Kunming confessions

I’ve been traveling alone in Yunnan province in southwestern China for the past couple of days, which has forced me to speak Chinese pretty much wherever I go.

I’ve made big strides after two years of Chinese lessons, and I’m slowly trying to come out of my shell and be more chatty. This morning, the cab driver who picked me up from the airport in the city of Dali was quite a character. Continue reading

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Not-so-easy rider

There are days that I wake up and can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.

I think about what I did last night and shake my head. I never thought I’d turn into one of them. The unnecessary risks. The disregard for other people. I’m ashamed of what I’ve become. And yet, when the weekend comes and I inevitably get that itch for a cheap thrill, I’m sure I’ll just do it again.

It’s in my DNA now. I’m a biker. Continue reading

Sweating in style

In the summer of 2010, while taking a stroll around Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, I saw dozens of couples posing for wedding pictures. The skies were clear, and it was sweltering hot. I’m guessing it was around 95 degrees. The men were sweating through their tuxedos, and the women were having trouble keeping their hairdos in place. Continue reading

What, there are traffic laws here?

When I went home to the United States last summer, I couldn’t wait to drive. I don’t own a car in Beijing, and it had been more than a year since I’d been behind the wheel.

I missed that free feeling of an open highway, stereo up and windows down, the smells of summer whipping your face on a moonlit drive through the country. I missed the ability to go anywhere I wanted, at any time of the day, without having to hail a taxi or cram into a subway full of sweaty young men with no sense of personal space. Continue reading

This language is bleatable

Arriving in China for the first time without having ever studied the language is a bit like being shot out of the womb. You can’t speak or read signs, so you’re forced to point and use body language to interact with this strange, new world.

The first time I hailed a taxi in Beijing, I must have reeked of that fresh off the boat smell because the driver immediately began peppering me with questions. He didn’t speak English, and I only understood three Chinese expressions, ni hao (你好, hello) xie xie (谢谢, thank you) and dui (对, correct).

When we came to a red light, he drew the letters U-S-A on the steering wheel and raised his hand, extending his fingers horizontally so his palm was flat like a duck bill. He moved his hand toward me, making a “whiiissshhh” sound as it cut through the air. Continue reading