Jason Atkinson: A Klamath Update

Erica and Matt Chua: He Said/She Said: Saying Goodbye to China

Three months, 11,000 miles of travel and visiting more than 20 cities, we are leaving China.  After all this, what do we think of China?

HE SAID:

China brings to mind one word: wow.  I knew very little of China prior to coming here.  All I knew was that we had three months, where we would go and what we would do was completely unknown.  Wow, how time flew, we did so many things, traveled to so many places.  Wow, the people I met.  Wow, this country is beautiful.  Wow, the trains.  Wow, the people.  Wow, the history.  Wow, China, wow.

Some big, eye-opening wows I am not going to miss: etiquette and hygiene.  I found that no matter what, I can’t stand it when people chew with their mouth open.  I can’t eat when lips are being smacked together and half-chewed pieces of food are falling from people’s lips.  I can’t believe that children are expected to do their business on the sidewalk, when there are public bathrooms everywhere.  It is not that the infrastructure for cleanliness doesn’t exist, they have made an honorable effort, but etiquette and hygiene just doesn’t seem to be the cultural norm.  Wow, I look forward to being in a place where people are not spitting on bus floors and I have to dodge human feces on the sidewalk.

As good a place as any?
A father holds his child while it defecates in the middle of the Forbidden City, one of China’s largest tourist attractions.  A bathroom was less than 100 meters away.

The good, no great, wow, surpass my gripes.  My biggest wow was the honesty of the people.  I have traveled all around the world, dealt with people of all cultures, yet I have seen few as honest as the Chinese people I dealt with.  There was no foreigner pricing, what the locals pay, you pay.  I didn’t have to negotiate for a bowl of noodles like in Hanoi, worry about getting overcharged for entrance tickets like in Thailand, or worry about being robbed like on buses in Cambodia.  Sure, prices at markets are quoted to be negotiated, but the daily transactions, complete with posted prices, was amazing.  A few times I tried to round up my bill to not have a pocketful of change, but was forcedto take my change.  Wow, thank you China, for your honest people.  Clearly they exported all their shady people to the world’s Chinatowns.

Wow, the infrastructure.  China is pumping money into its roads, trains and national infrastructure.  It is clear that not very long ago this infrastructure was pretty bad.  We rode on many unpaved streets, riddled with holes, but were happy to see that brand new highways and streets are being built almost everywhere.  We rode every type of China’s trains and were amazed by their quality and service to everywhere.  It is true, you need to buy your tickets early or you end up in the “cattle class” of hard seats, but any higher class and “wow”, what a nice, affordable way to travel.  We rode the trains almost 10,000 miles and have no complaints.  Wow.

China is an amazing country.  If you haven’t been, add it to your future travel plans.  In the future, with all the changes, travel here will only get better.  I assure you communication will be a problem, but the people will work with you to help you.  The storekeepers will help you get what you need.  The trains will take you where you want to go.  Wow, I’m going to miss traveling in China.

SHE SAID:

Saying ‘goodbye’ to China will be like saying goodbye to a close friend, she has treated me so well and provided so many amazing memories.  I have to admit I was nervous about what people were saying about her before I came and how it might affect my relationship with her.  But, China has far exceeded any expectations I had and while not everything was perfect it wasn’t the horrible experience everyone warns you about, like when you room with your best friend in college.  Regardless about what people say about my new friend behind her back I will always defend her, because until you get to know her you have no right to comment.

Yes, there are the glaring examples of poor hygiene and bad table manners, but past that the other issues regarding travel in China are surmountable.  The vast distances to travel are combated with nice, clean trains even if you do have to plan ahead.  There is a considerable language barrier, but the people are surprisingly helpful in trying to understand you.  Best of all they won’t rip you off just because you don’t speak their language.  I was always shocked by the low prices of things and that it was the same price as the locals paid.

What I will miss most about China is the scenery, which never failed to amaze me.  Around every corner was a new panorama of breathtaking beauty.  The sights in China are so unique as well, no other country has a 5,500 mile wall, five holy mountains, including the best view of the world’s tallest mountain and countless awe-inspiring temples, monasteries and Buddhas.  The amount of things to see in China could keep you busy for years.  It certainly kept us running at a frenetic pace to see over 20 cities in the past three months, but it was more than worth it.  From back alleyways in Pingyao and the rice terraces of Yuanyang to the majestic mountains of Tibet, China’s superlatives will be hard to beat.

Next to the scenery the best part of China is the food, the sheer variety and incredible tastes of this vast country were delicious to explore.  I loved the skewers of meat hot off the grill and pitchers of beer for just a dollar in our first China stop: Qingdao.  Since then the Peking duck in Beijing, spicy Sichuan food in Chengdu and the interesting yak options in Tibet made for some of my best food memories thus far.  With meals costing between 50 cents and fifteen dollars you can’t go wrong.

The only thing that can make great views and delicious food better is sharing it with amazing people and China delivers on this front as well.  We met some of the most intelligent, interesting and well traveled people on the road in China.  From English teachers in Qingdao to fellow travelers on the hiking trail in Tiger Leaping Gorge the people we met in China will remain one of the highlights of China.  It was always fun to get to a new hostel and run into an old friend, many a times this caused us to be up until all hours of the night catching up on each others travels.  I will miss all of our diverse China friends.

I will try not to cry, but I won’t say “goodbye,” instead I will say “see you soon” because I will most definitely be back.  I know there will be a lot of changes between now and then so; “keep in touch, will ‘ya?”

Lauren Mayer: “I’m Not A Scientist”

It has become a disturbing trend lately for politicians to defer expressing an opinion by explaining that they aren’t an expert in whatever area is under discussion.  (I’m old enough to remember when the most common use of this phrase was commercial actors saying, “I’m not a doctor – but I play one on TV!”)  I’m not a scientist either, but I know enough to figure that when 97% of climate change studies attribute it directly to human activity, that’s a pretty good argument.

In fact, I’ve heard that phrase used so often lately that it has become an ‘earworm’ (a disturbingly evocative description of those songs or soundbites that get stuck in one’s head).  So here’s my musical response to this over-used excuse . . .

Erica and Matt Chua: Motorcycle Maintenance in Vietnam

Number one tour guide in Vietnam?  Me.  Being your own tour guide can save you money, but could present you with unexpected adventures such as needing a quick repair job.  When we got to Mui Ne Beach I saw that the town was a straight line along the beach, a very long line.  It was roughly 20km roundtrip to see Mui Ne and another 40km roundtrip to Phan Thiet.  To tour both Mui Ne and Phan Thiet would be about $30 USD, but renting a motorcycle was $10.  Quick math and motorcycle experience made it a clear choice, rent the bike.

I gave LOCAVORista the full Mui Ne tour and continued to Phan Thiet.  I made it 3/4 of the way through the city tour and thought, “I hope this thing holds out, I am a long way from where we started.”  Within 5 minutes I felt the rear end shimmy as the engine began to cut out.   Immediately I made LOCAVORista get off the bike and asked, “Is it flat?”  She laughed and responded, “Completely”.

I walked the bike over to the repair shop and they immediately started speaking to me in Vietnamese, because they, as everyone here, thinks that I am Vietnamese.  Irregardless of what I may look like to them I had no clue what was going on.  This clearly was a repair shop but they were saying no and pointing.

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Erica and Matt Chua: Motorcycle Maintenance in Vietnam

War is Helvetica

Erica and Matt Chua: Food on a Stick

I haven’t confirmed this with my parents, but I am quite sure that this is the first year I will not be attending the Great Minnesota Get Together since I was born 29 years ago.  The Minnesota State Fair is my favorite “holiday” and a Minnesota tradition I can really get behind.  Lutefisk being the only other Minnesota tradition that I [unwillingly] participate in each year, but who can get behind lutefisk as a tradition for anyone but their worst enemies?

It’s hard to pick the best part of the Minnesota State Fair.  Is it the abundance of twangy country acts performing for free at the Leinie’s Lodge?  The grandstand shows featuring bands that were popular decades ago, but you can still sing-a-long to?  The people watching?  The toothless carnies in the Midway or the plethora of food on a stick?

While the people watching is second to none, leading you to stare uncomfortably at entire families of people so rotund they couldn’t find a shirt to cover their belly and are eating chocolate dipped bacon on a stick.  Going to the State Fair can really be an esteem booster as you leave wondering when the last time many of your fellow fair goers saw their feet.  But, the people watching wouldn’t be half as entertaining without an artery-clogging treat on a stick to eat while you cattily observe.

It is especially fun to see what those crazy fair organizers will come up with each year to out-do deep-fried Snickers Bars.  Some of my favorites include; pork chop on a stick, I’m convinced it tastes better just because it’s on a stick, mini donuts and the best Fair treat there is a buttery piece of sweet corn on the cob.  None of the food on a stick I have encountered in Asia has been as tasty as Fair food, but it’s been much more bizarre.

Below are the top five foods on a stick I’ve had in Asia:

1. Ecto-Cooler Slime Dough Balls

These were actually looking like a good snack option as they were being made fresh at the night market in Luoyang, China.  However, after we ordered them we were getting ready to pay when the sauce extravaganza started.  First was a squirt of what looked like hot sauce, then a “healthy” helping of mayonnaise, which didn’t see too bad until she squeezed on the neon-green ecto-cooler slime and sprinkled pork floss on top.  We ate them anyway as we had paid a whole 40 cents for them and I can’t tell you if they were good or bad because there were so many strange flavors happening at once it seemed like something only Willy Wonka could have dreamed up.

2. Ancient Ice Cream

This is genius, right up there with dippin’ dots only far less creative.  From what we can tell this “Ancient Ice Cream” is no different than any other ice cream except in it’s cement block shape and high price.  But someone is making money because we fell for it.

3. Deep fried gyoza roll

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Erica and Matt Chua: Food on a Stick

Erica and Matt Chua: Traveling with Allergies

I had only one goal for India: survive.  Hours after I wanted to be in a hospital, between gasps for air, I wondered if my goal of survival was too ambitious.  The trip between Agra and Varanasi started well enough.  We had reserved beds in an air conditioned sleeper car, complete with fresh linen that was Four Seasons compared to our crowded and sweaty, jail-like experience in General Seating.  Shortly after laying down to sleep though the ride took a turn for the worst: I was struggling to breathe.

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To put it gently, I have terrible allergies.  One could say I’m allergic to life, but that would be an understatement, I’m allergic to dead and inanimate objects as well. Luckily my allergies are manageable: avoid horses, animal pens, and untidy, pet infested homes.  If exposed to such situations my body floods my head with mucus, constricts my airways, and, in extreme circumstances, makes my whole body break itch.  Overall, my allergies can quickly create an uncomfortable situation.

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Only four times in my life have I actually considered that my body could suffocate itself.  The previous times I had access to medical attention.  This time I was out of bullets, I tried everything I was carrying to no avail; I needed medical attention and I needed it now. I didn’t know where the train was, where I could get help, or at what point barely breathing would become not breathing.  It was during this crises that I realized I was not carrying the right medicine to deal with such situations.

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As soon as LOCAVORista awoke she began peppering me with questions about my obvious issue.  I tried to ease her concerns, but it was hard to hide my condition.  The train was moving too slowly, minutes felt like hours and I wasn’t getting better.  Finally I admitted: I need to go to the hospital.

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After finally arriving in Varanasi and surviving past dozens of hotel touts we arranged a rickshaw to a private hospital.  I was quickly seated with a physician that had a US medical degree on the wall.  He was convinced I needed to spend a night in the hospital, have a chest x-ray, and get a cortisol shot.  Accepting that I would only spend a night in an Indian hospital if I were severely bleeding or unconscious, he finally wrote orders for me to receive nebulization. My 12 hour ordeal came to an end after 10 minutes on the magical machine.

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This situation made me reassess what I carry to fight my allergies.  Previously I carried an arsenal against allergies in general, but nothing to deal with an emergency.  Allergies are uncomfortable, but a breathing emergency can kill.  I didn’t worry about emergencies at home as medical treatments are always near; while traveling, help may not be available when it’s needed most.

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Due to this experience I re-evaluated what I’m carrying, specifically adding Prednisone for emergencies. This deals with my specific condition, for others though carrying an EPI-Pen may save their lives.  Below is a list of the things that I carry to deal with allergies and allergy-induced asthma. Obviously you should consult a specialized physician who knows your specific conditions before setting off.

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  • Fexofenadine HCL (brandname Allegra or Telfast).  This is my stalwart against general allergies and available inexpensively, over-the-counter, globally.
  • Diphenhydramine (brandname Benadryl).  This is the ultimate over-the-counter allergy stopper.  The problem is that it knocks me out, one to two pills of this over a 12 hour period and my allergies are gone; but I will be sleeping for that entire period.  When things go bad this clears my system.
  • Albuterol Inhaler-PRESCRIPTION ONLY (brandname Ventolin).  This is an emergency inhaler that helps me breathe when allergies are overcoming me.
  • Flovent Inhaler-PRESCRIPTION ONLY (no generic at this time).  This is a “daily use” corticosteroids inhaler that I use when I’ve been having extended breathing issues (multiple days).  I use it until I feel confident that whatever has been aggravating my allergies is gone.
  • Prednisone-PRESCRIPTION ONLY. I was not carrying this at the time of my asthma attack on the Indian train, but should have been.  For an allergy induced asthma attack this is a literal lifesaver.  I won’t travel the third world without it again.

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Do you travel with medical conditions?  How do you deal with emergencies when you are far from professional assistance?

 

Erica and Matt Chua: Does it Float? Your Electronics Won’t

The biggest risk to your electronics? Accidents.  Here are pointers on how to be prepared for accidents and what to do when they happen.

This is a continuation post from Saving Your Digital Ass and Backing Up Your Computer While Traveling.

As we carry more electronics, whether at home or while traveling, we need to take special precautions to protect them.  The reality is that electronics have one nemesis: water.  There are a few other ememies such as heat, sand, and falls, but water is the ever present, catastrophic enemy of electronics.  While we want to assume our devices won’t take a bath, a small slip on a dock, a clear day that turned rainy fast, or the somewhat funny “falling-out-of-pocket” into the toilet accidents happen.  Here are tips on how to avoid aquatic catastrophe and what to do when it happens.

THE PROBLEM

Water, beer, wine and other liquids are somewhat conductive.  Luckily for us they are not that conductive, but still, electronics are filled with tiny circuits and paths for electricity to travel, if the electricity jumps its track to another one (thereby bridging circuits) you get a short circuit.  While you may remember Short Circuit as a funny movie, you won’t be laughing if your laptop, phone or camera short circuits.

PREVENTION

As with most things in life, prevention is the best medicine.  Preventing your electronics from getting wet can be as cheap and easy as putting them in Ziploc/Glad bags.  The key to this method of prevention is maximizing the time your electronics can be near liquid danger, but not get wet.  The longer you can protect them, the longer you have to remove them from a dangerous situation.  Prevention is buying time, not necessarily the solution in itself.

Keeping your electronics in a backpack versus a pocket will buy substantial time as even a driving rain will take a while to soak through.  Having your device in a waterproof bag inside the backpack will substantially decrease your risk of anything going wrong.  For smaller devices, pocket cameras and phones, Glad Freezer Zipper bags are perfect.  I’ve tested Target store brand and ZipLoc freezer bags, but the Glad Freezer Zippers seem to be most air tight.  Let me know if your testing proves otherwise.

LOCAVORista and I, simply due to having way too much camping gear, carry SeaLine Electronics Cases and Outdoor Research Sacks.  These are supposed to be completely waterproof when used properly and were recommended by kayakers.

The last method of prevention is knowing where your electronics are at all times.  This means knowing where, exactly, in your bag is your phone, camera(s), and laptop.  Knowing this will allow you to immediately remove them from a soggy bag that may have fallen into a river with your significant other.

OH SHIT!  It happened… my _______ fell into the !@&*@% water

Accidents happen, so what to do if you get your electronics wet?  Memorize this and you can save your electronics life:

  1. DO NOT TURN IT ON FOR 2 DAYS!  Water kills electronics by creating a short circuit, which isn’t possible if there is no power going through the circuits in the first place.
  2. Remove the battery (if possible).
  3. Remove any media devices such as memory card and/or SIM card.  While your device may not work again, saving your photos, music, and addresses can still be accomplished.
  4. Let the device and removed components dry separately.  There are several ways to do this: hair dryer on low for several minutes, followed by either putting it in a ZipLoc bag with dry rice or those silica packets that say “do not eat” and come with many purchases such as shoes.  (here is some detailed instructions for an iPhone, but all electronics can be treated the same).
  5. Wait, wait, don’t fret, and wait.  The longer you can wait before using the device, the better off you will be.

These steps probably seem too simple, but it works, sometimes.  There is no guarantee that your wet electronics will work again due to differing circumstances, the only thing you can do is try to prevent it and take these steps if it does happen.

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This article is one in a series on protecting your digital ass(ets).  Here are the other articles:

Part 1: SAVING YOUR DIGITAL ASS(ETS)

Part 2: BACKING UP PHOTOS: You can replace your clothes, backpack or husband, but photos are irreplaceable

Part 3: BACKING UP YOUR COMPUTER: At home or on the road, your photos will end up on a computer, backing that up becomes priority number one

JUST READ: OH SHIT! When accidents happen to your electronics

After all the articles have been posted they will integrated into the Preparation Section.

 

Erica and Matt Chua: He Said/She Said: Best Wine Regions in the World

After a few bottles of wine it’s hard to determine, which wine and region are the best.  But we do our best in a sober moment to discern the best wine regions we have visited and where we are most looking forward to imbibing.

HE SAID…

Why is the sun so bright today?  Why does my head hurt so much?  Why is my mouth so dry?  Man, I need water…  Groggily opening my eyes to the noonday sun must mean one thing: I’ve enjoyed a wine region a little too much.  As the staunch environmentalist I am, I just can’t spit out the wine I taste, no, I, for the sake of not wasting, swallow every taste I have.  It’s easy to judge wine regions by the experience, the sommeliers, or the views, but let’s look at it another way: where do you look back, head hurting, and say “I love this place!”

Mendoza, Argentina is hard to beat.  It sits at the base of Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas, and many of the towering Andean peaks.  The wines are tasty and can be taken home for less than $10 a bottle.  Those things may be nice, but what makes it great?  All-you-can-eat steak.  Sure, you could go visit wineries, but why not enjoy wine the way the Argentines do?  Paired with meat, lots of meat. For less than $20 you can get all-you-can eat steak and all-you-can-drink wine.

Time for bed.  A young me after enjoying a night of Mendoza.

This isn’t a Sizzler special, it’s Porterhouse and other quality cuts, delicious sausages, and just about every piece of meat you can imagine, barbecued up for your indulging.  Yep, you’ll wake the next day wondering why you ate and drank so much, but then you’ll head out for more…

SHE SAID…

After a few wine tastings any wine region can become your favorite, however a few places stand out as areas I would love to return to.  Wine is a beverage that breaks down language barriers, brings people together and has been a highlight of our travels from Australia to Japan and back to the U.S. While I have enjoyed wine from each of these places there are also a few wine regions that have reputations that precede themselves.

Did I say that wine breaks down barriers?  It also helps to create new friendships, me, my Mom and Matt from Ekhidna winery in Adelaide, Australia.

The bold reds of Australia’s Coonawara wine region, the fruity wines of New Zealand, the rice wines of Japan and the spicy zinfandels of the Russian River Valley in the U.S. all stand out as excellent wine regions.  But, if I had to pick just one wine region as a front runner it would be the Sonoma Valley in Northern California.  The friendly tasting room staff, no tasting fees, bike-ability of the area and the wonderful restaurants and accommodation in nearby Healdsburg make this the region I would return to again and again.

While Sonoma has held the top spot on my list of favorite wine regions for quite awhile I am really looking forward to exploring the wines of South America.  We fly to Buenos Aires at the end of December 2012 and Mendoza is a high priority.  Not only am I looking forward to the array of reds in Argentina, but they should be the perfect pairing for the great steak.  We’ll keep you updated as our favorites list grows with our travels.

Do you have a favorite wine region or a specific wine that you love?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

Erica and Matt Chua: How to Make Gyoza

The Chinese may get credit for the invention of this little dumpling, but our Tokyo host Takeshi gets credit for teaching me how to make them. The gyoza, known more commonly in the U.S. as “potstickers”, was not introduced to Japan until the 1940′s most likely adapted after the Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930′s. Since then the Gyoza has become so popularized that there are Gyoza restaurants and even a Gyoza Stadium located in Osaka, Japan. The Gyoza Stadium has a museum complete with history and explanations of the many varieties of this adopted dish, while we didn’t visit I am sure it was fascinating…

This recipe includes a dipping sauce and instructions on how to assemble and cook “potstickers” as taught to me by Takeshi, so the amounts are rough estimates- you might have to play with them a little.

Yields about 48 potstickers.

Ingredients:

  • Dumpling wrappers (these can be bought at Asian specialty stores)

Filling:

  • 8 ounces Napa cabbage
  • 3 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions, with tops
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Dash white pepper

Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • hot pepper flakes or use a chili oil instead of sesame oil

Other:

  • 2 – 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Chicken stock

Preparation:

Cut the cabbage across into thin strips and then mince into tiny pieces. Mix with 2 teaspoons salt and set aside for a few minutes. Squeeze out the excess moisture so that your dumplings aren’t too wet while you assemble them.

In a large bowl, mix the cabbage, pork and green onions with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and the white pepper.

Putting the pork and cabbage mixture in the dumplings.  Getting the right amount (about 1 tablespoon-full) of mixture makes sealing the dumplings easier.

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Erica and Matt Chua: How to Make Gyoza

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