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Thursday, December 15, 2011

China's Ghosty Places, Oblivion, and Life Reflections

Yes, I wrote Ghosty, it is not a typo!

I've decided it is defined as "similar to spooky, but different. Like ghostly, spooky, and creepy all packed into a word taco."

So, yeah! That's what I get for being woefully inarticulate.

For a few years now, there have been stories circulating luxurious cities and places in China that are deserted because either no one lives around or can afford to live or visit those places.

- Wait, deserted cities in China?

- These aren't demo photos - these are photos that were taken on normal days at normal times when, in ordinary cities, people would be walking by.

Yep. (Ordos, China)

I don't know if you've been paying attention, but it seems to occur alarmingly often for a country like China that's asserting itself on the world stage and holding a lot of the world's debt.

It's a well-known and well-established fact that China is doing anything and everything it can to grow its economy in order to be a player on the world stage.

In some cases, they do it really well, like when they invest in factories which cheaply produce stuff that America won't even dare to try to manufacture because Americans need such high pay.

And then there's this.....

"The area is filled with office towers, administrative centers, government buildings, museums, theaters and sports fields—not to mention acre on acre of subdivisions overflowing with middle-class duplexes and bungalows. The only problem: the district was originally designed to house, support and entertain 1 million people, yet hardly anyone lives there." - TIME (link here)

Also, in this Dateline report from earlier this year, an expert says that "there are an estimated 64 million empty apartments in China today....they're building stuff for which there's no demand."

 .........freakin back up, what??!! A (conservatively estimated) 64 million empty apartments in China today. The expert goes on to say that the property bubble which burst in the United States pales in comparison to what will happen in China if this goes on. 

One thing that is mentioned in that Dateline Report is the stringent requirements for home ownership that cannot be forgotten. The buyer has to pay 50% upfront and the balance of the account within 3 years. 

(Dongguan, China's main avenue...freakin empty)

Although this hinders the people being able to buy these expensive houses because of the lack of a really good credit system in China, it's also what's kept China from experiencing a credit crisis like the United States has.  

China's just full of these little paradoxes. There are cities with waaay too freakin many people like Chongqing and Beijing, but there are also deserted cities that were made to hold anywhere between 1 million and 17 million people (depending on which deserted city you're looking at). There's no credit market, which means that people can't buy the expensive stuff the government is building, which is feeding into a coming crisis, but it's also saved them from a crisis that the United States is still working its way through. 

[insert clever, appropriate, and memorable segue here]

These places are all free and legal to visit, with the (sort of) exception of the one below. 

But would you really go?

On one hand, I'd really like to go to one of these empty cities, but on one hand, it'd be a version of've got the whole world to yourself for all eternity, but you're alone. Forever. 

The idea of emptiness and absolute oblivion has always terrified me, so I try not to think about it, but I can't help it when I see these kind of places. 

("Wonderland" - an abandoned theme park 45 minutes outside of  Beijing)
I mean, who wouldn't be freaked out visiting a completely empty city or a rundown and deserted Chinese Disneyland that was built out in the middle of a cornfield?

But who doesn't want to at least go to one of them?

If you don't get freaked out or at least uncomfortable every once in a while, then you're not alive. I think that's probably the reason that we find the idea of ghost towns so fascinating - we see these ghosty places as a reflection of what the Earth will be like after we're dead and gone, because let's face it, humanity won't last forever.

Part of what life is about is trying to come to grips with the fact that it doesn't last forever, and what these ghosty places do is make us indirectly ponder our lasting impact on the world. 

What will it matter what we've done, if 500 years after the last human dies, plants and nature swallow up the last trace of humanity's buildings, sidewalks, computers, and literature? I'm not sure - it's not a question I can ask, but it's something to think about. 

If you guys are curious, here are some of the sources I used to write this post:

China's Deserted Disneyland
Amazing Satellite Images of China's Ghost Cities
Daily Mail - Ghost Towns of China
Dateline Report
TIME - Ordos, China: A Modern Ghost Town


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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Re: McCultures

I'm subscribed to quite a number of China blogs, and "Life After China" is one of them. It's too bad that stuff isn't posted more often, but I completely understand about not posting a lot, because I don't do it too often either!

It's written by an Australian guy named Marcus, who taught English in a city called Wuxi, also known as "Little Shanghai", located in Jiangsu Province. Now back in Australia, he occasionally posts about the goings-on in China, my favorite so far being about people who pick your pockets using chopsticks! Read that story here!


So, there was a recent post on there called McCultures, which talks about how places like McDonald's, that aren't cool in America (and in his case, Australia), super freakin awesome in places like China.

It's a pretty good post, and completely true, so I recommend that you guys go and check out the blog! 

There's not a lot going on right now - we're getting ready for a Texas Christmas! Two of my Chinese friends will be here for the holiday, so I'll be putting up some pictures, I'm sure, and rambling about how Christmas and China have some crazy connection and Santa's secretly Chinese or something. 


Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Video and the Peace Corps

Hello, there!

I'm back again, and I actually have a new video!'s not really a new video, it's more of a hey-what-is-this-video-file-Oh-Holy-Crap-forgot-to-upload-that-to-YouTube video.

So, yeah, this is from my visit to Beijing's Summer Palace, which was my last tourist stop before I left China.


Anyway, I hope you enjoyed that. I did.  It's always nice to do vlogs while I'm out and about -- it helps me feel I'm not by myself. (I like being myself, so don't feel sorry for me or anything----do you care that much? I dunno, oh well, continue!)


So I finally got my paperwork submitted to the Peace Corps!! It was a freaking long process due to the fact that I got really busy with work, had to wait on some people for my letters of recommendation, had to place some calls to find out exactly what stuff to put where, and that kind of thing. It didn't help that the application itself was like 93, 870 pages long. Not really....but it was long.

[For those of you who don't know, the Peace Corps is a volunteer organization that is funded by the American government. People apply for a region/country, and are selected as needed based on their qualifications. They can do anything from teaching English, helping farmers, working in the health field, doing community development, and more. It offers great benefits to volunteers and doesn't cost anything to serve. After 3 months of in-country language training and orientation, you do 2 years of work in your area!]

So, what happens now? Now, I'll be talking about the Peace Corps for the rest of the post.

I decided to apply for the Peace Corps for a number of reasons:

1. I've never really volunteered to do anything in my life that took longer than a few days, and I want to finally get off my butt and go help some people. I'm so comfortable in America, and the most I've done is give a few bucks to charities when I know for a fact that there are people who would kill to be in my shoes.

2. It's freaking China!!! Come on!!

3. Being selfish. I loved every second of my experience in China, even the super awkward and difficult times, and I want to experience it again.

4. The Peace Corps offers a chance for a true life-changing experience. I'll get to hang out with students and locals, improve my Chinese, learn more about China and its people, and come home with some really crazy stories.

5. Something about the 9-5 work day just doesn't appeal to me anymore after being in China. I don't really want to be a professor of Chinese history like I used to want to be....if I was going to be a professor, I would teach Chinese. I might even want to write some books. Actually, I was going to write a book, but it turned into a bunch of blog posts instead!
        5-a. I do enjoy my job (I do audio-visual tech work in the Dallas, TX area, but I want more.
        5-b. I'm not trying to insult anyone who has a 9-5. It's not bad or's just not me.

6. I want to experience the challenge of another culture again. I want to connect with people who are different than me and I want to get a taste of what it's like to live in China. Not just study for a semester like I did, but live and work for two years.

That would just be great.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Next Chinese Travel Destinations

When I was in China, I lived in/traveled to a few different cities - Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinchang, Xi'an, Huan Xian, Tianshui, Guangzhou, and Yinchuan.

But that's only a really, really small sample of where I want to go. There are all kinds of beautiful places around China that are just calling my name! When I get back, I'm going to try to visit every single one of them. These aren't really in any particular order.

1. Qinghai Lake (pronounced Cheeng Hi), Qinghai Province

This place is pretty close to where I was at in Lanzhou, but I unfortunately didn't get the chance to visit. It's a really well-known place and a lot of people in the Northwest go to visit it during their school vacations, although from Lanzhou, it would make a good weekend trip! (so I'm told)

This is what it looks like during the early summer - I don't know about you, but this looks like paradise. It's completely unlike anything I saw in China.

Qinghai also has really, really great food (so I've heard), so that's another great reason to go!

2. Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) - Xinjiang Province

Heavenly Lake is in the far-west province of Xinjiang, or as Poise On Arrows puts it, "The New Tibet" hahaha

Seriously, though. She's got an awesome blog, check it out! (it's actually way better than mine)

Anyway, back to it!

3. Dunhuang Grottoes - Gansu Province

The Dunhuang (pronounced "Dune Hwong") Caves are home to the most famous Buddhist carvings and sculptures in China.

The oldest caves were dug out in 366 A.D. for meditation and prayer purposes and the rest of the cave paintings/sculptures span a period of over 1,000 years! Freakin cool!

Seriously, this is sweet.

You don't have to be a Buddhist to appreciate the beauty of the sculptures and the intricacy of the paintings. You don't have to be an artist or a laborer to appreciate how long it took the ancient Chinese to carve out the 492 caves that dot the site.

Lakes like Tianchi and Qinghai are cool and everything, but there are beautiful lakes all around the world.

Places like Dunhuang are places that are unique to the indigenous culture and can't be found just around the corner. I had the chance to go to Maiji Mountain in Tianshui, which is like a smaller scale Dunhuang, and I was struck by the true awesomeness of the place. Awesome like "full of awe" and not like "fried rice is awesome" (though it is).

Read my post about Maiji Mountain here.

4. Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve - Sichuan Province

Jiuzhaigou (pronounced "Geo-Jie-Go") is probably the most famous nature reserve in China.

This is a picture of Five Flower Lake, which is famous for the crystal clear water in which you can see the trees that have fallen into the water over the years.

Jiuzhaigou is a valley, so naturally, it's surrounded by mountains.

I've been to a lot of beautiful places, but this is honestly one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, and that's just from pictures!!

I can't imagine what it would be like to go there.

The only problem with this park is that it's in Sichuan Province, which sometimes closed off to foreigners for one reason or another.

The government doesn't announce it either. You can just be on your bus or your train and then the police will stop you and say, "You are a foreigner. Travel to Sichuan is closed to foreigners for the moment due to ethnic tensions in the area", which is a bullsh*t excuse, because Sichuan is a really safe place. If you're going to go, take a Chinese friend who can negotiate with the police. If they're even decently savvy, they can help you talk your way in. After that, it's smooth sailing!

When you get there.....oh boy, wow.

Seriously, just look at that.

I cannot wait to go and see this!!!!

These particular falls are 320 meters long and are usually more full than this --- this is a picture taken during somewhat of a dry spell.

Still, how cool is that?

This is the 长海, or Long Lake, the deepest lake in the valley.

I don't have to say anything -- you can see how awesome this is.

5. Kashgar - Xinjiang Province

Kashgar, as you can see in this map, is waaay out in western China. It's pretty much as far west as you can go......and I thought I was in a remote area in Lanzhou!

It's almost in all of those Stans - Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and all of those -- and you can tell by the pictures!

Actually, I had only heard the place mentioned once while I was in China, but after I got back, I started reading a blog by this Australian girl called "Poise On Arrows" and she put up a great series of posts about this city in this far-flung area of China.

It took me all of half a post to be entranced by the sheer "Un-Chinese-ness" of the place, according to the idea of China that I had in my mind.

Seriously, it freakin looks like Lawrence of Arabia or something -- and geographically, it's pretty much the Middle East.

It's so culturally different from all the places that I have been been --- can't wait to check it out!

It's definitely not all bright and polished like Beijing and Shanghai, and those are the places that I really love!

How cool would it be to hang out in a place like this??

There's so many unique aspects of these kinds of places -- the language is different, the dress, the food, the downtime activities, traditional customs, everything!

Check that out! Looks like something out of the movie "Alexander"!

There's the Middle Eastern style doors, and the sign next to the door is written in Arabic, not Chinese!

Can't wait to go.

The world is a big, wonderful, beautiful, and culturally diverse place. There's so many people and places out there that we have no idea even exist, let alone what they go through on a daily basis.

We, (or Americans, at least), get caught up in the idea that we are the greatest country on earth, and (subconsciously) think that since we are the greatest, we don't really need to be culturally informed about other places.

I can't wait to go back to China and be thrown into a place that's totally foreign, and, at times, awkward, disgusting, and frustrating! There's so much to learn and so much to see!!!


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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why I Blog

So, it's been a while since I posted anything!

Now.....I could write stuff like "I've been busy" and "I forgot", but really, I haven't felt like it.

The main reason that I started blogging was to help people keep up with what I was doing while I was in China.

Immediately after I got back to the States, I blogged to help me cope with being back and to help people understand the ways that China had changed my thinking.

Now that I'm adjusted and things are getting back to "the old grind",  I either have been busy or just haven't felt in the mood to post stuff.

But this is, by no means, the end of my China obsession!

Right now, I'm applying for the Peace Corps and I've requested to go to China, but since the Peace Corps puts you wherever they need you, I may not go there, but since I have the language experience, I'll probably end up there.

Trust me, if I'm going to be in China for 27 months, then you'll see a LOT of blog posts!

From now on, I'm going to update when I have something to say, not because I feel like I have an obligation to churn out generalized China information because I'm worried about losing followers. I would rather do the posting out of a sincere desire to do it rather than try to rack up every follower on Earth and treat it like work.

I do have something in mind for this week, but I've got some stuff I have to take care of first.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Blog Fail.

I'm really sorry that I've been completely failing at posting these last few days. I've been working like crazy.

When you're doing media work full time, it's hard to think about anything else.

Working full time on stuff like this is new for me, and I'm usually too tired to do anything after I get off (at 1am or 3am or whenever we finish) to do anything else.

It's a really big shift going from setting up cameras to thinking about the Drum Tower in Xi'an (that's what's pictured here).

I know it's not really an excuse, but I promise that I will be updating from time to time on here.

My dad said that the hardest part about blogging is "feeding the machine" - it's true. If I was a "professional" blogger that was paid, I'd definitely be able to write daily, but since I'm just a recent college grad working a freelance video job, it's tough.

But still.....though I'm busy, any time that I'm not at work or sleeping, I'm thinking about China and what kind of stuff waits for me upon my return.

I've got this application for the Peace Corps, but inexplicably it just keeps sitting here waiting to be submitted. I've done all the major things; I just have to tweak some stuff and it'll be ready.

What I'd really love is to go back to Lanzhou and take my family with me - I think that'd be really interesting. Sometimes they'd love it, and sometimes they'd hate it, but it'd definitely be fun for me!

(Right - In a park in Jinchang, Gansu Province)
(Below - Maiji Mountain outside of Tianshui, Gansu Province)

Until next time - much love, 


Monday, November 7, 2011

Beautiful China, Part 2

(this is Part 2 of a series - for Part 1, click here)

 Again, we are going to start with mountains! There's just something majestic about them. Seeing mountains reminds me of [insert a profound realization about the nature of life that I cannot really express here] and I'll always keep that with me.

(Left) The flat mountain here is Maiji Mountain in Gansu Province. (Below) Taken from Maiji Mtn itself.
Although you can click on these pictures to make them bigger, something is lost when you take a picture of mountains which are surrounded by the early morning's fog. 

Although you can look at the picture and say, "wow...", it is a truly awesome thing to actually experience. Awesome as in the original sense of being full of awe. 

For me personally, there is nothing better than a combination of three things which I love most of all - mountains, cultural history, and China.

And Maiji Mountain gave me all three at once! Buddhist carvings dating back over 1000 years on a mountain in China! How about that?

As I walked along the side of this mountain, I was once again reminded that I was in China - sometimes I forgot that I was on the other side of the world in a country that I technically didn't belong in, but felt like I belonged in.

Sometimes it takes something truly foreign and unique to remind us of where we came from and how we got to where we are today.
When I think of something beautiful, normally I think of the mountains or somewhere far away from the city. But beauty isn't just about mountains and nature. It's about something that is stirred deep within you and reminds you of your humanity and your fleeting time on earth.

(Lanzhou University of Technology campus)

It's not limited to Tianshui, Lanzhou, Beijing, New York, Colorado, or any place.

Beauty is everywhere - you just have to be aware of it, I guess.
To me, the beauty of these places is that all of these places are special to me because I got to Rest. 

That seems to be something that's largely been lost on humanity. The ability to just rest and reflect on yourself. Now life is all about doing and planning, but rest and reflection have been all but forgotten.
(Lanzhou from Bai Ta Shan)

Sometimes you can find the most peaceful and beautiful spots in the unlikeliest of locations....would you care to guess where this is?

Downtown Beijing.

Yep - this is at the Old Summer Palace! It's not exactly downtown - it's north of downtown, but's in the smack middle of one of the biggest cities on the planet.

Who would've thought it?
Despite its location, it was a great place for introspection and soul-searching.

This was the point in time when I was nearing the end of my stay in China - I had maybe 1 week to go. It was the perfect time and place for me to rest and reflect in the disastrous humidity.

The world is a beautiful and wonderful place, and I've done my utmost to never foret it.

Just try and tell me otherwise.

What do you think? Feel free to leave comments and responses! No sign-up, just leave your name and your comment! I love hearing from you :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

No Education, No Upward Mobility

(My "Beautiful China, Part 2" post is having some serious issues with uploading pictures...I'm not such a huge fan of Blogger right now. I wrote this post a couple of days ago and I wanted to share it because it is a huge part of Chinese society today.)

Chinese society places a great deal of importance on education. A great deal.

From elementary school until high school, students study, study, study. It is not unusual for a student from late middle school all the way through high school graduation to study until around 11pm or midnight, and then wake up at 6am the next day to review before going to school. They take the same basic classes every student in the world takes: math, science, history, etc., with the exception of English. From primary school until high school graduation, every Chinese student must study English because English is an international language. 

All of this is done for the chance to go to college, which is an opportunity that a lot of students will not be able to realize. The Gao Kao, the Chinese college entrance test, is probably the biggest and most important event in the life of a Chinese high school student who wishes to go to college. 

Every year, millions of students take this test and those who were unlucky enough to pass suffer the disappointment of the failing score and the knowledge that all the work they did for their entire life could not be rounded and filled out by their college education. It is possible to retake the exam, but few people do. 

Without a college education, there is little to no hope that a person can live the successful, comfortable life with a high social status that they dreamed about when they were growing up. The best hope that a Chinese person can have for their life is to open up a small shop or business and make enough money to pay the bills. There is very little hope for a really comfortable life. 
For the fortunate few who are very street smart, they are able to build a decent company that is capable of moving them up, but in China, much fewer opportunities for this kind of thing exist without an education than in America.

(Me with one of the fortunate few - my friend Benjamin Xi's uncle started a water company, 黄河原, with customers all over Gansu and branching out to Ningxia and other regions!)

In America, one can make a comfortable and happy life for themselves without a college education. They can become singers, interior designers, real estate agents, businessmen, entertainers, sports players - any number of careers are open to the non-college educated. In China, these careers also exist, but they are for the very, very, very privileged and elite of society.  

Chinese people know this and it is one of the defining characteristics of Chinese society. Upward Social Mobility exists in China, but it is only real to very few people. In  more developed areas of China such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou, this mobility exists in greater numbers because of the Westernization, development, and greater opportunity of these areas. 

It's a sad fact of life, but it's just the way life is in China. But I guess that means there are less Justin Biebers in Chinese society...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Beautiful China, Part 1

Today, I just wanted to share some pictures of the natural beauty I experienced in China. As I'm thinking about it in my head, I don't think there'll be a lot number-wise, but the things I did see were beautiful. Most of you will have seen these pictures before, but I wanted to put them all in one series of post that would make it easier for you guys to find them.

Mountains. China is full of them. It would be impossible to do a blog post about China's beauty and not talk about mountains. There's just something about them that stirs something deep within us.

(Mountains surrounding the Great Wall at Mutianyu)

The Great Wall was one of my favorite places not only for the history of it, but for the natural beauty that surrounds it on literally every side. It's just beyond words. 

Even though this was intended as a military location to protect from enemy invasion, it can't be denied that it's seriously beautiful. 

This is probably one of my favorite pictures from the trip.

I'd take mountains over the beach any day. You? would.
Now for a drastic change in environments. 

 We are now entering the mountainous deserts of the Northwest - specifically Gansu Province and Ningxia. Map here.

Just imagine nothing for as far as you can see......


Just mountains covered with desert scrub for miles and miles.....

somehow, people manage to do some kind of farming.And now - another change!

Now we've arrived at the Temple of Heaven Park. It's not exactly in the mountains or plains of's in downtown Beijing. But if you go on a day without a lot of tourists, it's a nice place.

The trees are green and lush,

the walkways are empty and beautiful in their loneliness, and they are good places to sit and think about what you've seen and done and how that's brought you here.

Like I said, beautiful in its loneliness.

A beautifully lonely place is a hard place to find in China - so much of it is crowded and characterized by the go-go-go attitude of city life.

But once in a while, you can find find that solitude and wrap yourself in it.

But we can't forget the beauty of people and the innocence of childhood. Although solitude is sometimes desirable, you cannot forget the beauty of humanity. Like that billboard I saw, "The earth is surrounded by your beauty."
A Lanzhou sunset on the Yellow River. What a way to end a day, isn't it? 

That's the end of Part 1 - be back with Part 2 as soon as possible!

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