Roaming America’s South West

Road tripping is my absolute favourite way to travel.  When you take a tour, you are stuck following around a tour guide.  Similarly, when you take a train or a bus, you can’t choose when you stop and every moment is planned.  Road trips allow freedom and independence.  Road trips in North America are ESPECIALLY fantastic, because language barriers aren’t an issue and you generally know what to expect.  Someday, I plan to write all about the 2 weeks road trip Dave and I took right before we left for Guiyang, but today, I’m going to write about the 4 days we spent travelling the South-western United States!

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Spoiler:  It was one VERY beautiful roadtrip!!!

Leaving Nevada

We began our trip in Nevada, a couple of days after Jeff and Liz’s wedding.  We rented a car from Budget, which we actually regret.  We got on the road 2 hours late because they didn’t have a car ready for us when we arrived (we pre-booked, in case you’re wondering). After we started to make a bit of a stink, they actually called a car over from the airport location so that we could go on our way.  The real kicker is that they charged us EXTRA when we returned the car back at the airport location because it wasn’t the original place where we booked it…

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When I asked Dave why he didn’t push for a discount after they made us wait 2 hours for our car, he told me that the receptionist was so snarky and slow that he was sure she’d just make us wait longer.  I’d pass on Budget in Las Vegas…

I’d recommend Fox Renta Car instead, which is who my brother and sister in law rent from when they’re down in the Nevada area.  I wish I’d known about them ahead of time.  They seem to be a lot more customer service oriented.  Either way… we DID get on the road eventually…

Zion National Park

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Although it took a while to get going, we arrived at Zion National Park with enough time to enjoy some views.

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Views like this 🙂

Just outside of the park, there is a small town called Springdale.  Utah does National Parks right…instead of driving into the park and trying to find parking (which is limited), you can take a shuttle directly from Springdale!  We didn’t actually realize this, so we drove into the park ourselves, but we definitely made use of the free shuttle buses to get around within the park.

 

While on the shuttle, we learned about the park and saw some gorgeous sights.  We were especially happy to have the shuttle service because we only had about 2 hours to see the park, which is not nearly enough time to really appreciate the magnificent landscapes of Zion Canyon.  By using the shuttle service, we were able to hop on and off to see specific areas of the park.

My favourite tours are ones where I learn things about the surrounding area.  Zion did this very well.   While the bus is driving around the park, there is a recording that teaches you about the geological history of the area.  We learned that Utah gets monsoons, that flash floods are responsible for the beautiful scenery.  We also learned that different types of rock account for the various colours we saw within the park.

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A perfect example of colour diversity at Zion Canyon

We eventually wound up at the base of the canyon, where we could see the river that formed this beautiful area.  Although it doesn’t look like much, the Virgin River is responsible for wearing down the rocks that surrounded us.

On our drive out, the sun finally began to shine, and that’s when I was able to capture the true beauty of Zion National Park.

 

Zion had one final gem to show us before we made our way to Cedar City for the night.  The Checkerboard Mesa was quite a spectacular view, so we got out and took some final pictures of the area before moving on.

Bryce Canyon

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The following day, we continued onto Bryce Canyon; our second stop in Utah.  Bryce is a lot like Zion, in that it has gorgeous rock formations and beautiful scenery.  Somehow, though, I think it manages to be even MORE beautiful!  The colours at Bryce Canyon are stunning and I couldn’t possibly take enough pictures.

We decided to hike into the canyon because we had more time than we had at Zion.  I ended up with some of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever taken.

It seemed like the further we went into the Canyon, the more colourful it became.  The hoodoos (odd rock formations) really blew us away!  When I started doing research on the canyon for this blog post, I learned that Bryce Canyon actually has the largest collection of Hoodoos in the entire world!

Unfortunately, we did eventually have to turn around.  Although we’d planned a 5 mile hike, we only brought enough water for a 2 mile hike.  We made it to the base of the canyon and then had to turn around.  Still the views were gorgeous on the way back up (which is lucky because I needed something to distract me from how thirsty I was!!)!!

Onto Arizona

The following morning, we left Panguitch for Arizona.  On the way, we stopped at The Rock Stop, a little store we’d discovered on our way to Bryce Canyon.  The owner is one of the only people in Southern Utah to sell coffee, so if you’re down that way, be sure to check him out!!!  He makes a mean iced latte, and sells all sorts of rocks and fossils.  We picked up gifts for our nephews, and my brother while we were there, and had a few great chats with the owner.

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Pictured here:  One of the only places to find coffee in Utah!  Mormons typically don’t drink caffeine, so it’s tough to find your fix.  This little shop is well worth the stop!!

The other cool little stop we made was a preview to the Hoover Dam.  Glen Canyon Dam is much smaller, but beautiful.  We took some time to check it out and stretch our legs during this rather long part of our road trip.

Finally, after about 6 hours of driving, we made it to the mother of all Canyons:  The Grand Canyon.

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The thing that we found most striking about the Grand Canyon is how big it is.  It isn’t as colourful as Zion and it doesn’t have Bryce’s Hoodoos, but it’s so massive…it’s truly spectacular to see.

To give you an idea of scale, here are some comparisons:

Zion Canyon:  15 miles long – 1/2 mile deep

Bryce Canyon: 12 miles long – 1/2 mile deep (in it’s largest area)

Grand Canyon:  277  miles long – 1 mile (and a bit) deep

That’s a lot of canyon!!!  It really never seemed to end!

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Once more, this entire canyon was formed by water.  Unfortunately, we didn’t really have the time to hike into the Canyon, so we didn’t personally get to see the River up close.

Although there are several places you can see the Canyon (some viewpoints are only a few hours away from Vegas), we chose to see the South Rim near Flagstaff, Arizona.  The South Rim is known for spectacular views.  We were on the eastern part of the South Rim, which is important to note.  The area near Las Vegas is also the South Rim, but it’s hours from where we were.

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The blue star is where most people go see the Canyon (closest to Las Vegas and where you can see the glass bridge). We were where the red star is, in the Arizona portion of the Canyon

Unfortunately, we were both pretty tuckered out at this point (and overheating), so we didn’t do any hiking, but we’d love to go back some day and see more of The Grand Canyon.  With 277 miles to explore, I don’t think I could see it all in a lifetime!!!

The Hoover Dam

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Our final stop of the road trip was to see one of the greatest engineering accomplishments in American history:  The Hoover Dam.  The dam lays on the boarder between Arizona and Nevada and is now nearly 100 years old.  It was built during the Great Depression as a way to control water flow into the area, with an added bonus of providing electricity to the surrounding area.  This dam made it possible for people to make use of an otherwise useless portion of land, and it was quite the thing to see!

While we were there, the temperature was hovering around 47 degrees Celsius, so we took cover in the visitor center, where we learned about the dam’s history and functions.

There were plenty of displays set up and you could learn something no matter what happens to interest you .  Dave was fascinated with the engineering and wanted to learn more about how the dam works, but I focused on the history of the dam and what it meant for the country. (Read the captions on the following pictures for more info)

Eventually, it was time to drop off our rental car and head to McCarran airport for our 8pm flight.   We arrived in Winnipeg sunburned and pretty sore from our travels, but it was a worthwhile experience, to say the least!

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Winnipeg’s Skyline

***A Note to My Fellow Nomads***

If you’re thinking of taking a trip like ours, I had Dave make a map of our journey.  We spent 2 full days on the road plus 2 half days.  If it had been possible, I would have added an extra 2 days so we could have hiked in Zion and the Grand Canyon as well.  I’d also have brought a hat on our hike in Bryce as well as additional water.  Our drive looked like this:

Day 1:  Vegas to Zion – Roughly 2.5 hours.  Stayed in Cedar City – 1.5 hours from Zion. (You can stay closer to Zion, but prices drop significantly if you drive a bit towards Bryce)

Day 2: Cedar City to Bryce – 1.5 hours.  We stayed in Penguitch (about a half hour away)

Day 3:  Penguitch to The South Rim of the Grand Canyon – 5 hours.  We then drove to Flagstaff for the night – 1.5 hours)

Day 4:  Flagstaff to Vegas (with a pit stop at the Hoover Dam).  Flagstaff to Dam – 3.5 hours.  Dam to Vegas – Less than an hour

Total Driving:  Around 16 hours in 4 days.  Doable, with PLENTY to see along the way!

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I’ll be back soon with stories about our stay in Canada!

Viva Las Vegas

Las Vegas…the home of gambling, nightlife and buffets.  Before heading to Manitoba for our annual visit, Dave and I had a 10 day detour planned that involved seeing two of our good friends get married in Sin City.  Vegas was quite a change from the usual travelling we do (everyone speaks English there, for one…), so I thought it would be fun to write about our experiences.

Dave and I arrived in Vegas on a hot summer afternoon.  I suppose that is a little repetitive, because “Vegas” and “hot” are fairly synonymous!  The temperature was averaging around 40-45 degrees Celsius while we were there, with 5-10% humidity!  My hair wouldn’t curl, my lips were so chapped they were bleeding and I was pounding back water like it was going out of style.  Vegas took some getting used to…

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We were all DYING in this picture! We were directly in the sun. Notice the squinting!!!

Luckily for me, Dave had a lot of work to do so we were able to stay inside (with the AC on!) until about 5pm every day.  I don’t handle heat well, so I was more than happy to spend the time indoors, prepping for next semester.  As the afternoon came to a close, we’d leave our apartment and head out to see the sights…and the lights!

Las Vegas….home of Heat, Sights and Lights!

 

Neither Dave or I are really into gambling (I hate seeing my money disappear without at least making an awesome memory…), but we still spent our fair share of time in the casinos.  They are far more spectacular than I expected them to be, and I have to admit, I enjoyed them much more than I thought I would.  The architecture at Caesar’s Palace was out of this world, and the canals along the Venetian were gorgeous.

And of course, no trip to Vegas is complete without a stop by the Belagio (and its fountains!).  We stopped by the fountains a few times.  They’re just so beautiful!  The hotel is also quite nice, although we didn’t spend a tonne of time going through it.

We did spend a bit of time in New York New York (yes…twice), but not so much for the casino as for for the show we saw there…

Las Vegas:  home of Show girls, Show-offs and Shows!

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With so many different shows to see in Vegas, it’s nearly impossible to choose just one!  Celine Dion, Brittany Spears and Donny and Marie Osmond all have permanent residencies there, and there are countless other musical performances coming and going out of Vegas in any given month.  While we were there we saw ads for everyone from the Backstreet Boys, to Elton John, to Mariah Carey.

And if music isn’t what you’re into, you can see comedians, magicians, dancers and so much more!  Blue Man Group is a popular show, and David Copperfield tickets sell for big bucks!  There are also exhibits to see, such as Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, The Bodies Exhibit and a sort of museum full of artifacts from the Titanic.

Of course, you can’t talk about Vegas without bringing up one particular group of performers that defy gravity and wow audiences all over the world.  Cirque de Soleil has 6 shows that run in Vegas daily.  Dave and I always loved going to see Cirque when they came through Winnipeg when we lived in Manitoba, so I got smart and bought him tickets to a show for his birthday!  There were so many to choose from, but ultimately, I chose Zumanity, because it was the most ‘Vegasy’ of the shows we could have seen.  Cirque did not let us down.  We loved the show and wished we’d had the time (and money!) to have seen Ka or O as well.  Maybe the opportunity will arise some time in the future.  I sure hope so!

Freemont is also a great stop if you want a fun time.  There are free concerts there all the time.  The night we arrived, Anne Wilson was performing, but we missed it because Jet Lag sucks.  The night we were down on Freemont, Good Charlotte was playing.  There are plenty of other things to do on Freemont as well.  You can stop and take photos with buskers, see contortionists and even zipline above the historic road!

There you have it:  Vegas:  Home of bright lights, a surplus of shows and hellish heat.   We had a great time during our week there, and our road trip was even better!  Stay tuned for more on that!

 

Beautiful Suzhou – Snaps from the City

In a week from today, we will begin our trip back to Canada for the summer!  First, we’ll be stopping by Las Vegas to see some friends get married (more on that next week!) and we also have plans to drive around the area a bit to see The Grand Canyon in all its glory. We were originally planning to take a 10 day road trip back to Manitoba, but those plans fell through when we learned that the car rental alone would cost us $1500.  So, instead, we’re going to take a camping trip at our favourite park (Rushing River in Ontario) while we’re back.

 

I am excited to cook over the fire, and wake up to the sound of loons, but mostly I look forward to the smell of fresh air and being surrounded by trees.  I miss the smell of trees a lot.  I actually played a gig a few weeks back at a large park just outside of Shanghai.  It was the most grass I’d seen in about a year.  Since then, I’ve been dying to get back into the Canadian wilderness.

 

That’s not to say I don’t love Suzhou though!  Lately, it’s been quite rainy, but for about a month before the rain hit, we had gorgeous clear skies and (mostly) clean air.  I took advantage of that time to snap some shots of the city we currently call home.  I thought people might like to see Suzhou the way I see it.

 

Suzhou has plenty of beautiful parks and gardens.  I know I’ve posted some of these pictures of them before, but they’re just so pretty, I have to show you again!

 

Suzhou also has some interesting architecture outside of their gardens.  For some reason I don’t understand, China is obsessed with creating replicas of famous buildings from around the world.  Beijing has a replica of Sydney Opera House, and Shanghai has its very own copy of the Eiffel Tower, and Suzhou apparently, didn’t want to feel left out.  So they made a replica of London Bridge (sort of).

 

There are definitely some inaccuracies, but over all, it looks pretty cool.  The bridge is mostly used for wedding pictures, and the surrounding area has plenty of places for photo-ops.

 

Although Suzhou is pretty during the day, I find this water-town most beautiful at night.   Dave and I have spent many evenings walking around, taking pictures of the high-rises that are popping up all around SIP (we live in Suzhou Industrial Park).   I love the way the buildings here are all lit up.

 

The canals are also gorgeous at night.  The reflections from the buildings give them a dream-like feel.

 

Of course, Xinghai Square is such a buzz of lights and traffic, it makes for some very interesting night photos as well.

 

The city recently replaced the lights along the street outside of our apartment complex, which was a nice change.  The old ones, though pretty, were getting pretty rusty, but the new ones are nice and bright white.

 

Central park is also very pretty at night.  We often walk through there on our way to (or from) one of our favourite restaurants:  Lu Yu.  They specialize in a type of roast fish that’s unlike any fish you’ve ever eaten in your life.

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Kao Yu:  It tastes better than it looks!

Kao Yu has actually become a bit of a weekly tradition we have with some friends.  We walk down there (it’s about a half hour walk each way), and meet up to discuss our weeks and enjoy some good food and draft beer.  The walk there takes us through Suzhou’s Central Park, and I’ve brought my camera along a few times now.

But as much as we like Kao Yu, there is one restaurant in Suzhou we love even more.  A few months back, we told our bilingual friend, Kevin, that if he could find us a restaurant that makes Guizhou food (the province where we lived prior to moving to Suzhou), that we would take him there for dinner.  We’ve gone there pretty much every week since he found it.  We’ve brought countless friends and even people visiting from America and Argentina…every person we’ve brought has been floored by how good the food is!

In addition to the food and the company being so great at 去贵州, the view is also pretty spectacular.  We usually sit outside, across from the little island near Suzhou University.

Of course, I’m not the only one that’s caught on that Suzhou is an incredibly photographic city.  My friend, Kevin, also enjoys taking photos of this gorgeous place we all call home.  I asked him if I could include some of his shots, and he kindly said I could. Here they are:

That’s all for this post!  I’ll be back soon with an update on life here.  We’ve been so incredibly busy lately!  There are plenty of stories to come!

See you soon!

Skipping Over to Seoul

After my last post, I’m sure many of you are wondering why Dave and I choose to stay in such a polluted country (we both ended up with chest colds after that sandstorm, by the way…).  Well, there are plenty of reasons.

  1. The cost of living is low and salaries are high
  2. Suzhou is a gorgeous city where there is lots to see and do
  3. Living in China provides challenges that make life a lot more interesting
  4. Working in China as a teacher, I’m able to make a huge impact.  It’s a great feeling
  5. The holidays……3.5 months per year, to be exact….
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China loves its parties!!

In addition to summer holidays, I also get 5 weeks for Spring Festival, a week for National Day and several small holidays throughout the year as well.  Tomb Sweeping is a yearly cultural holiday that takes place in March/April.  I had 3 days off, so Dave and I decided to hop on over to Seoul.

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Seoul was just of of many options we had for this short little holiday.  We also considered Japan and Taiwan, but it came down to flight costs.  Even during the  holiday, tickets were very reasonable!

It only takes about an hour and a half to fly to Seoul, but when you add in train-rides to Shanghai, plus the drive from Seoul’s airport to downtown, we really didn’t have a whole lot of time to see the sights.  Still, we made the most of the 36 hours we had!!!

 

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Much to Dave’s chagrin, we weren’t able to visit the neutral zone between North and South Korea.  Personally, I’d be happy to go my whole life without seeing North Korea…

As always, we found a hotel close to the metro line, and found our way around the city that way.  Metros are great because you can get from one end of the city to another in so much less time than it takes to drive.  Unfortunately, Metros are also terrible in Asia, because their maps sometimes look like this:

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If I’d been alone, I would have spent about 20 of my 36 hours in Seoul just trying to find my stop.  Luckily, Dave is weirdly good at this stuff!

Many people go to Seoul for the shopping or the vibrant night life, but Dave and I aren’t big into either of those things.  Instead, we head for Namsan Park and Mountain, where we were able to see Seoul Tower and a beautiful panorama of the city.

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Our view from the cable car

A ‘bonus’ sight Dave and I saw while on Namsan mountain were Seoul’s Love Locks.  The idea is simple:  if you love someone, get a padlock, engrave your names onto it, lock it to a bridge and throw away the key.  This action is suppose to signify that you are bound to a person forever.  Of course, 1 or 2 of these locks wouldn’t really be noteworthy, but all around the world, couples are creating mass displays with their ‘love locks’.

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Sweet, right?

Sure, it’s a romantic idea…but it’s also become a bit of a problem in some parts of the world!  Paris once had the world’s most famous collection of love locks, but officials had to remove the locks off of Pont de Arts bridge because the weight of them was going to cause the bridge to collapse!   The problem was so extreme that the additional weight on the bridge was the equivalent of 20 elephants!

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If you ever see a sign like this, you’ll now understand why

Love Locks have been around for ages, all over the world.  They were made most famous in Paris, but their origins trace back to China and Siberia as well.  Seoul has quite an impressive display, and officials there were prepared there.  They created places for the locks to be placed that were actually designed to hold the weight.  The displays were lovely.

I spent quite a bit of time looking at those locks….they were really quite impressive.  They seem colourful from afar, but up close, you can see that there are actually quite a few old and rusted locks among the shiny new ones.  I guess displays like this don’t happen over night!

When we were done at Namsan, we decided to visit one of Seoul’s many parks.  We chose 1 park specifically because of its many Geo Caches.  Dave and I each found a couple, and we enjoyed a lovely walk among the budding trees.

There were some interesting sculptures in the park as well.

We spent both our evenings in Seoul enjoying fantastic Korean food!  I wouldn’t say South Korea is the best place to visit for vegetarians, but if you like meat, this is the place for you!  Meat is grilled fresh right in front of you, and when it’s done, you wrap it in a piece of leaf lettuce, along with Kim Chi and whatever other little dishes they give you.  It’s some of the freshest, healthiest tasting food I’ve ever had!

I’m a little sad we didn’t have more time to see some of the rest of South Korea, but I can say without a doubt that Dave and I will be heading back that way again some time soon. Korea is absolutely lovely.  The people are friendly and helpful, the service industry is WAY more customer service based than China’s and the city, in general, is very organized!

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Unfortunately, I didn’t take this picture, but I wanted you to see Seoul at its most beautiful and my camera just can’t capture a photo like this!

In fact, I saw something on our last night there that even puts Canada to shame!  I noticed a stack of free post cards at our hostel and picked one up.  It turns out that the South Korean government provides postage-paid postcards so that visitors can alert officials of any problems they had in the city!  A program like that would be INVALUABLE in cities like Shanghai or Beijing, where your first experience is often being ripped off by a taxi driver!

Stay tuned!  I’ve got plenty more planned for my next few posts!

 

 

Smog and Sandstorms

Dave and I had plans today to explore the city.  Suzhou recently opened its 3rd metro line, and it has made all sorts of local attractions easier to get to.  We thought exploring the city and getting some more photos would be a grand way to spend the day…but then the smog came…

I realized while talking to my family this morning that many of the people back home can’t even begin to understand what pollution is all about and the many ways it impacts our lives here, so I thought it might make for an interesting article.

**Note** Very few pictures in this article will be my own…they’ve mostly been borrowed from the internet.  If I did take the picture, I’ll indicate it in the caption

Our Global Pollution Problem

Pollution is a problem all over the world.  In India, I saw unbelievable amounts of garbage on the road, and I brushed my teeth with bottled water to avoid getting sick from the tap water.

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The firework displays during Diwali this year set off the AQI scale to more than 1000 and put the country in a state of emergency.   For comparison, Toronto’s current AQI is 17

Although much better than India and China, Vietnam also has some pretty terrible pollution problems.  The number of motorcyles on the road leave your lungs pretty sore by the end of a day sight-seeing in HoChiMin City.  Phu Quoc is also a giant dumping ground for garbage.

Even in the beautiful Caribbean, you can find all sorts of pollution issues.  Water there is generally unsafe to drink, and although resorts do a good job of keeping their shores clean, the same can’t be said in other areas of the country.

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This was taken in Haina, Dominican Republic

Pollution is a problem globally, there’s no doubt.   I look forward to my time in Canada every year.  The fresh air smells so fantastic, and even in the heart of Winnipeg, I’ve never smelt the tinny scent of PM2.5.  Yet…where do you think this picture was taken?

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This is in Sarnia, Ontario, where First Nations residents in a nearby town are suffering from the effects of this pollution.

What I’m trying to say here is that pollution is an issue everywhere.  If you’re lucky enough to never have seen anything like this with your own eyes, you are a minority on this planet and this is a case where being a minority is a good thing…

The Lingo

In Guizhou (the Chinese province where we lived prior to moving to Suzhou), the pollution isn’t so bad.  That’s not to say the air was perfect there (because it’s such a poor province, many of the vehicles on the road are old and blow large amounts of black exhaust), but we never needed masks or felt like our health was at risk.

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Guiyang is in the green zone in central China (the one surrounded by beige zones).  Shanghai and Suzhou is in an orange zone.

In Suzhou, things are different.  We are only about 100km west of Shanghai, so we get a lot of our pollution from the factories out that way.  On a bad day, our AQI level will go up to 200 or occasionally 300.  During the current sandstorm, we are sitting somewhere between 450 and 600 on the AQI scale.  What exactly does that mean, you might ask?

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This was today’s reading in Suzhou.  596 is the highest I’ve ever seen it here

AQI is the global term that indicates how clean the air is in any particular place.  Air Quality Index becomes a very important part of your life when you live in a city with a pollution problem.  Most people have apps on their phones that tell them whether they should wear a mask outside.  I don’t use an app because I have an easier way to tell. Suzhou’s iconic Pants Building is within eyesight of my apartment.  I make a point of looking out the window every day, and I can usually tell how bad the pollution is by how clearly I can see the pants building.

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Dave took these pictures last year.  Today looks a lot like the picture on the right

Something else people are aware of here in Suzhou are the different KINDS of pollution. I’ll begin explaining this with a story…

Last year, one of my jobs as a teacher was to help students prepare for their IGCSE spoken exams.  To do that, I met with students individually, gave them a topic and had them tell me what they could about that topic.  The topic I chose one day was ‘The Environment’.  One girl really impressed me, as she started rattling off different types of air pollution (PM2.5, PM10 etc.).  I was FLOORED that she knew those terms.  I had only lived in Suzhou for a few months at that point.

Now, these terms are part of my regular vocabulary.   I frequently say things like ‘PM2.5 levels are brutal this week’, or ‘well this stand storm is mostly bringing in PM10 particles, which aren’t QUITE so bad’.   All this ‘PM’ talk refers to the size of the particles.  PM10 particles are slightly bigger, but equally as harmful as PM2.5.  Both get trapped in your lungs and build up over time and both are linked to lung cancer, lung disease and even brain issues.   Of course, living in China for a short-term period doesn’t mean that I’ll come home with lung cancer, but the elderly in China really do suffer.

 

The Effects

Pollution is more than just something you see on the news.  It’s something that is real and it affects a large portion of the world on a day to day basis.  Here are some of the ways it effects me:

  1. I sometimes need to wear a mask to go outside
  2. I constantly worry about the quality of air in my home and at work
  3. I spend hundreds of dollars every year on filters and machines designed to clean my air
  4. I have had a lung infection so bad that I needed to be on 4 different medications to get better.  I was using an asthma puffer for 3 months after that infection.
  5. Colds last longer and are much more severe than they are elsewhere I’ve lived
  6. If I don’t ride my e-bike for a few days, I will get dust on my pants when I sit down.
  7. I dry my clothes in my bathroom because if I dry them outside, they’ll be dirty by the time I wear them again (most people in China don’t have clothes dryers)
  8. Hanging onto a railing as I climb up or down outdoor stairs will leave me with dirty hands.
  9. I go into coughing fits when I go to a country with clean air.  My lungs literally try and eject the garbage that has built up over the months.
  10. After a particularly dusty day, I’ll wake up with build up in my eyes and a bit of a sore throat.
  11. When the PM2.5 is especially bad (usually in January or February), you can actually taste metal in the air.
  12. I often worry about the long-term health hazards of pollution.  The obvious ones don’t worry me as much (lung cancer, emphysema etc.) but after recently discovering that PM2.5 is connected to alzymers disease, I’ve been in a constant state of worrying about the health of my brain.
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You can always tell if a car in a parking lot hasn’t been driven in a while….the dust builds up over time.  Similarly, it’s important to keep your apartment well maintained, because dust collects inside too

Pollution levels are a constant presence in my life.  I need to know when they’re high so I can turn on my air purifier.  I also need to know about the air quality so that I know when it’s appropriate for me to partake in one of my favourite pastimes: walking.

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Since I was just a little girl, I’ve always loved walked.  It started with walks around the block with my Pepere, and it evolved into walking my dog in the forest trails of St. Malo Provincial Park.  When I moved to Guiyang, walking was one of the ways I dealt with the stress of living in such a difficult city.  In Suzhou…taking a walk is off the table some days.

How We Get Through It

On days like today, we mostly stay indoors.  At home, we have 2 air purifiers, so we definitely have those running while we’re in the apartment.  My classrooms also have air purifiers, but unfortunately, my school doesn’t see an advantage to making sure our offices also have clean air.  Air purifiers can be a bit pricey and they seem to become obsolete frequently, making it impossible to find a new filter for a device you purchased only 6 months before.  Our solution has been SmartAir Purifiers…they’re a small company that make purifiers that work well, for only 600rmb (most other purifiers that do a decent job cost up to 5000rmb…).  If you’re living in mainland China, check out their website.  They’re well worth the money.

How This Effects YOU

If you’re reading this from Canada, you might be thinking that I’m crazy for choosing to live here.  I know the risks, but I still take them.  There are risks living in Manitoba as well.  Hitting the ditch in a snow storm, or sliding into oncoming traffic during winter/spring is every bit as much of a risk as living somewhere where pollution is a problem.  I check the PM2.5 levels the same as you check the temperature to know how many sweaters you should wear under your parka.

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Seeing smashed up cars in Manitoba is normal.  I was involved in 2 ice-related accidents in 2012 alone.  I hate driving in Winter far more than I hate PM2.5

You may also be thinking that countries like China and India are poorly managed and that if they ‘got their acts together’, this wouldn’t be an issue.  But let me ask you this….

Where are the majority of your ‘things’ made?  The truth of the matter is that we export our pollution to China to cut costs.  One of the reasons things are cheaper coming from China is because health and safety standards aren’t as big of a deal here….it’s something to think about before you shop at places like Walmart, Superstore or other ‘low cost’ chains.  You’re paying 50 cents less, but the global environment is suffering.

Furthermore…we live in a very wasteful world.  I recently got into a heated debate about the use of paper cups in the office.  I think they should be banned, whereas other people really like their convenience.  What’s important to remember is that by using disposable items (on a regular basis), you’re contributing to our landfill problems, as well as creating a need for more factories in the world.  For more information on that, I found this nifty article written by Time Magazine called ‘Throwaway Living’.  Be sure to check it out if you’re interested in the topic.

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If hearing about this very sad state of affairs has depressed you, here is a picture of Poe to help you feel happy again. 

PS..I know it’s been a while, but I have 3 posts in the works:

  • Our weekend in Seoul
  • Catching up on Life in Suzhou
  • Beautiful Suzhou (I’ve been on a picture taking mission lately)

Initial Impressions

Day one of our 33 day holiday is coming to an end, and it’s time to recap and reflect.

Hanoi City – Organized Chaos

We have begun our trip in Hanoi: a bustling and historic Vietnamese city.  We’re staying in the Old Quarter of Vietnam’s capital, where coffee shops are on every street corner and motorbikes are the primary means of transportation.  There’s an organized chaos here, in every sense of the word.

There are thousands of shops piled atop one another, and everywhere you look, there are people eating bowls of Pho on the sides of the street, and sipping coffee at tiny tables, sitting on tiny plastic stools.  What’s interesting, though, is that all those tiny little shops are organized and neatly merchandised.  My (extremely neat) sister would be impressed by the level of organization these shop owners manage to have in their little side-of-the-road shops.

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A small and popular restaurant in the Old Quarter

A good friend of ours lived in Vietnam for 4 years and she gave us valuable advice before we left for Hanoi.  She told us that the roads here are like a river; vehicles weave in and around one another and never really stop moving.  She told us to walk boldly but slowly and that vehicles would mostly just part around us.  It was terrifying at first, but she was right.  There are no crosswalks in the North American sense, but somehow, we got around just fine.  In a lot of ways it was less scary than India.  Ok…in every way.

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French colonialism is easily identifiable all over the city.  The streets, buildings and even French language are visible everywhere you go.  Cambodia was also colonized by the French, but the impact there wasn’t as obvious as it is in Hanoi.

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So different from China’s Skyscrapers

Hoàn Kiếm Lake – Passive and Pleasant

After a long day of travel yesterday and a long semester of 60-hour weeks, I wasn’t up for much today, so we mostly spent our time down by  Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which was a lovely experience.  The lake is a beautiful spot for wedding photos, so we saw several happy couples being chased by photographers.

There was a small temple by the lake as well.  We paid 30,000 dong each to enter (less than $2 Canadian) and enjoyed the quietness of the place.

There’s plenty to see walking along the lake.  The Old Quarter is a lovely place to spend the afternoon!

Different from Delhi / A Change from China

One of my favourite parts of travel is walking around at night, when the shops are lit up and the weather has cooled.  Vietnam is so different from India.  While there are shops everywhere, just as there is in New Delhi, nobody grabs you by the arms and nobody is too terribly pushy.  South East Asia, though hectic and tourist oriented, seems to have more of a dignity about it.  People bargain, but don’t try and rip you off.  People try and sell their goods, but if you say no, they move on with their days, un-offended and un-worried.

Tonight we walked around for a little while and found a restaurant where we enjoyed the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had.  Although I love Chinese food, the oil has started to gross me out a bit.  Vietnamese food is fresher and crispier…with more raw vegetables and coconut sauces.  Dinner was delicious…and the coffee I just finished was an excellent way to end the night!

Tomorrow we set off for HaLong Bay…another UNESCO World Heritage Site to add to our list.   We’ll be spending 2 nights and 3 days enjoying one of Vietnam’s greatest treasures.

 

The Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta warriors are easily one of China’s most famous and fascinating pieces of history.  This clay army was created more than 2200 years ago for China’s famed emperor,  Qin Shi Huang.   I mentioned in my Great Wall post that China was originally several small settlements that all had separate walls, but later in history, an emperor united all the territories into 1 country.  This emperor, Qin, was the same guy who commissioned the Terracotta Army, so that he’d have ample protection in the afterlife.

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It took 700,000 workers roughly 40 years to build this magnificent army.  Each soldier (and there – are over 8000 of them) is unique.  Torsos, legs and arms were mass-produced with a single mold.  The bodies for different types of warriors differed, of course (archers had different bodies than generals, of course), but other than that, the torsos were made in a pretty uniform way.  The faces, however, are all different, and it is thought that each one is based on one of the 700,000 workers who built this fascinating army.

As I mentioned, there are several different types of soldiers found in the 3 excavation pits.  Foot soldiers, archers, generals and cavalry are all present in the pits and you can learn about each of them by reading the many signs put up around the exhibits.

Terracotta is a type of clay, so sadly, many of these soldiers have been damaged by collapsing roofs and enemy armies.  Many of the soldiers are missing their heads or other body parts, mostly due to military attacks.

Archaeologists have been working on restoring some of the damaged soldiers for years, and have discovered some interesting things throughout the process.  For example, the warriors were originally painted and very colourlful.  Also, there is a whole section of warriors that are based on Chinese minorities and different ethnic groups throughout the country.  This was a diverse army!

 

One of my favourite parts of the visit was seeing the area where warriors are being put back together, piece by piece.   When I wasn’t taking Literature or Writing classes in University, I was taking every Classical History class I could.    What always amazed me about this field of study, is how much archaeologists are able to learn from a site like the Terracotta Warriors.  Just by studying these old pieces of clay, we can learn about ancient military customs, tools, building materials and countless other details.  It’s even widely believed that the Terracotta Warriors have Hellenistic roots.  Their shape and the way they were created is very similar to Greek artwork.

This army was our main reason for wanting to see Xi’an during the holiday.  I must say, the Terracotta Warriors are well-worth seeing, but I wouldn’t recommend seeing them during the October Holiday.  The crowds were positively dangerous and more than once, Dave had to grab my hand to get me through the swarms of people.  If I hadn’t had photography to keep my mind off the crowds, I would have been in a straight up panic attack.

The worst of the crowds were in Pit #1.  This is the most famous pit, where you can see 6000+ soldiers and 50 Chariots.

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The Crowd outside of Pit #1.  There were easily this many people behind us in line as well…

I assumed the guards were going to let a certain number of people in at a time, but instead they let everyone in at once…

Unfortunately, the crowds were so intense that I never actually got to see the warriors from the front.  I waited for ages, but when people started to panic and push their way through to the front, Dave grabbed me and pulled me out. Neither of us are sure how that railing holds out…

 

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This is the shot I COULD have gotten, if it hadn’t been for the crowds.  Instead I found it in Google Images so that you can at least see what everyone was rushing to try and see.  

Once we got around the corner, the crowd seemed to thin out.  There was an emergency exit that a lot of people took just to get away from the swarms of people.  I didn’t want to give up entirely, so we kept on, along with thousands of other people, including little old ladies and small children.  One particularly brutish guy (who was twice the size of most of the people around him) ended up getting my elbow to his chest and my finger in his face as I told him to knock it off!   He did calm down, so I’m glad I did it…but all I could keep thinking in this crowd was how easy a stampede could happen.

Here are some pictures that I DID manage to get of the warriors.

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This was right at the end of the exhibit, near the exit.  We figured we should try and get at least 1 picture of us there!

After pit 1, we headed to a nearby restaurant for lunch and some tea to calm us down.  We were also shown Emperor Qin’s tomb sight (a mountain), but we weren’t allowed in, because of the high mercury levels there.  Emperor Qin actually believed that Mercury was the key to longevity, so he ate it as much as he could.  It’s probably what killed him.   At least he left behind quite the legacy!!!

Next week we leave for Vietnam and Laos!  It should be a memorable trip!!!

I’m planning on blogging throughout the trip, much like I did in India last year, so prepare for lots of posts about all sorts of cool stuff!  33 days in South East Asia is bound to be one heck of an inspiration writing-wise!!