Monday, November 2, 2009


Due to the restrictions of internet in China, this was intended to have been posted on October 27th.

We have officially moved!

Well after exactly three years at Getting Glenergized and a few short, neglected months at Backpackers Soul, the time has come to bid adieu. As of this post both sites are officially closed. Before you start to plan their respective eulogies, know that their hearts will go on in a new cyber-location. As of right now I'd like to officially announce the formation of my new on-line opinion platform, the easy to remember Glen Thoughts.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Excuses, Excuses

Greetings all, it sure has been a while, hasn't it?

If you don't like those blog posts where people give a random list of excuses as to why they post then this one is not for you, because boy oh boy is this ever going to be one of those posts.

My reasons for not updating are multiple-fold.

For starters, new school year = busy. It's true, it's damn true. No way around it.

Secondly, I had the good fortune of spending last weekend in Bangkok for a conference. I was able to get some training in MYP, which was beyond helpful. If any of you have been teachers, you will know just how much work it is to not be somewhere, as odd as that may be.

Lastly, I just found out on Friday that I have officially been promoted. I'm going to be the Math Department Subject Leader. Not too shabby eh? Anyway, that has already started to eat up a great deal of my time and will continue to.

Also, after I wrote my last post I e-mailed it to myself, but deleted it by accident, I lost my USB, my parents wouldn't let me use the computer, and my dog ate it.

Safe journeys,


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Xinjiang, Xinjiang

Way back in May I had the absolute pleasure of heading to China's Western Frontier, Xinjiang Province. It was simply a breath-taking experience. I got to see pristine mountains, vast seas of desert, and bargain for goods in several different languages.

The main reason that I have not made a post about it here, is because I had the chance to make a post for it elsewhere. I had the chance to write about my experiences on a very popular and excellent China Travel website. If you are at all interested in reading about my experiences in a very unique setting, then give it a read.

Now I was very lucky to go to Xinjiang in May, as opposed to July. As many of you know, there were a series of riots in Urumqi by the Uighurs against the Han Chinese. Since then the province has been more or less on lockdown, and the tourism industry has slowed down. While it is apparently safe at this point, there are still a wide range of restrictions including a complete blackout of the internet and international phone calls.

A fantastic blog worth following about Xinjiang is, ran by Josh Summers, an expat living in the province. While he is understandably blogging less than usual at this point he made an excellent post entitled “Urumqi: A Week After the Riots” were he describes a visit to "Ground Zero" for the riots. Powerful, powerful stuff there.

So if any of you are interested in heading out that way, I would HIGHLY recommend it. It is one of my favourite trips that I have ever made (remember, you can read what my thoughts here). But as always, be sure to stay informed of the political situation.

Safe journeys,


Friday, July 31, 2009

Notes from a Very Busy Summer

Greetings fellow nomads,

It certainly has been a while since I have been able to type anything of substance anywhere. Things have been rather busy for me the month or so since my last post. In an effort to get caught up here is a rough list of what I've been up to.

July 5: Fly from Shanghai to Toronto. I slept maybe 2 hours on the 14 hour flight, it left at around 5pm in Shanghai and landed at around 7pm in Toronto on the same day. Time zones are a killer. Last year I did a journal post on a 14 hour flight, if you are interested in understanding the joy of that experience give err a read.

July 6 - 12: Slept at very odd times throughout the days. Visited family and friends. Good times had by all.

July 13: Flew to New York City to visit Elvina. It is simply an astonishing place. I honestly can't recommend New York City enough to anyone out there. I thought that I would be indifferent to it as I have been to other major modern cities, but I noticed something special about it. After some reflection I realized that New York is special because it is the big modern city that all others try to emulate and pay tribute to, with varying degrees of success. Highlights of the trip included The Ellis Island Immigration Museum, Central Park, Times Square, and The Statue of Liberty. I thought that the latter would be cheesy, but it was simply breathtaking. Here are a few sample pics which will get uploaded to The Book and Flickr soon enough.

July 17: Return home with Elvina for a few days. Family related business ensued.

July 28: After saying goodbye to many of my family members and friends (including a jaunt up to my camp for a few day visit) I head back to the Orient. While three weeks sounded like a long time in the planning, it certainly was not in practice. I feel like I hardly saw anyone at all in my travels. My utmost apologies to the many of my friends that I missed.

July 29: Land in Shanghai after yet another 14 hour flight where I slept very little. Spend the evening in Shanghai and try to sleep on a couch, fail drastically.

July 30: Hop on a plan headed towards Xining, in Qinghai province. As the plan begins to board the rain begins to fall with a great deal of vigour. An announcement comes on that says that the plan is delayed for two hours on the runway. I eventually fall asleep despite all of the very loud chatter. Four hours later we take off.

Now I am spending the next few weeks traveling around a bit more of China. I am going to be in Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces over the next few weeks spending my time at monastaries, pand reserves, and eating some very spicey food. Needless to say, I am excited for it.

My first full day in Xining was yesterday and I went to Ta'er Si, a nearby Tibetan Monastery. While it was full of loud, obnoxious tour groups who routinely took pictures in areas they were not supposed to, and were very loud in quiet parts, it was still very beautiful. I could not help but think that they were there to test my resolve as I struggled for enlightenment. Here are a few snaps.

Expect more to come in the near(ish) future.

Safe journeys,


Friday, July 3, 2009

The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Expats

Here we have another post that I put on Lost Lao Wai a little while ago, it has generated a rather lengthy debate which should be worth checking out if you are interested in.


We’ve all seen them, and chances are we’ve all been them at one point or another. A quick walk to the nearest Starbucks or Metro in China, and you will notice that expats come in all shapes, sizes, and dispositions. In general, most of the laowais living here in the Middle Kingdom are fantastic people trying to make the most of their experiences. However, we all have our down points.

I have noticed in strangers, friends, and yes, even myself, seven habits that I think make you a very ineffective expat. My rookie year in China is nearing a close, so I plan on making a New Year’s resolution of sorts to break these bad habits that I know I have, and I sure to not be alone in them.

Habit #1

“It’s not like this back home”
“In [insert home country back home] it’s like….”

If you’ve never heard this whine then you must not be talking to many foreigners, and if you’ve never said this then you must not talk to anyone period. For a number of people nothing here can ever be as good as it is back home, wherever that may be.

Obviously, the coffee here is not going to be as good as it is in the West. Clearly the Chinese are not experts at making hamburgers and french fries. The public transport is very clearly going to be much, much more crowded here than back home. Yes, the streets are probably dirtier here than a street in the suburbs.

These are the charms that keep China interesting, and very different from home. You will not be able to get a cup of tea back home like you can here, no Western chain will be able to satisfy your fried rice cravings, and just where are you going to spit when you have to back home?

I will never claim to be innocent of this ugly habit, but there has to be a time and place where you need to accept China for what it is, a wildly different place. While some things are better at home, there are definitely things that are better here. It is important to try to keep that in context, especially when you are experiencing the worst this nation has to offer.

Habit #2
Counting Down

“Thank God, only six more months until I go home!”
“What’s the point in learning the language if I’ll only be here for two years?”

It’s very natural to be excited to get home (only thirteen days for me!!!!), but that excitement should really not consume you. Being obsessed with going home is a logical extension of Habit #1.

There are always going to be great things to look forward to in the future, but if you take a look around there are probably some pretty great things to look forward to right now.

Rarely is it ever healthy to live for the future, as it often lets your present fly by.

Habit #3
Getting Stuck in a Rut

“Let’s meet at the usual Starbucks”
“It’s [Insert Day of the week] are you going to [Insert usual location for said day of the week]“

Ready to go out for dinner? Well be sure to go to the same place you went to last week since you know the food is “safe”. Of course, the fact that the staff speak English helps since you are in the mood for an “easy” dinner experience. Afterward be sure to go to the nearby Starbucks for the taste of home. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up some groceries from the nearby market to pick up some peanut butter and Western cereal.

Sounds familiar? Lord knows it has for me on many, many nights.

Humans are by our very nature creatures of habit. However, it is really, really easy to go too far on that one, especially when you live in a foreign country. While there is certainly no harm in a little routine and structure, there is certainly a line to be drawn. If you’re not careful you’ll end up in the same habits that you were trying to escape from back home.

Habit #4
Obsessive Traveling

“I have three days off, I think I’ll head to Thailand”
“I’ve seen all of China, time to explore a new country”

Oh lord am I ever guilty of this one.

Part of the joy of living in China is the proximity to such dream destinations as Thailand and Cambodia. This coupled with the frequent holidays often afforded to expats seems to lead to a mass exodus of the country whenever there is any sort of break.

I was very, very guilty of this one during my first six months in the country. I was lucky enough to have a week off in October, two weeks off at Christmas, and two weeks off for the Lunar New Year (I’m a teacher what can I say?) during those five total weeks I went to Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, with a brief stop-over in Hong Kong for one of those trips. That’s right, with five weeks off I spent no time in Mainland China. Granted, I had previously visited the “main sites” such as Beijing, Xi’an, and Guilin, but clearly it is not right to say that I have done China.

This is definitely the attitude of several people who have been here, even for a short amount of time. However, upon even an ounce of reflection, you should realize that of all countries in the world China is probably the most difficult to fully do. China has the largest population in the world, the third or fourth largest land area (depending on who you ask), and the longest uninterrupted history (depending on who you ask) making it a very hard place to fully see, and an even harder place to understand. If someone has only been to New York and Washington, they would never be able to rightly claim to say that they have seen all of the United States, so why is it ok to make that claim after you have seen Beijing and Xi’an?

By all means use your time to travel, and makes those trips to some of the fantastic places Asia has to offer, but don’t forget the one that you live in. It’s certainly worth looking at.

In case you are curious, I spent my most recent holiday in Xinjiang and plan to go to Sichuan and Yunnan during the summer, lessons learned.

Habit #5
Increased Alcohol Consumption

“A litre of beer costs less than a dollar!”
“Liange pijiu”

Clearly the most dangerous of the seven habits listed here. Given the incredibly low prices on alcohol, coupled with the equally low existence of liquor laws can lead to an increased consumption of alcohol.

To make matters worse is the problem of boredom. In a recent edition of Business Week, they ranked the 20 Worst Places to Work, and 5 cities in China were on the list, including my current location. On all five Chinese cities one of the concerns listed was a lack of cultural and recreational facilities. Regardless of whether you feel that the report was accurate or not, this shows that there is at least the perception that there is nothing to do as an expat in China. If people have nothing to do, or feel that they have nothing to do, then alcohol becomes an obvious source of recreation.

The consequences of this can be too vast to mention on a site like this, if you know anyone who is abusing alcohol please, please seek help from someone more qualified as anyone on this blog.

On a lighter side, I personally have not come anywhere close to having to make 12 difficult steps, but having additional beers with dinner has certainly increased my waist line far more than would be ideal.

Habit #6

“Don’t worry about spilling anything, the ayi will clean it”
“I don’t cook anymore, eating out is so cheap”

It’s pretty easy to see just how cheap China is.

It’s also easy to see that so many expat packages include accommodation, annual airfare, and health care. This leaves your money to be, well your money.

It’s also pretty easy to see that there are so many inexpensive luxuries ranging from ayis to cheap DVDs to delivery on anything to spend some of your disposable income.

What’s difficult is knowing when and where to stop. Life here can get very infantile if you have someone clean up for you, deliver your food for you, and you can get whatever you want by pointing at it. In many ways living in China can be like being five years old all over again.

While this is part of the attraction for a lot of people, I hope that you ask yourself what you think of the people who have that sort of a lifestyle back home.

Habit #7
Know it All

“I understand China”

Compared to some of your family and friends back home you may be an expert on all things Chinese. However, the reality of it is that at the end of the day you are not.

China has a very ancient and idiosyncratic culture, history, and language. These three things and intricately connected, and I think that it is difficult if not impossible to fully understand one of the three without understanding all of them.

So how do you get to understand any of these things? The only idea I can really come up with is trial and error, with a heavy emphasis on the error side of things. It is not very realistic to be able to think that you will be able to fully “get” this country, especially in as short of a time frame as one or two years.

A simple look through the comments and yes even some of the posts (including me, I fully admit) and it is not hard to see the Know-it-Alls out in full force. It is so easy to get caught up in the knowledge of the world that you do earn, but very difficult to know when to put a cap on it. But when it doubt, realize that you probably don’t get it and may never will.

So that just about does it for me, anyone have any ideas for any more habits? Lord knows there are more…


Again, it is well worth looking at the comment section on this one. There has been a lot of intelligent, and a lot of very unintelligent debate posted there. I'll leave it to you to sort through that yourself.

Safe journeys,


Friday, May 29, 2009

Stuff I'm Reading and Writing

This is certainly an interesting time to be in this country right here, and right now. What with the 20th Anniversary of a certain incident at a certain square that may or may not have involved a lot of tanks coming up. Couple that with sabre-rattling in North Korea, rapid development all over the place, and of course those pesky people in the Himalayas that always want human rights, Asia seems to be the place to be right now, and the bloggosphere is keeping it well documented. While I may have been slack at posting on this (and my other) blog, there is no shortage of information out there about Asia. Here are some of my recent favourites that I have read:

Someone I know quite well in real life, Elvina, makes a great post Identity Crisis, which talks all about the challenges of being a Chinese-American while living in China. Needless to say, it's full of all sorts of problems that we may not have expected to begin with.

In that post, Elvina mentions friends complex's having over-zealous guards. Well if you read that friend, Don's, post you will see just how intense the guards can be there. He talks of having a church gathering at his place, and havint the guards come it to see if there were any Chinese people there. This may seem like a strange question, but it has some deep seeded questions about freedom and "foreigner rules" in China. Check out Just Checking Who is Home... on The Arizona Anachronism for more info on that one.

Keeping with people I know, my friend Ryan, also known as thehumanaught, a B-List celebrity in the English language China blogging community, makes a great post about Living Without Trust, where he talks about how difficult it is to find trust in this country. A few months ago, his dog was killed as a result of dog food that went bad, and his new dog got sick, only to have the doctor run a series of expensive tests, when a simple internet search showed that it was nothing to worry about. A frightening read that makes you appreciate some of the wonders of the West.

As I have mentioned a few times, I am also writing for a blog (ran by the same Ryan as above), called Lost Lao Wai. Earlier this week, I read a fanatastic post about a Chinese family and their dirty little secret, liking Japanese food. This is very topical, given the outcry that has came out surrounding the new fim, Nanjing, Nanjing! Read Itadakimasu! by Quincy on Lost Lao Wai.

Now of course, not everythign great is writen by myself, or my friends, there is a lot of other stuff out there. Michael Rines, at the New York Times, did an excellent article called "To Protect an Ancient City, China Moves to Raze It", about the destruction of Kashgar's ancient city. China is starting the demolition of 2/3 of the ancient city, in order to improve it for tourists. As a recent tourist of the region, I am a little torn on that one. On one hand, I hate to see something with so much character destroyed, but on the other hand, I would hate for people to continue living in such sub-standard living. Also, I deeply dislike the thought of having a culture and region get turned into an attraction, but yet I just went there and loved every minute of it...

In an equally debatable post on a vastly different topic, John Pomfret of the Washington Post, makes a great blog entry about the PRC and their strange relationship with everyone's favourite Hermit Kingdom titled "Why China Won't Do More With North Korea". It raises some very interesting perspectives that I certainly had not thought about. It examines China's economic, cultural, and geo-political interests in keeping the Korean Penninsula divided, and it really is a fascinating read that could serve to explain some of the complexities of the Korean issue.

Lastly, I should mention that I have continued to post on Lost Lao Wai, which you can see all of here. Some of these may end up reposted here, but I would encourage people to read them where they are, as the comments are part of the fun (especially for The Bargaining Debate).

Anyway, with that I should be off. I hope that you take the time to enjoy the posts I have highlighted for you, since this is certainly an interesting time to be in this strange, strange continent.

Safe Journeys,


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another Quick Note About China Net

Greetings all,

A little over a month ago, I made a post notifying people about YouTube being blocked (note: it still is). Well it turns out, as of this morning blogger and blogspot have been blocked as well.

You may be asking yourself, "How are you posting then?", and if you weren't, then, surely you need to do a bit of thinking. Well after ranting about it on twitter my friend Ryan (aka thehumanaught) turned me onto a service called Hotspot Shield. For those of you who don't know what it is, it is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which are designed to both keep your network secure, but also to circumvent any firewalls, including the most comprehensive in the world, The Great Firewall of China, which periodically bans like (like YouTube and blogger, and all sorts of other fun stuff).

Hotspot Shield is a free service, and so far, so good. I can access my blog (obviously) and other sites which were previously blocked. It is a free service, so it occasionally throws up ads as either pop-ups or at the top of a window, but it is far from disruptive. If that bothers you too much, there are several more that you can find and pay for.

Either way, I would highly recommend you make use of one of these services....which I realize, that if you are in China then you can't access such a thing, but it could be coming back on later. This is especially important given that a few weeks from now is a certain anniversary of a certain event at a certain square, where nothing important happened...

So expect further delays for anyone trying to access any amount of truth within this interesting nation.

Safe journeys,


For further info on The Great Firewall, check out Wired magazine excellent article on the subject.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Signs You Like in an Expat Encave

And here we have yet another LLW repost, you can see the original (And the multitude of comments) here....enjoy!

"You know how every major city in the West has a China town? Well, I live in the opposite of that"

Yes, I hate to say it, but I am a resident of one of the many laowai ghettos that exist in the major cities all around China. Whenever my family or friends from home ask me about where I am living, I often have to answer with the above statement.

While I make many efforts to go and explore "Real China" as often as I can, I notice far too often that my friends and colleagues appear to be completely ignorant of their surroundings, and consider going to Starbucks to order their double-mocha-latte-something-or-other in English to be a genuine part of their Chinese experience. To assist these people (or anyone else in their situation) I have devised a surefire 25 point checklist to tell if you are not living in a section of "Real" China.

You might be in an Expat Enclave if:

  1. You give your fork back to get chopsticks

  2. You have no place to sate your craving for squid, starfish, or scorpion

  3. You have no desire to take a picture of any of the signs

  4. You have heard it pronounced “Nee Hey-oh”

  5. The Budweiser costs the same as Tsingtao

  6. There are more ads for Chinese Language schools than English ones

  7. Those Nike shoes, are actually Nike shoes

  8. The parks have 5 soccer games going on but only 1 Tai Chi group

  9. You start to ask Chinese people to take their picture

  10. You enjoy the coffee

  11. The toilets are inside the buildings

  12. You ask someone where the nearest bus stop is and they hail a taxi

  13. A sport other than ping-pong is playing on the TV (exception: Houston Rockets games)

  14. You get less than 5 strangers staring at you when you walk down the street (double if you have blonde hair and/or black skin)

  15. It's safe to cross the street

  16. You start to wonder where everyone is spitting, since it's clearly not on the sidewalk

  17. You wonder the same for using the toilet

  18. The pirated DVDs work

  19. You hear “I'll just have a pee jew” said a to a waiter on more than one occasion

  20. The locals can speak more than one European language

  21. There are multiple restaurants that sell good Western food (or Indian, or Thai, or....)

  22. The “No Smoking” Signs are frequently posted and adhered to

  23. The babies are only showing one pair of their cheeks

  24. Everybody knows your name

  25. None of the above seems strange to you

So if much of the above list applies to you, please, do yourself a favour and branch out, because you're probably missing out on a heck of a lot of this great country.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Vegetarian's Introduction to China

Here is another repost of mine from Lost Lao Wai. You can find the original post, with some VERY interesting discussions in the comments here.


Since I moved to China eight months or so ago, I've came across a large amount of challenges. They have ranged from communication breakdowns, to awkward stares, to being witness to things that you just can't unsmell. However, the question that I have been asked the most by my friends and family back home have centred around one clear topic, food.

I have spent much of the last five years as a practicing vegan. While this decision is one that I certainly consider to be a great one, it has certainly not made dining easy, especially in China, where meat is less an option and more a way of life. Worry not though, fellow herbivores, maintaining your lifestyle choices can be possible in the Middle Kingdom.

Eating an animal free diet in China is indeed a challenge, but one that is certainly possible to overcome. But before you step right in, you need to be clear of meat's place in China, both on the tables and in the minds of the people.

Meat is considered by many Chinese to be a status symbol, as it is generally more expensive than fruits and vegetables. As a result, the wealthy people tend to eat the most meat. This is a huge reason as to why the global consumption of meat has increased so rapidly in recent years. The Chinese are getting richer, and therefore consuming far more meat. This means that a wealthy foreigner should obviously eat lots of meat, since we clearly have lots of money.

Clearly, this in itself gives you quite the uphill battle. I had many occasions were I would communicate that I do not eat meat and it would be followed up with some very quizzical looks from the locals. It's not that I felt judged or harassed for my beliefs, I was just alien to them.

That being said, it still doesn't hurt to try to tell people that you are a vegetarian. If you can say the following phrase (or show the following characters) to a waiter, you could be off to a good start. "Wǒ shì sùshízhǔyìzhě" (我是素食主义者), this translates pretty directly to “I am a vegetarian”, which is of course a very useful thing to say. However, to be honest, I find it to be quite a mouthful to say, and don't feel that I can do it properly with all of the “sh” and “zh” sounds being thrown around. So if your Mandarin sounds as garbled as mine, try the much easier "wǒ bù chī ròu" (我不吃肉), which is saying “I eat no meat”.

Also, in many traditional Chinese dishes, meat is used less for substance, and more for seasoning. There are many great dishes in China that use just a little bit of meat to add flavour to the food (I would assume because the original cooks were too poor to use all of the animal), so be prepared for many dishes to contain some sort of meat in them.

Menus at Chinese restaurants can often involve some interesting, and unintentionally misleading translations, which can lead you to get tofu full of beef chunks, or a plate of broccoli given to you covered in ham. This can be avoided by a simple bit of character recognition. The character means “meat”, and it appears on most menu items that would contain any meat, as the direct translation of beef and pork are “cow meat” and “pig meat” respectively. So if you think that you see something like “Grandmothers fragrant garden roots”, check to find that character, because those garden roots may end up smelling like pig intestines. I find that character easy to remember, as it looks like a few cows in a pen unaware of their fate, or two wishbones sitting on a table waiting to be cracked.

If you still aren't certain, sometimes it can be helpful to point at something on the menu and ask "zhè ge yǒu méiyǒu ròu" (这个有没有肉) which is “Does this have meat?” and hope that they say "méiyǒu (没有)" indicating that there is no meat and you can stop stressing about the ordering and get back to enjoying your meal.

Of course the most important thing to remember, is to relax. There will more than likely be times were you are brought something with eyes or a beak on it despite your best efforts. My best advice in those situations is to just give the food to your friends (Chinese meals are meant to be family style anyway), and enjoy your rice or whatever else you may have. Then get ready to try again for the next meal, which of course may be soon given that you only had rice for dinner.

China can be a very frustrating place for a lao wai, but if you try to skip the food and stay with the Western establishments then you are missing out on an interesting and important part of Chinese society. So, Veggies out there, please do yourself a favour and try to brave some Chinese restaurants. After all, with the rate things are going here, all the Western restaurants will just be KFC soon enough anyway, then what are you going to eat?

Safe journeys,


Monday, April 13, 2009

A Cultural Conundrum

Before I get into this, I have a wee bit of news to say. I have started blogging on a Chinese Expat blog site called Lost Lao Wai (Lao Wai = Chinese slang term for foreigner) as of a few minutes ago. I have just submitted my first post, which will be reposted here, for people too lazy to click on a different link.

So I present to you the first of (hopefully) many posted that was originally made on Lost Lao Wai!


For those of you who have been in China know that “Hello! Where are you from?” is not an uncommon thing to hear from a complete stranger. However, last weekend, while I was on vacation in Qingdao, I was asked this in a rather uncommon way, that has got me thinking a rather uncommon thought.

I was enjoying my long Tomb Sweeping weekend in the breezy, quaint (by Chinese standards) city of Qingdao. It was my last day before I had to fly back to reality, so I was enjoying a nice stroll on the beach. The goal was to start at the May 4th Monument, and make my way down, past the Granite Mansion, and work my way back to the hostel that I stayed at.

On the second stop on the scenic walk, I came to a place called Music Square, which in reality is just a very large tent with a bunch of people singing, being lead by a group of very enthusiastic individuals in the middle. I walked along the outskirts, looking in, and having a smile. I have always enjoyed, and slightly envied, the Chinese outdoor singing and dancing that takes place frequently over here.

And that's when I heard it.

“Hello! Where are you from?” a stranger panted to me.

It was a guy dressed in bright red from head to toe, including his microphone headset. Upon spotting me, he ran out of the centre to introduce himself. I told him where I'm from, and he asked me, with a host of spectators, if I would go and sing a song with them. I tried to duck it by saying that I didn't know the words, and he assured me that it would be in English. Running out of excuses, I caved to the peer pressure, and agreed. In I went, dragging my Chinese travel companion in with me, whom he had somehow neglected to ask to join.

Now would be a good time to say one thing. My singing voice could be best described as the auditory love child of a growling badger and a dentist drill with a faulty motor.

As I stood in line with all of the other wannabe-pop-stars, the man who dragged me in said a few words in Chinese, all that I could clearly make out was “jia na da ren” and “ying wen” which translates to “Canadian” and “English”, clearly he was talking about me, but it must have been good because it was met with a rowdy ovation from the crowd. I was handed a microphone and my heart sank a bit.

A familiar tune struck, and I knew that I had heard it before, but where? A song from my youth? No. Something that I had heard in Scotland? I think so. As a few bars passed, I realized it. I had heard it sung very drunkenly every January 1st for as long as I can remember.

Like most people, I have heard Auld Lang Syne many times, but either myself, the singers, or all of the above, were far too inebriated to say the words properly. To my surprise the crowd started singing a Chinese version, leaving the English/Scots version to me.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind.
Something, something, something, something, something, something, something.
Uhhh uhhh uhhh uhh hmmmmm hmmmm hmmm uhhh uhh uhhh uhhh uhh hmmmmmm
For auld lang syne my dear, for auld lang syne!

...and so on, and so forth.

As the audience clapped out the finish of the song, I felt my Scottish ancestors roll over in their grave.
After I left the song circle to more applause, and resumed my leisurely stroll, I got to thinking. One of the main reasons that I moved here to China was to be exposed to a different culture, and maybe learn a few things about this fascinating place, a goal which has been met with varying degrees of success over the past few months. But what parts of my culture and identity have I been able to show these people here?

Before anyone starts to clamour that I am some sort of a Western imperialist here to “civilize the hordes”, please hear me out. I am of the firm belief that no cultural interactions can ever be one sided. The countless stares that foreigners receive is imparting some view of Western culture onto the locals, whether it is the clothes, hair styles, or public comportment, we are making some sort of impression, right or wrong, on the people that we interact with. This means that my major cultural contributions have been zip-up hoodies, shaggy/receding hair, and giggling in public, I'm a regular Marco Polo alright.

Now, of course, the longer we stay in Asia the more we can see that Western culture is absolutely everywhere. So, perhaps any curious parties around here do not need any Westerner to teach them about their culture, since they have probably heard enough Western music, worn enough Western clothes, and celebrate enough Western holidays.

But surely there has to be more to Western culture than Nike and McDonald's right? I think that it is our duty to try to pass on the less known, and dare I say more real aspects of our culture and traditions to anyone who is curious and interested, which judging by the stares and random questions, is probably a lot of people here.

Yet, here I was, with a chance to show of my Celtic tradition, by singing a very famous song written by the Scottish National Poet, and yet all I could fumble out was the first line and part of the chorus. I know that I could have easily sang more words of Ice, Ice Baby and Oops, I Did it Again, neither of which I'm very proud of.

So, with all of you blogees as my witness, I am going to make more of an effort to learn more about my real culture to be able to pass on to any interested parties on this side of the Pacific, because lord knows I'm interested in them.

However, I'm really at a bit of a loss as to where to start. I've tried to explain hockey, bilingualism, maple syrup, apologies, and other things Canadian, but as for my family's British roots, I am a bit lost. So I am making a very public vow to talk to members of my family, and do some research on my traditional culture.

I am not certain if I will be taking to Highland Dancing, Irish Jigging, Burns recitals, or anything else of that sort, but surely I'll be able to think of something. I think that Western Culture can offer a great deal to anyone who is interested, however, a number of us laoweis here seem to be stricken with a great deal of guilt and perceive ourselves as neo-imperialists, and are paralyzed to share none of our rich histories or traditions with many people who may be interested in learning about them. As such, we are leaving the impression that there is little more to the West than Britney Spears and Wall-mart, and if we don't do something to show people otherwise, then they may just be right.


Safe journeys,


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Quick Note About China Net

Well it seems like they are at it again!!!

As of yesterday, the incredibly popular site, YouTube, has been banned here in the PRC. This comes just over a year after it was last banned during the protests leading up to the Olympics. The statement from the government is: "China's internet is open enough, but also needs to be regulated by law in order to prevent the spread of harmful information and for national security".

This adds to the many popular sites that I am currently unable to access. Apparently the iTunes music store (which I don't use anyway) doesn't work over here, neither does Daily Motion (a competitor to YouTube), and any blogs on wordpress, as well as many other sites somehow related to the two naughty "T" words (T1bet and Ta1wan...if you didn't get it those 1s are supposed to be "i"s). Also, the Chinese version of Skype (called Tom-Skype) filters out the use of a certain four letter "f" word, and reportedly tracks any mention of certain "hot words".

Somehow though, blogger accounts (like this one), pirated music sites, and Chinese video sharing sites (like Youku and Tudou) work just fine.

Apparently one of my friends tried to make a status update on Facebook relating to YouTube not working and it was erased...I highly doubt that is a coincidence. While Facebook is not officially blocked, it can sometimes be "down" or slow for no apparent reason.

While I am not going to comment on the moral grounds for such decisions, I will say this. They sure are frustrating for people like me. I depend on the internet for contact with the outside world as best I can, but situations like this can be more than aggravating.

So if any of you out there my apologies if I haven't kept up-to-date with your blog, or watched the latest Diet Coke and Mentos video, hopefully you'll understand.

Safe Journeys,


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Suzhou: At Least We're Not Lagos

Followers of this blog will notice that I have not made any real comment about Suzhou since moving here. To be honest, I haven't felt fully qualified to comment on the city since I know that I haven't experienced enough of it in the past few months to make a fully informative comment, and frankly, I haven't been all that inspired to talk about Suzhou for a variety of reasons. However, today I finally found a bit of a Suzhouese muse.

The above title, is my new suggestion for motto of the fair town that I live in. Tourism ministry, it is all yours. This is coming from an article that I just saw in Business Week, which profiled the 20 worst places to work in the world, and good ol' Suzhou ranked 14th.

Just to give it a bit of context, the article researched 55 cities outside of Canada, the US, and Western Europe, omitting any obvious places like Baghdad, Kabul, or Khartoum. They took into account a variety of factors including "levels of pollution, disease, political violence, and availability of goods and services".

The worst offender as you would probably guess from my title was Lagos which is classed as a "Very High Risk Location" due to a lack of infrastructure, a high risk of violence, high pollution, disease, lack of medical facilities, and a low availability of goods and services.

However, I certainly was surprised to see Suzhou rank 13 spots lower as a "High Risk Location", the report classes pollution and a lack of culture and recreation facilities as "Major Problems", while levels of disease, sub-par medical and education facilities, and a low availability of goods and services as "Other Problems".

Suzhou was one of five Chinese cities (joining Guangzhou, Tianjin, Qingdao, and Shenzhen) and was ranked in the middle of the five. All of these cities faced similar problems, with "pollution" being a major problem for all of them.

So the obvious quesiton is, how accurate is the report?

To be honest, I don't really know, as I have only lived in one of the cities on the list, and I have only traveled to a handful of the others (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), however I feel that they have certainly hit some very good points about Suzhou.

While I am no scientist, I certainly feel that I can't accurately comment on the pollution level, however back in January I had to miss four days of work with a chest infection, which could certainly say something about the risk of diseases. However, I was given first class medical treatment at a local clinic, which is an antecdotal strike against the "Medical Facilities" concern.

Also, as someone who works in one of the "educational facilities", I certainly take a bit of offense to that one. There are a few western schools here (including mine) which seem to be every bit as good as are available in other major cities.

The major one to me though is the "culture and recreational facilities". To be honest, there is a part of me that wants to agree wholeheartedily, and a part of me that wants to flat our disagree. See Suzhou is dividied into three distinct areas, there is the Old Town, which has canals and old gardens, Suzhou Industrial Park, a newer area where I live, and Suzhou New Development, which is on the other side of the city and I do not know too much about to be honest.

The Old Town is simply a great place for culture. The gardens, vibrant shopping district, and museums can great for culture vultures. However, it can be quite the challenge to access the Old Town from other parts of the city, as traffic can be dreadful.

Suzhou Industrial Park is a much newer area, which by definition, makes it lower on culture. However, there are some new and exciting developments that increase the culture and recreation in the area. A few years ago the Suzhou Science & Culture Arts Centre (SSCAC) opened up, and it plays English movies, Chinese ballet and operas, and a variety of other concerts and events, including one that I talked about once before. Also, there is a new area of nice restaurants and classy cafes that is still being developed called Li Gong Di, that should up the culture in the surrounding area.

Also, and more importantly, is the development of a subway line that links the three regions of Suzhou together. It is scheduled to be open in 2010, and should go a long way to opening up the Old Town, and thus improving everyone's culture and recreational activities.

So while, I do find myself bored or unstimulated here on occasion, I think that there is help in the future. It seems to me that Suzhou, like so many other cities in China, just expanded far too fast in recent years and the developers did not take recreation into account. However, they seem to be trying to fix that, so I would expect they city to drop a bit if Business Week wants to do another survey based on this fact alone.

Who knows, we may even rank better than Kiev or Santo Domingo?

Now about tackling that pollution thing....

Safe Journeys,


Monday, February 23, 2009

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

They say that breaking up is hard to do, and well they sure are right.

With a heavy heart, I would like to inform you that this blog is breaking up. I know that this may come as a surprise to a lot of you on the outside, but trust me, it has been a long time coming. The differences between this blog's rant and rave, nerdy opinions style, and the more personalized travel focus and description of my adventures, has just become too much to bear. As such, from here on out, those two sides shall never meet again.

The opinionated side of the blog won the real estate in the settlement, as such Getting Glenergized will remain focused on my personalized opinions and pursuit of life's nerdy passions, with particular focus on politics, music, sports, and wrestling. While my travel adventures have fittingly moved to a new location, called Reflections of a Backpacker's Soul. The new site has already imported any old travel stories, and has been setting up a nice bit of space. Both sides agree to stay friends, and are going to provide links and feeds to one another, to show no ill will.

More than anything, neither side wants to put you, our readers, in the middle, so please try to make time for both blogs. We understand that you may have less time for either of us, and we don't want to get too needy, but we do love keeping you around, so please stick stay in touch, we'd hate to loose you.

Until next time,



Safe Journeys,

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events -- Christmas 2008 Edition

Prelude – The Best Laid Plans

The following is a special joint blog from Glen and Elvina outlining some of the perils and pitfalls of their travel to Vietnam and Cambodia over Christmas. Before reading, be clear of one thing. Despite the number of setbacks along the way, this has been an excellent trip so far, and both of us would fully recommend a trip like this to anyone.

Glen’s Song: “Nowhere With You” – Joel Plaskett
Elvina’s Song: “Imitosis” – Andrew Bird

Glen: The plan was simple enough. Fly from Shanghai to Shenzhen, take a ferry to Macau, and overnight there. Afterwards, wake up very early and catch a cheap Viva Macau flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Hang out in Southern Vietnam for a few days before taking a riverboat up to Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the 24th, and spend the rest of the Christmas holidays in Cambodia.

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you are making other plans”, and let me tell you, we were in for a dose of life.

Elvina: Where oh where to begin? The few weeks leading up to holiday have been busy, busy, busy – as I moved into another apartment, wrote 18 student reports and pre-planned for our trip. The geek at heart still managed to find time to draft a chronological itinerary of our plans in a spreadsheet. With all the stress at home and at work, it was comforting to know that a great time was waiting as the light at the end of the tunnel.

Early on, we decided that since we’d be let out of school at noon on Friday the 19th, we’d like to spend the night in Shanghai and fly out the next morning. We looked carefully at the Shanghai subway map and compared it to the addresses of hostels. We found and chose one that was within walking distance to the metro line that was two stops away from the Maglev to Shanghai Pudong airport, on the east side of the city.

Chapter 1 – The First of Many

Glen’ Song: “Escape is at Hand for the Traveling Man” – The Tragically Hip
Elvina’s Song: “Leaving On A Jet Plane” – Chantal Kreviazuk

Glen: It is worth noting at this point that we rejected a hostel that looked ideal, great rooms, good price, but it was in the wrong location. It was on the West Side of the city, and closer to Hongqiao airport. Yes, a city the size of a small country has two fairly large airports. Don’t forget that part.

Our night in Shanghai went without incident or omens. Nice dinner and drinks with good friends, many of who were heading across the Pacific Ocean for Christmas. We woke up the next morning and began making our way to Pudong Airport.

As we were crammed into the very congested Shanghai subway cars, a sudden realization came over me. I had forgotten my alarm clock in the hostel. I mentioned this, thinking that I would leave it. Really, I didn’t want to abandon my clock, since it was very handy to travel with, and I knew that we would need to wake up early the next morning to catch our flight out of Macau.

Looking at my watch, we decided that we had time to make a 10 minute backtrack to fetch my clock, while Elvina wait at the Maglev station to catch the super 430 km/h train to the Pudong airport.

Elvina: We were plenty good on time, so I wasn’t worried at all. We got off the very crowded train, crossed over and caught a similarly crowded train back to where we started. We decided I would stay on the platform with all of our bags while Glen make a quick run back to the hostel and fetch the alarm clock. There I waited, noting that the trains were coming every 5 minutes or so.

Glen comes back about 15 minutes later, explaining that getting the alarm clock was no problem at all but got held up trying to pay for the subway. Like most automated machines, the ones that sell tickets in the Shanghai metro prefer coins or near perfect bills. So Glen spent some time unsuccessfully feeding his non-perfect monetary note into several machines before someone eventually helped him out. And now we were on our way!

Glen: I’m sure at this point you may be getting bored of this, and wondering just what we are going to start complaining about. Well keep reading, because the first calamity occurred right after we got to Pudong.

We got to the airport with barely enough time. We knew that we had to hurry, so we quickly ran around the busy terminal and made our way to the Shezhen Airlines check in counter. We thought it odd that our flight was not listed, but thought little of it, and got in the line for a different flight offered by the airline, and assumed that they could sort us out.

After making our way to the front of the line, which is never an easy task in China, we presented our e-ticket to the woman behind the counter, and she looked very confused.

She spoke some incomprehensible words to Elvina. Clearly, my Chinese lessons were not progressing at light speed. I was more thankful than ever to be traveling with a fluent Mandarin speaker.

Elvina looked at me, laughed a bit and said, “We went to the wrong airport.”

I told you to not forget about the two airports. Clearly, I hadn’t given that same advice to myself.

Lucky for us, (Despite everything that we told you and are about to tell you, I am amazed at how many times that I start a sentence with that particular fragment) there were several flights a day to Shenzhen, and it only cost us around $40 each to change our flight to a later one. To help kill the time, we also had an hour-long bus ride to the other airport.

For the next several hours, both waiting in the airport, and en route, we would repeatedly laugh and say “We went to the wrong airport”, followed by “Rookie mistake!” Both Elvina and I have traveled a fair amount, and really should have known better.

We agreed that it was just a bit of overconfidence, and we would not make a careless oversight like that again for the rest of the trip. We were half right, but unfortunately, not the right half.

Elvina: We found this episode very funny, and our excitement was in no way deflated. We got on the bus to the correct airport and got all checked in once we were there. Waiting in line to go through security, we were fairly excited, being at the beginning of a great trip. I went through first, and as usual, made the metal detector go off. So while I’m standing up on the platform getting wanded, I notice Glen having some trouble at the desk where the security guard is sitting. I try to find out what’s going on but security just says he has to go back for something. Glen waves that everything is okay and he’ll meet me inside. Off I go, unclear of whether I should wait right there or go to the boarding gate. After some dilly-dallying and noticing that there are two security check points, I figure it’s best to go to the boarding gate. And yay, we found each other. Apparently part of his boarding pass had fallen off and he just had to go back for a new one. So we sit down with a big sigh of relief and Glen says to me that since these little bloopers happened to us early on, we were probably in for smooth sailing the rest of the trip.

Chapter 2 – Macanese Nights

Glen’s Song: “Pure Morning” – Placebo
Elvina’s Song: “Bottom of the Barrel” - Amos Lee

Glen: So, I was wrong about the smooth sailing bit, dead wrong.

Before I realized this, we got to Macau in need of a good nights sleep. Since, it was a Saturday, and the “Vegas of the East” is a bumping place on the weekends, it was hard to find a cheap place to stay. After doing a bit of research, we settled on what appeared to be a lovely and cheap place, pictured here.

Go ahead, take a few minutes to be captivated by the nice website. Don’t the rooms look great? Nice rooms, prime location, and cheap rates. What more could a traveler possibly ask for?

The truth.

After arriving at the place, we were shocked at what we saw on the website compared to what we saw in real life. Dirty is a word that gets thrown around so much that it tends to lose its meaning.

This place was freaking-filthy. The place looked like it belonged in a horror film. The narrow, I just imagined some hapless victim trying to run down the narrow and darkened stairs. A smell came over me, which I assumed was a cross between clogged sewage and dust from the 1960s. Brown water and tiny bugs came out of the tap when you turned it on, so needless to say, showering was out of the question.

Elvina: It was fairly easy to get from the Macau airport into the city. Taxis were waiting for us, without the need to haggle prices, as they ran the meter. The car doors were even automatic, the driver would push a button and the door would open for us. Armed with the address and directions that the hotel emailed us, and wanting to flex some Cantonese muscle, I showed/told the driver where we wanted to go. He was brought us where we needed to be and pointed into an alley that we’d need to walk into. He was funny, said he would take HK dollar, US dollar, Chinese Yuan, anything… so long as it was real.

We head into this alley and find the place up a narrow flight of stairs. I often judge things too soon, and have been working on that. So I told myself that it was an old building and would be better once we got there. We get the “front desk” and there is just an old man who only speaks Cantonese, none of the polite, English speaking staff that we had been in email contact with. He wants a printout of our booking, which I don’t have, and he proceeds to lecture me about not bringing it. He takes out a ratty old notebook marked in Chinese, numbers and letters. We see a GL and point at it, as our reservation. He keeps lecturing us, that without the printout, he really shouldn’t be giving us a room but since he has vacancies tonight, he will.

So he gives us a key and directs us to a room right near the desk. We unlock this room and just laugh. The walls don’t touch the ceiling so you are basically in a big cubicle. There is a sink in the corner of the room that looks as if it only dispenses rusty water, a fan, and some furniture from a yard sale.

We put our stuff down and go for a walk, trying to make the most of the Macau night. We had a nice stroll, after all. We get back to the hotel, knowing we have to leave at 4:30 anyway. I am scared of what I might catch in the bed, so I sleep in the clothes I’m wearing, not wanting to come in contact with much else. The alarm goes off and we get out of there pretty much right after.

Chapter 3 – Access Denied

Glen’s Song: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” – The Clash
Elvina’s Song: “Help!” – The Beatles

Glen: We got to Ho Chi Minh City, and everything seemed to be going to plan. Our hotel was easy to find, and quite nice. We saw some museums, crawled in some tunnels, did some shopping and had a great time. But alas, this is a post about things not going well; so let me skip ahead to December 24th.

After seeing some of the Mekong Delta, and staying at the border city of Chau Doc, the plan was to take a boat up the Mekong River into Cambodia. We even met this great other couple and discussed the possibility of going out for a Christmas dinner in Phnom Penh, and possibly exchanging some tacky presents with one another. It seemed like the recipe for a Merry Christmas, a good thing for a Grinch like me.

So there we were, sitting on a boat, approaching the Cambodian border. The tour guide came around to collect everyone’s passports, in order to arrange visas for all. He takes mine, looks at it, and returns it with no problems.

Then, he takes Elvina’s and things start to go down hill.

Elvina: Yeah, yeah, yeah, so nice time in Ho Chi Minh City. Now, all of that seems a blur of tourist sites and being hassled by peddlers on the street. But fast forward to sitting on the “fast boat” to the Vietnam/Cambodia border. Glen has already set the stage.

The tour guide flips through my passport and I can see on his face something is not quite right. He looks at me and says, “You don’t have any more pages.” I flip to the blank pages but he points at where it says “Amendments and Endorsements.” A lot of gesturing to those pages and being gestured at other pages which say “Visas” up at the top.


“You can’t cross the border.”


My first instinct was to cry. My second instinct was to negotiate. My first lucid thought was that I was holding Glen back from going into Cambodia.

After gathering enough composure to ask the tour guide what to do next, we learned that I had to go back to Ho Chi Minh City to get more pages from the US consulate. It just took forever and a day to get here and we were going back?? So we get dropped off at the dock, where we eat lunch. Shortly after, we head back on the same boat, then a six hour bus ride back to HCMC. The night we arrive, Vietnam had just beat Thailand in a soccer match. The streets were insane – motorbikes everywhere, people clanging on pot lids and noisemakers and waving the Vietnamese flag. We got stuck in the kind of traffic that I would never be able to drive myself out of. I felt amused by this, but mixed in with annoyance and anger at myself.

There we were, dumped off at the main backpackers’ drag and found a hotel to stay at within a few minutes. I don’t remember what happened next, I just wanted to go to bed and wake up with the problems solved.

Glen: Yeah, I didn’t leave her and go to Cambodia by myself, as tempting as that may have been.

Chapter 4 – The Ghost of Christmas Plans

Glen’s Song: “Plans” – Bloc Party
Elvina’s Song: “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” -- Sufjan Stevens

Elvina: (ed note: please do not make implications from this song title, as this was NOT the worst Christmas ever.) I woke up on Christmas morning, but it turns out, the aforementioned incident was not a bad dream. We started strategizing and decided we would go to the consulate tomorrow and treat ourselves a nice Christmas. We spent the day wandering around the streets of HCMC, booked a flight to Siem Reap the next day, shopped for touristy stuff, found a vegetarian restaurant (actually found a bunch so we actually had choices) and then Glen got a haircut while I got a very strange pedicure for between $1-2. We had a traditional Christmas dinner: vegetarian Indian. The restaurant even had a Christmas tree outside. The waiter asked Glen if he would like it spicy. Glen answered yes and would regret this later.

We went back to the hotel to Skype our families to say Merry Christmas. First, we decided to call the US consulate so that I could be well-prepared in the event that they required any documents or information. I went to their web site, which we had just checked the day before. It said on the calendar of federal holidays that it was closed on Thursday, December 25 for Christmas. Sure, straightforward enough. Well, okay, tonight, looking on the page for their 24-hour serviced phone number, it had a special note saying that the consulate was closed also on Friday, December 26. That meant, given the weekend, we couldn’t get to the consulate until Monday.

Glen: Yeah, we really should have read that note about it being closed on the 26th, but I guess we figured that our luck was due to turn around by then.

So yet again, we were forced to make a plan in a hurry. In planning for this trip, we looked into a number of places, particularly in Vietnam, to go to, but did not think that we had enough time. Well, apparently we had a few more days to kill in Vietnam, so no point in standing still! We decided to go to Hoi Ann, since it seems like such a cool old place to go. But we had a few things to take care of first, namely the flight to Siem Reap booked for later that day.

We went to one of the many travel agents doting the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, and were able to change our flight to the 29th with relatively little hassle. Now, we just wanted to find a way to Hoi Ann. We figured a bus or train would be the best alternative, but we forgot one of the cardinal rules of traveling in Asia, distances can be deceiving.

While Hoi Ann looks close to Ho Chi Minh City on a map, Asian road and rail networks are nowhere near as developed as their Western counterparts, and it would take over 12 hours by train, and around 20 hours by bus to get there. This really would not have given us enough time to see the city at all.

So we did something that I you would never be able to do in the West. We went to the travel agent, and asked about flights to Danang (the nearest airport to Hoi Ann) that were leaving that day. He said that there was a flight going at 3:30pm. We looked at our watches, and noted that it was in fact noon. Surely, they could not sell a plan ticket to a foreigner with such little time, could they?

There was little time to ask them about the security concerns, so we said that we would take it. However, the only seats left were in Business Class. Sure it increased the cost, but it was still not that expensive, given that it was a forty-minute flight.

The travel agent, then called us a cab, and before you could say “Random Security Screening” we were in the Business Class lounge at the Saigon Airport.

Elvina: It all seems like a blur but in the course of one day (probably an extremely busy day at malls back home) we had changed a plane ticket, bought a new one, had lunch, and flew to another city for dinner. Speaking of dinner, we walked into a hole-in-the-wall place simply because it advertised vegetarian dishes. Upon sitting down, we quickly realized the lack of menus, save for a little piece of paper stuck the wall with less than 10 items. We used our limited Vietnamese menu knowledge to figure out what was what. We pointed, and got food. Pretty simple.

Walking around Danang was not much to write about. Yes, it was night time by then, but it is a dark and quiet little town, without much going on. We just slept off the surreal day and woke up early to go to Hoi An. It took a bit of searching to find the bus station. In the end, we never found it but some locals told us to just wait by the side of the road and they’d show us which bus to flag down. So we ended up paying way more than any locals, sitting in the back row of this very sketchy city bus, which we thought we’d fall out of every time the back door opened. The saving grace was meeting a nice Estonian guy who was traveling to Hoi An as well.

Glen: It should be worth noting at this point, that Elvina got sick. Nothing major, just the side effects of moving around crowded Asia so much. But we did have to make a quick (and painless) trip to the doctors. I mention this for one reason: had this been on any other trip, this would have been the biggest concern and downer, but not us.

Anyway, after getting very lost, we eventually found a guesthouse and enjoyed Hoi Ann. Really, it is a fabulous city, and well worth a visit for anyone who plans on going through Vietnam. After a great two days there, we hopped back on a flight and returned to Ho Chi Minh City, once more.

Chapter 5 – Panic on the Streets of Saigon

Glen’s Song: “I Predict a Riot” – Kaiser Chiefs
Elvina’s Song: “Bang” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Glen: Remember back in Chapter 2, Elvina said that the streets were crazy after Vietnam defeated Thailand in soccer? Well the night that we landed in Ho Chi Minh once more, they won again, moving them one step closer to the World Cup. So the streets were even more insane.

No, scratch that, the streets were absolutely bonkers with excitement.

As we hopped in a cab and drove to our hotel, people everywhere were cheering, flags were being hung from the many (MANY) motorcycles going all around us. Every intersection was like a mosh pit, as people everywhere were reveling in nationalistic fervour. Say what you will about how much athletes get paid, and how the purity of sports has been lost somewhere between all of the Coca-Cola Sponsors, but there is little that has the power to get people together more than a good sporting event.

After about 40 minutes of slow rides, and fast riots, things started to kick up a notch. We got to one of the main roundabouts in the city, and there was a whole mob of sports fans there. Flags were being waved all over the place. When people noticed me (the token white guy) in the car, they started to cheer at me and give me the thumbs up, all well and good I thought. Then things got a bit more out of control.

First people started pounding on the car in some sort of a game. Then, someone jumped on the back of the taxi to wave his flag from a higher point; a few people jumping on the hood of the car to cheer followed this. While I found the joy enticing at first, I was starting to get a little scared at this point.

To his credit, our driver calmly opened the door, and got the guys off of the hood. A few voices of reason emerged from the cheering masses, as some total strangers helped escort our car out of the crowd and on to safety.

We got to our hotel, and probably paid too much for too little, but at that point we did not care. We certainly had no plans to go outside, and all we needed to do was get to the Consulate the next morning, and be on our merry way.

Elvina: I really loved Hoi An, and considered it a bonus at this point. I might even like to go back at some point. But, Glen summarized all of it quite well so I’ll leave it at that and just move on to the good stuff.

Chapter 5 – Lucky at Last

Glen’s Song: “Lucky Day in Hell” - The Eels
Elvina’s Song: “Beautiful Day” – U2

Elvina: I woke up on Monday morning rarin’ to go. I remember we both said, “Today is the day!” That is actually quite funny because I woke up on the Friday we began the trip thinking the same thought. We got out of the hotel, with the only priority of finding a bite to eat before we were onwards to the consulate.

We found the consulate without any problems, but Glen couldn’t go inside since he didn’t bring his passport. He headed to a coffee shop type place across the street. As I entered through security, I felt a strange sense of relief, as cliché as it sounds. The whole experience was oddly American-centric but also very Asian as well.

Upon entry, you are greeted by a sign that points immigrants, visitors, etc, to the left or right. American Citizens, it says in bold letters go straight ahead to a big scary iron gate.

I go up to take a number, as the sign says to do. I see that blank forms are along the back wall so I pick up the appropriate one and complete it. Just as I finish and look up to see how far they are away from my number, I see a sign that says:

Go directly to window 3 for any of the following:

  1. Additional visa pages in your passport.

I didn’t need to read any further. I went immediately, as directed. No one was there and I tried to make my presence a bit more known. A woman came by and I asked if I was at the right place to submit this form, which I held up. She looked at the form, my passport, and disappeared. I waited. Another woman came over and asked if she could help me. I told her that I was waiting for my passport from the previous woman. She said, “Oh it will take about…” In my mind, I heard her say “… two week.” In reality, she said, “… half an hour.” Gleefully surprised and relieved, I asked her if I’d need a receipt to claim my passport later. Oddly enough, there wasn’t. And, there was no charge for this service. I go across the street to join Glen for a glass of fruit juice. Soon, I have my new thick passport in hand! We go back to the hotel to get our stuff and we are on the bus to the airport we know so well.

Glen: We finally made it into Cambodia, and it was fantastic. Angkor is completely mind blowing, and Phnom Penh is completely soul sapping. Just what we were after.

Things in Cambodia were fantastic, as our luck really got turned around. I guess we had to go through a bit of karmic overdraft, but things worked out in the end.

So I guess if we could impart some advice to anyone out there it would be the following three things:

  1. Carefully read all plane tickets

  2. Know how many pages you have left in your passport at all times

  3. Never, and I mean NEVER travel in a country when they are playing important soccer games.

Hopefully you can learn from our mistakes!

Until next time,