Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: Chinese Hotpot

We arrived in Chengdu late after our border run from Kunming to Hong Kong to renew our visas.  The only restaurant open was packed with young local people but, as usual, was without an English menu.  We sat down anyways and Tracy pointed in our phrase book for vegetarian which resulted in a laugh from the waitress.  She in turn pointed at chicken and fish.  We saw the fish heads and scales as we entered the restaurant and didn’t want that in our pot so we shrugged our shoulders and ordered chicken thinking how bad could it be?  What came out of the kitchen was a cold hotpot, a concoction of lukewarm spicy broth with bits of chicken floating in it.  We stirred our chopsticks around and the first thing Jason came up with was the chicken’s head!  I swirled my chopsticks around and came up with a foot.  We sighed, ordered another beer and resigned ourselves to going to bed hungry…


For those of you that are curious we asked at our (English speaking – YAY!) hostel and they confirmed that we went to a “different” kind of hotpot restaurant and that it shouldn’t keep us from trying Chengdu’s traditional hotpot which really is a delicious spicy concoction with vegetables and meats (it really is, I LOVE those SICHUAN peppercorns)! 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our Friends and Family!

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Another crazy year in the Bedsaul household has come and gone and what a ride it was! From the frozen tundra of the upper Midwest to the stifling heat of southern India, we wrapped up what ended up being our two year world tour by visiting the two most populated nations in China and India with Myanmar (Burma) thrown in for good measure.
We began the year in North Dakota making it to the annual fishing tournament in Devils Lake before hopping on a plane headed for Asia once again where we promptly landed without luggage (a problem which was rectified a day and a half later but what a start).
First on the list was Myanmar. For the past 40 years the country has been controlled by a military junta and little progress, economic or technological has been made in that time. It’s a nation stuck in the past. British Colonial buildings dot the cities in various degrees of crumbling beauty, American WWII transport trucks serve as buses shuttling people to and fro and electricity is a luxury not to be taken for granted as it disappears for hours at a time. Tourism in Myanmar has been severely restricted and travel there is tough but extremely rewarding with some of the world’s friendliest people.
Our next stop was India, home of the Taj Mahal and two of the world’s largest religions – Hinduism and Buddhism. We started in the north and made our way south taking in all of what India had to offer for better or worse. India is a land of extremes as there seems to be a huge line between the haves and the have not’s. By the time we reached the south of India, we had had enough of the heat, the poverty and the attitudes. We were ready to leave. But as the old adage goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and of all the places we have been, India ranks near the top of places we would revisit. We love to hate it but can’t wait to go back.
Leaving the sweltering heat behind, we moved on to our final country, China with quick stops in Hong Kong and Macau along the way. A nation that is clearly on the upswing, China proved to be one of the hardest countries to travel independently around. English is virtually nonexistent and the accommodations, in particular the bathroom situation, were among the worst in the world. The varied ethnic minority groups and stunning scenery made it all worthwhile but by the time we made it to Beijing we were ready for a dose of clean, more westernized China before heading back to the states to begin the starting over phase.
Our travels have been put on hold while we both explore new and exciting opportunities. Tracy is now a partner in a translation company which she manages from the comfort of home. Jason has returned to college at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake. He hopes to receive his AA in Accounting and then continue on to get his Bachelors in Web Development at NDSU. Ty and Athena have adjusted well to the extremes of North Dakota, although Ty makes his trips outside far shorter in the winter than summer!
We hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits. May you and yours have a joyous holiday season and best of luck in 2011!
Tracy, Jason, Ty and Athena

Monday, December 20, 2010

Strike up the Band and Welcome to the Show! Langde, China (Guizhou Province)

Continuing on our tour of the ethnic countryside surrounding Kaili we next head to Langde. While most of the Miao villages are quite similar in architecture and landscape, they each have their own unique personalities and characters. The government, in their constant pursuit of capitalizing on the growing number of internal domestic tourists, treat many of these villages as new mints, increasing the nations coffers at the expense of the local villagers and their traditional ways of life. It’s a story that is oft repeated in modern day China, but I don’t think there was a place that was more in your face that what we experienced in Langde.



We boarded the local bus with the usual cast of characters – chain smoking farmers, produce toting old ladies and the token fellow independent traveller (in this case a Frenchman) all driven by the chain smoking driver. . . did we mention that they smoke a lot here?

DSC_3468_thumb2 Upon arrival we were greeted by a gaggle of men guarding the public bathrooms who smiled and waived as we set out and began exploring the village. At first the village seemed deserted. No one was in sight. Aside from the half a dozen men guarding the restrooms, the place was a deserted. But that in itself was not such a bad thing. The peaceful silence was a welcome respite and wandering the cobblestone streets without hassle or bustle was nice.


Peaceful silence can only last so long in two people’s lives and after a half hour or so we began to think the place was a bust. We came to the conclusion that everyone must be out in the fields hard at work and that we had just came at the wrong time. We weighed our options and began to think about when that next bus would be heading back to Kaili. As we wandered back to the entrance of the village our silence was broken by a scratchy voice coming over the loud speaker. . .wait the village has loud speakers?


Having spent some time in China’s neighbor to the south, Vietnam, we knew a thing or two about Communist countries and how much they love to broadcast propaganda. The ‘Voice of Vietnam’ can still be heard today in smaller villages across the country, bringing the news and stories of the world, only with a slanted twist in favor of Vietnam. Knowing none of the languages being spoken, we just assumed it was the Big Red machine hard at work. A few moments later, the voice bellowed out once again. As if on queue, glimpses of villagers dressed in full regalia began to flash down the alleys.  The voice came again, this time more hurried and anxious. This was something more than just propaganda. . . this was a call to action.



The town square filled with young and old, men and women, crippled and able bodied. They came from all corners of the village and beyond. Doors previously barred and closed, swung open to reveal shops.

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Babies with slit pants shared the square with fully adorned Mao women donning celebratory attire and headdresses.

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Another call goes over the loud speaker and we finally realize the voice is coming from this very same square and that the man making the announcements is directing people sit here, stand there and line up over there. Still not 100% sure what’s going on, we decide to sit on the ledge out of the way and wait to see happens.


The band strikes up and a few moments later, streaming in from one side came the point-and-shoot wielding, khaki’s shorts and goofy hat bearing tour group. Ah, now it all makes sense. The icing on the cake came in what I like to refer to as a “Funny Farm Moment.” (A couple think they have purchased their dream home until the townspeople show their true colors. In an effort to sell the house, the couple pay off the town to act ‘normal’ for a day.) Little coupons were divvied out to those that participated in the charade and there even appeared to be multiple levels. If you showed up in dress, you got a little coupon; if you sang and danced, you were given a different colored coupon. 


Authentic no longer, the show was still interesting as we were able to hear traditional songs, see traditional dances and dress all without having to fork out any money. 


Sure it was a little fake, but hey, it was fun and entertaining anyways.



After the show, we walked back though the gorgeous valley a couple of kilometers to the main highway to catch the public bus back to Kaili. Langde may be somewhat tainted in our minds by the show put on by the government, but in China, land of kitsch, it somehow just seems to make sense.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Old Made to Look New: Picture perfect in Xijiang, China (Guizhou Province)


Xijiang has been bulldozed by the Chinese government and rebuilt with beautiful brand new buildings built in the typical Miao-style.  You see this all around China, in particular in minority regions that cater to China’s vast domestic tourist market.  It’s the appeal of the old, but spic and span (at least on the outside) and made to look shiny and new.  For us, we prefer a more realistic look, though I won’t argue that the results were stunning!  It’s a bit of a warped combination, these picture perfect buildings that represent reality as much as the McMansions back home…   

It was a rainy day so we didn’t spend much time in Xijiang.  We went for the market and since in our opinion, that is the “real” Xijiang, that is what we’ll  show you (after the first and only required touristy photo op – I could not resist paying a buck to don the traditional Miao attire). 


I was pretty excited when the bus dropped us off at the top of the hill and I saw this guy cruising by on his motorbike!  What is that animal?  Where is he taking him?  Will we see him for sale in the market below?


We never did find out what it was and we didn’t see him in the market but as we made our way down through the traditional Miao style buildings we finally crossed the river and found the traditional market!




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We did more people watching than shopping which is how we like it!  We both love to watch the men sewing (gender roles in relation to occupation are often flipped here) as well as the Chinese barbers in action.  They set up for every market, sometimes in the middle of the road, sometimes down by the river, really anywhere!  But they are always around.  I wonder what they charge?  We should have found out.  Note to self…find out before springing for next $40 haircut (yeah right).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: The Citified Rice Terrace – Dali, China (Yunnan Province

Rice terraces are everywhere in China, in the flat countryside, the mountainous regions and even right outside the city!