The first poem I read in the tenth grade textbook

Road Between Saskatoon and Edmonton

Yes - there are hills on the prairie,
trees, even; the roads sometimes winds.
It is not
home on the range
with perpetually sunny skies,
for up there in that sky
wider and higher than the one I grew up with
clouds shift and reshift,
drop sudden showers,
vanish again in sunlight.

I name over the foreign words and objects:
those almost lakes are sloughs;
that is a windbreak of poplars,
geometrically planted before the square farmhouse.
The chief difference in the land
is that there is more of it.

The little towns are prairie cliches,
each with its grain elevator
onion-domed church
and Chinese restaurant.

But there are hints of Celtic landscape
near Kitscoty and Innisfree
lake water set in valleys
Irish and wet,
with new green grass,
and I can even imagine
the nine bean-rows
and a homesick immigrant
almost finding himself at home.

Will I ever be at home in this country?
Will I ever be at home again away from it?

- Elizabeth Brewster


The North American Tour of 2011

This one goes out to the numerous people who have told me they're getting very tired of seeing me sleeping on that rat-infested train. Hopefully, the wildlife of my homeland is a nice change.


And the winner is...

After logging what felt like countless hours using China's public transport, I can report that sleeper trains are superior to sleeper buses. The buses smell bad. I think I alluded to a truly terrifying rat incident on a train a few posts back. Well, it happened and I'm still haunted by it, but our ever-chivalrous Lee stayed awake all night making sure no rodents had the opportunity to get back in my bunk. In trying to decide the victor of the public transport race, I've decided to repress the rat memory and replace it with a gentle husband one, making trains the winner by a caboose.


Return to Kathmandu

We're back in Kathmandu, after an amazing trek, a few relaxing days in Pokhara (hair conditioner! real coffee! nearly-hot showers!), and a long bus ride back to the city. Of course, we have many pictures of the Annapurna Circuit and can't wait to tell you all about it, but I feel an obligation to go back in time and get caught up on the post-Kashgar, pre-Nepal experiences. We wouldn't want to deprive our fans - all ten of you - of stories of ancient caves, panda bears, and unscrupulous Uighur taxi-drivers. Patience, loyal readers, patience...all will be revealed in time.

For now, though, I thought you might enjoy a few of the things that occur on a normal morning in Kathmandu. I'd like to call this "Things that would never happen in Canada."

1. I woke and had yet another cold shower in yet another hotel that guarantees hot water.
2. When I left the hotel, a middle-aged Nepalese man asked if we wanted to buy some smoke. "Marijuana? Hashish?"
3. I nearly got run over by a rickshaw because I looked the wrong way. I need near-constant reminders to myself: they drive on the left, they drive on the left. It is Nepal. Maybe this should be my mantra.
4. At the Indian embassy, I had to complete my application by supplying the name of my father or husband. As you can imagine, Lee did not have to fulfill this requirement.
5. Also at the embassy, I saw four 20-something American boys dressed like Hare Krishna.
6. For breakfast, I had two cappuccinos, a lemon pancake, and a mango lassi. Total cost: $5


Where to eat in Kashgar

It's the most popular place in town, the food is delicious, and we'd highly recommend eating there, if only we could remember its name.

Where to stay in Kashgar

The middle of winter is the lowest of the low seasons in Xinjiang province. We hear that the city is full of tourists in the summer, but we didn't see any in February. Many of the hotels and tourist offices were closed when we arrived, but the Seman Hotel, in all its resplendent glory, was open. The decor is fitting of this former Russian consulate. We felt like Anna and Vronsky, only without all the death and tragedy.

The etiquette of travel

In case anyone forgets to bring their manners with them to China, the municipal government has decided to remind everybody.


With limited time and vast distances to cover, we knew that we would not be able to only travel overland, as we had originally intended. We decided to fly out to Kashgar,Xinjiang, and make our way back to Kunming from there. A hastily-purchased but far-from-direct flight from Lijiang, with overnight stops in Chengdu then Urumqi, had us in Kashgar in fifty short hours.

Xinjiang has long been on our list of must-see destinations. Both of us were drawn to see that province's huge mountains and deserts and to explore some of the old Silk Road sites. One of us is far more cultured than the other, and wanted to understand first-hand how the people of Xinjiang, with culture and religion unique from the rest of China, are able to reconcile their traditions with those of their new Chinese landlords. I wanted to go and eat mutton and flatbread. Neither of us was disappointed.

Kashgar's bazaar was noisy and bustling, with items on offer ranging from used boots to fur hats to livestock to food of highly dubious origin. We had read that at any time, one could expect to hear over fifty languages or dialects being spoken in the market. Sounds about right.


A two hour walk down a quiet highway from Lijiang took us to the village of Baisha, which lies in the shadow of the 5596m Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Not much to do there besides enjoy a pleasant lunch, shop for some Naxi handicrafts, and breathe some very fresh mountain air.

Around town

Lijiang is the traditional home of the Naxi people, who evidently loved waterways, narrow cobblestoned roads, raptors, and picturesque rooftops.

Another old city

You know you have a rightful claim to being an "ancient city" when a great Tatar warlord stopped by the local watering hole for some frosty milk of Paradise.

With gratitude

The yak gives us much...aforementioned sticks of grilled flesh, hours of toil humping loads up mountain trails, and bottles of creamy yogurty deliciousness. Thank you, yak, for all that you do.


Tourists, like us, flock to Lijiang for a few reasons: to walk around the old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site; for the spectacular view of YuLongXueShan [Jade Dragon Snow Mountain] from Black Dragon Pool; and to eat yak meat kebabs.

One-speed pace

We rented bikes in Dali to go for a ride around Erhai [Ear-shaped] Lake. The villages down by the river made for a very tranquil day of cycling. The lake itself is huge, with a surface area of over 250 sq.km, and we did not much more than 25km out and back. The pace was leisurely, the lake was clean, the air was fresh, and the people smiled warmly…a very pleasant way to spend the day.


The Old City

We had both read and heard that Dali has a laid-back feeling, often enticing travelers into staying a day or two longer than they had originally planned. True, all true. With the Cangshan Range as a backdrop, and the massive Erhai Lake a ten-minute downhill bike ride away, the old walled city has much charm.


Saying goodbye to Kunming after a month of classes, we headed north on Yunnan’s touristy trail. First stop, Dali.

The town is well-equipped to handle the glut of tourists it gets, but has done so without altering most of the historical buildings and streets. Most of the streets are still cobble-stoned, and the main shopping area is pedestrian-only. Some of the restaurants we went into were not much bigger than most OOFALWO readers’ dining rooms, with one or two items on the menu. Our first night, we had a few plates of delicious dumplings after watching the friendly proprietor roll them out to order.

Because of its location on the established Kunming-Dali-Lijiang-Shangri La trail, Dali has the obligatory “Western breakfast” joints, reggae bar, and sidewalk cafes. While we usually went with local fare, we will admit to wiling away a few hours on Foreigner Street, people-watching and downing a frosty beverage or two in the late afternoon.


It's our last day in China

One month ago, we left Kunming for Northern Yunnan province. After seeing Dali and Lijiang, we flew all the way to Kashgar, then made our back across Xinjiang province via Urumqi and Turpan. A long bus ride brought us to Dunhuang, then another to Jiayuguan. We made our way through Gansu province to Xiahe, then came back to Lanzhou, down to Chengdu in Sichuan province, and finally had one last train trip which brought us back to Kunming yesterday morning.

We journeyed down the Silk Road. We travelled through deserts, mountains, and long vast expanses of nothing. We went to ancient cities, caves, and markets. We visited mosques and temples. We sampled many types of bread, noodles, and hot pots. We slept on buses, trains, and in hotels that varied from cold and dirty to clean and comfortable. We felt adventurous, fortunate, and occasionally horrified.* We saw the things people expect to see in China - the Great Wall, panda bears, and pagodas - but often stumbled onto the unexpected.

Tomorrow we fly to Kathmandu where we'll fulfill a long-held goal of trekking in the Himalaya. Excited is an understatement on this day - we're practically skipping down the streets of Kunming getting ready to go. The truth is, one only needs three things to be able to travel: money, time, and the desire to go. While we've always had the desire to go to Nepal, one of the other two has always been missing. Well, no longer, our bags are packed and we're ready to go, happy to leave behind the long bus and train rides of China to begin hiking from teahouse to teahouse on the Annapurna Circuit.

*Get these motherf&$@ing rats off this motherf@&*ing train! It's a story for another day, when the trauma wears off.


Language School Farewell

Some of the good folk we met at the language school saw fit to join us for a farewell dinner. These are some very nice, very smart, and very well-travelled people. Befitting a group of Danes, Norwegians, Finns, Yanks, Frenchies, Aussies, and Canucks assembled in China, we went for Italian food.


More Kunming

Let me boast

When we came to Keats School, we decided to partake in some of the extracurricular activities. Two afternoons a week we went to tai ji (video of our amazing teacher will be coming in a later post), and Lee also opted for two weekly calligraphy classes. It turns out he's a natural at shufa. His teacher, the very kind man pictured above, has had one of Lee's works mounted on a scroll. It will be entered in a provincial exhibition hosted by the Yunnan Daily newspaper in the "foreigner" category. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of anything other than his first day's work (pictured above), but after the exhibition is over, the scroll will be mailed to Canada. You'll be able to admire his work next summer.