Balancing Act

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Major intersection in Beijing, after a snowfall

I still think about China sometimes… the friends I made there, what living in Beijing is like… how they can be so happy in such a crowded, busy place! How they can find time to think or have any serenity! They do it, though… not sure if I could!

Life is such a balancing act, isn’t it? I need enough sleep, but not too much. Enough food, but not too much. I definitely need more exercise, and I don’t think I’m in danger of getting too much, but some people are! A little caffeine is great, but some days, coffee makes me jittery. A little sugar is okay… some vitamins… enough free time, enough work…

What about my mental state? I’ve realized that it’s okay if I’m not happy all the time, but I wouldn’t want to be down and out very often either. A person has to think about money sometimes, but if you start to obsess, that’s going to skew your perspective. I like to be positive, but also a bit skeptical of what I hear — it’s easy to go too far and end up a nervous basket case (which sounds so much better than “paranoid freak,” don’t you think?). I don’t even believe the news on TV, because I think it’s usually over-summarized and often has a slant to it. Finding the balance between taking some things seriously and others with a grain of salt is tricky.

Life naturally has good days and bad, happy and sad, easy and hard, and if it didn’t, it would be like living in a monotone world. I think we all naturally need these contrasts; if you’re dissatisfied with your life, perhaps you have too much of something?
You could be stressed because of too much instability, or bored from too much security. It’s good to avoid certain extremes:

Too much instability Too much security
Too much routine Too much adventure
Too much stuff Too much nothing
Too much money Too much debt
Too much work Too much down time
Too much busyness Too much laziness
Too much loneliness Too much togetherness
Too much freedom Too much religion (or too many social expectations)

Look at the table above — what areas do you immediately relate to? If you think to yourself “well, I certainly don’t have too much adventure” then it’s possible you have too much routine. A balance of both makes for an interesting life! Maybe you immediately realize you have too much stuff… have you thought of getting more nothing? Giving things away, and not buying things you really don’t need? If you recognize you have too much of something, rather than simply decreasing it, try increasing whatever’s in the adjacent column. If you realize you don’t have enough of something, try decreasing whatever’s in the adjacent column.

Also, we all need beauty and creativity in our lives! Make sure you have a creative outlet, whether it’s creative cooking, building, a hobby, music or art.

That’s all for now! Okay, one more China pic!

Nope, it's not daytime. That's a huge LED screen! It's showing dolphins jumping out of the ocean, but it also plays a few other videos, like a space voyage! Wow!


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I’ve been back from China for about 6 days now, and although the jet lag is over, the desire to share all I experienced lingers strongly. It’s hard to get a handle on it, and put words to the many things I saw. I should have kept a diary — it’s quite a blur now, and I’m afraid I’m forgetting some impressions and insights already. Looking at the photos is bringing some things back, though!

Intricate crafstmanship on anything ancient; this is a fountain in the courtyard at the Lama Temple.

Land of Paradoxes
Beijing struck me as a city of paradoxes: modern alongside ancient, narrow back streets leading to wide, fast-flowing freeways, thousands of bicycles and a few double-decked buses, modern, fashionable people and wrinkly elders, wonderfully fresh food and plastic packaging, skyscrapers and little green parks, miles and miles of hedges along the highway meridians. The only thing with no paradox is people everywhere! There are people performing jobs that we would never think of in Canada, such as bathroom attendant and freeway-edge landscapers, and a lot more garbage-pickers than we have. It seems to me that the combination of the communist government and huge population means that they can get an awful lot done in a short period of time — like building a subway — by mobilizing all those people.

Communism and capitalism collide in China. Or perhaps I should say “co-exist.” While the government is communist, which involves controlling the people and industry, the country is also capitalist. It’s kind of strange. Or not… there are glossy shopping centres, malls, restaurants, you-name-it, just like you might see in any city in North America. The air quality is very poor; reports from before the Olympics were not exaggerated. The picture above shows the International Terminal building, just before our plane landed, and the sky was orange. Not to be judgmental; The biggest Canadian cities, with one-fifth the number of people living in them, have their share of smog too โ€“ only everyone in Beijing calls it “fog.” There’s no question it’s not fog โ€“ the relative humidity was nowhere near 100%. And there was a yellow dust on all the parked cars in the mornings!

I mentioned the subway… here’s a picture of the new subway, built for the

New Beijing subway

Olympics. It’s pretty snazzy, with glass all along the subway tunnel, to prevent people from jumping (or falling) in front of the train. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, they didn’t account for the crowds and pushing, because people have died when they were pushed so much and caught between those double-doors. Both sets close, train starts moving… it’s not pretty. I thought maybe they had sensors installed so the train couldn’t move if there was anyone trapped, but our Beijing friends said nope, they didn’t think of that. Or maybe just thought it would never happen. There was one occasion when we were the last people to try and squish on a train, so we decided to wait for the next one. It was equally crowded, but at least we were first to get on.

In addition to parking lots for cars, there were bicycle parking areas too! I didn’t see any underground parkades, nor did I see any above ground parkades. I guess they don’t need them yet; owning a vehicle is expensive, and the average person simply can’t afford one. Foreigners with good jobs probably could, but then they’d have to get a Beijing driver’s license… a daunting thought! Lots of people take cabs, public transit, walk or ride bicycles, or a variation on a bicycle! I saw quite a few converted into a cart with lots of cargo tied on, and I also saw strange three-wheeled trucks, with one in the front and two and an almost-normal box in the back. Narrower, maybe. There were a few different mini-vans, some narrower than ours, and not even one single pick-up truck. ๐Ÿ™‚

View from the 23rd floor, towards a shopping centre

Sights, Smells and Sounds

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What a whirlwind trip we are having! I can’t believe it’s Wednesday already, with only 2 full days of travel left! We haven’t seen the Great Wall yet, but we’ve seen the “Great Firewall!” Yes, many webpages, blogs, Facebook and YouTube are blocked in China. I guess the government doesn’t like the content, so they have somehow blocked all people from accessing these pages anywhere in China (we, of course, have a way around it). Don’t tell anyone, k? ๐Ÿ™‚

So, we couldn’t go to the Great Wall the other day because the highway we wanted to take to get to that section of the Wall was closed, due to limited visibility due to “fog.” This is what people call the smog, because it makes them feel better. But, it didn’t seem like the air was moist, like it is with fog, but with a healthy temperature inversion, the pollution was staying close to the ground and bringing the visibility down. I would say the visibility was about a mile for a couple of days, maybe a little less (and have I mentioned I have training in weather observation?). So, we went to a tailor on Saturday instead, and ordered some clothing to be made — I am very excited! I am having a Chinese dress made, and a shirt, and Darren is getting a shirt and a “zoot suit.” Zoot suits are what serious swing-dancers wear — it is going to be great! Yesterday we went for our first fitting of the clothing, and saw some beautiful dress coats made of wool and cashmere, so we decided to order coats as well! Somewhere, there is a small group of ladies sewing madly for us, so we can pick it all up on Friday. I have to go back tomorrow for a second fitting, but Darren should be good to go. What an opportunity for us to have hand-made tailored clothes, really great quality, made by a friend of a friend! ๐Ÿ™‚

What else have we done? We went to the Ancient Observatory, which was neat. It was a collection of metal instruments on top of a huge stone structure, which was actually a part of the original city wall, and some stone and metal sundials on the ground, in a little park. There were some indoor displays, which we enjoyed thoroughly due to them being inside heated buildings! It was a cold day, and we were starting to be pretty chilled. It’s been quite cool here (-6 C to +17 C on the hottest day) and if I don’t wear my long johns, it’s pretty chilly — especially now, since the inversion is gone, it’s clear and cool (but the cleaner air is worth it).

Beijing is a funny place, in many ways! Some areas are completely modern, western, and familiar: Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, shopping centres with all the typical stores (although I don’t necessarily recognize the chains, as many are European), shiny glass buildings, skyscrapers, subways, cars, buses, etc. I saw a double-decker transit bus yesterday — pretty crazy! I’ve been squeezed into subway cars, when I thought it was full and then 6 more people got on! It’s crowded a lot in places like subways and busy streets with shopping nearby, but I’ve also walked down quiet back streets with very few people. There are taxis everywhere! I don’t think we’ve ever waited more than 5 minutes to catch one. The taxi drivers are not very talkative, but some say “bye bye” when we get out. Darren can speak a bit of Chinese, enough to hold a simple conversation, give the taxi driver directions, or talk to the seamstress or whatever. The traffic here is nuts (it reminds me of Montreal, only worse!) and the taxi drivers are right in there making it worse! Gads. Lanes are a suggestion, and for some drivers, speed limits a dare. Pedestrians are everywhere, crossing against the light all the time, standing between lanes, dodging cars, leaping in front or behind, it’s madness! One time, we went through a tunnel of people, standing 3 or 4 deep along both sides of the curved lane we were turning left in, leaning in to see when the traffic would end and they could continue across. It’s tricky to stay together, yet it’s dangerous to hold hands in case one person needs to leap out of the way!

I promised to tell you about the toilets. Sheesh! Most are not “sit-down” toilets like we are used to. They are squatting toilets, which means a shallow ceramic bowl set into the floor, which you put one foot on each side of and then squat down and do what you have to do. I don’t like them. I can do it if I can’t find a sitting toilet, but I don’t like it. The bathrooms are pretty smelly too, especially the men’s (which I can smell when I walk by) — I guess they can’t aim very well! (They have ordinary urinals as well as the squatting toilets.) The only good thing is that no skin touches anything.

That’s all for now… Sorry for the picture-less blogs, I’ll do some photo blogs once I get home. I’ll write more later, when I have time!

The Big Far East Adventure

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Except it’s actually west… A long way west… We are going to China! ๐Ÿ™‚ We leave tomorrow, and I am uber-excited about what we will see and do while there. I will try and get on the net while I’m there and blog, but if not, expect a torrent of blogs later on in November! I am planning on taking several hundred pictures — I can’t wait! The weather’s cool there, maybe even snowy, but nothing compared to here, I expect. I have packed lots of sweaters and fleece so I am not cold while I am doing all sorts of fun, touristy things. Food! Amazing, unique food! The great wall! I mean, the Great Wall (with capital letters, you know)! I am so excited!
But for now, a little nap, hopefully my stomach will settle down (it’s queasy again), and then packing and hitting the road! Woo hoo!