Personal Impressions

The "Personal Impressions" section is a collection of thoughts and personal experiences.

Skip China?

When planning our world trip, China wasn't included on the itinerary. Our Chinese friends questioned in disbelief, "Skip China?" Now we understand why. The diversity in ethnic people and landscape is mind-boggling. Each modernized urban piece of ugliness is surrounded by stunning romantic rural communities. Every province has a unique specialty that's visually stunning, tasty, or culturally traditional. Any route through China is a continuous stream of delights. Masami remarked, "China is like the best of Europe and the Middle East combined!" The only real issue is the country's immensity. Upon arrival, we thought we could see the highlights of China in a month. In actuality, we can only see a portion of the highlights in 3 months. Maybe 2 years is necessary to really see this country in its entirety. Skip China? No Way.

Smoke, Cough, Phuut-thuu!

No matter how patient and open minded one is, some things remain beyond tolerance. We can handle the stinking maggot-ridden open sewer squat toilets in the countryside, the overuse of MSG in food, and the Chinese propensity to toss trash out of bus windows. But we cannot adjust to the Chinese habit of chain-smoking in enclosed public spaces and the nonchalant spitting of large wads of phlegm on the bus floor, on the restaurant floor, in the hotel lobby, etc.

Long distance bus travel is the worst part of our China experience. Chain-smokers cloud the air with dense fumes causing us lightheadedness, frustration, and stinky clothes. Fighting back makes no impression. All we get are blank uncomprehending stares.

Pristine Parks

We never expected to find perfect cleanliness in China. The Chinese national parks are a mesmerizing surprise. No place in the world have we seen such crystal clear water, unspoiled forest, and pure snowcapped mountains. Imagine dozens of kilometers of lakes and streams as clear as the pools in Yellowstone National Park, snowcapped mountains reaching over 700 meters like the Himalaya, and forest in an uncountable number of shades of green untouched by humans. This is Jiuzhaigou Park in Sichuan Province.

Unlike US national parks that cater to hikers and campers, Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Parks limit pedestrian traffic to wooded boardwalks. Smoking in the park is prohibited, and numerous staff watch for potential litterbugs. These regulations may seem extreme to outdoors enthusiasts, but one look at the water will convince you that nature preservation for species other than humans is worthwhile.

The Cat Man

At Minyang Glacier (Yunnan Province), we met a group of Ph.D.s researching 800 sq. km of terrain to propose a recommendation to turn the area into a national park. One of the party was Dr. Jim Someone-or-other. His special interest is cats. As the deputy director of the feline division of the International Something-or-other, his determined lifelong focus is the preservation of cat species. Having heard from another team member of our travels, he approached us to yammer about his personal dedication to save the world of cats. (We suspect that his colleagues already told Jim outright that they're no longer interested in listening to the same story for the 12th time.) Jim has so much work that he couldn't imagine wasting time to play golf, have a relationship, watch a movies, or god forbid, TRAVEL FOR LEISURE! Yammering on and on about the important role in the world he plays, the names of multimillionaires who fund his work, and the knowledge he can bestow on other scientists around the world, it's evident that Jim knows his cats. It's also evident that his microscopic focus on the world can lead to some humorous recommendations. "I know," he once exclaimed, "If we gave all the villagers TVs, they would have less tendency to venture into the forest and disturb natural habitats!" "Jim, haven't you noticed the satellite dishes on every village house in China?" we enlightened. Let this be a reminder to us all. Occasionally step back and take a look around to make sure you are where you think you are.

Jerked Around in Shangrila

In Shangrila we were given royal treatment by a trekking guide named Kesang. Having heard from his boss of her disappointment with the company's current web page and the slowness of web page readiness by a newly contracted web page building company, we offered our services for free as a way to thank Kesang. After several hours of discussion with Boss and review of the existing pages, we learned that a partner in New York City was controlling the process. We documented the permissions we absolutely needed from the NY office and agreed to write a meaningful page upon our return from a 4-day trip to Deqin if NY agreed.

By our return, NY hadn't responded. Boss begged us to wait another US business day. OK. We agreed to telephone her mobile at 06:30 the next morning. This would be 19:30 NYC time. With a positive reply, we would start work. No reply would be interpreted as "no interest", and we would board the 07:30 northbound bus to Xiangcheng. The next morning at the agreed time, Wes called Boss' mobile. "The phone is switched off," the kind China Mobile Telecom recording told Wes in Chinese and English. Accustomed to this game of delay tactics, we checked out of our hotel and headed for the bus station. Although tickets to Xiangcheng were available the night before, they were now sold out. Bummer. Comparing a map to the bus timetable, we saw that an alternate, more southerly route through Lijiang and Panzhihua was also possible. We'd be missing the beautiful mountainous route to western Sichuan, but we would still have time for the other sites on our itinerary between Sichuan and Hong Kong before our visa expiration date. What's more, bus tickets to Panzhihua were still available.

Just as we made our decision and prepared to buy our tickets, a sleepy eyed colleague of Kesang's approached us. "Boss says I should bring you to her office," he pantomimed. "She got a positive response from NY?" we asked. He didn't know. Boss' mobile phone was still off. Wanting to do Kesang a favor even if it meant sacrificing one more location on our itinerary, we rode the company van to Boss' office. Boss was all apologies. "I fell asleep and my phone was off, and I didn't hear my alarm." We asked about NY. "Well, actually, there's no response yet. He's setting up a carpet shop in New Jersey and we want to start a web business in Shanghai, and blah, blah blah..." "Please, Boss," Wes interrupted. "In our hearts we want to give you and your company some meaningful Internet advertising, but NY is controlling the decision and seems to be the cause of the delay of the new web page. In my 8 years of management experience, the mobile phone was never off and email was checked daily, no matter what. We can only interpret non-response to mean no interest, and I'm not willing to engage in futile activities that will ultimately provide your company zero return. I'm sorry, but we're leaving Shangrila today."

By the time a taxi delivered us back to the bus station, the Panzhihua tickets were sold out. Uuuaah! After being jerked around, our minds were set on departure. Any planes to Chengdu? No, not for another 6 days. Any other bus option? Yes, one. We returned to Kunming on a 15-hour sleeper bus and caught an 18-hour super express train to Chengdu. Two times the money we saved due to Kesang's generosity was blown on higher prices for high-speed circuitous transport to Sichuan Province. On the Kunming bus, Wes had an epiphany. It's easier to have a boss who jerks people around than to be a supplier or customer to the jerk.

HomePrevious PageJournal Index 2002Map of Asia

  Copyright © 2000-2002   Wes and Masami Heiser.   All rights reserved.