mom walk

the day i cracked

Today i cracked. What's it been? Five days out of quarantine? Sounds about right.

I decided to walk east today, for about 12km, or probably a bit more because i went higgledy piggledy to try catch some highlights - Chinatown, Little Italy and every patch of green i could find on the map.

I never made it to Chinatown last time i was in Vancouver, when i was with J. I remember her saying "we must under no conditions go to Hastings and Main, it's a really dangerous part of town". But because Vancouver is tiny we accidentally did walk through there. From one block to the next there are suddenly hundreds of drug addicts camped out on the sidewalk openly injecting and mumbling and pawing. It's pretty disconcerting, although i don't think it's actually very dangerous. We made a swift exit to the left, when we should've gone right, so i missed Chinatown.

This time i made it, but a lot of shops were closed. Whether from corona or if it's just a dying Chinatown because all the Chinese moved to the suburbs, i don't know. There were a few butchers open, and tiny places with roast ducks hanging in the window. A few places selling medicinal herbs and dry goods too. It was shabby, but it had a nice local feeling.

I stopped at a Hong Kong restaurant and got a 叉燒包 pork bun. I also bought a coke for a homeless guy out the front. Pork bun is one of my "cheat dishes", for rare and special occasions when i deliberately eat meat. It has a Hong Kong memory for me, a Chinatown memory, it brings back a flavor of childhood. This was a great pork bun, much better than in Shenzhen where they suck, and just as good as any in Hong Kong.

Then i just kept walking. And walking. I didn't have anywhere to go.

I found a nicely painted warehouse.



I walked out to Commercial Drive, which is a road in suburban Vancouver that has Little Italy and also some hippie shops and whatnot. I visited last time i was here too and didn't find it super interesting, but i figured it'd be a nice place to stop for a real coffee. After drinking Tim Hortons for a week, it was awesome to get something made in an espresso machine.

A lot of cafés and restaurants have got decks out the front at the moment for social distancing. Inside they either have no tables, or the tables are 2 meters apart. (Restaurants aren't doing bubbles like bars are.) But outside? Parking spaces along the road have been removed, and some streets have been shut down completely so the restaurants can put tables instead. It's a nice vibe and something that i dearly hope continues after coronavirus is gone. The city should be for people, not for cars. Always.

After my coffee i kept walking, and i realized i had a problem. I should've peed at the coffee shop. I had walked into the burbs, and there were no more shops around. Definitely no public toilets. I held it in as i marched to a park with a lake in it, where families were making the most of the weekend - lazing on blankets, dancing and barbecuing. I got in line for the toilet block. It was especially conspicuous because everyone was lined up 2 meters apart. I was out in the middle of the park hopping from one foot to the other like a child.

I have been talking to a friend, N, who is someone i met in a nightclub in Berlin. We met up once or twice, which is very rare for me. He left Berlin around the same time that i did, but while i went to China to work, he did the hippie trail, bummed around India and Nepal and spent time working on farms and doing meditation retreats and shit like that.

Last year N's backpacking took him to Canada, where he's paused due to corona. He bought a van to roam around in, so he has been giving me hot tips about all the hippie-friendly small towns and advice about where to try find accommodation. Everyone here is struggling to find a place to stay, it's so expensive. He also relayed his sad story of being here during the initial lockdown when the government closed all the public toilets. He said he went to Walmart and bought a camping toilet to keep in his van for emergencies. He also said in the smaller towns Walmart lets you boondock in their parking lots.

Anyway, i thought about N while i was sitting in the public toilet, and pondered if i'd really want to run to a public toilet first thing in the morning to pee. I don't mind public toilets when i'm out and about, but i don't like the idea of having to depend on them 24/7, because they're not always open and not always nearby.

And, as i continued to walk east, i realized... there is fucking nothing nearby.

That's when i had the anxiety attack.

Stuck out there, in the middle of a fucking wasteland, no services for miles around. I mean, there were houses. Miles and miles and miles of houses. And nothing else. No public toilets. No shops. No restaurants. No bars. No pedestrians. No nothing. Just single-storey houses with cars out the front. Half the roads didn't even have a sidewalk. And it just continued on that way, endlessly, in every direction.

I wanted to throw up, i was so freaked out. This is it. This is the culture shock. This is the hideous, terrible car culture that i have managed to stay away from for years. I felt trapped, oppressed, completely powerless. I frantically checked my map app to see if there were any shops nearby i could walk to, but there was nothing. Like, literally. Fucking. Nothing. An absolute desolate wasteland of residential housing. God, why would anybody ever want to live out there? I think i would kill myself.

I wanted to kill myself just walking through it.

I wouldn't even have to find a way, i was just walking, and i was already dying. Suffocating. I couldn't breathe. Each step brought me nearer to my doom.

I found a main road, but all that was on it was car dealerships. They were all closed. Internal combustion vehicles zoomed past. I was choking on exhaust fumes. Sunburnt. Alone. For sure i would die.

Finally, i saw a sign pointing to an oasis. A microbrewery, smack bang in the middle of the wasteland. I breathed. I didn't particularly want a beer, but i was parched for culture. I needed to see a tiny sliver of civilization again - any kind of civilization - so i went inside and ordered a sour. They were playing house music, which made me feel better.

After the beer i had calmed down a bit, so i made a beeline for a stretch of road where the map said there were some restaurants. Hardly anything on the strip was open. Sunday evening, Burnaby suburbs. This wasn't a hopping main street with a bustling community or people sitting out on the deck. This was a utilitarian stretch of take-out joints. Most depressingly, the prices were exactly the same as in downtown Vancouver.

I was dismayed, but then i remembered that this is exactly what huge swathes of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America are like. Miles upon miles of residential wasteland, with sad little strips of dying businesses peppered in between. People don't even care because they just drive a triangle from their house to their office to the mall and back. It's horrifying.

I decided i needed comfort food, so i sat down at the Chinese restaurant. It was a real old-fashioned Canadian Chinese place. Round tables, 山水 mountain/lake watercolor paintings, they bring a private pot of tea when you sit down, a fortune cookie when you leave, the works. The menu had all the "classics" like sweet'n'sour pork, lemon chicken, beef and broccoli etc. I ordered 紅燒豆腐 which means red braised tofu, but the English name they used was "bean curd with Chinese mushroom and vegetable".



It turned out to be tofu, shiitake, bok choy and carrot cooked in that mystery gravy that pretty much all American/Canadian Chinese food is cooked in. No spring onions or chilis, but hey, this is BC, not Hunan province. It hit the spot for that home style Cantonese restaurant feeling.

Cantonese for breakfast and Cantonese for dinner. 好好食呀!The laoban was talking to her husband in Cantonese, and that made me happy. Even here in Canada, i can still find something like a plastic stool restaurant, sort of an equivalent for Canadian tastes. Of course i had to pay for rice, and tip, but still.

Then i took the bus all the way back to the city.

This was it, you know, the day i panicked when faced with the reality of what life is like outside of the urban neighborhoods. I am planning to head out to a smaller town on Tuesday after i have my credit card, and no doubt that will be even worse. Or perhaps it won't be so bad, since smaller towns you walk for 12km you're in the countryside.

I dunno, maybe not. I am scared now. Scared of the suburbs, scared of the food deserts, scared of these wastelands where you're technically surrounded by people but there's actually nothing there.

I need to go into it with my head screwed on. Prep better. It's terrifying out there.
mom walk

techno, biking, walking and open containers

One of the things i love about electronic music is every time you go out, you hear a different song. A lot of it works off similar themes, a lot of structures are the same, but the driving force is: out with the old, in with the new. It's not new new, of course, retro nights are for sure a thing in the rave scene, and artists are constantly referencing one another, but the whole point is to make each night a new journey, a new exploration. If a DJ played two songs in a row that people recognize, they failed.

Indie pop is like this too, which is why it annoys me less than most guitar music. Every song sounds like the other one. They're all packed full of nostalgia, you're certain you heard it before somewhere... but probably you didn't. That's the trick! To make something sound old, but new.

Something else indie pop shares with techno is that the lyrics are almost completely unintelligible.

I'm thinking about music because i am sitting in the best bar i have visited since i left Berlin 3.5 years ago.

-o-

Yesterday i took a bike over Lions Gate Bridge, into the North Shore, over the Trans-Canada highway, up Capilano ravine, back down, along the docks, between the First Nations reserves, following the Spirit Trail, across the second bridge and back up through Vancouver downtown east side.



It was a 30km ride with some very steep hills. On the hills i realized i wasn't as fit as i thought i was. I also realized that riding a bike with gears is much, much less painful to do a long ride than the one gear wonders you get in China on the share bikes.

I tried to find tacos yesterday, at a taqueria in the middle of an industrial district between the reserves, no other restaurants nearby. Sadly, despite the sign saying they were doing takeout through the corona times, the doors were boarded up.



In the end i just got a hummus and pita at some expensive hipster joint back in Vancouver West End, and the hummus tasted like cream cheese.

I went to the dive bar and watched the hockey with a bunch of hospitality and tourism workers, listening to their gossip about how much you should pay for a room in Vancouver, when or if Whistler is going to open properly in the winter, and the rich tourists who chartered their boat the other day.

Toronto came back from 0-3 down to win it 4-3 which sent the Ontario natives in the bar absolutely mental. Everyone had done a great job up until that point, staying safely in their bubbles, then one dude did a whole lap of the bar high-fiving everyone. So if i get corona you can blame the Maple Leafs.

Anyway i got a bag of popcorn to sober up and forced myself to go home early enough to sleep it off.



Still had a hangover this morning but not enough to keep me down. I decided to go for a walk, because walks are great for hangovers.

I started by going downtown to try get more of my final month's salary out of my Chinese bank, but everything failed. They've probably blocked my withdrawals because of the currency controls, but i have no idea how to fix it. I was very pissed, but it's the weekend so there's no point getting annoyed.

After throwing up my hands, i set today's target as University of BC, across a bridge to the south, about 12km away.

I did grab hummus early on in the hike. The guy at the shop said "have you been here before?" I said no and asked if there was something special i should know. He said "this is the best hummus in town". I said that was an impressive claim, but you know what? He was right. At least, it was a very good hummus. It actually tasted like chickpeas and garlic which immediately put it above yesterday's. And it was topped with a ton of olive oil, paprika and cumin.



I ate it on the beach. Y'all. Vancouver has so many beaches. Last time i was here i did a mini hike around Kitsilano and the museum, but the beaches go so much further. They're not all sand beaches. Most of the way it's rocks, and parts of it i think would not be navigable at high tide. There is a lot of wet, muddy, algae-covered ground that is extremely treacherous to navigate. I fell on my ass once. And it's tough as fuck on the knees. I'm glad i did it while i'm 40 because it hurt like hell already and i'm not sure i could do it if i were even more decrepit.



I burst into tears at one point. From the exertion. From the wind. From the waves. From the freedom. No cops. Dear fucking lord no cops. But more than that, i was heading up to Acadia Beach, which reminds me of Arcadia Bay, the fictional PNW town where the game Life is Strange was set. I sat on a rock and looked at the sun and i felt like i could die right then and it would be fine.

-o-

I always felt the most at home on the west coast. Like. On one hand, the west coast is full of annoying hippies and stoners and it is so, so, so fucking expensive. They like to think they're super open-minded but compared to the east coast they're actually less diverse. But. But. The lifestyle is way more chill, it really is. There's something ineffable. Some vague, geared-down version of life that makes it feel homey to me, even i only ever lived here for one year, way the fuck back in 2002. It feels like a place to retire.

Anyway, walking along the coast i felt it again. Barefoot in the water. Sitting on the rock. I just let the tears come. Freedom.

I've always been an emotional basketcase in North America. In Europe and China i just lived my life, whatever. But here it's more complicated. My brain goes to strange places.

-o-

At a beach near the westernmost point where UBC is, i found a bar. There are no students. I don't know if it's summer break or if students are still out because of corona. But that is better. Less people, more peace. I love university campuses. I never went on campus (i got my degree through distance education while working full-time), so it feels special, a magical place surrounded by wisdom and learning.

The bar had a deck and i sat under the pine trees drinking a craft sour at a picnic table. They had vegan tacos. Not shitty tacos made by meat eaters with whatever fake meat or refried beans inside, but legit vegan tacos that have the kind of filling and texture and flavor profiles that vegans actually like to eat. Smoked sweet potato, pumpkin seeds, cabbage, pickled onion, cilantro, shit-tons of Valentina, or Tapatío. West coast as fuck.



Did i mention i saw a dude with a guitar and dangling cock and balls collecting empties? Yeah it was a nude beach up this end. West coast, eh.

Anyway. Filament light bulbs. Jingly jangly psychedelic-y indie pop. Old ladies sitting around talking about art and cats and camping.

Sigh.

-o-

I figured out how to use Google Pay to pay and it's just as convenient as Alipay. That makes me happy. I'm at the bus stop now waiting for an electric bus back to the city. Life is fine.

-o-

Back in the West End.



An empty lot like this in Berlin would be packed full of people with picnic blankets and beer. But in Canada you can't drink outside. For coronavirus they have loosened the restrictions a little bit, in selected parks, not this one.

I am starting to remember my North American life. Find an empty spot, drink a few. Find another empty spot, drink a few more. You can't stay in any one place too long or busybodies will report you. This is my second place. I haven't yet found a hobo to drink with.

That was also my MO in North America, especially California where you can buy alcohol anywhere. Find a good drinking spot. Share your drinks with a hobo. Sometimes they share their weed. I hate weed, but when it's a gift from a hobo i will oblige. I miss that.



I think if i had been born here my life would've turned out very different.

I started smoking again. I don't know why. It always happens here. I always think about the end of Escape From LA, where Snake Plissken fires off an EMP doomsday device that destroys everything. All authoritarianism, all capitalism, all of modern society. The lights go out, and he finds an abandoned pack of smokes and lights one up. For freedom. End credits.


Escape From LA Ending Scene
mom walk

Vancouver, 12 years later

I first visited Vancouver in 2008. I had been talking to this Canadian girl on MySpace and we hit it off, so we decided to do a romcom "meet in the middle" (she was in Toronto, i was in Melbourne) to see if things would work out in person. Of course we had the most idyllic vacation, she subsequently came to Australia for a year, then we returned to Canada to get married.

I'm sure there are lots of utterly cringeworthy journal entries of that time if you care to go back to search. I might go back to them one day because i still need to add tags to a lot of those old entries, but today will not be that day.

Not like i don't have the time available, though. As susandennis pointed out, it's raining today in the PNW. Figures that my second real day of freedom after self-isolation it'd turn into the stereotypical drizzlefest that people the world over will recognize from filmed-in-Canada sci-fi shows.

So let's take some time out to write an entry.

I left self-isolation Tuesday morning, and it was the greatest moment of my life.



Seriously, even that picture cannot express how incredible it felt to finally be free. My condo apartment had a balcony, and an entire lounge room that i had no idea what to do with given i've lived in studio apartments for years, but it's just not the same as walking outside. This quarantine has taught me that i need to walk outside or i will go nuts.

My first stop was the bank, to try get my cards back. It took about an hour, but they finally gave me a new debit card. It was delayed because the previous debit card had been canceled for "fraud" (that is: ordering a $20 burger and $50 worth of groceries to a hotel room) and apparently my signature in 2020 no longer matches my signature from 2009.

They refused to reissue my credit card. Apparently the only way to get a new credit card is to report it stolen and have them send a new one to a nearby branch. I was a little bit annoyed, but i figured it didn't matter because who needs credit cards?

Well, i do. Because i forgot that in North America you are basically persona non grata without a credit card. After a quick Chinese lunch in Richmond, i took the subway into Vancouver and was told that i needed a credit card to check into the hotel.

Here's the lunch, 客家小炒 Hakka small fry-up. Richmond is over 50% ethnic Chinese, and every business has multilingual signage and clerks who can speak either Mandarin or Cantonese. It should theoretically be the best place in North America to find Chinese food, but it's also a massively spread-out suburb so probably not the best place to accidentally stumble upon a restaurant. And yet, i stumbled upon a Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant. Tofu, mushrooms, konjac, bak choy... Great stuff.



Anyway, back to the hotel problem. I told my sob story of just coming out of self-isolation and visiting the bank for an hour and the clerk took pity on me. It probably helped that he had spent some time teaching English in South Korea and had considered heading to China to do the same. We hobnobbed about the East Asian expat experience and then he gave me the key to my room.

Walking into the room i immediately felt more at home than i had in the massive one-bedroom condo i had stayed in before. It's a bare bones hotel - the second cheapest i could find in Vancouver - there is a bed, a chair, a desk, a bathroom and that's it. This is exactly the size house i want, anything bigger makes me stressed out and uncomfortable.

The only thing it doesn't have is any kind of food prep device, so i headed out for a walk to find a snack.

I'm staying in Vancouver's West End, which means tree-lined streets, gayish, wealthy and quiet. I immediately remembered why i had such fond memories of the place. When i reached the beach and smelled the saltwater it came into sharp focus. I remembered sitting out there with J, she had a DSLR and took photos of the sunset, i had freshly-dyed red hair and a new North American belle. Life was good.

But coming back here as a single person, i realize that a lot of those good feelings are just the result of seeing Vancouver on a sunny day. If you're only going to visit one city in Canada, this is the one. It's superbly picturesque. It's not too hot and not too cold. It's sleepy and quiet without being parochial. It's liberal and open-minded and effortlessly multicultural. It's a great place to fall in love.



I stopped into an Irish bar - same one J and i did all those years ago - for a beer. Actually it was mostly to see how they were dealing with the Phase 3 reopen. Every table had long plastic sheets hanging around it to create bubbles, and the bar had been separated into bubbles of 2-3 stools each.

Here in Vancouver there have only been 26 new cases reported in the past two weeks, but businesses are still locked down hard. Most restaurants are still not open inside, they are only doing takeout, and all of the shops and banks have dots on the floor to encourage people to stand 2m apart. All checkouts now have a plastic screen, which makes every place feel like a shady money changing operation. It's weird to see how much more aggressive the coronavirus defenses are here. Nowhere i went in China had screens.

But the other funny thing is that almost nobody is wearing a mask. I guess that's the trade-off. In China, everyone wears a mask inside, even now with most cities reporting 0 new cases each week. But in Vancouver, hardly anybody is wearing a mask - instead all the businesses have put riot shields up and painted dots on the floor. Honestly, i'd prefer people would just wear masks, if the only other option was remodeling all the checkouts into prison visitation booths.

Anyway, weird cultural observations of North America.

I will say that it was really fucking nice to just sit down at a bar, watch some stupid sports, and drink a beer before 9pm. If there's one thing i missed in China it's having normal fucking bars open during the day. Even enclosed in a little bubble it felt good.

After one beer i wandered up through the gay village and stopped at the liquor store to collect some cheaper beverages for my hotel room. And... i was carded. Like, are you fucking joking me? I'm 40! I forgot this terrible aspect of North America too. I showed my driver's license, but that wasn't enough! You need two pieces of ID! I couldn't believe it, this was the biggest culture shock since i got out of isolation. I had a half dozen cards but none of them had a name on it, because why would they? Apparently credit cards do have your name on them, and i should've been carrying around a credit card.

You know what? Fuck fucking credit cards and fuck every shitty fucking society that forces people to carry them around just to do very basic stuff like check into a hotel or buy liquor. Like, way to nudge society into normalizing debt. Debt is trash, nobody should have debt. Fuck fucking credit cards, for fucking real.

Anyway.

I left, without any alcohol, so angrily went to the diviest bar i could find in the Snooty McSnootpants upper class West End. There was hardly anyone there, so i got to sit at the bar in a bubble of my own. The guys down the other end of the bar were watching the hockey and making all kinds of crass jokes about hockey players whose names sounded like "jackin' off" or whatever and i have never been so happy to be back in Canada. Like, here was a little island of Letterkenny in the big city. Full-blown unapologetic "aboot" and "eh" and flannel shirts and terrible puns.

Wednesday morning i woke with a bit of a hangover, which sucked because no fucking kettle in my room to make coffee. I pulled on a hoodie and flip-flops and went to Tim Hortons for a breakfast i am going to have to get very used to - large black coffee, plain bagel with peanut butter and tomato. It's under $5, and pretty much the only vegan thing you can get for breakfast in North America without visiting an overpriced hipster joint.

It was another beautiful sunny day, so i decided to take a walk around Stanley Park. For those who don't know Vancouver, this is a reasonable-sized nature park that is walking distance from downtown. It's also the entrance to the harbor and the southern end of the famous (?) Lions Gate Bridge, a sort of mini Golden Gate.

I retraced the steps that J and i did 12 years ago - through the glass condos and along the marina. I decided to experiment with the zoom on my new phone. Normally i don't use zoom on phone cameras because it just makes things pixellated, but i wanted to frame it up to emphasize my freedom and happiness.



It was also useful to catch a bulk carrier going under the bridge.



Looping the sea wall, i remembered having done the same walk with J, and i also remembered she wasn't the same kind of avid wanderer that i am, so it took longer and we stopped at the end. On my own, though, popping out at a beach stacked full of people, i just wanted to escape back into the peace, so i did a U-turn and took a trail that wound up into the forest.

I posted the other day about how some kinds of forests terrify me. The Stanley Park forest is one of those. It is completely thick with undergrowth - there are areas you'd need a machete to go off the path. There are lots of brambles and ferns and trees that tower up way too high. It reeks of plant matter - well, either that or people smoking pot, but both of things are equally noxious so you get my point. I hate forests like this, the ones with psycho killers and wild animals round every corner, but i still force myself to hike through them because i enjoy the act of walking, and i like being alone, and usually there is a nice view at the end.



There was a nice view at the end. But i also encountered a wild animal - a coyote on the path that gave me a long stare down. I unfortunately didn't have a walking stick, but tried to steel myself with the attitude of someone who's also hiked in Taiwan (which is full of wild dogs) and sauntered past bravely, trying not to run. It was fine.

I stopped in at the mountain top restaurant for a pint of cold apple cider on the deck and it was brilliant. One wonderful byproduct of going out to eat in this North American corona time is that there is nobody there. I don't know if it's because tourists don't want to put up with the quarantine or if it's because people are still scared to go outside, or maybe it's just because it's mid-week, but it is so freakin' nice to be able to get a seat on the deck and not feel guilty that i'm just ordering a drink and no food. I tipped well, even though i think tipping is fucking stupid, because hospitality workers are heroes for keeping civilization running in this part of the world.

I did a loop round the lake on the way back, and sat on a log for a bit looking at the dragonflies and lilies. It's nice to be in a nature park of the non-Chinese kind. No concrete pathways or steps, just gravel trails. No golf carts. No cops.

Lordy, no cops. Since i got out of self-isolation a bit over 48 hours ago, i have only seen a single uniformed authority figure, and it was the Port Authority boat that "pulled over" some adventurous soul who had paddle-boarded from somewhere in the city all the way to Lions Gate Bridge. That's a major shipping channel so i can understand why a dude on a paddleboard wasn't welcome, but i did feel bummed for the guy.

Even still. No security checkpoint to get on the subway. No cops supervising the Falun Gong protest downtown. No cops at the beach. No cops at the marina. No cops at the park. I got so accustomed to seeing cops everywhere in China that it felt enormously freeing to just spend 24 hours without any fucking police. The country feels so, so much safer without coppers breathing down your neck. This is a major cultural hurdle that i never crossed in China. Chinese people have been trained to think that more cops = more safe. I think exactly the opposite. How can a place be safe with so many armed thugs walking around? Horrible. It feels so much better to walk around in a place where people are just people.

Anyway, i got back home last night a bit sunburnt. It's so mild here that walking round all day barely requires any exertion at all. I didn't even finish my bottle of water. It's easy to forget that being out in the sun for 4 hours will still kill ya.

I got a bánh mì for dinner. Another thing i need to get used to - there are no cheap restaurants in Canada. Even the Chinese restaurants that make the same cheap eats i used to eat in China cost $15 minimum. That's fine for a special occasion but not affordable for daily eating. So i got a bánh mì, which is a Vietnamese sub. The place was doing a $10 meal - tofu kimchi sub with deep fried spring roll and basil seed coconut juice on the side. Super delish, pretty healthy and a fair price for a daily dinner.

I see a lot of sandwiches in my future. Burgers, burritos, bánh mì, pita. I definitely missed bread, but i am sure i will get sick of eating it for every meal sooner or later.

Not sick of it yet.

Hey, the rain has stopped! I have been trying to figure out what to do with myself, and i am tempted to extend my stay in this hotel for another week or so, just so i have time to do that whole credit card cancellation and renewal thing. I don't want to run the risk of heading up to a place in the sticks and then not being able to stay because of this stupid physical card requirement.

Here's a gettin' sunburnt selfie to close it out. I might use it to update my professional social media photo on LinkedIn, what do you think?

mom walk

fortnight eating

Thanks, everyone, for commenting on my last post. It has helped to give a bit of perspective. I am surprised how interested everyone is in My Canadian Life, which so far has just been sitting in quarantine going batty.

Here is another little slice of my life, which i'd like to note down for future reference.

One of the interesting things about being stuck in legit 14-day quarantine (not allowed any human contact, not allowed out of my hotel room) has been trying to figure out how to buy exactly enough food so that i can still leave with a pack on my back.

Here is my two-week quarantine menu, which i ordered in two Instacart batches.

Vege

3 large tomato
1 large bag baby bok choy
1 large bag gai lan
1 large bag bok choy
1 bag mini carrot
1 bag mini cucumber

Fruit

2 dragon fruit
2 nectarine
2 apple

Protein

3x 300g pack soft tofu
1x 300g pack dried tofu
1x 450g pack vege hotdog
1x 400g bag red skin peanut
1x 500g creamy peanut butter
1x 750g natural peanut butter
1 can baked bean

Starch

1x 1kg noodle
2x 150g saltine
1x 450g saltine
1 bag bagel

Condiment

1x 900mL peanut oil
1 huge ginger root
9 garlic bulb
1 bunch spring onion
1 jar Lao Gan Ma black bean chili sauce
1 jar fish free kimchi

I also had a 500g bag of coffee left over from China which is now gone.

In total this was around $100 and i have finished it almost exactly.

Most of it could have been stored without a refrigerator. Maybe just the kimchi and tofu really needs one. So if i am in a place without a refrigerator i could make do. But i definitely would need a way to boil water (for noodles and coffee) and a way to cut and fry up the other ingredients. If i end up living in a motel for a while, i might need to buy a camping stove, knife and small pan.

I definitely need to buy chopsticks. Cooking and eating without them is incredibly inconvenient once you're used to it.

The tricky part of shopping like this is that i couldn't pick anything out myself, and i needed to make sure to finish everything i received before i left. As it turned out, i still have half a bottle of oil and 3 garlic bulbs, which i will leave here for housekeeping. Not a bad estimate, i think!

The dependency on kimchi and Lao Gan Ma to add flavor is something that i might not have done if i had been able to find fresh chilis and limes for heat and acid. In long-term accommodation i would also use condiments like soy sauce and vinegar, but i didn't think i would be able to finish those things off in two weeks.

I am thinking about what sorts of ingredients might pack a lot of flavor punch but still come in small enough containers that they wouldn't be wasted in short-term accommodation. Maybe dried shiitake? In China you can get a lot of spices from the market so it's easy to buy a very small bag, but from what i recall most spices come pre-packaged in Canadian supermarkets, which means cumin, sumac, fennel seed and so on is not viable for a short stay.

One thing i would change next time is buying more fruit. I don't really like apples, but they are hardy and cheap in Canada so probably my best bet.

Of course, i have also ordered in a couple meals, but less than i did back in China considering how expensive it is here. I have gotten two $20 Beyond Burger meals, which i specifically ordered because the restaurant also delivered alcohol ($12 6-pack). Tonight i will order in something cheaper, without alcohol.

Tomorrow i will be up at the crack of sparrow's to go to the bank. I must get a new debit card and credit card before doing anything else. Once that's sorted, i'm heading into downtown Vancouver for a few days to try wash my brain out from this sad suburban quarantine.
mom walk

money and identity

Something i have been trying to write about for a while but never found the space is this issue of net worth and class.

I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth.

My parents came from good backgrounds - their fathers were a diplomat and a corporate executive. My father was an officer in the British Forces, then later a senior manager in business. My mother was a housewife, then later a teacher and university dean. We had our times of relative poverty, in particular living with mom after the divorce as she worked her way up from assistant lecturer to professor, but we never had it really hard.

My sister and i are downwardly-mobile from our parents. My sister jumped around a dozen jobs and for a long time never seemed to find her calling. I think she is a freelance life coach and runs a neurodivergent support organization now. I am a software developer who - despite 20 years in the business - has never stepped up from line manager roles.

I also have never had a net worth of six figures until a couple of months ago.

It's not because i am loose with money. I am extremely spendthrift. I do not own much stuff and i do not spend much on entertainment. The reason why i have never had many assets is because i move internationally relatively frequently, and usually i couple that move with a bunch of touristing around until all my money is back to zero again.

But something happened over the past eighteen months. Living in Poor China while getting paid in Rich China meant that i had an entire year's salary sitting in my bank account, untouched. (I'll use Canadian dollars for convenience here, but for Americans just multiply by 0.75 and Europeans by 0.6.) When i transferred a year of salary over to my Canadian account, it bumped up by around $50,000.

The other thing that happened last year was my mother died of cancer almost immediately after retiring. Just before she died she sent me $50,000 as a lump sum. And a couple months ago i got another payout from her Australian assets, my share of which was around $150,000.

This is all ballpark because i can't log on to my internet banking right now to confirm it, but you get the idea. Basically i went from a few thousand dollars in my Canadian bank account, which was my emergency bailout fund, to around a quarter million dollars. And there is more to come, as my mom's European assets get distributed amongst her beneficiaries.

It has left me feeling incredibly uncomfortable. I have spent 20 years not bothering to put a single cent away for retirement, and now suddenly i have enough money i could live for years without working.

I never had this kind of money before. I never pictured myself having this kind of money before. Of course it has always been a dream to never have to work again, but it was only ever a fantasy. In reality i knew that my life would involve slaving away miserably for 3-4 years, enjoying a year freedom, then repeating the cycle, until i die at 60, just like mom did. I'm 40 now, which means i got maybe 5 more years of freedom to look forward to before death.

Except now i actually have 5 more years of freedom, that i could take consecutively, right fucking now.

And i want to take it, because i don't feel comfortable with the idea of amassing more wealth than this. I don't even like the idea of having this much wealth in the first place, especially because i didn't earn most of it - i got it by accident of birth.

Even though my income has usually put me into the top 10% of society, my assets have always kept me in the bottom 50%. I never owned a house. I only owned a car once in my life and it was cheaper than a decent laptop. In fact, for most of my life, my computer has been my most valuable possession.

The median net worth in Canada is around $300,000. It's somewhat higher in BC and Ontario because they are the rich provinces. This includes families, which bumps the number up a lot. For single people the median net worth is $80,000. Which means i am no longer on the lower end of the Canadian middle class - i am about to slip over the top when families are included, and i am comfortably over when it comes to my unattached compadres.

And i don't know how to deal with that. Obviously i know how to fake it in upper middle class society, because i grew up there. Almost all of my colleagues are there, and many of my internet friends too. But as an adult it feels a bit remote to me, because my real-life friends have tended to be on welfare or working class. I think i avoid upper middle class social events because it annoys me when they start complaining about the government and taxes, making out like they're average joes, when the statistics clearly show otherwise.

I mean, it shouldn't matter, i guess. Class is about more than just assets or income. I don't magically become an asshole just because a quarter million dollars dropped on my head. But... somehow it does change the way i feel about myself. It changes how i define myself and how i look at the world. Should i be thinking about investments now? Should i buy property? Fuck, i never wanted to worry about any of that stuff. I still don't. Life was much easier when i lived day-to-day, month-to-month, but now i couldn't even get back there if i tried. No way i could blow this much money in a day, or a month, or even a year. I could live in a condo hotel all year long and not spend it all. It's disgraceful!

It's such a weird space to be in. I tried to talk about it with a friend on Skype drinks yesterday, but she didn't really get it. She has a 200k apartment that is fully paid off, plus another few hundred in the bank for retirement. Maybe she came to terms with all this when she put down a deposit for her first house a couple decades ago. Maybe she never had to come to terms with it, because she never thought about it. I notice a lot of North Americans don't really think about class the way that people who grew up in the British cultural sphere do.

This is going to be another strange culture shock, i think, when i finally get out of quarantine and can talk to people. Every restaurant, every bar, every hotel i find on the internet is pretty much unaffordable for working class people. There must be a whole nother world outside that isn't on the internet, for people who can't spend $20 on a burger and fries. From what i remember, in North America that basically means fast food chains and not the mom'n'pop dives i'm used to. But i'm rich enough now i could completely ignore that world.

Lordy, getting out of here is not going to be easy.

I don't know who i am any more.
mom walk

banking, camping and driving

Now that i have more or less recovered from the jet lag, i am feeling a lot less fragile than those first few days back. I am still going stir crazy from the quarantine. The only human being i have laid eyes on is a delivery guy who had to check my ID because i ordered some beers. I feel like every day is a dream and other people are just shadows on the wall.

My primary goal of this quarantine is to figure out my next steps.

One major thing on my to do list is visit a bank and figure out my financial situation. I originally needed to do this because the first round payment from my mom's inheritance has come through. Overnight i jumped from a broke-ass motherfucker (from the bank's perspective) to somebody who they have targeted for an in-person conversation with a financial advisor.

The most pressing thing i need to get done is reactivate my card which got canceled last week for mysterious reasons that they will not tell me over the phone. (I was probably flagged because i started using it again after ~7 years away and clearly anyone who orders a bag of groceries and a vege burger must be a criminal.) I also want to open an account with a different bank that offers an interest rate higher than 0.05%. To the likely disappointment of the financial advisor who keeps trying to set up an appointment with me, i will be transferring most of the inheritance over there.

The next step after banking requires a decision on if i will focus on work or sabbatical.

My original thought about coming to Canada was to see it as a utilitarian work stopover. Come here, find a job - any shitty job - and work for 12 months, then quit and go back to a cheaper country when the borders have reopened. The longer i don't work here, the more i am eating into my savings, and it doesn't feel like money well spent when the lifestyle is so expensive and inconvenient compared to other countries.

But lying here in quarantine looking at jobs and wanting to shoot myself in the head at the thought of going back to all that tech industry bullshit has made me change my mind. I am going to take a sabbatical.

So the new plan is figure out how to sabbatical in BC. I'm finding it difficult to get useful information online, because so many people who come to BC "for the lifestyle" have a very different idea of what a good lifestyle is. Skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, camping, that's not stuff i consider good living. That's not what i want to spend my sabbatical doing.

Fucking camping, eh.

I can safely say i will not be sad if i never go camping another day in my life. We went camping a lot as children because it was a thing my parents liked to do, so it's not like i don't know what it's all about. I've been once or twice as an adult, and i really don't get the appeal. Festivals are just as dirty and uncomfortable, but at least the music can be loud and there are light shows and art installations. But if i had the choice i wouldn't camp at festivals either. Overnight raves are a much better way to spend a night in the countryside.

I do like the outdoors. I love hiking. I love being in the middle of the nowhere. But i hate cooking on a fire. I hate not having internet. If i spend the day walking through the outdoors, at night i want to be sitting at a bar drinking a cold beer, not wiping my butt with bunches of leaves or sharing my bed with forest critters.

I think that's my European heritage showing. In Europe you walk over the mountain, you arrive at the next village. In North America you walk all day, there's still nobody fucking there.

In short, fuck camping.

People also RV in BC. One dream of mine has been to retire in an RV, so this could be a good opportunity to rent one and see how it feels. But searching for local info, it seems like RVing in BC is just another excuse to go camping. I don't care if you're sleeping in a vehicle or a tent - camping is still fucking camping and it sucks.

My romantic idea of RVing is riding through the empty desert, just pulling over at casino parking lots or truck stops to sleep. I had the idea from watching TV shows that RVs were places where you could sleep for free while still being walking distance from everything you need. But the RVing websites are all like, oh you can't sleep in most parking lots because it's illegal, drive to this place in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere to camp next to a lake for free, or spend a bunch of money to stay at a park with a full hookup.

Parks seem like the worst of both worlds - you're right next door to 20 other RVs, but also miles away from civilization. One of my friends had to move into a trailer park during these corona times and she needs a whole separate fucking car just to go shopping. That's nuts!

Still, i feel like i should at least give RVing a shot, just to put the question in my mind to rest. I might be surprised and love it. They're very expensive to rent, though.

Bus and train travel both look pretty rough out here. It reminds me of when i was traveling from Detroit to San Fran and got west of Minneapolis. There's nothing there. One bus a day or even less, and so many towns that don't have a link at all. I think on that journey i missed out on seeing a lot of famous sights, but i also feel like i met more interesting people than i would've if i'd driven. Billings bus station at the crack of dawn, lordy what a bunch of ragtag motherfuckers. Walking along the road with a pack for several kilometers from Greyhound stops to motels and back, that really drives home the pedestrian-hostile nature of the countryside.

I suppose i could rent a car. There are enough charging stations in BC that it's viable to travel the whole province in an EV. But EVs are pricey and you can only rent out of Vancouver, not the smaller towns, so it's not an option to bus up to the interior, get a cheap motel for a few weeks, then rent an EV for day trips. I could do it with an internal combustion vehicle, but that feels uncomfortable to me. Obviously an RV would be far more polluting than a car, but with RVs there is currently no other choice. With cars it seems like a dick move to not choose the electric option in 2020.

A more environmentally friendly thing that would work in other countries is bike tourism, either buying a cheap bike or renting one, sending your pack ahead on the bus, then riding from town to town like an outlaw. That is also a fail in BC, which has very poor reviews for road cycling due to soft shoulders, rumble strips, ignorant drivers and flat-out bicycle bans. I guess most people here put their bikes in an SUV to drive up to a trail head and then loop around a glorified BMX track that goes nowhere. Kinda defeats the point, you know?

Fucking cars, man.

As you can see, i am still stuck in the rut that i was when i first arrived, just minus the panic.

I'm trying to remember the last times i drove a car and appreciated it. I rented a car for a couple days when i visited Texas, and went for a nice road trip around Hill Country. When i lived in Toronto i subscribed to Zipcar, which i occasionally used to run errands. Once i went to a rave in the country and carpooled a couple of flamenco performers who are still Facebook friends of mine. On a work trip a few years back i threw in with some colleagues who had rented a car and we drove through Death Valley, which was awesome. Also renting a car in Vegas to take a day trip to LA, then using it drive around the Mojave for Christmas, that was worth it too - one of my all-time greatest travel memories and what made me want to retire in an RV in the first place.

But then, all of those times i also struggled with how much i could drink and still drive safely. How can you enjoy visiting a dive bar in the middle of nowhere if you need to count your beers? And there were other times i wanted to leave the car behind and switch modes, but you can't do that because cars are a ball and chain.

Argh! Fucking North America and its fucking car culture. High fructose corn syrup and gasoline. Yuck.

I need to get out of this quarantine. When you're stuck in a condo in suburban hell, when the only thing that passes by outside is cars, when your only friend is the internet, it paints a bleak picture. I've been to Vancouver proper before, i know the place is full of people who walk and bike and use public transit. I think i need to drink a little bit of that in before heading out to the country, just to remind myself that North America isn't a total disaster when it comes to building sustainable communities.
mom walk

how state censorship destroys curiosity

The past few days i have noticed myself resisting clicking on links because i know they go to sites that are blocked by the Great Firewall.

It seems that living in China, especially since the government blocked Wikipedia, i had started to train myself to not even bother clicking on certain links. I knew that they either wouldn't work, or i'd have to wait for the VPN to start up (if it would even be allowed to connect that day) and then reload the page and hope for the best.

So i just stopped clicking on stuff. I'd think to myself "do i really need to know if Glacier National Park crosses into another state?" and answer no, then abort my search before it even began. I let my curiosity die.

It's happened to me numerous times now. And each time i am shocked again at how fucked up it is, and how i didn't feel angrier about it when i lived there.

Or, searching for news, you can't search for news in China. Google is blocked completely. Bing is not blocked, but the news tab in the search results doesn't exist. Chinese search engines and social media websites do have their own news tabs, but all the content is approved by the government and often heavily editorialized, so it's effectively useless for the sorts of things you want to read the news for in other countries.

The Chinese internet is also chock-full of pop-ups and scams. I know people think they have it bad in the west, but you don't even know. Chinese internet companies intercept all HTTP content and rewrite it to insert ads into websites that weren't originally there. Even cellphone keyboards have ads in them. It's that bad.

And then, i open my maps app, and it still hasn't downloaded the offline map for BC, and i still can't zoom in to street level to see where i am. I spent hours today figuring that out.

It turns out if you install Windows in China, you can only get the Chinese government-approved maps. That is, the Chinese government's internationally unrecognized idea of where its borders are (notably enclosing Taiwan and all of the South China Sea right up to the coastlines of Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam). You also cannot get the local names for any city in the world, you only get the Chinese name of the city, written in Chinese.

Oh. And if you are outside China, you cannot actually download any maps at all. Because, it seems, the Great Firewall not only blocks people inside China from getting to websites in the rest of the world, it also blocks people outside China from getting in to certain sites.

It took me a bunch of faffing about with Powershell, Regedit, Task Manager and Settings to reset my Windows Maps back to a global version that was actually able to download maps of the rest of the world.

That made me wonder how much other shit in my Windows has got the special "hacked by Chinese" version on it.

As a way of using up my money that i was not allowed to transfer out of the country, i bought a new computer and phone before leaving. I specifically bought a Microsoft Surface and Google Pixel so i would have the most brand name international shit to return to Canada with, the kinds of things the government would have a harder time hacking. Foreign consumers expect a bit of hacked shit on their Huawei, but they'd be pretty upset to find it on their Apple, you know? And yet...

I don't have anything to hide. If the Chinese government thought i was worth the effort, they would've fucked with me when i was still in the country. But it's not so much about fear of the government and more about annoyance that they might be messing with with my shit that i really need to have working here over the next few months (that is: GPS and maps).

All my electronics have now been switched back to English (US) language and English (Canada) region and i reinstalled as much stuff as i could without a full reset. I suppose that was one useful outcome of today.

It could just all be paranoia. I am going more than a little stir crazy. But my jet lag is subsiding. So things are improving, sort of.

I have a whole nother drama going in that my bank cards were remotely canceled on Friday, and i have been locked out of my online banking, and my bank won't allow me to reactivate any of this until i visit a branch in person, which i can't because i'm still in quarantine, but i'll leave that for another post.
mom walk

jet-lagged and self-isolating

I am extremely fucking jet-lagged. Today is the first day i slept somewhat sensible hours (midnight to 6am), but it's noon now and i want to go back to sleep.

Arriving in Canada was uneventful. The plane was almost all Chinese speakers, some with Canadian passports but most not. I assume they all had some urgent, pressing reason to visit BC. The customs officials were clearly a little frustrated at how little English they spoke and how poorly they had planned for mandatory quarantine.

I got waved into the VIP (staff) customs line, where i was interviewed about my self-isolation plans. The customs officer was very friendly and gave me a warm welcome back to Canada and a mandatory quarantine guidebook. It was nice to be able to speak English again. We were the only plane landing at the international terminal and nothing was open except the foreign exchange. I got some Canadian dollars out of an ATM to pay the taxi driver.

Some weird culture shock of Canada. At night it is extremely dark, there is almost no light coming from the city. There is hardly anybody outside that i can see from my windows, everyone drives cars. Once i left the airport, nobody was wearing a facemask, but the hotel had perspex barriers up that made the place look like a prison. Fucking tax and tips. Everything you do costs twice as much as you think because of tax and tips. It's ridiculous. Everything has cheese in it. Everything. The internet is so fast. No sites are blocked. The water coming out of the tap doesn't need to be boiled before you drink it, but it is freezing fucking cold. Cooking and eating without chopsticks makes me feel like i have two left hands. And where am i supposed to toss the paper after i wiped my butt? Oh right, you can flush it.

I ordered groceries as soon as i could due to the exasperating proliferation of cheese in every fucking thing on the 8am delivery menu. Staying in this condo for 14 days, it's not really enough time to buy every condiment, so i'm stuck making weirdly simple dishes that don't have much flavor beyond garlic, ginger and Lao Gan Ma.



I think this is the worst jet lag i have ever had. It's literally like day turned to night.

I started looking at what i am going to do in BC. I am worried, man. It is so fucking expensive to do anything here. Rent an EV, expensive. Stay at a motel, expensive. Rent an RV, even more expensive.

Almost all of the places to stay i can find on the internet seem to be aimed at holidaymakers who want some "great outdoors" experience. They all list stuff like mountain view, beach nearby, hiking trail, golf, wineries, whatever the fuck. I do not give a shit about that stuff. Sure i love hiking, but the number one most important thing about any place to stay is if it has internet, coffee, alcohol, food and public transport at walking distance. I.e. civilization. If you don't have civilization nearby, what's the point of paying for accommodation? Might as well be camping.

Except, as it turns out, camping also costs money. Like, a fucking lot of money! More than twice my rent in both Berlin and Shenzhen.

I am also struggling to figure out how to get a local drivers' license and apply for healthcare. For the first 3 months in a Canadian province you are not eligible for government healthcare. To apply for either a local license or healthcare transfer, you need a "permanent" residential address. Which i do not have and ideally would prefer never to have.

I guess i am healthy enough i can just forget about healthcare, and my Ontario drivers' license is still valid till next year, but i feel like i should somehow register myself as a BC resident if i plan to bum around here for a while.

I just don't know if i want to bum around here. Perhaps i am not in the clearest headspace right now because i am jet-lagged and trapped inside a box, but i am feeling really culture shocked and uncomfortable. Why is this condo so fucking huge? What am i supposed to do with a whole lounge room? I keep eating on my bed because i don't know what to do with a table any more. Why doesn't it have fly screens? Why are so many trees? Where are all the people? Where is everybody? I feel lonelier than ever.

I fucking hate lockdown, the hate hate. I hate this shit. It's only been two days. Is it two days? I don't even know how many days. Is it night or day? Fuck!
mom walk

leaving Chengdu

I am at Chengdu airport, sitting at my gate, and i have no coffee. My flight was changed from an evening flight to a morning flight. I arrived at the airport 3 hours before departure, as recommended due to new virus screening procedures.

It took me 30 minutes to check in and get through security. The most frustrating part was having to install a special app and enter every address i have stayed at over the past 14 days, which includes 3 hotels and my own house. I don't know all those addresses, and because Chinese map apps are fucking garbage (disclaimer: might also happen with rest-of-world map apps) you can't copy/paste addresses.

Here's a breakdown of security. Before entering the airport, bags go through a scanner and IR temperature scan is done. Then check in, checked bag goes through another scanner. Walk to first security gate, passport and boarding pass are checked. Walk to special virus security gate and get another IR temperature check. Guy in a hazmat suit scans the QR code from the app where you entered the last 14 days of movements, and checks each address. Put cabin bag through another scanner. Walk to second security gate, passport and boarding pass are checked again, also facial recognition scan and fingerprints are taken. Walk to third security gate, passport and boarding pass are checked again, facial recognition is confirmed. Finally there is the standard take off your belt, tip out all your water, take your laptop out security scan and pat-down. Lordy.

There were no lines, which is why it was so quick. Finally through the gate... and nothing is open. There is nowhere to get food. There is a Starbucks which is supposed to be open at 6:30am but it's now 8am and it's still not open.

Good times. Now, what have i been doing in Chengdu the past few days?

-o-

After my last entry where i blasted Chengdu for having bland and overpriced food, i decided to bike out to the outer suburbs to see if things were any better there. I found a couple of small worker communities and wet markets, which are usually good spots to find food, but the meat problem persisted. All the noodle shops were proud 肥肠面 (intestine noodle) shops. All the canteens only listed meat dishes.

So i did what every sad foreigner does in China does and got bread.



This is a corn bread i have never seen before, and some rice-based 发糕 sponge cakes. A bit later on i found a place doing roadside cold noodle, but it was nothing to write home about. I got a 冰粉 iced jelly topped with everything to cheer me up.



By this point i was pretty far out, around a new reservoir with a view to some mountains in the distance. I did a loop around the lake and then headed back to the city.



-o-

For dinner i resolved to consult my emergency resource - Happy Cow. Happy Cow is a site that lists vegan restaurants in all cities of the world. Normally i don't like to use it because i think going to vegan restaurants ghettoizes the food. I prefer to order plant-based food at regular restaurants so that it becomes normalized. But i was on my last thread.

As it turns out, perhaps thanks to its proximity to Tibet and the various temple tourist attractions dotted about the city, Chengdu has a fair few Buddhist restaurants. That means: cheap, vegan, buffet-style.

I hate buffets, but i can't deny it is a huge relief to just be able to grab whatever food i want and not feel guilty there might be some animal products in it. I tried two different places on Sunday and Monday.



This one had a whole bunch of different fake meats.



This one was more humble and veg-forward. They also had mapo tofu - hooray! An unexpected benefit of buffet-style is there's no chance for the cook to tone down the spice for foreigners. It was delicious.

-o-

Yesterday was my last full day in China. I got 担担面 dandan noodle from a Happy Cow approved vegan place for breakfast.



After eating i took a share bike and headed in the opposite direction from the previous day. I went all the way along the river, past the high speed train station, and out into some rural fields that were rapidly being devoured by new housing developments. I kept going and going until it started to rain.

Coming back on the tram, i remembered the reason why i liked Chengdu the first time i visited. It wasn't because of the food or the scenery, it was because it felt like an "easy" city. It's very flat, which makes cycling pleasant. It's largely a grid layout, so you can't get lost. It has all the hustle and bustle of a major city in the center, but when you head out to the suburbs, they're legit suburbs that lead out to the country, not false suburbs that just merge into the next city like in the Pearl River Delta.

After an early dinner i walked to the big Mao statue that i remembered from my first time, and tried to retrace my steps. I saw the alley where the cold noodle lady was, the one who made it spicy for me 3 years ago. I found the little wet market where i sat on a plastic stool and ate BBQ after dark. I found the steam bun guy and the coffee shop. And i remembered how the first time i was in Chengdu, it was the first time i developed a bit of a daily routine in China. The first time i thought, hey, this is a place i could live.

Last supper? Beer, tea, bread, tofu.



-o-

I suppose i should write something meaningful now, some kind of deep reflection on my time here, but the truth is... I fucking need coffee. And that's probably the most Chinese shit that could happen on my actual last day. China. Land of share bikes, security theater and no fucking coffee.
mom walk

(eating in) Guiyang → Chengdu

Chengdu sucks for food.

Yes, i said it. Chengdu is mad overrated. Although the city is the home of mapo tofu, the restaurants here are disappointing. Last time i was here was the first time in China i got served some 不麻不辣 bland-ass tofu that anywhere else in China would have had at least a little heat.

This time it happened again, first with some fried rice, then with some potatoes. Both times i specifically asked for it spicy, and they gave... nothing. One guy i even went back and said, why didn't you put chilis, what's the point of food if there's no spice in it? Then he shrugged, put the bare minimum amount of powdered seasoning and gave it back. Like, what the fuck? It's ridiculous that you can get spicier food in Guangdong - the province with possibly the blandest cuisine of all China - than you can in fucking Sichuan.

One thing i did find living here in the past three years is that Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi cuisines are all far more chili-forward than Sichuan cuisine. But if anything that makes it even sillier that Chengdu's flop restaurateurs avoid serving heat to outsiders.

In Chengdu the first time round the only place i found that made food spicy for me was a streetside cold noodle vendor from whom i specifically requested 麻辣 mala (numbing/spicy). She made it for me that way each morning. I think i got a 冒菜 personal hotpot too, which wasn't bad. This time round i've been here over 24 hours and only found one spicy thing, the good old Hunan celery and tofu. And that was only spicy because i repeatedly asked for it. They just added a bunch of chili oil because fresh chopped chilis are not a standard ingredient here.

I admit, i am getting a limited picture, because Chengdu is a city where the restaurants are very meat centric. A lot of places, even with plastic stools, only list meat dishes on their menu. That means most restaurants i don't even bother with.

The other shit thing is street vendors either quoting me too much for something that i know should be cheaper, or serving me last even when i ordered first. It's like people here really have it in for foreigners. Did i mention the first hotel i went to check in told me that no rooms were available? Then when i showed them that i could still book a room online they came up with some other bullshit that "oh well our backend system is broken, so the internet booking doesn't work, you'll have to go to another hotel". Like, just fucking be honest and say you don't want a foreigner staying, you know?

It might not just be a foreigner thing, though. Chengdu is a spectacularly touristy city. I don't know why tourists come here because there is no picturesque scenery and the street level isn't very interesting either. Perhaps they are all going to zoos or other theme parkish attractions that you have to pay for? Either way, tons of tourists. And that could be the problem - any time you go to a touristy spot in China, good food is much harder to find, and all the vendors try to scam you.

First night here i walked and biked all over trying to find something to write about, but this place is a major bummer after Guiyang, where there is something cool around every corner. I went to a jazz bar in a 5-star hotel to drink some extremely expensive cocktails, and then stayed in bed all of Saturday.

So, instead of talking more about Chengdu, let's rewind to Thursday in Guiyang.

-o-

For pre-breakfast on Thursday i got a quick 酱香饼 spicy spring onion pancake from a stall near my hotel.



That powered me through till i found a noodle place doing a noodle i hadn't had before - 素粉 which literally means plain/simple (i.e. vegetarian) noodle. I ordered 泡椒素粉 - pickled chili veg noodle.



It came with peanuts, spring onions, pickle and two different chili sauces - mala and salty. The noodles were very similar to 桂林米粉 Guilin rice noodle. You can imagine it like a more slippery spaghetti.

What you can't see in the picture is all the different oils and sauce at the bottom. Mix it up.



So good.

I decided to take a walk to a different forest park i could see on the map. As is the way in most of China, the mountain-side neighborhoods are less developed than in the valleys and they retain a rural feeling. I didn't get many photos because of the overcast weather, but here is a shot of the main road heading up to the park entrance to show what i mean.



There was no map - i just headed into the woods. It was clearly not a very popular area for hiking, because many trails were covered with dead ferns and fallen branches. Spider webs crisscrossed the way, strung between bamboo stalks and pine trunks.

It was the kind of forest that terrifies me.

Although i do go out hiking alone a fair bit, i have a strong fear of certain types of forest. In particular cool, wet forests where there is a lot of peaty dirt and mushrooms and dead undergrowth. I worry there are monsters lurking, crazed knife murderers, or swarms of insects.

My fear kicked up a notch when suddenly the crickets (or whatever strange insect) started chirping. Quickly it increased, echoing from every corner of the forest, becoming a deafening whine that continued for hours. I regretted not bringing my earplugs because the racket verged on painful.

I climbed a few summits. One just had a cell tower on it and thick brambles everywhere. Another had an old military radar installation, surrounded by high fences and razor wire.

As i was climbing a third, i noticed i was in the middle of a graveyard.

The fuck, man, it was the start of a Chinese ghost story. I don't know enough about rural Chinese culture to know if it's okay to post photos of people's graves, but suffice to say there were literal burial mounds all the way up the slope. These weren't the nicely manicured graves you see in Hong Kong cemeteries, they were literal piles of dirt. Some had headstones, but others had no markings at all.

I kept going to the top of another summit, where i found an abandoned watchtower that was almost completely overgrown. I stretched my arms above the undergrowth to try snap a photo.



Somewhere along the way i met an old lady on a path, she said there's nothing here to see, but she comes for the clean air.

Each time i took a breath insects buzzed around my face.

-o-

For some reason when i got back down i took the wrong bus, my mind floating away. I jumped out over another side of town, where i stopped in at a street side vendor making 凉皮 liangpi, a cold noodle that was one of my go-to dishes for the first year i was in China.



It was a really good blend. Peanuts, cucumber, bean sprouts, spring onion... and... serrano ham?! I'm not entirely sure, but i sure got a lot of that dry-cured pork flavor. At the bottom of the liangpi were a couple batons of mung bean jelly. Fantastic dish.

For dinner i decided to try a rice version of the bean flower noodle. It's essentially the same as the noodle version, but instead of giving tofu and noodle in soy milk, they just give tofu and bean sprouts in water, and a bowl of rice to eat after you dipped the fu.



-o-

Friday morning i got green beans and squash with mala soy nut dipping sauce.



That's 8 pics, so i'll stop for today.

After breakfast i took the bus to the station, train to Chengdu and here we are. Getting out of Guiyang required going to three different officials at the train station to take the same details. Arriving at Chengdu, i just piled off the train and they waved me through straight onto the subway.

Today i might jump on a share bike and head out to see if i can find a restaurant that makes it spicy.