to wait though to see most of it until we do our next Renfest. I don't want to spoil the suprise of our other RenFriends but I'll give you a peek at my robe and the girls of "A House of Love". This is where I had all my clothes made and where Misseswether got most of her books. Miniwether became very attached to the shopkeeper at this store.

silk
Note: The girls would have costed significantly extra...

Coco
Coco and Miniwether, friends forever.

As mentioned earlier, Misseswether also bought a lot of clothes for the girls at this shop. We now have Chinese-style dresses in silk and cotton in every size to fit them from now until their early teens. They are already carefully packed away so I don't have a picture.

Of course there were also tons of pirated stuff for sale. New DVD movies for $1, North Face jackets for $10, iPods and gold Rolex watches for $20. We have no desire for that stuff so it remains in China waiting for others with less understanding of intellectual property rights. Considering I make my money off patents I'm a bit sensitive to this issue.

Well, okay, I did get a $20 iPod. It's a peice of crap. Serves me right.

The other thing looked at but never purchased was Chinese "medicine". If you think eating weird creatures is the way to get your pants-pal up and eager again, this is the place to be. One whole block near are hotel was devoted to Chinese medicine, which means bags and bags of dried seahorse, snakes, and foul-smelling herbs.

medicine
Eye of newt, tongue of frog...

On that note, don't miss China Part 4: Eating things before they crawl off the plate. Coming soon!

Adventure! Excitement! Maximum luggage weight limits!

Monday, January 22, 2007

To all my friends, fellow time-travellers, equippeders, and lurking anonymi...

Wow, the out-pouring of shared joy, congratulations, and good will from y'all has caught me off guard! I never thought when I started this blog so many people AROUND THE WORLD would be interested in the overly-imaginative ramblings of a man with a poorly developed sense of self preservation. In the last week or so I've received e-mails from six continents with words of support and joy over our latest addition to the family. Let me tell you, those words of support have been a big help considering I'm currently a frazzled, sleepless new dad who right now feels he's going to snap at any second. Ah, parenthood...all the hours, smells, and labor of dairy farming but without the burdensome government regulations.

Anyway, that being said I do want to apologize for falling behind on my blogging. On the plus-side the sleep deprivation has kicked my imagination into overdrive. For instance, I was driving home from work staring at the car in front of me wondering why clowns were crawling all over it. I woke up just before I hit the curb. Yep, parenting and hallucinations. They go together like ice cream and vigorous tongue action. Uh, but I digress. I just wanted to say hopefully I'll be posting about shopping in Guangzhou in a few days. I'm not sure where all the milk-based oralness came from.

Oh yeah, new baby.

Adventure! Excitement! Drool!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

China Part 2: Scenes from Guangzhou

But first, more mandatory Mambowether!
MandM

Okay, on to Scenes from Guangzhou:

Guangzhou1
Just another day in paradise...

We spent a majority of our time in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. This is the third largest city in China with over 12 million inhabitants. We are talking wall-to-wall people and the walls are very close together. The Chinese government supplies the housing and every family-unit gets an 800 square-foot apartment. Oh yeah, the family unit consists of mother, father, one child, grandparents (father's side) and great-grandparents (also father's side).

Guangzhou8 Guangzhou4
Housing units old and new.

The history of Guangzhou goes back to around 214 BC and it has always been a center of commerce. It is set on the Pearl River delta and has many docks. In the past it connected the silk road to the rest of the world via these ports, wharfs, and giant warehouses. Things haven't changed much in that respect. If it is for sale anywhere in China you can get it in Guangzhou. This leads, of course, to excellent shopping. If you want it it can be bought here. Indivivdual streets were dedicated to a single commodity such as the street of toys, the street of electronics, the street of boots, the street of incense, the street of dance costumes, etc...

Guangzhou6
Along the street of lanterns.

With access to so many shops a large part of our freetime was spent shopping. Miniwether bought stacks of "Learning Chinese" books while I focused on collecting items for my RenFest garb. I'll write more about shopping in the next post.

On the cultural side of things, Guangzhou is home to The Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. This temple was originally built in 537 AD and rebuilt several times due to fires. Apparently burning incense in a 1,000-year old wooden building didn't strike the monks as a bad idea. The main pagoda is over ten stories tall and for a donation of 15 cents American you can climb to the top. In doing so I came to realize the center of balance of a Chines monk is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than mine. The safety railing at the top of the pagoda was about thight-high on me. One stumble and I'd plummet to a holy death.

six2 six1 six6

six3
These Buddhas were each almost three-stories tall.

six4
The monks were much shorter than that.

As I mentioned earlier, Guangzhou stretches along the banks and bayous of the pearl River. All day and night dozens of ships travel along the aquatic freeway. Huge cargo ships loaded with shipping containers cruise past tiny traditional Junks. Ships filled with tons of gravel needed for making concrete for all the new construction glide past old men swiming in the highly polluted waters. I spent many hours just sitting at our hotel window watching the boats sail by. It was very relaxing.

PR1 PR2
Old and new.

Now is a good time to talk about the air in Guangzhou. You may think that the haze you see in the pictures above is some sort of fog. It isn't. It is air pollution so bad you can cut it with a knife. Every city I've been to in China (Bejing, Lanzhou, Foshan, Qing Yuan, etc...) had air pollution like this. Visibility is usually less than a mile. Anyone who thinks the USA is the dirtiest country in the world has their head up their @$$ and has never been to another country.

At night all the buildings along the Pearl River light up and for two hours an amazing light show is projected into the air up and down the river. Lazers and spotlights peirce the night sky while amazing visual displays are projected onto the sides of the buildings. All of this is choreographed to music being blasted throughout the city. It was wonderful to watch. Even the boats on the river fired up neon trimming to turn into magical seabeasts.

Nightlight3 NightLight1

Nightlight4 Nightlight5

Even the open-air restruants along the river got into the act.
light1
This is one of my favorite shots.

Next up: Adventure! Excitment! Shopping!

Monday, January 15, 2007

China Part 1: The Mile-High Christmas Club

LAX
LAX International Terminal 6:30pm Christmas Eve

Okay, I'm not going to say 14 hours in the cheap seats of a plane bound for China is as painful as giving birth, but when you are 6'5" it's defiantely an experince the Devil himself takes notes on. Three hours into the flight I was in agony and didn't know how I'd make it there and back again...

Flashback: It was raining in Houston when we left on the morning of Christmas Eve. A four hour flight brought us to Los Angeles followed by an eight-hour layover before getting on to the Southern China 747 for the 14-hour flight needed to bring us to Mambowether. We left American soil at 11:48pm on Christmas Eve and celebrated the birth of our Lord 35,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. Christmas Day only lasted a few hours before we crossed the International Date Line and jumped directly to Dec. 26th.

We spent two days recuperating then on Dec 28th we joined several other families in a bland Chinese-government building to receive our child. The door burst open and a Sherman-tank-shaped Chinese lady marched up to us and with a big smile thrust a large lump of smelly baby clothing and blankets into Misseswether's arms. The clothing and blankets began to squirm and suddenly a meaty fist popped out followed by a bewildered looking baby's face. All around us similar unions were taking place as babies wrapped in 4-6 layers of clothing were handed off. It was a triumphant chaos of cries, cheers, babble and camera flashes. Imagine a whirlwind of nine familes suddenly popping into existence in the middle of a circus during a hurricane and you might start to get a feel of what was going on.

Incoming Gotcha

Sisters Daddy

Once all the babies were passed out the paperwork and interviews with government officials began. I don't remember what questions they asked us and what papers we signed, only that it took quite a while. Then finally we were all loaded up on the bus and taken back to the hotel.

interviewing Judgement

Family
The Wethergirls

We still had eighteen days left in China before all the paperwork was completed and we could return to the USA. But at that moment time was meaningless. In my arms squirmed a bundle of muscle staring at me with a serious look on her face. She didn't cry or fuss (that would happen later in great excess). She just stared at us like the Judge of Souls. I remember Miniwether repeating over and over "She's my sister! She's my sister! Oh I love her!". Misseswether just smiled lots and lots. Me? I looked at her and thought to myself, "Holy crap, she's strong!".

sleep

Coming up next: Adventure! Excitement! Guangzhou!