Beijing’s got grit.

Beijing-forbidden city from above

The thing about Beijing that struck me the most was how gritty it all was. Gritty to the point that you could taste it when you walked outside. There’s a constant layer of dust that settles in to your mouth with each breath.

I don’t say this to disparage Beijing in any way. It’s a fine city, with lots of interesting sights and interesting things.

Standing on top of the hill in Jinghshan park, behind the mighty Palace Museum, we could see the Forbidden City stretched out before us in all its ancient magnificence. The sparkling new skyscrapers of modern Beijing were all but lost in a grey haze. The buildings where we were, at least, were lower than expected. The city seemed to stretch out for miles, perhaps into infinity, before disappearing into the haze.

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Hue, Vietnam is tragically underrated.

We met a tour guide in Hoi An, Vietnam who was born and raised in the nearby city of Hue. We told him we were staying there for two nights. He frowned at us.


“Most people spend four hours in Hue,” he said. “Even a full day is too long.”

This seemed to be the sentiment of most of the fellow travelers we met in our hostel. The consensus was that Hue was fine, but really just a pit stop on the road to the bigger and better attractions of Da Nang and Hoi An. It might be the most underrated place I’ve ever been to.

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Tīng Bù Dǒng – I Don’t Understand

Neon lights of Chinese characters in Shanghai, also a McDonald's sign

What has been the most difficult thing about moving to China?

Culture shock is a real thing, of course. Every culture has its own quirks that take some getting used to. In China, people spit on the street. Sometimes kids will poop on the street. They have squat toilets. People shove in the subway. They eat frogs.

Sure, these are all different, unusual, maybe even weird to someone coming from the West. Fundamentally, though, they are all superficial. I have been pleasantly surprised with how quickly I’ve grown accustomed to all those things.

You ignore the spitting. You laugh at the kid pooping. You build up your thigh muscles for squatting, and you learn to either shove along with everyone else. Or else find the toughest old lady you can and follow her. Oh, and frog meat is actually pretty tasty.

None of those things, or any of the other superficial cultural differences, are really that difficult to adjust to if you’re able to keep an open mind.

The biggest difficulty is by far the language barrier.

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China Nice

a carved chinese dragon in a yellow wall

Many years ago I used to work in the meat department of a grocery store. I’d stand behind a counter for eight hours a day serving free-range beef and organic skinless boneless chicken breasts to Minneapolis, Minnesota’s more well off customers. I’m not particularly into meat or serving customers, but it was a job and it was a fine job for the time I did it.

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Linhai and the Pretty Good Wall of China

Linhai is a small city that seems to be off the radar of most Westerners. It’s a mere three hours on the fast train outside of Shanghai, between Ningbo and Taizhou. The summer rainy season left the surrounding mountains full of bright vibrant emerald green that stood out against the grey sky. So much green, that parts of the hike around Linhai’s wall felt like some sort of fairy tale wonderland.

Linhai's wall goes down the mountainside with the city, river and mountains in the background.
It’s the Pretty Good Wall of China.

The wall is probably your best reason for visiting Linhai. It’s not exactly The Great Wall of China, but it is a great wall in China. A pretty good wall, anyway. It was built around the same time as the actual Great Wall and supposedly shared an engineer. If you’re the dishonest type, you could probably just post pictures of Linhai’s wall on Instagram and your family and friends back home likely wouldn’t know the difference.

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Hong Kong: the Human Race in Concrete

Humanity piled on top of humanity. Stacks of human beings in concrete towers, some of which look like they’re on the verge of collapse.

There is a bright and shiny Hong Kong. This is the Hong Kong that most people think of. Glitzy glass towers where billions of dollars are traded back and forth in English and Mandarin. There are so many guys in suits there. Expensive suits with expensive women tugging the sleeves.

A red sailed boat in front of the Hong Kong skyline.
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