Clooney, Cage and Chicken Feet?

China the enigma. From an old lady chomping on boiled chicken feet on the train while picking her nose, to the refined nightlife of Shanghai or Hong Kong, with Armani suited businessmen eating dinner  overlooking the skyline. You’ll find every possible fashion faux pas from the west here and at the same time you can find all your high end dreams at prices you just might be able to afford. Billboards with familiar Hollywood stars selling ugly handbags to the endless array of watch advertisements. Nick Cage, you’re really not that good looking, and that fancy watch on your wrist is somehow out of place. Or maybe it’s you. How dare you take that million dollars to have your face plastered all over every major city in China. Clooney is here too. Of course. White people selling a billion plus Chinese, shit they don’t need. I never would have imagined. I somehow thought it wasn’t allowed. But China surprised me so many times. The young couple helping without us asking when we got off the bus in Changsha, to the ancient walled city of Feng Huang and its bustling night market.  My programming from watching the news all my life made me think it was going to be a sea of sweat shops making Nike shoes and dollar stores filled with all the same crap. You know what? They don’t sell any of that junk here; all those little trinkets are for our shopping bags only.

We’ve spent most of our time in China in the four major cities, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. With a small stint into Hunan province for a piece of the countryside and mountains. Hunan reminded me of northern Quebec mixed with the prairies of Alberta. We passed through some rural communities along the way amidst the never-ending rice patties and small farms. Young and old out under the beating sun tending to their crops, and yes, most still wearing that little round cone hat that you see in the photos. Tradition steeped in a tea of constant construction and continual advancement in this powerhouse of a developing nation. Cranes are everywhere, road construction and bridges are being built as fast as the concrete can be poured. China is on fire, gaining momentum each day racing to what finish line I am not sure. I can say however with some confidence, that China in its entirety has a long way to go, but their major cities are miles ahead of any city I have been to in North America. Once the rest of the country catches up they will steamroll over everybody and everything that stands in their way. The disparity between wealthy and poor is enormous, with the majority of the billion plus population falling into the poor side of things. The Chinese are very resilient, and now that a more capitalistic lifestyle is opening up under the guise of the old communist rule, China’s doors are wide open and the people here are taking full advantage. I don’t know what the future holds but many have said that China could be the next superpower, and now that I’ve been here to see a small part of it with my own eyes, I would have to agree. We in the west need to start focusing on the things that we say really matter because if we don’t our world is going to change dramatically if this country takes the lead. Maybe that’s a good thing; we have a lot to gain by Chinese ideals. Family is so important here, respect for the elders which we have none of at home, education, health care (western or traditional), public transport which is inexpensive and efficient. All of the capitalist corporations are here but they don’t rule their world as they do at home. There is still this ever present sense of community, although the little girl getting run over and nobody helping her might make you think otherwise. There are fruit and vegetable stands on every corner, mom and pop shops down every street. People everywhere trying to make a living not corporations hiring people to make them money. I wish we had more of this at home, I was too young to understand what that meant before Walmart started to change our urban landscape forever.   I can only hope that as time passes they too don’t lose their humanity to the ever-pressing corporate dollar sign.

We are going to have to cut our China trip short due to some red tape around obtaining our visa extensions so we will be forced to flee to Vietnam faster than we thought. I am glad that we came to China, it has made me realise “again” that we have it all wrong at home. We work way too hard, we don’t get enough time off, we always live beyond our means, with credit cards destroying any way of coming to terms with that. Processed foods are killing us one burger at a time, with obesity running rampant. They pour oil onto every fresh dish that is made here, yet I have only seen a handful of overweight people. Our junk food nation, and TV filled existence doesn’t work. I don’t think the North American lifestyle is for me anymore, it might just be time to get out.

B.

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S&M Massage Parlor?

An ant. I’m a tiny little insect participating in the beautifully choreographed dance that is Hong Kong. Actually, I’m a giraffe in a maze of black haired talking heads on cellphones, who are usually about the height of my chest. If you’ve ever imagined a place where everything is done in the absolute smartest way, well I think we’ve found it. A transportation system that seems to have been designed by Einstein, and a better way to do just about everything. Singapore and Hong Kong have impressed me to say the least; I could really see myself moving here. I’m a huge advocate of Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM for short and I’ve been seeing a practitioner in Montreal for the past ten years. One of the reasons why I was so excited about coming to Asia was that these types of treatments are the norm here, and I am more than ready to take advantage of the resources now available to me. A significant lesson that TCM has taught me is, “No pain, no gain.” Acupuncture, acupressure,
cupping and various forms of massage can be quite painful.  Just when I can’t possibly endure one more moment, the treatment is usually over and results are achieved even after one session.  So far I’ve had Indonesian and Thai reflexology, acupuncture, cupping and have tried several different herbal remedies including Tortoise Plastron jelly and Bird’s Nest concentrate. The most excruciating experience was the Thai reflexology.  During treatment the masseuse and I had a lovely chat about the pros and cons of living in Singapore, as I lay there grinding my teeth, biting my lip and trying not to scream, “Stop” at the top of my lungs. We discussed how safe and clean it is and the amazingly, magnificent food (more on that later). Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get anymore agonizing, he started punching my feet and calves full force. Large pools of tears welled up in my eyes and I wondered if I had stepped into a dungeon instead of the massage parlor decoratively advertised on the storefront window. Somehow Singapore has solved the eternal problem of homelessness. One of the ways they have done this is that government housing is available for as low as 100 dollars a month. On a different note these were the words my new friend left me with, “In Singapore people don’t say anything about what the government do or you disappear, they put you into the ground.”

The only way I can describe the food in Singapore and Hong Kong is that it tastes like LOVE. The chopsticks touch your lips and your mouth has been blessed with the most extraordinary gift, you just can’t help but crack a smile. An abundance of flavor, this food was made at the hand of someone who truly cared. A cook who
cared enough to meticulously add each special ingredient, and simmer the brew for hours and hours but never, ever for even one minute too long.

After a few beers, there is nothing like a skewer of various types of organ meat sold on the street at 1am. Priceless.

I carry everything I own in one bag right now, which has made me think about what it is I really need. Absolutely nothing. All of my clothes are a wrinkled mess and that eyeliner or hair product that I just couldn’t live without at home is impossible to find here. It simply doesn’t matter. All I need is clean underwear, comfortable
shoes, sunscreen and my baby by my side. We start exploring the rest of China in the next few days. My heart is wide open, and I’m ready to drink it all in like a sponge. Last thought: Baggage. You take some of it with you on a trip, but hopefully you also leave some behind…

P.S. Quote taken from a bottle of Ginseng wine,” We sincerely recommend you drink more for your health. Functions: Improve appearance and reinforce energy, strengthen health and prolong life.” YES!!

F.