Wednesday, January 26, 2011

THANK YOU to all who made this possible!

   This trip and the entire experience of living in Asia the last 4 years has been made possible and so much fun by so many people. Unfortunately, we never wrote a list but chances are if you are reading this blog, you mean something to us no matter how well or little we know eachother. If we forgot you, we apologize.

Moganshan Lodge
Moganshan House 2, 23, and 25
Mark and Joanna Kitto, The Moganshan Lodge: Thank you to Mark and Joanna, the kids, Charlie, and everyone in Moganshan for two amazing years of support, unconditional love, and continuous employment that allowed us to finance this epic adventure. You will always be family to us. We think of you and miss you every day. Advice: If you are ever in Moganshan you have to sample the amazing meals and drinks at the Lodge. Experience comfort and history by spending a night in one of Joanna's beautifully restored European Villas on the peak of Moganshan.

Specialized s-rider's club
Thomas LeCoq, Specialized: Thomas and his China team of technical bike specialists have provided Emily and me with the mountain bikes, panniers, clothes, and gear necessary for our epic 3000+km ride through Southeast Asia. Advice: Please check out their China rider’s club website and get yourself one of their bikes or join their weekend trips if you find yourself living in China.

Asia Pacific Adventure
Adam Doan and Co., Asia Pacific Adventure: Adam and his Team run one of Hong Kong’s (and even Asia’s) leading Outdoor Education providers. APA hired Dan as its Moganshan partner and later in the year, as a part-time instructor in Hong Kong. During our trip they have repeatedly given us free accommodation at their staff house on the beautiful Lamma Island. Advice: If your company or child is based in China or Hong Kong, contact APA for some adventurous development programs.

Deck of Secrets
NY Craft Beer Week
(and this awesome youtube trailer)
Josh Schaffner: Josh is an old friend of Dan’s since high school in New York City and of Em’s since university in Montreal. In 2004, Josh became a flight attendant. Since then he has been giving friends and family passes to travel the world for very cheap. It is because of his generosity that we are able to afford some traveling before flying home to the USA. In his spare time, Josh is a contributor to NY and Chicago Craft Beer Week and the worldwide pocket guides known as Deck of Secrets. Advice: Check out the links for some good times

Run Of The Mill shop
The Moy Family: Throughout our years in China, Emily’s family have consistently sent us care packages filled with our favorite American snacks and trashy magazines which have helped us get through the harder days. Most recently, they added Christmas gifts and winter clothes to the mix which helped us out greatly. We had an amazing, whirlwind tour of China last year during ‘The Moy Family, Back-to-the-roots, China Adventure’. During that trip they also sponsored our entire wardrobe of Uniqlo clothing for which we are eternally grateful. Thank you for not being mad that we’ve missed so many family gatherings with the whole family. We will be home soon! Advice: If you appreciate good humor as much as you do a good pair of slacks, check out Jon Moy’s blog and his clothing shop “Run of the Mill”. He has been great about giving us much needed exposure to the Internet’s best and brightest.

Mortartar's Myspace
UN Cyber School Bus
The Yotive Family: When China was still but a dream in Dan’s heart, it was his family who pushed him to take that leap of faith and board the plane with only a backpack and the phone number of his friend in Shanghai. As a result, Dan has had the best 4 years of his life and is eternally grateful to his family for consistently supporting his never-ending, financially nonsensical adventure. The Kafkafi Family in Israel financed our trip to the Holy Land in 2008, a trip we will never be able to match in beauty and epic-ness. For the future, Dan’s family has offered to give us as much space as they can make for us in their NYC apartments to help make the transition back to life in NYC as smooth as possible. We’re almost done, we swear! Advice: Dan’s Sister Ariel, who will be joining us in Vietnam for 3 weeks, has taught herself how to play drums – check out her band Mortartar on Myspace. Dan’s Father Bill is a Project Manager at the UN’s Global Teaching and Learning Project and has created an awesome website to help educate youth around the world a variety of social, economic, and environmental awareness issues that affect us all as citizens of the world.

Maya Poulton: Maya is an amazing businesswoman, independent citizen of the world, and philanthropist. When we first moved to Shanghai China in December 2006, it was Maya who let us stay in her apartment well past our welcome until we found jobs and our own apartment. Maya now resides in NYC and uses her well-seasoned travel experience as a curator for Jetsetter – a members-only, hand-selected experiences travel company. Thank you for those amazing first few weeks in China!

Prodigy Outdoor
Transition Events
You Yang, A Yuan, Tori Widdowson, Prodigy Outdoor Base: You Yang, A Yuan, and Tori all helped make our trip possible by graciously giving our two dogs, Rufus and Momo, a loving home. You Yang is the true caretaker, but we know that our crazy dogs can be a handful for anyone who has to live near or with them. Thank you guys so much for giving our hearts some peace! Good luck to all of you on your future projects! We will see you and pups again! Advice: If you are in Shanghai or Moganshan and are looking for some fellow outdoor sport nuts and travelers, then definitely check out Prodigy’s Outdoor Base and Tori’s Transition Events. They welcome travelers of all kinds with such warm and open hearts, and they put on some really cool events in the area.

Le Passage MohKanShan
Christophe and Pauline Peres, Le Passage Changhai: Christophe and Pauline Peres are our neighbors in Moganshan and served as our surrogate family while the Kitto’s were in England during the summer of 2010. They welcomed us to eat French cuisine and splash around in their outdoor pool with their kids every weekend. Most recently they have hosted us in Shanghai and on a motorbike trip from Shanghai to Moganshan. In 2001, Christophe completed a 12,000km mountain bike ride across China through which he raised over hundreds of thousands of Chinese Yuan for The Shanghai Children's Medical Centre. He has been an inspiration and supporter of our trip from the get go. Thanks for the donation! Advice: The Peres’ are currently building a luxurious property in Moganshan called “Le Passage MohKanShan” – hopefully it will open as a hotel sometime in 2011.

naked retreats
Doug “the Dong” Lapuc, Naked Retreats: Doug is the Man. For a while, he almost single-handedly managed the operations at the Eco-boutique resort “Naked Retreats” in Moganshan. He has finally worked himself up to the position of big cheese on the mountain and earned a whopping two-week holiday in the USA. During this holiday, Doug helped bring back some of Dan’s stuff which the Chinese and American customs would not allow to be shipped. Thanks Doug! Advice: If you are looking for a rustic luxury holiday experience in the bamboo hills of Moganshan, check out “Naked Retreats” and their new project “Naked Stables” which will be the largest LEED Platinum resort of its size in the world.

Mark Secchia and Jason (Laurie’s brother), Sherpa’s: As fellow Michigander’s, Mark and Jason were very gracious to help us send Emily’s Macbook back to her family in Detroit, Michigan. Poor Jason had visited us in Moganshan only a few months earlier and broke his foot, or leg, or something, within 5 minutes of arriving and had to be driven the 3 hours back to Shanghai. He then limped across continents with Em’s precious cargo on his way home for the holidays. Thank you guys! Advice: If you live in or are moving to one of the big cities in China, you will inevitably use their Food Delivery service aptly named “Sherpa’s”.

BOHDI Adventures
Paul Stepanek and Nicholas Herbert, Bohdi Adventures: Bohdi Adventures is one of the original Mountain Bike manufacturers and Adventure tour providers in China. Paul and Nick hired Dan on a whim and gave him the opportunity to explore China’s beautiful natural landscapes and villages. Were it not for the amazingly fun years at Bohdi, we probably would have never moved to Moganshan or decided to bike across Asia. Thanks Bohdi for the spark and the chance to discover the wonderful world of adventure travel! Advice: Check out their wide range of weekend getaways and corporate adventures when in Shanghai

HONG KONG - We Should Move Here

January 12-13, 2011
Eng: Hong Kong S.A.R., China 
Chn: 香港,中国
Written by Em

   We love Hong Kong, plain and simple.

   Every time we come here, we have a great time and think to ourselves “why don’t we live here?” It has the best of everything. The perfect balance between Western and Asian cultures and food, nature and city, fashion, music, and so on.

   Luckily, Dan’s old employers, Asia Pacific Adventure, let us stay in their staff house on Lamma Island. Lamma is like a bohemian getaway from the city where you can find everything from beaches to bars, mountains to mochaccinos, seashell necklaces to seafood – lots of seafood. It was the perfect base for us while we waited out the arrival of our bikes and gear from Shanghai. Here are some pictures of the places we visited and things we ate while here:

   Staying at the house with us is Alex Maier, a Frenchman, a Jew, an old China hand, and chef extraordinaire. Alex has been the head chef of top hotels across China, but in 2001 he decided to move to the mountains and ancient cobbled streets of Lijiang, Yunnan. There he was known as the man to go to for pizza for the longest time. Most recently he has partnered with some other Frenchies to open the Rhizome Lijiang Arts Center which provides food, accommodation and studio space for traveling artists and other wanderers. During our stay we had the pleasure of tasting his cooking (which he does by intuition with whatever we have in the house) and learning lots about traveling long distances by bike (such as “ ‘ammer some ‘ole in your shoe” to let our feet breath)

   Right now he is in the kitchen cooking up a curry and talking to himself about the different sauces in the cupboard, which one is better than the other. Apparently there is something wrong with the fish sauce. He doesn’t know what exactly, but it’s definitely not right.

   Good to Know: While enjoying the spoils of HK, we had a bit of an accident. After a delicious home-cooked meal, 1 litre bottle of cheap whiskey and a dart game, we slowly made our way home. Drunky #1 immediately went to snack in the bunk bed, while the other decided to check a few emails. Not 30 seconds later, a large CRASH was heard, followed by, “Oh Shit.” Drunky #2 had somehow slam-dunked the computer on the ground, shattering the screen. Drunky #1 burst out laughing, but knew they should be a bit upset, so as a compromise kept repeating between giggles, “Oooh! I’ma tell my mama!”

   Moral of the story:  It actually is possible to replace a laptop screen, though not really all that cheap.

   The bikes and gear have finally arrived at the Specialized Store in Dongguan China and we will go tomorrow (Thursday, January 27) to pick up the stuff and set out. We will update everyone in a few days once we are on our way.

CHENGDU - Pandas, Paul's Legacy, Peppers, and Peter's Tex-Mex

January 17-19, 2011
Eng: Chengdu, Sichuan, China 
Chn: 成都,四川省,中国
Written by Dan

Our stay in Chengdu was short but sweet. We decided to stay at Chengdu’s legendary hostel Sim’s Cozy Garden (their website seems to be down so see some pictures and a review here). Our friend Paul Janizcek, who’s doppelganger is currently residing in Xining, once traveled here in late 2009. His only souvenir from the trip was their copy of the most recent edition of the China Lonely Planet. In fact, we are using ripped-out pages of that very book as out own travel guide on this trip. Upon our arrival at the hostel, we instantly spot the library and go take a look. Lo and behold, all the travel guide books are in their own bookcase, the only one covered with doors and locked with a padlock – no doubt a result of our good friend’s actions ;) We chose not to return the butchered remains of their treasured guide book.

The Travel Guide stash under lock and key - thanks Paul!

We finally got to see some Yellow Hat Monks - in a picture in our room...

That night, we accompanied fellow backpackers on a hostel-organized trip to the “spiciest hot-pot restaurant in Chengdu” – probably a label given to attract foreigners. Well it was spicy! Almost too much to handle. Even the air was spicy! Everyone sampled the food which is basically veggies, tofu, meat or whatever you want dipped into a boiling pot of spicy pepper soup (like fondue). But only those who had developed a taste for it after years of being in Asia, which included only a small handful of us, really enjoyed it. Em and I continued eating way past everyone else to the point that people were waiting for us to finish so we could go.

We were originally going to spend about 10 days in Sichuan visiting the Giant Buddha in Leshan and the beautiful Tibetan villages and mountains of Western Sichuan such as Kangding (Dartsendo), Dege, and Ganzi (Garze). However, due to the extreme cold, risk of altitude sickness and most places being closed, we decided to come back in summer when we can experience the beauty of the area in full bloom and enjoy some Tibetan festivals.

So, we chose to make the most of our day and a half in Chengdu. Our first stop was the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base just outside the city. We joined an organized tour with some other backpackers and got to the base just in time for breakfast. Pandas have the digestive system of carnivores but over time they became almost completely dependant on bamboo as a food source. With little nutritious value, they have to eat a lot and rest whenever they are not eating. They also can’t store enough energy to hibernate so they are able to be visited all-year-round. To conserve energy while eating, they generally lie on their backs or lean against something which makes for an interesting site. We got to see 1-year-old and 4-year-old giant pandas as well as a few adult red pandas. There was one named DanDan so naturally I took my picture next to its name plate.

This one's doing the "momo" pose

That little bamboo stump is their toilet - 
that red panda just took a poop in it

Real-life Kung-fu Panda training ground

Big-ears Pan-du

no shame

For an additional 1000rmb ($150 USD) each, we could have held and played with the infant giant pandas. Emily’s love of cute things almost cost us a chunk of money but we eventually gave up the opportunity of a lifetime. Apparently, there are many people wh gladly pay the price. Later, I saw that you could intern at the base for day, not only holding the pandas but also learning how to care for them for about 600rmb ($90 USD).

Local Staff holding a baby Panda

After the panda’s we explored the city for some food and final souvenirs. We went to the Tibetan quarter and had a great meal of Yak meat and Potato pie with some yogurt, fried rice and veggies. We bought a few small gifts for Em’s family in Guangdong and then headed out.

We stopped by the legendary Bookworm restaurant and café known for its great western food and endless bookshelves. It reminded us of the Moganshan Lodge where we had just been working for a little while and was a great place to relax for a little while.

Finally for dinner, we decided to go for Tex-Mex in the Expat quarter. We got nachos, burritos, apple pie and fried ice cream. It was amazing!

The next day we packed up, again, and flew out to Shenzhen where we will take a bus into Hong Kong. We will wait in Hong Kong until we receive our bikes and gear for the bike tour being shipped to us from Specialized Bikes in Shanghai.

LANZHOU to CHENGDU - Em's got Pee Problems

January 16, 2011
Eng: Lanzhou, Gansu, China to Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Chn: 兰州,甘肃省,中国 成都,四川省,中国
Written by Dan

   There’s not much to say about our bus ride from Lanzhou to Chengdu except that an 18-hour journey took 26-hours and we were only given about 4 bathroom breaks.

   After checking out a local arcade and playing a few rounds of Hot Shots basketball, we took off at 3:30pm and were initially very psyched about the cleanliness and space of this new bus as opposed to the first sleeper bus we took from Dunhuang to Xining. Below is a photo to attest to our happiness.

The cigarette claw game at the Lanzhou Arcade

Us in our fancy bus beds

   By a stroke of luck, I was able to snag the upper front bed where I had a huge window all  to myself. I was so excited about the potential pictures, but the glass was dirty and the weather was awful. Here is the only thing I was able to capture.

   While Em passed out again, I stole her “Life of Pi” and began to read. I was sick of reading the Lonely Planet and was dieing for some fiction, even though I had read Life of Pi before.

Just as I start getting into the story I hear, “rubbutt, RubBUTT!”. This is Em’s affectionate nickname for me that she pulls out in times of distress. For example, a few years back, while holding onto a rock climbing wall 3 meters off the ground determined she could not go on, she yelled out in terror “You got me Rubbuuuuttttttt?” – everyone in the gym looked at us in disgust/confusion.

This time, her distress was again pee-related. Although we were both at the front of the bus and within earshot of the driver, she asked me as if I was the authority “Are we gonna stop for a pee soon, I really gotta go!” Choosing not to go through the samething as on the bus from Xiahe to Lanzhou, I politely asked the driver when we were going to stop – in all fairness to Em it had been 4 hours since we left with no stop.

30 minutes later, I hear Emily sobbing. I look at her and her face spells accident. I yell at the driver “come on man you gotta stop! We have an emergency!” The driver simply points down the road and I take that to mean we are almost there. This guy, unlike our previous long-distance bus driver, does not like pee breaks by the side of the road. A few more minutes later at around 8pm we pull into a bus station and Emily races to the toilet. I expected to find a wet spot on her mattress but didn’t find anything. She says another minute and we would’ve been digging through the bags for new undies.

As we’re getting on the bus, I tell the driver that Em has pee problems and can’t wait so long in between breaks. I get a blank stare and a shrug in response. Another passenger jokes with the driver “special circumstances that one” while nodding and shaking his thumb back at Em. What! These people are the special ones! Who doesn’t have to pee every few hours?

8 hours later at 4:00am, we finally stop for dinner and our second pee break! What! Who are these people. The choices at 4:00am are rice porridge with buns and boiled eggs or spicy Sichuanese meat and veggies with rice. Not wanting to get stuck shitting ourselves as well between the once-every-8-hours pee breaks, we opt for the porridge. It was a good choice. We get on the bus again and fall back asleep.

When dawn breaks a few hours later, I notice we are not moving and the driver is not in his seat. I wipe the fog off the window to reveal that we are stuck in a long line of buses and trucks on two lane, two-way icy highway through the mountains. There is no divider between the vehicles going in opposite directions and there are women with food carts squeezing through between the cracks, delivering breakfast to tired drivers. I instantly remember recent news reports of vehicles being stuck for days on frozen roads due to the inability to melt the ice or inability for clean-up crews to clear the debris from collisions. I conclude that there must be a truck stuck in ice or a collision somewhere. Whatever the cause, I realize we are going to be here for a while.

The Endless Jam

The real cause turns out to be that because of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake which damaged the original highway, all sizes of vehicle are forced to squeeze through the windy old mountain road. When it’s snowing, raining, or freezing over, this road becomes very jammed. From the road everything looks fine in the area, but we know that this quake which claimed almost 70,000 lives has caused damage that will take decades to repair. Regrettably, we did not disembark and volunteer with the relief efforts. Sometimes you just want to travel and enjoy the beauty of the world. But if you feel like you want to donate to the ongoing relief, please check out the website:

With no choice and no control over the situation, we simply pass the time. I read the “Life of Pi” in it’s entirety in one sitting – a record for me. Emily watches “China’s Got Talent” reruns – the guy who dresses up in a pig costume and squeals is our favorite. Finally at 5:30pm, 26 hours after we left, we arrive in Chengdu. Never has standing felt so good.