Being Above Ground in Fujian: A Travelogue


Very unique. Not like being above ground in other places.

DAY ONE: took the metro to the far corner of Shanghai to fly SHA>>XMN. Just the journey to the airport itself took nearly two hours. Shangers is ridiculously large. Man sitting opposite me clipped his fingernails directly onto the floor. As one does on the subway.

Flight was comfortable, minimal amounts of stares directed at the tall white person sitting 24C.

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China, in Quotation Marks


The one thing I know for sure about China is that I will never know China. It’s too big, too old, too diverse, too deep. There’s simply not enough time. That’s the joy of China: facing a learning curve that’s impossibly steep.

– Anthony Bourdain in Parts Unknown (Shanghai)

How Vientiane Is an Analog for the World


I complained about the weather, walked the backstreets, and ate cheap.

This time the bus was a large, cyan blue thing with leather sleeping berths and cotton blankets. Upbeat folk music and the neon lights mounted above every bed gave the whole thing a strange feeling — as if I had somehow fallen asleep in a gaudy Lao nightclub. But none of this is to say that the overnight journey to Vientiane was uncomfortable. It wasn’t. It was like sleeping on a very peculiar southbound cloud.

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The Two Rivers of Luang Prabang, Laos


Evening, approaching the Mekong/Nam Khan confluence.

Tucked in the far back corner of an outdated sleeper bus headed toward Luang Prabang, an impatient American passenger searched through the dirty window for a sign — any sign — that might suggest an end to his 27-hour journey from Kunming, China.

Bumpy, unpaved dirt roads had led him here: cramped and sweaty, peering into the darkening of North Laos. His bus, now hurtling at about 45mph on a thin, one and a half-lane highway in dusk, couldn’t arrive fast enough. A series of yellow-white lights off the left-hand side of the bus peeked through the blanket black night; the passenger blinked back at the shy lights. Air whistled through his opened window, damp like breath. Two left turns separated by a stretch of road resulted in a bus station where he alighted.

Shoving his shoulders back and stretching his arms into the sky, he stepped into the blacked-out indigo-blue of Luang Prabang.

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Travel, in Quotation Marks


[Bilbo] often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring

Seven Treasures of Qibao, Shanghai


Where do I even start with this one?

The aptly named 七宝镇//Qi1bao3 Zhen4 (lit. Seven Treasures Town) is an absolute must-see. Shanghai’s closest water town isn’t just that. It’s a snack food paradise and a barbecue lover’s fantasy, a photographer’s dream, an architectural wonder, a relic of ancient China.

Qibao is by far Shanghai’s coolest water town. Wandering through the Old Street will take you the day if you plan it right, but I strongly suggest throwing out those plans. Most likely, you’ll be enticed by every other storefront selling Chinese-style sweets. Don’t stress about it too much. The sooner you accept the fact that you’ll have to make multiple trips to Qibao to truly be “done,” the sooner you get try that curious-looking meat on a stick.

Speaking of which…

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Xi’an, Shaanxi Province


Xi’an: ancient capital, bustling city of industry and education, and voted Central China’s most liveable city by the Erik Fruth Opinion Council.

I fully admit that I was swayed in Xi’an’s favor by the incredible food. The most incredible bing on the planet, saozi mian//臊子面 [cool video link!], endless street food stalls selling cakes and warm plum juice, ubiquitous and unfailingly delicious roujiamo//肉夹馍, enormous mantou//馒头, heavy use of cumin, chive, and garlic… the list goes on.

It goes without saying that I was well-fed in this city. I would like to point out, however, that I was well-fed out of the necessity to try every street vendor’s culinary offerings (describing their edible creations as anything less than cuisine is plainly insulting to their craft).

All this is not to say that Xi’an is dull in other aspects.

The largely Hui Muslim community in Xi’an is distinct in their dress and diet, and the beautifully eclectic mosques in which they worship. The three tiles below were all taken inside two mosques in Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter. The latter two were taken inside the spectacular Great Mosque, the largest and best preserved of China’s early mosques,¹ built in Chinese architectural style and thus lacking traditional domes or minarets. The mosque hearkens all the way back to 742 CE, though the building that stands now was constructed in the early Ming Dynasty.² More information about the mosque’s history and some incredible photos of its grounds can be found at the links above.

The Bell and Drum Towers [below, respectively] were constructed during the Ming Dynasty and are now symbols of the city of Xi’an.

In June, 2014, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda became a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Silk Road Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor.

Lastly, the city is home to the world-famous Terracotta Warriors. Three pits dug as part of Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum contain thousands of clay soldiers — complete in rank and file — as well as hundreds of chariots, horses, and court officials. For the man who united the warring states of China in 221 BCE to become ruler of the dynasty that would later bear his name,³ this mind-bogglingly grand burial was a matter of course.