Saturday, November 30, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Days #7-10 - Making the Best of It

Fashion Forward Face Masks
We knew it would be bad just before the wheels touched the ground.

Rewind about 10 hours.

Dinner was over and we were somewhere over the north Pacific. It was pitch black outside so I cleaned up and curled up for a good night's sleep. About six hours later I woke up somewhere over China and peeked out the window to see what looked like a beautiful sunrise. Except that it was a sunset!

After the meal (I don't remember if they served breakfast or dinner) we started our descent into Beijing. At about 2,000 feet I noticed a faint odor similar to an over heated clutch (I know that smell because I have a 17 year old who is learning to drive). The wheels touched and looking outside as we taxied to the terminal it appeared as though a light fog was blanketing the airport. But it wasn't fog I was smelling and seeing, it's the notorious pollution. We could even see it inside the massive airport, a heaviness to the air.

It was still there (obviously) when we returned a few days later. It is not a huge factor for a tourist, but by the third day we noticed some irritation in our throats. I'm sure living with it is a big deal, but I'm equally sure that once China decides to clean it up they will do it and do it quickly. One of the advantages of a command society is that decisions can be made and resources mobilized quickly.

We also saw evidence that the Chinese can make the best of a difficult situation when they have to. I'm sure the genesis of eating scorpions and centipedes was rooted in hardship. Likewise, the stylish face masks that we saw Beijingers wearing around town were an opportunity to make a fashion forward statement in a difficult situation.

12 million people going about their lives, comporting themselves with humor and grace.

So in the end, not so bad.


"No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense. And that's just the bike messengers."
     -- Unknown

Friday, November 29, 2013

A View from the Outside

(Guest post from Sara)

I could never understand why my dad would want to throw himself onto some sort of two-wheeled metal frame and ride around in the woods for hours. He’d come home with bloody scrapes and would wake up the next morning with bruises the color of big juicy grapes…yet there would always be a smile on his face. I’d had my fair share of mountain biking; a couple instances in Marsh Creek, during which I was praying to stay alive, white-knuckled, as my bike crashed down the paths covered in very sharp, very solid, unforgiving rocks.

Part of me understands where this source of madness comes from; I’m a Cross Country runner, so I too understand the rush, and later the satisfaction, of completely destroying your body in a good workout. Even though I bump my head on one of Dad’s bikes each time I walk through the garage, I know this is something that makes him happy (and smelling like he’d camped out in a high school locker room for a week) when he comes home from a long ride. He disappears for hours until I find him outside, covered in grease, with what seems like hundreds of bike parts scattered on the ground. Because apparently it’s normal to just go outside and rebuild a bike.

But I have picked up some useful trivia. I have been well educated in the ways of Dime stack welds, 21-tooth cogs, and front and rear suspension forks. See how many other seventeen-year-old girls know that. I know how to fix a chain that’s fallen off and patch up a popped tire. All of which Dad talks about with the same amount of excitement that someone would have after winning the lottery. But I’ve got to give him credit; he’s found something that he loves, and he’s made time to do it, which is a lesson that he’s instilled in me. So although my bike will continue to gather dust up in the shed, (I haven’t been granted Garage Status with Dad’s bikes yet) I’ve learned a lot from his mountain biking adventures. Looks like there’s hope for me after all.


“You live longer once you realize that any time spent being unhappy is wasted.”
     – Ruth E. Renkl

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Day #7 - Doing the Hustle

The Happy Traveler Gets Duped
Our first night in Beijing. The flag dropping ceremony in front of the Forbidden City had just ended and the festive crowd was taking pictures and heading off to the restaurants and tea houses next to Tiananmen Square.  A Chinese woman was practicing her English with Dan.  She asked if we’d like to visit one of the nearby tea houses to continue the conversation.  The short stroll to the team house was non-stop conversation with her and her two friends.  We found a table the next 30 minutes was nonstop tea (and eventually some wine) and conversation about life in China and the US, families, must-see sights in Beijing, types of tea, American cars, schools, etc.  We picked up the bill for 240 yuan (about $38) before they showed us back to the metro and gave us directions back to Zangzizhonglu (first night, we were still getting our bearings).

It was a memorable half hour, made more so when we got back to the hostel and were reading a poster in the hallway. It was one of a series of posters to educate travelers on local sights and hustles and yes, one of them was the “tea house” scam where you are invited to a local tea house and end up paying a ridiculously inflated price for the experience.

We looked at the picture that Dan snapped outside the tea house and confirmed it. They weren’t eager to have the picture taken in the first place (kept saying “not here, better pictures at the Square”) and the ring leader had discretely obscured her face the moment the shot was taken.

We chuckled and agreed that while we didn’t appreciate being hustled, the experience was still well worth the $38 so I guess everyone won on that one.


P.S. Even weirder (and this just occurred to me as I wrote this blog post), the next day as Dan and I were walking through town I started whistling that old disco standard "The Hustle" by Van McCoy. It's a catchy tune and soon I had Dan on board with it. It seemed like one of those random moments at the time but looking back at it now, maybe not so much!

"It's such a fine line between stupid and clever." 
     -- David St. Hubbins (This is Spinal Tap)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013 Fun Quiz

Artwork by Sara
With 2013 winding down and the annual Bike-Bonfire-Beer-a-palooza around the corner, I figured I would try to sum up the year with a fun trivia quiz. Don't think too hard, it's not rocket surgery.

If you skip meals and stand around the chalet for hours in bike clothes insisting you haven't had much to drink you might end up...
a) Leaving your breakfast next to the trail on Saturday morning.
b) Laying on the couch Saturday afternoon.
c) Like Jason.
d) In the MO7S fun quiz.

Never trust... 
a) A happy song.
b) A puppet.
c) A burp.
d) A fart.

Someone posted a sign at Marsh Creek that says
a) No trespassing.
b) Park closes after sunset (except for fishing).
c) Cranston Gap.
d) This way to The Beer Tree.

Who or what is "Dirty Penny?"
a) An ale brewed by Olde Burnside Brewing Company that is a mixture of Ten Penny Ale and their signature stout.
b) A Berks County cover band from Reading Pennsylvania.
c) Someone with questionable allegiances who induces brain lockup in groups of 10 or more guys.

What is a Heady Topper?
a) A malty and piney beverage bursting with 8% goodness that was lovingly hand carried by Kirk from the Alchemist's lair in Vermont.
b) A beverage bursting with 8% goodness that was malty and piney and lovingly hand carried by Kirk from the Alchemist's lair in Vermont.
c) A beverage lovingly hand carried by Kirk from the Alchemist's lair in Vermont that was malty and piney and bursting with 8% goodness.
d) A malty and piney beverage bursting with 8% goodness from the Alchemist's lair in Vermont that was lovingly hand carried by Kirk.

The Beer Tree was retired in 2013 because...
a) We don't like beer anymore.
b) It was too "trailer park" for our tastes.
c) There is a new sheriff in town.
d) We switched to Root and Snap.

What cycling related miracles occurred in 2013?
a) At the 2013 Bud Mauger memorial ride Mark turned water into beer.
b) Dr. Oz discovered that red palm oil can reduce body fat and lubricate chains in muddy conditions.
c) At one of our FHHR rides Jesse turned vegetables into mint chocolate chip ice cream.
d) Lance Armstrong admitted he is a fraud.

At the infamous White Clay Rain Ride we...
a) Rode on rain soaked trails without being accosted by local trail Nazis.
b) Washed our socks in the runoff from the parking lot.
c) Stripped in the parking lot to entertain the 2nd floor yoga class overlooking the parking lot.
d) Were a little obnoxious to the waitress at McGlynn's Pub (but tipped her well).

The 2013 Cinco De Mayo Friday Happy Hour Ride was unfortunately marred because...
a) It was actually Tres De Mayo.
b) The pink paper flower on Kirk's helmet made his butt look big.
c) Mike wore a pearl necklace and did an imitation of Mike Honcho.
d) En Cinamino fell asleep on the ground wearing a sombrero.
e) Brian had to eat salsa off the bottom of Jesse's Sidi riding shoe.

"Clean Getaway" is...
a) Pretending you are going to the bathroom at a lame party and instead slipping out the back door and going home.
b) A coin operated laundromat in Kalamazoo Michigan.
c) An indie cycling movie produced by an aspiring local film maker.
d) A pretty basic song written by Maria Taylor.

In April when riding at Marsh Creek, Mike popped...
a) A ladybug into his mouth and swallowed it.
b) A wheelie in the parking lot.
c) His acromioclavicular joint.
d) Both eardrums during a rapid free fall descent of the rocky climb.

Who said "don't be a dumb ass and please don't sue us"?
a) Samsung (to Apple) after they stole the pinch-zoom smartphone feature.
b) Dirty Penny speaking on behalf of the Kingdom Trails Association when we decided to ride their rocky rooty trails in a torrential downpour.
c) The guy with a megaphone standing on the tailgate at the start of the Crazy Train ride.

At the 2013 Crazy Train ride, the organizer told us...
a) If you only have three bikes, you do not have enough.
b) The event allows you to ride only one bike, but you brought three. Choose wisely.
c) The terrain calls for you to ride three different bikes, but you can ride only one. Choose wisely.
d) I licked one of the pretzels in this box. Choose wisely.

Bryan likes fatties because...
a) Once they start moving, you can't stop them.
b) They are fun to ride slow.
c) It's fun, and all your friends think it's stupid, but they still want to do it too.
d) Size actually does matter.


"I have too many bikes"
     -- Said by no cyclist ever

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Day #9 - Let's Get Sober for a Minute

We’ve read about it, we’ve argued about it, we’ve been indignant about it, and we (most of us anyway) have no idea what it really means. Government oppression. As a casual 3-day tourist I barely scraped the surface but I saw evidence of it and honestly it was chilling.

It started as a minor inconvenience. I could (seemingly) browse the Internet but certain sites were blocked. No Facebook! For 3 days I was unable to see or update my precious timeline. YouTube would not work for me. Like Americans, the Chinese are glued to their social media but it is a state-sponsored service where they are tracked, edited, or blocked. The NSA debacle has spawned outrage in America, but doesn’t come remotely close to this.

On our first visit to Tiananmen Square we got a taste of state intimidation. A large crowd was in front of the Forbidden City (a “public” area on the square) watching the nightly flag ceremony while police were randomly administering pat-downs and demanding government identification just for being in the square. They didn’t bother with us Westerners, it was directed at their citizens and it seemed excessive but it was nothing compared to the last day.

The morning of the last day we headed to the Forbidden City. This is the giant walled compound with the famous painting of Chairman Mao over the main entrance. We approached the entrance on a long narrow walkway, lined on both sides by soldiers at attention, precisely spaced, wearing stern expressions and crisp uniforms. At first I was puzzled but then horrified as I realized every 3rd or 4th soldier (same spacing, same attention, same expression) was in plain street clothes. The message was unmistakable – “We in at the table next to you, in your work place, in your family room. We are everywhere and we are watching you.”

The Facebook thing was sobering and the random ID checks were chilling. But the plainclothes spies on display and the knowledge of what could happen if you crossed the line with them was horrifying.

It’s not hard to see past this if you choose. The city is bustling with families, young adults, seniors, teenagers, and Chinese tourists. Lovely people. They are enjoying the sights, the food, the shopping. They are riding bikes and laughing and sipping tea. It actually seems much like home in so many ways. I really don’t know how they live their lives in the shadow of this oppression. To a lightweight American like me it seemed like such a contradiction.

We are so incredibly lucky and we don’t even know it.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Day #9 - Tastes Just Like Chicken

The Wangfujing area is known for a crowded outdoor market with all sorts of inexpensive trinkets and weird street foods. We knew we found the right place because the bustling crowd was all locals and we had broken the “never eat street food” rule the prior day with no consequences so we were feeling lucky...and we were very hungry.

The sights, smells, and sounds were amazing. All sorts of food was being prepared on the spot in boiling pots and sizzling stoves. There were food stalls with whole cooked chickens (by “whole” I do not mean a Purdue oven stuffer, I mean a chicken complete with eyes, beak, and feet, plucked and cooked and ready to eat on the spot). There were dumplings and piles of noodles. There was squid and octopus. There were lizards, seahorses, centipedes, snakes, and even pupae on a stick. As I turned the corner, a vendor was handing Dan some change and a stick with three fresh scorpions. They had had been alive 5 seconds before, had just been flash fried for a couple seconds and were (like the chickens) ready to eat. He shoved the stick into my hand and started the video (below).

We’d been eating all sorts of unidentifiable things for breakfast lunch and dinner, so I was in the right frame of mind, except, well, this thing had a stinger! I pushed that thought aside (actually I pushed all thoughts aside) for two seconds and then shoved it into my mouth. It was crunchy on the outside and of course gooey on the inside. The taste was mild, quite good actually. Dan downed the next two and we agreed they were BY FAR the best scorpions we had ever eaten, did a fist pump, and dove fearlessly back into the bazaar.


"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"
     -- unknown

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Day #7 - Lost in Zangzizhonglu

Dan working his magic with
the locals (and help of the Internet)
With our abrupt exit from Philippines we didn't have time to properly pack or print directions to hotel. So when we popped out of the Zangzizhonglu subway stop, we had no idea where/how to find our hostel. It was a coin toss to decide which way to go. We glanced at each other, turned right, and started dragging our roll on luggage down the street.

The next hour was spent strolling down blind alleys past small shops and restaurants, drinking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this strange place and looking the Dragon Hostel or someone that might speak a lick of English. Along the way there were so many locals who tried to help us by walking us across town to find someone who might know a lick of English, or to find some random small hotel (our bags were universal language for someone needing a place to stay). Some just wanted to practice their English (“hello” was the extent of it).

Our home for the next three nights
Eventually we met our lifeline. He was huge weathered fellow who had just parked his motorcycle in a narrow alley. He had shoulder length hair and was wearing glacier goggles and a long dusty trench coat. I will call him “Mad Max." Max spoke English and used his smartphone to point us in the other direction and we soon found Dragon Hostel tucked about a 100 yards down another dusty alley, and received a lovely warm welcome from the bi-lingual kids running the hostel.

This would be the winning formula for the next few days in Beijing - avoiding the safety of tour guides and western establishments - eating, drinking, putting ourselves in challenging situations and generally hanging out with the locals. I've done this sort of thing before in Europe but never in an environment as alien (to me) as Asia. It guarantees a vacation full of surprises and indelible memories and this week would be no exception.


"Keep riding, Nancy. It's just water and dirt." 
     -- Huck And Roll

Monday, November 11, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure

Tienanmen Square and The Forbidden City
Getting hustled in Tiananmen Square, eating unspeakable things at a street bazaar, and getting kicked out of a Chinese restaurant/bar are just a few of the memories from last week’s awesome Asia work/pleasure adventure. It is too much to cover in a single blog post, so I’ll start with this chronology post and follow up with posts expounding on individual related topics ranging from bathrooms to political oppression (we saw shocking examples of both).

The chronology:

  • #1 Friday - Philly to Manila via San Francisco and Beijing. About 24 hours in the air, six shuffling through airports.
  • #2 Saturday – Still flying and shuffling.
  • #3 Sunday – Explore Manila, lovely outdoor dinner with the local management team as US based team members trickle in (they were delayed by LAX shooting and Tokyo earthquake).
  • #4 Monday – Get fitted for custom tailored pants and a Barong. Workday starts at 9:00 pm and ends the next morning at 5:00 am. The Manila team greats us at the front door with corsages and take us upstairs where they perform a Philippine folk dance for us. This is followed by all day meeting with the entire 50+ person team where they just knock our socks off with their energy and intellect. They are a formidable team that will do great things with us, very exciting.
  • #5 Tuesday – Second workday. The typhoon is in all the local papers and is a topic of conversation but not a real concern. Yet. Another incredibly productive day with the team. They continue to impress us.
  • #6 Wednesday – Third workday. The approaching storm has been dubbed a “Super-typhoon” and is scheduled to hit Friday night. We’re scheduled to fly out early Saturday morning. We have morning meetings with the management team but by lunchtime (just after midnight) it is suggested that we consider evacuation due to the typhoon. We reluctantly change our arrangements to leave early Thursday morning. Both teams are a little emotional over the decision. 
  • #7 Thursday – The US based team enjoys some time together at Manila airport before heading our separate ways.  Dan and I head north for a couple days in Beijing. We get lost in Zangzizhonglu, visit Tiananmen Square, and get hustled by two school teachers and an accountant.
  • #8 Friday – We risk food poisoning with some street food, make friends with a 6 year old on the train, and visit the Great Wall.  Dinner and a 100 proof bottle of something unspeakable ensures we have a good night sleep.
  • #9 Saturday – Forbidden City, Olympic Village, and a food bazaar near Wangfujing where we eat something gross that was still alive 15 seconds earlier. Dinner at a very loud and hip restaurant packed with young Beijing locals. Another bottle of something strong, only 80 proof this time but a bigger bottle. We eventually kicked out by the owners (past closing time) but not until we get our picture taken with them. We end the night at the hostel bar talking politics with a Chinese and a Chilean student who has been on the road for two years.
  • #10 Sunday – A very long haul home, made even longer because travel agent or airline bungled reservation so we have to buy one-way tickets on a later flight in order to get home. We’ll have to sort out the finances later. Trip ends on #11 Monday with a redeye from LAX back to Philly.

Those are the basic facts but the actually experience was intellectually and emotionally powerful in many ways which I will attempt to explain in subsequent posts. It was a trip of a lifetime.


"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose"
     -- Dr Seuss