Showing posts from August, 2010

There and Back Again

Sharp wind, towering sky, apes howling mournfully; Untouched island, white sand, birds flying in circles. Infinite forest, bleakly shedding leaf after leaf; Inexhaustible river, rolling on wave after wave. Through a thousand miles of melancholy autumn, I travel; Carrying a hundred years of sickness, I climb to this terrace. Hardship and bitter regret have frosted my temples— And what torments me most? Giving up wine! —Dou Fu (712-700), “View From A Height” It was far too early for such effort, but Mama Naxi was screaming about the seven o’clock departure time, which did not leave much time to spare. Our bags packed and in the foyer, Sergi bought the bus tickets while I went out to get bāozi and yak’s milk from down the lane. Ana of Bogotá was also attached to our unit, but she could manage herself and did not think much of Chinese breakfast. Of Mama’s three servants, Number Three was a young man from Japan, always in an apron, who spoke with a Sibylline twist of accent, a voice of

The Ancient Towns of Yunnan

Phoenixes that played here once, So that the place was named for them, Have abandoned it now to this desolate river; The paths of Wu Palace are crooked with weeds; The garments of Qin are ancient dust. Like this green horizon halving the Three Peaks, Like this Island of White Egrets dividing the river, A cloud has arisen between the Light of Heaven and me, To hide his city from my melancholy heart. —Li Bai (701-762) Arriving early in Old Dali , a town in stone and tile and warm wood, Sergi and I found the Four Seasons Hostel by asking around for Sizi Khezhan , but we had a few hours to kill before they had beds available. “Let’s go get some of that bāozi ,” I suggested. I have been told, on multiple occasions and by people divers, that I am addicted to bāozi , yet I have never been concerned. It is the most benign addiction imaginable: not for the sway it holds over my daily life, which is tangible, especially in the mornings, for like a cigarette smoker I can hardly get around to any

The Country in Between

China is here, Jack Burton. What does that mean, China is here? I don't even know what the hell that means. ―Big Trouble In Little China Ah China―land of legend! In the halls of cultural memory its collection appears: the Great Wall scribed in elegant lines on a silk panorama, a panda in a bamboo cage, an elegant porcelain tea set, a helter-skelter movie poster of Bruce Lee, and perhaps a portrait of Mao Zedong as well. Emperors, armies, silk roads, and jade wonders! The traveler expects romance from China, seeks misted mountains and crowded alleyways, a sophisticated culture entirely different and on the other side of the world from home―and the quixotic strength of my romance will turn China into what I seek of it. This is the setting for the penultimate chapters of my adventure. Mohan did not appear very whimsical, though the trip to that border town had been—such is often the case in life and travel. The bus there was full, so Sergi and I hitched a ride with a bus full of Laot

Adventures in Cave and Jungle

Art thou pale for weariness Of climbing heaven and gazing on earth, Wandering companionless? —Shelley The monsoon rain, swept north out of India by the winds of that season, continued most all of the day for several day, clouds clinging to the karst cliffs of Vang Vieng like the canvas of a great dripping tent. I spent some time thus circumscribed and recovering from my injury; until, in between drizzles, I moved from the farm to a guesthouse in town. My foot was swollen from the rusty wounding and I was taking antibiotics. I did not trust the hospital. The nurses dumped iodine on my punctures, taped on a bit of bandage, and shouted, “Pay now!” In fever dreams I had visions of deeper infections: gangrene, cellulitis, blood poisoning, and amputation. I considered going south to Vientiane and crossing the border to see real doctors in Udon Thani, rather than risk an ambush by some medical complication in rural northern Laos, where medicine consisted of Band-Aids and papaya juice. The ne