Friday, March 30, 2018

Trail Buddies

Meet Caitlyn. We have known each other for about 8 years going back to our days working together with STARTCAST. We were a content/service provider and delivery system for streaming audio and video. We were both made redundant when the large corporation we worked for decided that they could outsource our services thus reducing head count and costs. It is not an original story.
*There is a happy ending and proof that Karma does rule the world. The top 4 executives who were responsible for the decision to shut us down and save costs, were all let go from the company with in 6 months. The profitable business group that I lead fell into an outsourced disgraceful money pit for the corporation and was eventually eliminated.  FU** You Bell Canada!

Fast forward to today and we find ourselves wandering around Thamel Kathmandu preparing for our Everest Base Camp and Annapurnia Treks. After we were set free from our corporate masters Caitlyn, like myself, hit the road. She decided on a career in the Cruise line Industry after spending time living in Australia and doing a bit of traveling.  She again finds herself at a personal crossroads which means she is challenging herself again, smart girl.

We are going to use Gadventures for the EBC trek. I am not a huge fan of using "adventure" companies. Yes, they are costly but if they are organized and the leader is good the trip can be fantastic. Shit, this is Everest Base Camp so even if the guide is a douche we will make the trip fantastic. The second reason I am not a fan of organized treks is the pay structure. The corporation takes a huge piece of the pie, then the local company and guide and finally the crumbs are fed to the porters who do all the heavy lifting. At the end of the trip there is the option to tip. The money goes into a general fund from all the guests. It is the divided up in the same manner. Head guide gets the lions share followed by the assistants, the drivers and finally the porters. We are going to forgo the envelope and quietly tip our porters directly.

It's Nepal and it's Everest Base Camp so it will be an epic journey. I will be using this time to build my new YouTube Channel. There is only test content there now but this trip is going to provide me with material to build out the channel. My goal is to provide another way in which to share this journey with you. Honestly, keeping a blog up to date and having it somewhat interesting is tough enough. Now I have to learn to shoot, edit and compile videos while creating interesting and hopefully somewhat funny stories. Yes sir, I am going to be that guy that drives everyone crazy with my camera.

Over lunch today I said "I think we could be the oddest trekking couple in Nepal". Caitlyn gave an adamant "yes, but I would not have it any other way".  

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Giant Pandas !

When you say Chengdu to a Chinese the first thing they will say is "oh, spicy hot pot, its the best in Chengdu and Chongqing". When you say Chengdu to a foreigner the first thing they will say is "oh, Panda Bears". The cultures of East and West collide yet again.

Before November of 2018 the train from Xi'an to Chengdu was a arduous journey of 10 to 14 hours, depending on the train. Now there is a slick new high speed route that gets you there in 3.5 hours which makes Chengdu a great getaway. High speed tickets run about 263 RMB/$C 53.50 and there are lots of departures from the Xi'an North train station. The slow train option is still available and yes, it is incredibly cheap but also incredibly long.

Chengdu is the capital of  China's Sichuan province. At one time or another you may have come across the term Chinese Sichuan cooking. This style can take you on an emotional spicy journey from ingestion to digestion to excretion faster than any Hot Chicken Wing experience you have ever had. To much information?

However my main objective here, aside from my flight to Kathmandu, was The Giant Panda Research Centre which is located about 7 km from downtown. It was time to see Giant Pandas and the lesser famous Red Panda in all their glory. Now the first thing I need to mention is that zoo's usually disgust me and nothing can convince me that the are good for the animals. The research center helped to show me that everyone once in a while, if done right, animals can thrive. Remember this is not a zoo but a government and university funded research center and there is a huge difference. I will not go into detail because I will not do it justice so please click on the link to learn more about what the Research Center is all about.

What I did learn was that Pandas make people happy. These are wild animals and not stuffed play toys and if you decided to climb into the pen with one of the adults there is a good chance that that would be one of your final earthly acts. From a safe distance, like the gorillas in Rwanda, you can admire their playfulness and beauty. I got to the park early enough to watch them happily eat their breakfast and as quick as they started they stop, go for a short walk and drop into a long slumber. The average time spent at the park is about 3 hours, I stayed 5.

I stayed at the Lazy Inn Hostel which I booked using My private room for 2 nights was 211 RMB/$C43 and it included a pretty good breakfast. It was clean, quiet, easy to get to and close to as much street food as I good possibly eat. I use to be a fan of Hostel Bookers, Hostel World and other various sites but is my go to now.  I have an agreement that the first 10 people who book through that website from my links will get $15 off their room. This is a start to my affiliate program and my new focus on creating an on-line travel brand using this blog, Youtube Instagram, FB and other social media, but more on that later.

After the Panda Reserve I took the bus back into town and wandered for a while. My first stop was  Tianfu Square. It is huge and spotless and a cliché Chinese square. There are fountains, a few bits of greenery and plenty of happy, smiling people. In this case there was a massive stature of Mao Zedong staring down upon us like a historical god watching our every move.. It was a glorious sunny day so I sat in the square near a fountain staring at the world around me. With the Stature of Father Mao reaching out to greet me, I had a long mind wander about the real history of China (as much as I know), and how it effects today's society.  Sure he killed over 300 million people with a suicidal policies between 1959 - 1961  including the ridiculous 4 pests campaign. Seriously, 300 million people starved to death...the population of the United States, and he is still revered as the father of the country and the greatest ever Chinese and the death of 300 million is considered not true by most people today.

Chengdu is a huge city and there were many places to explore. I went down to the river, which as far a city rivers go was disappointing. The walk along the river brought me to areas of elderly people playing lively and very aggressive games of majong, listening to music and just sitting around drinking tea, basically enjoying their day. I found a few interesting parks and there was a touristy area where I watch a girl being trained on an ancient tea service ritual. She looked way out of her element but she was giving it her best.

China has been an interesting experience and I would encourage anyone to look past the oddities of the country and embrace it for what it is. When you can look past the things that will drive you crazy you will find a country of warm people, delicious food, a history that is both tragic and brilliant plus it is one of the oldest thriving cultures on the planet. China will lull you in with a warm embrace once you give her a chance.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Daqin Hot Spring

When inquiring about Daqin Hot Spring (Dàqín wèi guāng)  most people had no idea what I am talking about. To be fair neither did I. My friend Carol was excited to show me the "new hot spring" in Xi'an. She has been a great friend and has helped me adjust to living in China.

Naturally I though we would get on a train or bus and head towards the mountains but that was not the case. We hopped on Subway line 1 to the Sanquio stop and took exit B. A ten minute ride through what is considered "car city of Xi'an" we were dropped at the gates of  a large complex surrounded by greenery and smiling faces.  Sanquio Car City is where are the car lots are centralized so whatever you are looking for you could find it here. Porsche, Jeep, BMW, Audi, Range Rover, Benz whatever. The car lots stretched forever.

Daqin was built as a short resort and conference centre. You can find information about the hotel on Booking but reservations are for Mainland Chinese which is not uncommon. You can access the spa area without any ID which is not common here. I only paid 125Y (C$26) per person which was discounted because they were still giving Spring Festival discounts.

First things first, coffee. Good coffee is not hard to find here. There are Starbucks, Cafe Bene and Pacific coffee houses. However, like most western brands, it is expensive. A small black coffee is usually about $5 and a large $6 but whatever, I usually spend $10 a day on food and I am not getting any thinner because of it.

There are 56 various pools that included red wine, white wine, baijiu (white Chinese liquor), aloe, vitamin C, milk (which looked disgusting) fruit and just plain old fashioned water.  Each pool was surrounded by greener and relatively secluded. There were towel racks at the entrance to each spa on the  foot path so people would know it was occupied. I know where your mind just went and no we didn't. Naturally she looks much better in a bathing suit than I do.

When you spend 6 hours splashing around in a hot spring soaking up the various "added ingredients" and then finish the day with a long sweat in a dry sauna you get hungry regardless of the fact you had drunk a couple litres of water. We figured we would take a taxi back to the subway and see what was in the area. Outside the subway were various restaurants but the thought of sitting down to a meal was not appealing so the hunt for street food was on.

In a matter of minutes  we came across a "snack street" that even got Carol excited. The great thing for me was that there were snacks that I had not seen before. It started with a cooked cabbage stuffed bun then cooked spicy rice noodles. Pineapple season is just starting so topped off our street binge by eating half a pineapple that was cut and ready to go from a local street vendor. It was sweet and glorious. I like pineapple season.


This "hot spring" is by no means a natural volcanic experience. This 30 minute subway ride away from the downtown is all that is needed to experience a bit of quiet is a rare feat in a country of 1.3 billion people. You should go if only to soak in a Red Wine Pool. There is a good chance you will be the only western foreigner in the entire area.

A final gift from Daqin. I have come across so many signs with horrible English translations, not only in China but all over the world. This sign jumps to the front of the line for creative silliness. The English translation is not great but its the use of Spanish for the word "tourists" that quickly jumped out at me. I think someones was clicking their mobile phone translator a bit to fast and did not check the language settings. 

China is busy, always busy. Finding Daqin was a small victory to recharge from the madness. Knowing I will be hiking in Nepal in a few weeks helps as well. Winter is winding down and along with that the air is becoming clean again. That in itself is such an odd statement to read. Spring in China is beautiful with the cherry blossoms and nightly celebrations so the camera will be in extreme mode. The myriad of street food stalls will begin to emerge from their winter hibernation making the use of my kitchen reduced to boiling water for coffee and tea.