Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Global Citizen

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said: 
Man.  Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. 
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. 
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present.  
The result being that he does not live in the present or the future. 
He lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
This quote has been floating around the internets for a while now.  I have seen it a few times in a few different places.  First of all, i am pretty sure the Dalai Lama did not actually say this.  But regardless, i do not think it makes the sentiment is any less powerful or insightful.

This idea hits me close to the heart.  I have been working 11 hour days for the past three years, leaving my house before 8am, arriving home after 7pm, commuting through crowded subways and buses, breathing the often terribly polluted air.  And i am compensated well for the stress i put my body through.

But is it worth it? What can be more valuable than your health?

I feel i've aged faster in Beijing than i might have someplace else.  It's time for a break.  Keeping in line with the five year plan i made roughly one year ago, i'm taking some time off to travel and buy back my health and well-being.  My last day of work at US/Grant is February 29th.  My rough plan is to spend a few more months in Beijing with Esther, who is moving up in March.  My brother and niece are flying out in June, so Esther and i will remain in China until about July.  Then, we're headed out.

Our travel plans would likely take us as far west as Nepal and India, as far south as Indonesia, as far east as the US, and as far north as Mongolia.  And probably everything in between.

As a side note, i've noticed my travel posts are by far the most popular.  Specifically, Indonesia and Philippines posts get lots of page views and comments.  Coincidentally this blog will cease to be China-centric and will follow our travels, wherever they may take us.  Stay tuned.

Finally, i just bought my first non company-sponsored insurance plan, ever. The plan i bought covers me in every country in the world, except for the USA. The plan is called, "The Global Citizen".  I really like that.


Friday, February 3, 2012


From Xiaoshan, Esther and i drove 2 hours to Suzhou for one night.  Neither of us had ever been before. I've heard mixed reviews about Suzhou, many people are unimpressed with it.  When compared to nearby Shanghai or Hangzhou, i could see it being underwhelming.  We enjoyed it, and maybe that's because we only had one night there.

She bought a package deal including one night in a pretty decent hotel and two tickets to some hot springs.  This things are all the rage nowadays.  Sites like have spawned knockoffs in China, and Esther is indeed addicted. So far everything she bought has been pretty great though.  The hotel room was a duplex, very nice all around.  When we checked in, they give us the following: x2 hot springs tickets, x2 breakfast coupons, coffee and dessert vouchers, and x2 dozen eggs.  That's right.  Eggs.  I do not know why.

The hot springs resort was actually just dozens of hot tubs, each with different temperatures and fragrances... Jasmine, Red Wine, Lotus Flower, Rose Petal.  Green tea was nice, but the Jasmine smelled like poop.

We only had time to explore the city a little bit, but there are two main things to see there: water towns and classical gardens. We decided to see one of each.  First was Mudu, one of the famous ancient water towns in Suzhou.  It was quaint, cute, historical, a little touristy, but enjoyable. Picture old neighborhoods with shops selling street food and snacks, while canals and rivers subdivide the town.  The local delicacies were deep-fried crab, tofu soup(?), red bean snacks, and noodles.   Lunch was easily the best part of Mudu for me.  We found a simple noodle vendor, cheap and delicious, $2 altogether.  We sat in the sunshine, with a peaceful table just off the main street, right at a canal.  It doesn't get much better than that. Two hours was all we needed to enjoy Mudu, and they were well spent.

For the Classical Gardens, we chose Lion Forest Garden, Shi Zi Lin.  I just googled it for background information and facts, and i learned it's a World Heritage Site and Trip Advisor rates it #7 out of 126 attractions in Suzhou.  Huh. I guess that explains why we enjoyed it so much, and also why throngs of people enjoyed it with us.

Shi Zi Lin is basically a massive 1,150sqm/12,000sqft estate located in the downtown old city of Suzhou.  It was built as a monastery in the 14th century and features room after room of art, old furniture, awesome architecture and cool spaces, funky wood and rock specimens. But the real treasure was outside.  The "backyard", for lack of a better word, was a maze of winding rock pathways and caves, crazy peaks and sharp, gnarled stones.  Following these paths might take you to the edge of the lake within the compound,  , or maybe up to the second floor of one of the buildings.  You end up wandering and getting lost, and it's amazing. We were just astonished, constantly.  Still didn't have a proper camera, but we both took pictures with our phones.  Esther's (on the left) definitely came out better:
As I was taking the picture above, i noticed a lady with her professional camera trained on us.  I approached her and asked if she had taken any good pictures of us.  She said no, that she wanted to but didn't know if it was ok.  I said of course, she could photograph us, but i'd love some copies.  I gave her my e-mail address and she rattled off these two below.
That about covers our Suzhou experience.  We spent 3 more nights in Hangzhou, which is fast becoming my favorite city in China.  One day we took a long hike, inside the city. We walked from the restaurant where we had lunch to the botanicals gardens, then to west lake, then over a mountain, back to her car. In total about 3 hours, all free, and all basically inside the city.  I still can't believe so much nature exists right downtown.  A 15 minute walk is all it takes to escape crowds and traffic.  That just doesn't exist in Beijing.