The Wall Yet Stands!

 

Change , change , change , change is in the air. The temperature has been creeping upwards ,the sun has come out after nearly a month of straight cold, grey, rain and the cherry blossoms are just starting to emerge.  Changshou road’s 4 eastbound lanes have been shutdown and traffic re-routed. One night there was a courtyard the next night a new 3 lane road was paved to compensate for the new construction. Just like that, overnight. One day I look from my balcony and everything is normal , the next day a new 3 lane road. Craziness. Later on this summer a new subway line will be open right on the corner of Changshou and Wuning roads. I , however, will be outta here in 3 weeks. A new apartment woo hoo!

Last summer upon returning from the Yunnan and Laos travels I read , much to my chagrin, in That’s Shanghai magazine that my favorite graffiti spot on Moganshan lu would be coming down. New developments and investments would be destroying the classic graf wall. It was supposed to be down by the end of last year . Shit weather and work have kept me away from the area but last weekend I checked it out and the wall yet stands! The adjacent building’s facade has been newly constructed and finished up but so far Moganshan’s wall is still up. I have no idea how long that will last or maybe the destruction has been called off. Who can say? I do leave you with some nice new photos though. Enjoy while it lasts. And I swear the rest of the Cambodian trip will be written up soon!

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Sihanoukville and Monkey Island

In the quest for the beach , Sihanoukville was the next stop after Phnom Penh. Sihanoukville is a small place without the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and without the history of Angkor. This town was carved out of the jungle in the 1950’s after Cambodia gained its independence from France. The ruling prince of the country was named Sihanouk hence the name Sihanoukville. The location was perfect for Cambodia’s first deep-sea port. Access to the Gulf of Thailand facilitated trade and helped to build up the economy. The beaches and business money attracted the rich and elite to Cambodia. That is until the Khmer Rouge decided that having money was a retarded idea and that everyone should collectively grow rice that the party leadership would then sell to buy more guns while everyone starved. Woo hooo! The 7 story Independence hotel was subsequently used for target practice and the beaches remained empty. Empty until the 90’s when the bandits along the road were eliminated and tourism started bringing back cash into the country. Now construction is booming in the city and new hotels are sprouting up everywhere. With the good aspects of tourism comes the bad as well. Tuk-tuk drivers have a big price collusion scheme going on ($15 to Otres Beach?!?) and you can see the common examples of Westerners behaving badly. C’mon dude!, that girl is half your age and 1/3 the weight!!!

I spent my entire time on Otres Beach and loved every moment. There are several different beaches that you can take a tuk-tuk in-between but Otres was just the place for me. The entire beach is lined with guesthouses , and some chill out restaurant/bars. There is also a dive shop and little stores with everything one needs (except an ATM). All accommodation was fully booked here during Chinese New Year so definitely book ahead during peak travel times. There are more expensive beach bungalows as well as dorm style lofts. I really recommend Mushroom Point. Cozy , intimate, little bungalows with an awesome hammock lined common/bar area orientated towards a TV. Wake up , get a nice breakfast , and then walk 30 seconds to the beach. Swim for a bit and then have a few $1 beers. When we went to check-in the guy working at the bar was smoking a joint. He gave us our key and led us to the bungalow all with joint in hand. I knew that this would be a chill place. One day on a stroll towards the end of the beach we encountered a big , lit-up sign proclaiming Joints $1.50 , Happy Pizza , and at the bottom of the sign , All You Can Eat Indian Food. I guess working your way down the menu leads to Indian Buffet! Haha.

While the beaches are nice they don’t match up to some of the nicer beaches in South East Asia. The Philippines had the palm tree white beach perfection that I’m talking about. Cambodia does have this though and it just takes a 2 hour boat ride from the port of Sihanoukville to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand. I picked out Koh Rong (Monkey Island) for the next spot. We took an afternoon boat over to experience the pure island tropical bliss.

Monkey Island is a small island with a few guesthouses and kilometers of amazing beach. My accommodations got a little messed up but instead of the $20 a night bungalow we scored a private room for $5 a night. It seems like the island is being capitalized on now. New guesthouses are being built on the beaches alongside the local fishermens houses. The fishermen and sea all around lead to awesome seafood. Fresh squid and fish for super cheap abound on the island and I took full advantage of this. This island is amazing and I didn’t even get to see what is claimed to be the best beach on the island. It was closed off for the filming of French Survivor while I was there!

The best part was yet to come though.

At 2am after a little bit of drinking and hanging out partially with the non-English speaking Russians (that’s always fun) the cool Germans I had been hanging with for a bit said to me , ” Have you jumped into the water yet? It’s life changing.” “Let’s go”. This was after hearing a very drunken Russian lady saying “Stars above and stars below!!”. Hmmm , what was in store?

We jumped off the main pier on the island , the one nearby to all of the guesthouses, and landed in A Starry Night by Van Gogh. Every single movement of my body triggered an explosion of comets in the water. Bio-luminescent algae floats in all these waters and when disturbed they light up fireflies. I looked up at the sky free of light pollution with hundreds of glimmering stars and out of my downward peripheral vision I caught dozens of glimmering stars in the water completely surrounding my body and bursting forth after every kick off leg and movement of arm. I was completely lost in this moment. Absolutely incredible.

I did not want to leave this beautiful place and the Germans I met there had just found jobs in guesthouses and were planning on staying 6 months. Arghhhh soo jealous!! For me it was time to take Aimee back to Phnom Penh to catch her flight back to China while I was heading to Siem Reap. Enjoy the photos!

What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been

Wow! , hard to believe but it’s here already. 2 years ago today , I touched down in cold snowy Tianjin after an exhausting 24 straight hours in airports/airplanes due to an extreme blizzard messing up travel plans , standing in line for at least 6 hours getting re-routed ,and  a bonus one day stop-over in San Francisco , all while lugging around a massive suitcase containing all my worldly possessions that were chosen to make the trip to China. I started out a student in Tianjin and now I find myself teaching at a private kindergarten after working with private weekend centers and being contracted out to various public schools scattered around Shanghai.

During this time period I’ve made it to Beijing, Qingdao , Xi’an , Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Taiyuan, Pingyao , Tianjin , Kunming , Dali, Lijiang,and Shangri-la. I’ve hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge , climbed two holy mountains (Taishan and Huangshan) , wandered amongst the sand dunes in the edges of the Gobi desert , puked and shat my brains out while in a hostel bathroom for 10 hours  after bad food in Sichuan,slept in a Mongolian yurt in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia , made many trips to the Great Wall , been fed mass amounts of baijiu and food by middle-aged Chinese dudes on an overnight train, hosted my amazing friends Lindsay , Will , and Amanda. Played tour guide to my family , gazed over Shanghai from the 101th floor observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center , and eaten soooo many amazing foods as well as strange foods ( donkey , dog, duck blood and intestine soup , and pig brains are some the ones that come to mind immediately). Now all this is only in China!

I’ve gotten out of the country three times , and I have spent 1 month in the Philippines, 2 weeks in Laos , and 2 weeks in Cambodia. I’ve managed to chill in mountain villages of the Philippines , eaten a meal of fish and dog with 2 Laotians and my Korean friend Mr.Kim , floated in the South China sea along the paradise of Sugar Beach, strolled through the colonial streets of Luang Prabang , stood dumbstruck with awe amidst the ruins of Angkor Wat, and swam in the Gulf of Thailand with a bunch of bioluminescent algae. Along the way I’ve consumed countless Tsingtaos, Red Horses, and BeerLaos.

The future is looking good with plans to extensively cover Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces on weekend trips from Shanghai , a trip to Taiwan next Golden week, wanting to visit Harbin for the Ice Festival next winter and a move to a new apartment in Xuhui district coming up. I’m going to get my Chinese drivers license this year and I’m eyeing an nice digital SLR camera to get some nice photos and planning on signing up for MatadorU’s writing course. I’m waiting (like always) for the next paycheck and spring to finally break through the rainy gray Shanghai winterscape.

Crazily enough these two years have been entirely in Asia. Hard to believe but I have not made it back to the States in two years.Two years of being in places where English is not the main language. I miss everyone at home but I’m sure you guys are used to my absence by now. I ain’t coming back for a while yet, the earliest would be July 2013 for a trip to the DMV to renew my drivers license. So mark your calendars!

Now I’m off through yet another rainy Shanghai evening (it’s been almost 2 consecutive weeks of daily rain) however, today is the first thunderstorm day (woo hoo!)  to meet my girl and eat some frickin’ good frog legs. Keep it real everyone! Love from Asia!