Saturday, July 31, 2010


This blog is kinda all over the place, but it (not so) neatly sums up how I feel being home. It's been two weeks now and the adjustment has been strange. The first week wasn't bad at all, though the jet lag was the worst I've ever experienced. I don't even remember my first whole day back because it was spent in such a daze. I would get massively tired in the early evening for the first week and then I would be up by 5 or 6 AM every morning. But the jet lag isn't the focus of this blog. The readjustment to home seems to be getting harder as time goes on, which is what I half-expected. I knew I wouldn't want to stay here but I figured that, after moving every 2 months, I'd get the itch to leave after 6 weeks or so, not 1.5. I'm honestly shocked at how quickly Buffalo has gotten to me. It's hard in a different way than how it was when I got home from Italy in 2004. Then, I was literally heartbroken because I fell in love with the allure of that amazing country. I've now lived in 5 different countries and I miss each them in a different way but I'm excited for and dying to get to the next step, not mourning the past like I did in 2004.

Now that this whole incredible experience is over, I need to figure out what my next step is. I've been dreading this moment all year and I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I kept telling myself that it would all be worth it because of the amazing experience I had. It was all totally worth it, but it doesn't make this moment any more fun. I now get to figure out what to do after living a dream, traveling the world, getting my Master's degree and incurring a $60,000 debt. The plan for the past few months has been to ideally end up in DC and get a job with an environmental organization but that obviously is subject to this wonderful economy in which we all currently find ourselves. So, I'm left debating my options.

Having been home only two weeks, I'm shocked at how quickly I've become aggravated with things here in Buffalo and in the States in general which potentially throws my ideal plan to move to DC into question. First off, Buffalo isn't for me. I've known that for some time and now that I've lived in 5 other cities, I know for certain that I'm not a big fan of it here. I'm now used to having a city at my fingertips. I'm used to uncertainty. I'm used to being able to explore. I'm used to a certain energy; a pulse of life and a drive in people. None of that exists in Buffalo. The attitude here is maddening to me now: many people are content with the whole "same shit, different day" mentality and while that may be fine for them, I refuse to let that become my reality. I find it hard to relate to people in many ways, like I'm some sort of alien who was just dropped into the middle of life here who's disconnected from everything in a way that's impossible to fix. People are content with their cars and their houses and worrying about their menial problems. Even my favorite places here have lost their luster. One of the things I missed most when I was gone was the ability to just drive to a park and let go and relax. Parks here now bore me. The magic they once held is gone because I've become enthralled with the magic of travel and new experiences. I miss being able to walk everywhere; I hate this need to drive to every single place I need to go. There's nothing to do here. I don't want to watch TV. I don't want to do the same stuff I've done for years on end. So obviously, I need to get out of Buffalo as fast as fucking possible, but then the question becomes obvious: where shall the Ed! go?

Coming back to the States held a certain draw but one of the things that freaks me out the most right now is there is no place that I can go to within this country that would allow me to escape its current political state. While I was overseas, it was easy to feel unattached to what was going on back here. There was a physical distance and even the slight temporal difference helped to create a sensation of "what's going on back home does not affect me right now." Now that I'm home, the media's fascination with this Tea Party nonsense is infuriating me. Before, it was an inconvenience and a bit of a batshit insane circus freakshow but now that I'm realizing that these idiots are receiving so much attention while any real progressive ideas are never discussed, the amusement I once felt regarding them is turning quickly to unabated anger. This apparent revival of conservative ideals honestly is probably driving up my blood pressure on a daily basis. I just don't understand people, no matter how hard I try. How could anyone think it's a good idea to give conservatives control of Congress again after what they and Dubya did to this country? Is our collective memory really that short? I just don't understand how people are blind to the fact that the principle reason why Obama has been stymied and has had such problems passing sweeping legislation that would really help the average American is because of constant Republican obstruction (side note: I understand that a lot of the problems also came from Democratic infighting and Obama's reluctance to engage certain issues, so don't bother calling me out on that. Really getting into this issue would be another giant post in and of itself). How does only saying "no" for two years and showing constant irresponsibility make Republicans a more attractive option when what they did is the cause of the mess in which we currently find ourselves? I don't see how a society can possibly think that it's perfectly okay for churches to burn Qu'rans because they feel that an "Islamic ideology" is overtaking America. My country is racist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic, chauvinistic and any other possible negative "-phobe" you can imagine and it took the election of a black guy for our truly seedy underbelly to gain the balls to show itself for what it really is. The truly depressing part is that now that these vile views are out in the open, people are becoming attracted to them.

How does this affect me, you ask? And why can't I just ignore it and continue on with my day-to-day life like most of my blind, deaf and dumb countrymen? Simple, I'm not the average American and I never have been. I am a rare American breed in that I actually want to make the entire world a better place. I want to improve the lives of every human, not just my immediate family or only people who look and sound like me. For progressive Americans like me (who receive little media attention, mind you, because we're dangerous to the status quo), there are so many problems that we are trying to fix that it becomes impossible for us to organize well. It's not like fighting gays, blacks and so-called socialism where we're all expected to toe the same line. There's just too much that needs fixing to a progressive and we're constantly stalled from improving the lives of literally everyone because of the selfish attitude that dominates Conservatives and this country. One of the reasons why I went back for International Relations is precisely because I want to improve the condition of the entire planet. I want to see this planet become healthy again and part of me feels like I can do the most good for the environment here in America because we arguably have the most room to improve. But why should I try to fix the situation here when my government could care less? And not only does my government not care but people are becoming increasingly skeptical about the exaggeration of climate change here. Come on, people. The fact that people are buying into such bullshit is alarming. It doesn't take a genius to see how intricately things are tied together and the unravelling has already begun. I'm not convinced that we can stop it.

This country, and it seems this planet as a whole, is overrun with people who just don't care and I can't fathom that. Most people seem content with only focusing on their little lives without seeing what's happening all over the world. They're concerned about losing their jobs to these phantom "illegals" without ever considering the plight that people crossing the border are in. They're concerned about their wages dropping but they could give a shit about people in this country making millions or billions of dollars in companies that pay people in other countries pennies a day. The planet is coming apart at the seams but people can't be bothered to stop driving a bit or recycle more. The world revolves around American concerns and the concerns of the average American rarely go beyond their white-picket fence unless it involves some dumbass bitch on TV from New Jersey. This disgusts me.

Living in my little Global bubble for the last year, I rarely experienced this kind of irritability. I'm honestly shocked that this emotion took hold so quickly. I was literally living a dream and I think that helped a lot and now that it's over, I'm crashing back down to Earth from my nice former life in the clouds (more specifically, Cloud Nine). When I was gone, and even now that I'm home, I felt that one of the most important things I could do was to inspire others with my crazy experience. I feel like that's probably the most positive thing I can do for myself and for everyone else: I need to keep an inspirational attitude going because like I said when talking with a fellow world-traveler who was along with me on my Global experience recently: everyone's in this life together and the less depressing people we have on this planet, the better off we'll all be. I'm sick of seeing people settle for complacency and that's one of the things that gets to me about Buffalo. It's so easy to lose sight of what else we could be doing because life is so easy and affordable here. Letting fear guide your decisions is the worst thing one could do because it just leads to more unhappiness. And what is settling or seeking out complacency if nothing more than a fear of following one's dreams for whatever reason? I don't care if someone from Buffalo is reading this who thinks their life is incredibly difficult. For most who think it is, it's not, trust me. Not that I've experienced it first hand, but people are starving elsewhere. People still live in squalor. People are watching their kids move to polluted cities to work in factories because the farms their families have depended on for generations are no longer viable. Your crappy job, your lack of boyfriend, your broken car or any other stupid problem pales in comparison to what other people around the world go through daily. Go and read something about these situations. Educate yourself. The world doesn't end at the edge of your neighborhood. In fact, learning more about the plight of other people might help you get over your petty problems, and trust me, they are petty. It could help you escape your Little Bubble of Doom which you use to hide from the rest of the world.

In an attempt to either mask this irritation or make it work for me, I've been toying with the idea of turning this into some sort of "inspiration" blog. Someone I know pulls this off very well. I'd do it in a different vein, though. I'm just so sick of people complaining about how awful their lives are or how they wish they could be doing something different. I was that person for the longest time but the difference between me and most others is that I never gave up trying. I held out hope, even if it was the smallest little sliver of it, I knew that if I kept on pushing forward, I would do something incredible. Now that I have, I have no intention of stopping. I just hope that my drive can maybe inspire others (especially in Buffalo) to shrug off their weighty self-imposed worries and road blocks. Life isn't supposed to be about suffering and waiting for today to pass.

Back to me, though, for the moment. It seems that even my backup plan (teaching English in Costa Rica for a year) was to help me get fluent in Spanish so I could come back and be more marketable here in the States. I don't even know if I want that anymore. As useful as Spanish would be, it would be most useful in the States. Part of me really would like to end up in Europe one day and French would be a better choice for that. Scrapping my backup plan that I'm actually somewhat excited for due to the asshattery of the Tea Party seems a bit extreme, though. So it seems I'm left with the following options: do I focus all of my attention (again) on running away to Europe? Do I stay and fight the good fight here? Do I go on an adventure to Costa Rica for a year? It seems I'm literally back to right where I was last year before I left, meaning I have all of these potential options but I'm not sure which path to take. The difference this time, though, is that I'm not afraid to pick a path and I've got the courage to try something new. I've accomplished some major life goals. I just now need to pick some new ones. Some guidance would be appreciated right now, Universe!

PS: When I sat down to have my lunch after writing this blog, I saw this on a box of tea on the table: "If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking" ~ Buddhist Proverb. Fantastic! Now, I just need to be pointed in the right direction!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Inner Mongolia Experience / The Worst Road Trip in the History of Road Trips / The Most Uncomfortable 2 Days of My Life

Holy hell, man. Where do I even begin with this story? I'll first say that yes, this story is massive but I'm doing this in lieu of writing in my daily journal even though this is a different style than what I use for my journal. The purpose isn't to make it a readable account for everyone else (though I have tried to write decently), but to jot down all of what I experienced in 45 hours. If you know me personally, I can tell you the story one day if you'd like, but I might forget a few of the details, but they're all definitely here. So, on with the insanity...


I woke up at 4:30AM to make sure I had time for a shower. Thank fucking god I did because my next shower wouldn't be for two days. Everyone met downstairs at 5:15 / 5:30 to get to the meeting point which was just outside of our building. A lot of people were out until only minutes before watching the Spain - Netherlands World Cup Final, so they were partially drunk and hadn't slept. I honestly have no idea how they made it through this. We waited around for a while to be picked up. When Abdul and a couple of others booked the trip, they told the travel agency that we wanted a decent bus that was at least slightly comfortable by Western standards, not Chinese. The thing that clambered down the street towards our gate at a speed that was highly unsafe for it would have pissed off even the most hardened Chinese traveler. It looked like it was about to fall to pieces right then and there. We spoke to the travel agent who spoke no English and met us there and told her that this wasn't what was promised to us as what we ordered was a nice tour bus with air conditioning. What pulled up was barely bigger than a minivan and the air conditioning consisted of opening windows that trembled when we went over bumps in the road (bumps in Chinese roads are more common than smooth pavement). She didn't seem to care and was kind of a bitch about it. Her attitude only got worse throughout the trip, which is why she shall be henceforth known as Bitchy Dragon Cunt (I never use that last word, but it fits, trust me), or BDC, which is a short compilation of the worst and the best names we called her as the ordeal dragged on. At this point, the whole situation just seemed funny, so we all piled in. Little did we know that this jalopified mess of a minibus would be our tomb for the next day and a half. Keep in mind that at this point, it was around 6:30 AM.

We didn't really fit well considering there were 15 of us excluding the driver and the travel agent, plus all of our luggage for 4 days. Crammed into this little bus like the tired little sardines we were, most of us nodded off while we passed the Chinese countryside. I sat in the back and entertained myself by looking out the window since there was little else I could do with the room I had. Throughout most of the drive there, I don't think I saw an acre of land that was untouched by human hands. I wrote my thesis on China's failures with its environment and I got to see a lot of it first hand, though it was through the filthy window of our bus, which only made the experience more ironic. Arid land stretched over long distances but the strange feature was that there were trees planted in neat rows throughout it, even though the land looked way too dry for them. Construction was everywhere and it looked completely half-assed. Actually, half-assed makes it sound better than it was. Eighth-assed is more like it.

We stopped off at a rest stop after a couple hours on the road. I'd say it was between 10 and 11. The store opened right before we were ready to leave and we all ran inside to get food and water. I bought a lot of food and water the night before so I just stood in amazement at the barren shelves before me. We begrudgingly piled back into the van and I took the spot next to the window on the driver's side. This was a bad move apparently as I later found out that the "bus" was spewing black stuff that completely covered me because of where I sat. I'm seriously worried for my long-term health because this was some nasty shit and I breathed it in for a disturbing amount of time.

The bus driver pulled over about 2 hours later and got gas. About 15 minutes after we started moving again, there was a loud bang and the bus began to swerve more than we were used to (the driver had no use for lane markers or shoulders). We all got super excited because it could only mean one thing: a flat fucking tire. And we'd get to wait it out on the side of the road in China! The driver was understandably not happy about it but it strangely seemed like he had no idea what he was doing. BDC literally stood there with her arms folded not doing a damned thing. We amused ourselves with photo-taking, walks and by laughing at the hilarity of the situation. We were not yet acting as burned out travelers. That point would come in another 20 hours or so.

The sun greeted us intensely when we stepped off the bus and at that point, everyone pointed out to me how dirty I looked. Compared to how I would look a day later, it was nothing. Dena helped with an impromptu photoshoot which produced the grossest pictures of me ever published. It was funny then and it's still funny now. I had no idea how bad it looked because my glasses were covered so everything looked dirty to me anyway and the sun was so bright that I couldn't see any details on my camera screen, so I just figured it was a little gross. The only real litmus test I had for my ever-increasing grimy condition until I got back was my shirt which started off as a pale yellow. Looking at it now, it's really fucking dark gray and it looked like the bus just shat its exhausted fumes all over it.

Once the driver angrily finished attaching our brand-spanking new wheel that funnily looked just as dirty as the rest of the bus from the moment he put it on, we continued down the highway. A common discussion heard on our bus throughout this experience, which makes sense considering the bus was filled with International Relations majors (I refuse to use the label "Master" for all of us on the bus even though most of us recently finished our degrees, but that's a different story), was how this country is so incredibly fucked. Like I said, I wrote my thesis on China's environmental mismanagement and it revealed to me a lot of the problems that this country is facing. From just environmental problems alone, I don't see this country lasting another 20-30 years in all seriousness. This trip basically confirmed a lot of what we expected. We were able to talk about things we experienced in Beijing before and other things in theory but now we can all say we experienced precisely why this country will never ever be any sort of major contender or responsible power. Everything is fake and it plays it off well that it's organized, mature and trustworthy but when one gets out of the rehearsed areas, the entire façade crumbles to pieces like so many cheap souvenirs (you're welcome everyone back home!) and everything labeled as "Made in China." I completely understand why the Chinese Government is structured the way that it is: these people have no respect for order and systemic responsibility which is incredibly ironic for all of the attention that Confucianism gets. I have no doubt that without the iron fist that beats these people into often brainless submission, the entire country would descend into utter anarchy in a matter of hours. For an environmentalist and someone who believes human rights are sacred, you know the situation has to be bad when I say something like that. The people we dealt with were entirely incompetent and had absolutely no regard for our safety or well-being. It took us screaming at them to get them to consider what we were talking about and even then, it rarely happened.

After about three more hours of driving and a few moments where it looked like the travel agent and driver were completely lost, we encountered our first of three majors traffic jams. That's right, I said first. It went on for miles and lasted for hours so we stepped off the bus because it wasn't moving at all. We amused ourselves the same way as before with talking, exploring and Chinese feathery hacky sack. I walked ahead a little bit up on a high stone barrier to see if anything was moving. Up to the point that I saw (which was pretty goddamned far), everything stood motionless except the Chinese people with their stupid shirts lifted above their tubby stomachs who were wandering between the cars and trucks. The structure of this traffic jam was really strange: the left two lanes were filled with industrial trucks and semis while the right lane and its shoulder had passenger cars and tour busses trying to weave their way through the labyrinth. The traffic in our area started to move but further ahead, the cars were still cemented to the ground. I was confused by this but it was because the smaller cars had began to exit the highway completely by driving over a dirt path that led to a distant road. When we got close to the exit path, there was a moment when it seemed like our driver was going to do it and our resounding reply was "fuck that!" because our crappy bus simply would've either exploded or disintegrated. I don't know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that our bus driver chose to stay on the highway at this point, but we'll say that it was. He weaved us in and out of a few areas and we got stuck occasionally but we eventually made it out of there, only to get majorly stuck again. The driver drove past a potential actual exit on the highway because we were all sure he'd just get lost had we deviated from the main highway. When we reached another impasse off a tour bus, we found out that the entire thing was caused by a 12 car pile up. One car for one mile maybe? It still seemed like for the extent of the jam, though, that it had to be way more than that. And it had to have happened in freaking 2007 for that many cars and trucks to be stopped completely for so long on a road that was literally empty except for our puttering bus until we reached the jam. Our driver skillfully drove our van back to the highway exit in reverse.

We drove alongside the highway on a parallel road for a while and I was flabbergasted at the length of this traffic jam. It seemed endless. We drove on for a couple of more hours and then were stopped dead in our tracks again by another traffic jam. For as often as we yelled "door!" at BDC and the driver and pointed to have them open it throughout the trip, they never learned it. When we got out, the sunlight blanketed the surrounding area in golden light, signifying the oncoming sunset. We had a wonderful view of hills, goats, farmers and grasshoppers which was a nice break from the dusty and dirty interior we were used to. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is that a different travel agent that Adbul dealt with at the agency in Beijing (which was on fucking campus!) told him that the journey to Hohhot the capital of Inner Mongolia, would be 6 hours. The time was around 7PM when we got off the bus this time, meaning we had been on the road for over twelve fucking hours. It seems completely insane to me right now and we still had a long while to go. BDC randomly rushed us back into the bus even though only a few cars in front of us were moving, not the entire lane of traffic. We were then stopped again shortly after for a while and when we asked her to open the door, she ignored us. See? The name fits.


It took us eighteen hours to get into Hohhot. Let me repeat, in case you didn't get it.. eighteen hours. The drive after the traffic jam was really slow and after the sun set, we only saw random small strips of dimly lit stores with dirt parking lots and creepy people in front. The outskirts of the city were definitely strange but once we got into the Hohhot, it was all bright rainbow light piping (like a lot of this country) and double helix street lamps. Since we obviously missed lunch, BDC called some restaurant and they actually had dinner ready for us on the table. That was the only decent thing she did the entire trip. We also met our Mongolian tour guide who seemed really nice and apologized profusely (she actually spoke a little English) for the insanity that we had just endured. The food was good but it found its way into our stomachs quite quickly and it was at dinner that the bombshell of then night was dropped. When the trip was set up, the schedule was rearranged so that we were to spend the first night in a hotel in the city, the second night would be spent in a yurt in the grasslands, the third night would be back in a hotel and then we'd drive back to Beijing on the fourth day. As we were getting ready to leave, the tour guide told us that we were about to go to the grasslands for the yurt. It was at this point that everyone freaked out since we wanted to just shower and curl up into hopefully comfortable hotel beds which was what we were expecting for the entire long-ass drive up. I especially wanted to shower considering my disgusting condition. We insisted that they take us to a hotel but they refused and they just kept telling us that tonight would be spent in the grasslands with a campfire. No matter how much we told them that we really didn't fucking want to go out to the grasslands and sit by a goddamned campfire, they wouldn't listen. The most aggravating thing was that BDC didn't even try to contact anyone to pull some strings for the first half hour we were arguing. She just sat in the van looking like a total bitch. After many group meetings about our options, we convinced the tour guide to tell BDC to at least try calling someone. Obviously, it didn't go well. BDC turned angry and fucking nasty. I can't really describe how aggravated we were and how frustrating it was to deal with these people because no matter how many times we explained to them what we wanted (and we had two people who spoke Chinese), they just kept on offering us the same thing, even though they changed the fucking itinerary on us without telling anyone. A few people went and checked a nearby hotel but there sadly wasn't enough room for all of us. After another half hour or so of unsuccessful arguing, we finally accepted the fact that we were stuck with the grasslands option and figured we could at least get there and rest. The tour guide told us that there would be only one shower but it was only half an hour away. We also figured that we may not have had fun that night, even though it was supposed to be awesome, but we could at least do some fun stuff the following morning, like riding horses and ATVs and shit.

Resentfully, we all got back into the bus even though a few people we were worried about where these people would take us since they were being so belligerent. We were really betting on the grasslands being close, though I thought it was a bit weird that grasslands would be so close to a city. After an hour of driving around in the dark on winding country roads, we pulled over at a gas station so people could use the restrooms. Before we got back in the van, we asked how long it would be until we got to the yurt because we were all exhausted and she told us it would be another goddamned hour! Right away, we told her that she told us at the restaurant that the grasslands were only half an hour away, so she then tried to claim that she told us it was two hours away while the desert we would go to in the morning was half an hour away. The bitch was lying and we told her that. She was completely unfazed.

The next hour in the van was terrible, except for singing "Happy Birthday" to Erika who probably now has the most unique birthday story of all time. It got really cold outside but the van filled with smoke and fumes so either I breathed in really nasty shit or I froze. Any time a car passed us on the opposite side of the road, its headlights lit up the bus so we could see the beams of light pierce through the thick cloud of exhaust hanging over our heads. Streetlights vanished and the headlights we did have were incredibly weak. We came to a fork in the road and the driver stopped for a moment. He and BDC spoke in Chinese for short bit and I then realized that these people had absolutely no fucking idea where we were. We were in the middle of nowhere. I think we passed one house on the road in 10 minutes. The driver took a turn down some dirt path that was far bumpier than the regular roads, and that's saying a lot. I think most of us were convinced that they were taking us out to some remote field to rob and kill us 'cause the scene was seriously straight out of a clichéd cheap horror movie. After maybe a little more than 7 minutes down this dirt path, the driver pulled over and got out to look around. What he was looking for, I couldn't tell because all I could see was the thick blackness surrounding the bus. He got back in the bus and we turned around, went back over all the same bumps and went back to the fork where we took a different direction. Around this area of fields and dark utter nothingness (except a random deluge of horses), we drove around for another hour on top of the one we spent in the bus after the gas station before we stopped. We traveled a couple of the same paths, a few roads and found nothing. Everyone was fairly quiet due to I'm guessing what was the nice combination of shock and fatigue.

It turns out that the initial dirt path we tried was correct, we just didn't go far enough. Once we got to the apparent correct place, the driver randomly turned at some nondescript point in the road and just drove out into the middle of a field. He kept going. It was kinda freaky at this point because before, we at least were on roads. Now, he was driving in the middle of a field making random turns at random places and he just kept going. We came to a ditch that looked impassable but he plowed right through it after thinking about it for a second. Finally, we came to a little compound that was filled with yurts. We began to praise whatever god or spirit that had brought us there until the tour guide said, "that's not it." Then we all cursed the same gods or spirits we had just thanked moments before, fuckers that they were. This same scenario where our hopes were lifted and them immediately destroyed at seeing yurts that weren't really ours happened twice more. It was awful. The driver finally brought us back to the original set of hope-dashing yurts and we all exited the bus.

All around us was just darkness, except for the yurt compound which had a light or two on. We were in the middle of the Inner Mongolian plains completely lost with people who could care less about our wellbeing. I had to piss like a racehorse while we were bouncing around the dirt roads and fields so I immediately ran off to pee with the assistance of my cell-phone's handy-dandy flashlight feature. On the walk back, I was greeted by a really friendly black dog who I guided back to the bus to help cheer everyone up. The dog had a friend (another dog, don't worry), who was also really friendly but was gross to touch. I pet him anyway! After a while outside, I noticed a faint light in the distance over the horizon and wasn't sure if it was the light pollution of Hohhot or the sun. Sadly, it turned out to be the latter as it only got brighter. After it erased the beautiful sea of stars above us, it gave everything a cool glow.

While we were waiting around outside, we got into the biggest argument yet with the assholes who had kept us hostage. By that time, we had been stuck in the fucking bus for 22 hours total. We were exhausted, we couldn't even have fathomed how the driver must have felt. The tour guide and BDC kept insisting that we get back into the bus so they could continue to drive us around in the middle of fucking nowhere to find what became apparent was a nonexistent set of yurts for us. It didn't seem safe at all whatsoever to get back in the bus with them because the driver was swerving badly on the roads and it was only a matter of time before our crappy little bus that was filled with smoke either was driven into a ditch due the driver falling asleep or just broke down completely. All trust in them was also gone at this point and we didn't know what was going to happen next since they weren't listening to our demands. We insisted that the driver sleep for an hour or two on the bus while we hung out outside to watch the sunrise and once he was ready, he would drive us back to Hohhot in the morning. He refused to sleep on the bus and BDC, with the tour guide as her minion, insisted that we instead keep driving around searching for this phantom other yurt place. The tour guide, who at first seemed nice and reasonable, became just as much of an adversary as BDC when we were arguing in the dark because she didn't listen to a thing we said, nor was she translating correctly to BDC. We seriously had to concoct a plan that involved lying to them to get them to take us back to the city. They kept saying that we would do random activities tomorrow after finding the yurt. We wanted to get to Hohhot and get the fuck outta Inner Mongolia as fast as possible once we got to the city, but if we told them that, we knew that they would never take us back since it seemed like they needed us to finish the entire trip. The fact that we had to discuss amongst ourselves and consider the options they gave us when we clearly told them we wanted to get the hell out of there made me realize that we were pretty much kidnapped at this point. The most ridiculous part of the entire argument was that we were paying them for this.

In the bus earlier, I suggested that BDC, who was constantly on the phone, fucking call the goddamned yurt establishment and send someone to pick us up because they clearly had no idea where we were. This idea finally gained fanfare at 4:30 in the freaking morning when the tour guide told us that someone from the yurt had called her and was now sending someone to get us. We felt weird about it, but we didn't have another choice. The sky was much brighter at this point and we could see far off into the distance. We were basically in a wasteland. There was nothing but dirt and small grasses for miles. A car pulled up behind us and we got back into the bus to follow him to our yurts. Once we got there, the sky was a pale blue and the sun was almost visible. There was a short discussion about just giving the driver an hour or two to sleep and we would wait on the bus to get back as soon as possible but it didn't seem possible. We told the tour guide that we wanted to leave by 11 and she had the nerve to tell us that we would leave at 1 after doing some activities! We actually had to haggle them to noon before we were able to go to our yurts to sleep. Ste, Erika, Henok, Steve and I took up one and Abdul eventually joined us. I took my glasses off, which were coated in grease and grime and were filthy, and right before I laid down to sleep, I saw a blur drop from the ceiling and it landed on my pillow with a "tick." It was a grasshopper that was around 3 inches long! Thank god it chose to jump when it did because if it had waited literally 5 seconds more, it would've landed directly on my face and I would've screamed like a little girl. Once I fumbled for my glasses, it jumped onto the wall and we noticed another one near it. Normally, I would jump up and down to try to save bugs (I saved two mosquitos in my room this semester and put them outside after capturing them in a cup) but because I knew we had nothing resembling a cup and because I was so fucking exhausted at this point, I didn't care. I just couldn't kill it. Thankfully, Henok smacked both of them with a shoe. We all drifted off to not-so-peaceful sleep shortly after around 6:30AM, meaning what you've just read only accounted for twenty four hours of my life.


Randomly, I woke up at around 8 in the morning and it felt like I was being roasted alive in the yurt. The sun and all of our body heat combined created yet another incredibly uncomfortable situation. I threw off my blanket and long-sleeved shirt because it was damned cold when we got in two hours prior and fell asleep for another hour and a half or so. The heat and humidity inside the yurt only got worse when I woke up so I bolted outside pretty quickly. The air was much less stuffy but it was still really hot and the sun was already blaring at an early hour because China doesn't understand the purpose of time zones. I immediately saw a cow walking between some yurts and was just completely amused with the situation in which I found myself. We all quickly came to the consensus that we didn't want to wait around for these people, nor did we want to do any stupid activities. Everyone felt dirty and we wanted to get as far away from these people as possible. Before we could leave, we had to assemble everyone and stock up on water and supplies. Thankfully, cold water was available at a small store on the compound. This was particularly important for Ste, who was sick with heatstroke. In the middle of Inner Mongolia. In the middle of being kidnapped.

Once we got our shit together to leave, things got really ugly. We all at least kept our cool last night while we were in the dark stuck arguing with our captors but now that they were dragging their feet with taking us back to Hohhot, everyone got loud. Really loud. And angry. Still, though, for what we had endured, I'd say everyone's composure was stunning. We should've been raving lunatics ripping the yurts to pieces and bludgeoning our kidnappers to death with what we found inside. Instead, we just put on a loud and angry show for the Chinese people who stared at us, which was really nothing new as they stare at Westerners on the subway constantly in Beijing. A few people confronted BDC, particularly Erika, who got in her face and screamed at her for good reason. The tour guide was of no help, either. We told them that we wanted to leave and it took them a while to get ready. Erika and I later found BDC hiding out on the other side of the compound on the phone when we were yelling at them that we needed to leave. Ste was really sick and we needed to get on the road. Erika and I screamed at her to get going and she dragged her fucking feet like the bitch that she was. We basically had to escort her to the bus to ensure that we would leave and it still took a little while before we got moving. Once everyone was on the bus, the tour guide and BDC took their sweet ass time getting on so I got off the bus and rounded them up. We had finally started moving when we were stopped by someone from the compound on an ATV. They spoke Chinese to the tour guide and BDC and it took a bit before we found our way back to the roads we last saw in dark the night before.

The drive to Hohhot took a little over two hours and wasn't terrible since we had hopes that the worst of this experience was over. We drove through mountains, small towns, plains and farms before reaching the city. The breeze that came through the windows was nice and helped to lull most of us into a sleep but I stayed awake while listening to music and taking pictures of what we passed outside. We explained to them that we wanted to go to the train station even though last night we told them we'd stick around for the rest of the trip. Like I said, we had to plot our way through this because they didn't listen to anything we said that didn't involve sticking to the itinerary. They didn't so much take us to the train station as they took us to where we were supposed to eat lunch. I have no idea what ran through these peoples' heads. After screaming at them and telling them we wanted to go to the train station in Hohhot while in the yurts, they took us for fucking lunch in the city! BDC's manager was there and the tour guide kept insisting that we go upstairs to eat. It took at least 15 more minutes of arguing for them to finally take us to the train station and it was only because we said we'd maybe go for lunch once we got our train tickets. They even tried to tell us that there would be traffic on the way to discourage us form not staying for food. We didn't take the bait and the traffic we passed on the way to the train station lasted all of two blocks.

The train station was packed and we weren't even sure what kind of tickets we could get. Once we got inside, shockingly with the help of the tour guide, most of us waited in the train station while Dena and the guide went off to the bus station, which was next door, to check for tickets there. We found out through random people in line that we'd most likely only get standing room tickets for the train that left at 11PM, which would take around 9 or 10 hours. Dena and the tour guide came back with news that a bus was leaving at 315, which was in a little more than an hour. Most of us had every intention of leaving as soon as fucking possible and a few stayed behind to understandably explore Hohhot. I was in the former group as I hadn't had any fun in a day and I really wanted a shower. And something familiar. And a bed whose comfort level I was familiar with. And my mommy.

The tour guide (I find it funny how I know none of our captors' names) helped out with the bus tickets to Beijing and she also took us to a small grocery store to buy food for our long bus ride back. The only things we could buy were water, cookies and crackers. It's weird to think that I only had one meal for over a day and a half. It's amazing what the human body can pull off. We grabbed our stuff off of the van, bid adieu to those staying behind and we then waited for a few minutes in the train station. The popsicles a few of us had were quite good! Mine was strawberry. Maybe. Crazy Chinese strawberry.

I can't even begin to describe to you how amazing it was to see a bus with comfortable seats, air conditioning and whose exhaust and ventilation systems fucking worked properly. It was an actual tour bus, which was what we had originally expected of our previous bus but were instead stuck with the the mess that left me looking like a bad and accidental impersonation of Zwarte Piet. Our tour guide told us that the bus ride would get us back between 10 and 11 PM and it left at 3:15PM. It started moving and as we left Hohhot, I was pretty damned excited to put this whole ordeal behind me. Then we pulled into some random parking lot and hung out there for at least 20 minutes. Apparently they were loading some cargo on the bus but I just kept thinking that I was never gonna get out of that godforsaken place. Thankfully, we began moving. We drove through really weird parts of the countryside and most of where we drove looked nothing like what I saw the day before. We drove between mountains, through more tiny towns and farms. The bus stopped off at a random stop or two along the way to pick more people and every time I got worried. The bus tickets we had were standing room only and every time a new person got on the bus, I expected that one of us would have to give up our seat to someone with a ticket for our seat and spend the next seven hours standing. That never happened. I would thank something or someone holy here generally, but considering what I experienced the previous day and a half, that seems a bit silly right now.

I read my book, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, until it got dark, which kept me thoroughly entertained. My book is now covered in whatever blackness covered my hands and the pages wear the grime like a goddamed honor badge. There was a TV on board which played some really weird Chinese variety show that I paid absolutely no attention to. Once it got dark, I played games on my iPod but I never really slept because my seat would bounce back at the slightest bump and recline completely. That made napping difficult. The drive was filled with lots of swerving and death-defying passes and such loud and rampant fucking honking which is the only suitable soundtrack to this country, I swear to god. Overall, though, it was a much more comfortable drive. Mainly because I didn't have to breathe shallowly for fear of poisoning my lungs.

We stopped off for dinner at around 8 maybe and I split some food with Dena. It was pretty decent but the best part about it was that it was cooked food and I didn't have to open a plastic package to eat it. We got back on the bus and it the time eventually passed 10. Then it passed 11. Then it passed midnight and I started to get really fucking antsy because I couldn't see any sort of bright collection of light that signified the coming of Beijing. Granted, I was at the back of the bus in an aisle seat, but it was still really fucking dark outside. We didn't arrive in Beijing until 1 AM and the bus stopped off at some randomly large bus station in a part of the city that up until that point I had no idea existed. We tiredly walked towards an area with taxis and incorrectly bartered with stupid drivers that gave us flagrant prices. After most of us realized that we shouldn't even have been dealing them in the first place, we walked towards the street and found regular metered taxis that drove us back to campus without a problem. We retraced much of our drive through Beijing on our bus, though.

I looked like this when I arrived in my room. After taking this picture, I jumped in the shower right away and it took a damned long while to get somewhat clean. It's currently two days and four showers later and I still don't feel completely clean. My poor and now officially retired shirt is the color of the dust on my first car's engine when I lifted up the hood. All in all, I spent 33 of 45 hours on two different busses, usually with very little leg room. My ass fell asleep and hurt like hell for all the wrong reasons so many times it wasn't funny. Overall, though, I'm thankful for the experience because it allowed me to experience the real China, which is straight up scary. Best of all, though, and this was the thought that got me through the ordeal, it obviously makes for a great story that I will tell until the day I die. I don't care if it takes me an hour to tell.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

HOO BOY, it's been a while. Not that I've been wanting for internet access or things to do. I've been plugged in this entire time and busier than all hell (mostly). I've had no problem ignoring my blog simply because I write in a journal every day so it's not like my memories will be lost. They are documented in flurry of giantic Pages documents and photos on my computer. This blog was simply a way to keep people up-to-date with my travels and pictures but facebook pretty much takes care of that completely. Damn you, facebook, for ensnaring my life and creativity!

I am sitting in my room currently, residing in freaking BEIJING, CHINA, of all places. I have finished my thesis and all of my work related to grad school, so I simply get to relax and enjoy the city for the next 2 weeks. The previous two sentences are so improbable that I've been trying to break them down in my head for a while. Pretty much this whole trip, really.

It would make the most sense to address this grad school thing. It's been a huge goal of mine for a couple of years, something I've been trying to accomplish for the same amount of time. I experienced a hell of a lot of disappointment and obstacles along the way but I completely understand that I had to experience all that bullshit, all the sadness and the frustration, because I got to do this and this was amazing. Truly amazing. For the first time in my life, I am living completely without regret. I know how heavily regret and fear weighed me down before and to anyone who knows the familiar claustrophobia and futility that I felt for so long, I urge you to follow your dreams. Persistence pays off and I don't care how cliche it sounds, but I am now a living example of that. Every fuck up, every bump in the road that felt like a mountain, every time my heart got broken led me exactly here. Without those experiences, who knows where I would have ended up?

For the longest time, my world was defined by a list of failures and missed opportunities. I was terrified that my life had peaked at 17 and I was doomed to spend the rest of my existence dreaming of what could and should have been. What I realize now is that I made all the right choices because of the year I just experienced. They may have felt and seemed wrong at the time, but if those opportunities had worked out in another way, my life would have ended up completely differently, most likely considerably less inspiring. I see people settled into lives they never wanted and I'm so glad that that's not me. I got exactly what I wanted and everything I could have possibly hoped and dreamed for and I'm only 26. I'm just getting started.

Life is exactly what you make of it and it's never too late to hope and dream anew. I will constantly speak of that message for the rest of my years because it kills me to see people stuck in lives they can't stand when it all comes down to a matter of choice. Everything in life comes down to a choice and yes, inaction is a choice in itself. I proved that for a long time. I wasn't happy by any means, but I chose to remain where I was and it killed me for the longest time. However, dreams do come true and this whole experience has been just that and will ironically feel just like a dream when it's all said and done, I'm sure. No matter what happens when I finish, if it takes forever to find a job, if I get stuck in Buffalo for a while, if anything else my former self would have dreaded ends up happening, I know that it was all worth it. To live without regret or fear while striving to be completely happy is exactly what we're meant to do here. I don't know anyone who could say otherwise and the fact that I'm finally at such a liberating stage at my life is truly a blessing.

The mere fact that I started grad school is insane. That was the goal I had my eye on for a while. Not finishing. My sight was focused on just getting in. I've spent the year trying to think of what I want next because desire and perseverance worked so well before. So now, having finished grad school, I'm left to ponder my next step. Honestly, I'm not sure what it is that I want simply because this was so amazing that I'm okay with a basic existence now. A job that I enjoy and that helps me to live comfortably while positively affecting the world and a boyfriend who rocks my socks off are the next logical steps and things that would be nice, of course, but I'm okay if it takes me a while to find both. My life has been filled with some of the most amazing experiences anyone could have asked for and so many of them happened in the past year alone.

As a fun way to finish this off, I thought I'd list one of the many cool things in each city I've done:

I walked over London Bridge which was incredibly anticlimactic compared to Tower Bridge in London.
I climbed to the top of Arthur's Seat for an absolutely breathtaking view of Edinburgh.
I had Tibetan food in Amsterdam in a restaurant that was filled with incense and pictures of the Dalai Lama.
I ice skated on a canal in Leiden.
I saw the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
I drooled over Belgian Waffels in Brussels.
I ran around in dress shoes trying to get to all the clock towers in Bruges.
I got to re-experience and fall in love with the Roman Forum again in Rome.
I got to visit the UN in Vienna.
I got into a snowball fight in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.
I drank a pint of Guinness at the very top of the Guinness Storehouse while overlooking Dublin.
I kissed the Blarney Stone.
I stubbed my toe running away from a wave at Giant's Causeway.
I had Tim Horton's in Belfast.
I went to a Chocolate Festival in Geneva.
I went wine-tasting in the South of France.
I traveled between three countries all to pet a Saint Bernard dog in Switzerland.
I went to Bern three times randomly, once for the Botanical Gardens and two times for my visa.
I sat along the river while watching the Eiffel Tower at night in Paris.
I stared through the holes in the Berlin Wall in Berlin.
I saw a parrot eat a piece of toast with his foot in Barcelona.
I experienced an incredible amount of history, beauty and hills with amazing views in Athens.
I swam naked in the Aegean near the Temple of Poseidon in Greece.
I ziplined down from the Great Wall outside of Beijing.

I've still got two crazy weeks left here in China so I'm sure I'll only be adding to this list. I love my life :)