Wednesday, June 30, 2010

World Cup Fever

I've had a couple exceedingly late nights recently. The world cup schedule in China during the group phase was great, with 7pm, 10pm, and 2:30am matches. Watching two a night for two weeks was enough to get me significantly hooked. Tragically, when the Round of 16 began, they removed the 7pm slot. Doubly tragic was that most of the matches i wanted to watch were at the 2:30 slot. Two nights in a row, i did something i haven't done since, well, since the first couple months of living in Beijing: I stayed up until sunrise.

Friday night i needed to see the Spain-Chile match, as a loss or tie for Spain would mean their departure from the cup. Therese and i had some friends over for Catan, beers, and merriment. Bedtime was almost 5am. Then again on saturday, about twenty-five of us descended on Ellen's place at the Ascott for the USA-Ghana match, after which, we all filed out of the apartment dejected. "I can't believe i stayed up for that crap," was the slogan of the wee-morning. I wasn't home until nearly 6.

Being the old man that i am (therese has recently started plucking my grey, old man eyebrows), i quickly decided i couldn't do it anymore. However, being the World Cup Addict that i am, i'm sure i will. I know for sure the Monday after the Sunday morning finals is going to be rough for me.

And i'm not the only one. All around town, bars and back-alley restaurants alike have set up outdoor televisions for easy viewing. For a people that aren't even represented in the tournament, the Chinese are avid lovers of the game. On a related note, that does make you wonder... i read the total population of ALL participating World Cup countries is 1.5 billion. How is it a country of 1.3 billion can't field a team strong enough to beat out the pitiful North Korean's?


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sunrise, The Love Kult, and The Sky Stairs

Last weekend we guided another trip to the wall. Baby Girl and i were the official guides, while therese and leigh helped out a ton. We had a family of five, including three teenagers, from Austin, and a couple in their 30's from Philly (go hawks!)... eleven total. We always seem to get lucky with adventurous and easy going guests.
Perhaps awesome people a just drawn to this kind of adventure. Still, this trip was for a few reasons my favorite so far.

We are normally the only group up at this section of the wall, and you'd be surprised to see anyone else. This time, we were visited by a group of photo taking Chinese tourists from Shandong. We saw them coming from a hour away and when they finally reached our tower, they flowed in through the narrow entrance like a swarm of bees exiting the hive. We were overrun in no time. Baby Girl, the gracious host, offered one lady a taste of our delicious pasta. When asked by a friend how it was, she simply grimaced and replied, "Bù hǎo". Not good. We smiled for their pictures and no doubt became the focus of many photo albums and stories... just as they were for us.

If that weren't enough excitement, at about 9pm, another massive group arrived and camped at base of the wall next to our tower. The group of around fifteen was in the middle of some teamwork building exercise or bonding ritual. They had hiked the entire trail that night linked hand in hand and blind folded. They hung a banner on the wall that proclaimed their love for the world, each other, and all things everywhere. In the morning, the group, lovingly nicknamed The Love Kult, blared The Rose on repeat for an hour from a little stereo. Of all the sounds i expected upon waking while camping on the wall, Bitte Midler singing "Love, it is a river..." is exceedingly low on that list.

So that was all obviously great (read: makes for a good story), but it was also the first time therese and i slept outside on the roof of the tower. Conditions were perfect, and we fell asleep looking at the stars and listening to the symphony of life in the forest below. The next morning we were treated to a breathtaking sunrise. The light rain from the night before had left mist in the valley below and clouds to enrich the sky. At 4:15 am, Eric says to me: "Kevin, you probably want to see this."

Us sleeping soundly and us moments before being woken up (pictures by Eric):

That was Eric. Under different circumstances, i may have feared for our lives, but he's actually quite harmless. Anyway, his words woke me up faster than when maze starts clawing at my face in bed. I went from deep sleep to dressed with camera in hand in mere seconds. Here's what i saw:

Those silhouettes are Eric and Michelle.

The sunday hike was extraordinary. We usually hike across the wall with our packs on, and go around a section called "The Eagle Flies Facing Upward". The Sky Stairs lead up to it, and they are aptly named; this 70-80 degree slope of rugged, narrow stairs rises to one of the highest points around. We don't take guests up there because it's just too dangerous. But today, Eric and i decided to stash our packs and cross it, meeting the rest of the group on the other side. It was my first time, and it was amazing. In parts, it was actually a pretty technical climb, but we had to climb it without ropes.

The first two pictures are from his camera. That experience capped off a pretty incredible weekend for me.


Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cup, Cats in Bags, Other Great Things

The World Cup is in full swing now, and what better way to commemorate then with a long overdue kitty post! But first, this little morsel of awesomeness, posted in the elevators of my apartment building.
Please watch the match matter civilized, Treated the lose and win reasonable, Do not abuse other person, Express own affection with civilized and gentle way.
No matter the match how wonderful, Please lower the voice, in order to avoid that affect and disturb the family members and neighbors.

Thank you for your understanding and Cooperation.
So we've been watching the world cup regularly, have enjoyed the highlights of USA tying England, Ghana showing up to play, Germany trouncing... and the low-lights of Spain's upset. No matter the match how wonderful, Therese and i have been watching the match matter civilized, but no one has enjoyed it more than Muse. We never used the TV until now, and she just realized there are tiny people inside that grey box in the living room. And she wants them. Bad.

Sometimes, when the little guy just barely escapes her clutches and runs off screen, she darts behind the TV and scans for wherever her prey is hiding. Video coming later, look for an update.

In other news, Maze loves being inside bags. I mean, she just LOVES it. Not sure why, maybe it's her insecurities and she feels protected within them. But, she probably doesn't realize WE CAN STILL SEE HER.

The catfights are still awesome. I only have one addition but it's pretty great, and i feel like it should be from a Garfield cartoon. If you look closely, they are fighting over territory, which, in this case, is a plastic bag.

Muse poised to pounce, butt all up on the windowsill for maximum thrust.

Of course, it's not all fighting over bags and attacking tiny television men around here. Sometimes it's just cuddling.

And finally, Maze contemplating the mysteries of time and space. Her brain is only moments away from exploding. Poor Maze, she just doesn't understand.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tian Zi Fang

Friday in Shanghai was one of those rare, free days before a tournament. We decided to take it easy and stroll through Tián Zi Fāng (田子坊) , or "Lover's Lane". This is Shanghai's answer to the hip hutong hangout of Beijing's Nan Lou Gu Xiang.

While it is a very nice area to spend an afternoon, it didn't much feel like China. It could have easily been in San Francisco or Paris. The old brick houses and chic cafe's felt too familiar. But maybe i've just been in Beijing too long.

The shops and restaurants were all really cool. Western food is everywhere, coffee shops line the alleys, and artists are everywhere. The scene inspired me to take lots of pictures.

So i did.
Our pair of couples enjoyed brunch at Kommune.
Therese found a kitty.
I photographed some old ladies.
Then a cool building and patio.
I took another cute picture of Therese.
Then a stairway.
A candid moment with Baby Girl and Leigh.
And a bird.

I feel like that probably should have been a poem.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Shanghai Expo - Part 2

The four of us met up with Tao for the second half of the day, and we spent the better (read: longer) part of it waiting in line for Spain.

In general, i'm a sucker for all things Spain. I have been since i lived there in 2001. The pavilion's exterior is simple, yet intriguing, and massive! It's covered with sheets of rattan, making it look like a piece of wicker furniture, with curvy, impossible angles everywhere. Waiting in the line, although hot and tiring, afforded us the opportunity to view the pavilion from multiple vantage points.

Inside, the first room is a cave. In Sevilla, true Flamenco is performed by gypsies in cuevas, or caves. They aren't actual caves (well, maybe some are), but more like underground (in the non-commercial sense) bars built with stone walls, moss growing in the damp corners, hard, wooden seats, and acoustics that make you feel the ground-pounding steps and sharp, rhythmic clapping.

Within this cave, we watched as scenes from Spanish life were projected on the cave's front wall: Picasso's Guernica, the running of the bulls, great moments of soccer, and, of course, Flamenco. The music grew with intensity and quickened its pace. A woman, a flamenco dancer, arose from a crumpled heap of clothing on the stage before us and began to dance. It would not last long, but it was captivating. We stayed in the cave and watched the cycle repeat twice.

There was also a giant baby. I'm not sure what it has to do with Spain, but people seemed to love it.
  • Pros - Comfortable and cool interior, flamenco dancers, giant baby.
  • Cons - 90 minute wait
  • Verdict- Definitely a treat. Apparently you can make a reservation and get in a priority line. And now i know.

While Spain appeared to be going for quality, or at least scale, over quantity, Indonesia endeavored to cram in as much information about itself as possible. Indonesia is pretty much the king of biodiversity. We learned Indonesia contains 10% of the world's flora species, 12% of the its mammal species, 25% of its fish species, 17% of its bird species, 16% of it's reptiles and amphibians. We learned about various tribes and cultures, such as the Kombai tree house dwellers, and marveled at indigenous people with plates in their ears or bones through their noses. All this was terribly exciting to therese and i, as we had just officially decided on Indonesia for our three week vacation in late July.
  • Pros - Very Short line, comfortable and cool interior, very informative.
  • Cons - Can't think of any, unless you dislike Indonesia.
  • Verdict - If you're the type that loves the National Geographic, you won't be disappointed.

That was the end of a long day. We left as the sun was setting and the pavilions were beginning to illuminate. In retrospect, i would have loved to stay another ninety minutes to see some pavilions lit up, but we were pretty beat. I think the long line for Spain ended us. Fortunately, the Expo will be open for another 4 months, and you never know, i may have another opportunity to check it out.