a podiatric interlude

chinese voodoo medicine
modern voodoo

I’ve had some on-again off-again mysterious chronic foot pain for
the past year or so, and the hours of relentless walking in
Beijing took their toll in the form of a flare-up that resembled
a mini-case of elephantiasis.

I won’t say that it was miserable, since I reserve that word for
situations where actual death is possible, but it sure wasn’t
pleasant either. Turns out when your body is trying to decide
what to do in the battle of extreme sleep deprivation versus
agonizing consciousness-inducing pain, the loser is you.

Our itinerary called for a flight to Kunming, and I hobbled
through the Beijing airport in a fog. At some point, Victor and I
got separated from the group, and we ended up losing the pack
before the security line. No matter, we had our boarding passes
and gate number so what was the big deal, right?

Apparently, even though the TSA now allows you to carry an
unlimited supply of certain fluids like contact solution, this
little nugget of knowledge has not trickled down into other
countries. I found myself arguing with the Chinese security goon
about being able to keep my big bottle of solution, but he was
having none of it. In retrospect, I really shouldn’t have lead
out with “In America, this is no problem” and his response of
“This is China, not America” was exactly what I would have
retorted with as well. At the time, I wished for more curse words
in my limited Chinese vocabulary, but also in retrospect, that
would have probably been a bad decision. I’m no Jarrett Bialek
after all.

Eventually, I found the gate, limping, sweaty, and frustrated. It
was not a fun day.

Anyhow, I knew my mom would go into maxi-fret mode about my
temporary discomfort, but I hadn’t counted on inheriting thirteen
other equally worry-wart aunties as well. As one who believes in
the power of the bedrock of western medicine (aka ice and
ibuprofin), I found it quite difficult to fend off all the
well-intentioned but crazy-sounding ancient Chinese folklore
voodoo hoodoo medicine that the aunties offered.

Like, for example, drinking the tincture of yunnan baiyao, which
according to the label, is indicated for:

bruises, contusions, injuries, wounds, swelling and pain
due to blood stagnation, rheumatism and numbness, pains
in bones, muscles and sinew, pain due to arthritis,
chilblain, etc.

I asked my dad what the ingredients were, but they weren’t


Think about that for a second. Medicine that comes in a bottle,
with a child-proof cap and its very own little graduated dosage
cup (like Robitussin) but DOESN’T LIST THE INGREDIENTS.

Well, I drank it just to humor my dad, and as far as I can tell,
it’s equal parts gasoline, fermented tiger penises, worcestershire,
orangutan back hair, and AIDS.

It did not help.

I did manage to beg for some ibuprofin and someone in the group
had an ACE bandage, and between those two things, along with
dutifully applying a yunnan baiyao plaster each day in addition,
I’m somewhere in the ballpark of normal again.

Note to self, I’m adding an ACE bandage to my international
travel kit from now on. This is the second time in an
underdeveloped country that buying one has proven to be next to
impossible, and it’s a pretty cheap form of insurance. Just
something to consider for yourself next time, dear reader.


hazy beijing recollections, part one

temple of heaven


That’s the first thing you notice when you deplane in Beijing.
Everything in China is big. Sorry Texas.

The airport is huge, sleek, and modern. Frankfurt always seemed
pretty swell to me, but Beijing is a serious contender.

And if you don’t get the hint in the airport itself, the huge
eight-lane highways should quickly clue you in.


That’s the second thing you notice about Beijing. It’s (mostly)
immaculate. Litter is quickly scooped up by workers riding
garbage-bikes, tricked out three-wheeled bicycles with a large
metal container in the rear to hold the rubbish.

Unfortunately, “clean” only holds true if you don’t consider air
to be very important. The pervasive haze is horrifying and
amazing. I’m not a pilot or otherwise qualified to have an
opinion on visibility, but I do have a blog which is almost as
good. My claim is that visibility is somewhere between 1 and 2
miles if you’re lucky. The sun is a suggestive ambient light
source, and I get the feeling that Beijing parents talk to their
children about clouds the way that American parents will one day
talk to our children about glaciers and polar bears.

But let’s not get picky, ok?

yellow hats

This trip has been quite the learning experience. For example,
I’m learning what it’s like to be an older, established-person

From what I can tell, it mostly consists of waking up at 6am,
setting your watch to the regularity of the meals, complaining
about said meals, and spending highly regimented blocks of time
at every possible attraction in a given 100km radius. It’s not
all bad though; you get a free bottle of water every day.

On our first whirlwind day, our cougar-bait guide Eric, who is
over six feet tall and has a beautiful jet-black mane with golden
highlights interspersed just so, led us around the Forbidden
City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and possibly 6 or
maybe 34789 other sights. To be honest, my brain melted after the
three hours, because quite frankly, although all that old stuff
is cool I guess, after a while, they all start looking the same.

Add in the fact that I was working pretty hard to translate
everything he was saying, and let’s just say that I’m pretty sure
I never need to see another ancient Chinese ruin. At least not
while following around the Beijing Fabio.

I would have been perfectly content to wander around by myself
and follow my folly, but that earns scoldings galore in a Chinese
tour group.

pre and post nom

I’m amazed at how much Chinese people can eat. Our group is an
eating machine. We’re about the size of a platoon, but would
require a support column of a division.

Normally I’d be having a field day because I love nom, but it’s a
little discouraging when every restaurant has an armada of giant
tour buses parked outside and you get the same mediocre dishes
that everyone else gets. Thus far, nothing fancy to blog home

I will say that I love the social aspect of this type of dining,
but I think that deserves an entire entry of its own, so I’ll
save it for now.

trendy mom

I’m amazed at how much energy my mom, the super-tourist, has.
After 15 hours of non-stop touristing, we got back to the hotel
and she asks what else we wanted to do that night.

She was a bit surprised and disappointed to hear “absolutely
nothing”. It’s pretty cool when your mom thinks that you’re a

I tried explaining that my ideal trip is seeing one thing in the
morning, maybe another thing in the evening, and calling it good.
Maybe occasionally climbing a 5000m peak or humping a 40lb. pack for
10 miles, but nothing hard like getting herded relentlessly for
hours on end.

In comparison, climbing Cotopaxi was like grabbing a steak out of
the freezer.

forbidden columns

china dispatch #1

typical tour group

I wish I had a hat.

I mean, all the other tour groups have them, so why can’t we? I
feel like I’m missing out on one of the quintessential parts of
the Chinese tour group experience.

Yup, I’m on one of *those* tours.

We get on our bus. We get shuttled to the next tourist trap while
our local guide colors us in with either history or a clever
sales pitch. We get off the bus. We follow the guide’s bouncing

Rinse. Repeat.

It’s not all bad though. The guides are indeed entertaining,
although I’ve had to get translations for more than a few of the
jokes, since apparently my parents never taught us the word for
“fornicate” in our household.

tuckered out

There’s so much to write about, but it’s past midnight local
time, and I’m plum tuckered out. You get that way when you see
every single tourist attraction in Beijing in two days, have
already taken two in-country flights, and haven’t been sleeping
at all due to agonizing foot pain.

We’re in Li Jiang (麗江) now and are supposedly going to some
mountain pass at 4500m tomorrow. Luckily, I have an extreme
adventure cane that only cost 30 RMB ($4 USD), a borrowed ACE
bandage, crazy Chinese aerosol spray medicine, Chinese foot
plaster wraps, and tiger balm, so I expect nothing but smooth

Til next time…

pack rat

3 weeks

I love travelling as a civilian, which is to say, not having to hump
around a giant backpack full of camping and climbing gear.

The stuff in the photo above is all I plan on taking. The only things
missing from that shot are my laptop, my SLR, a pair of noise-cancelling
headphones, and the bum shoes I plan on wearing onto the plane.

I’m actually a bit on the heavy side. I always bring too many shirts,
and I’m pretty sure that I don’t need all that I’m bringing, but it’s
really hard to beat the “just one more” syndrome.

All the clothes go into two Eagle Creek compression bags, which kinda
form these soft-yet-firm bricks that are easily stacked and packed. Any

bulky clothes, like long pants, jacket, shoes, get worn on the plane so
they don’t take up precious luggage space.

I’m really looking forward to field testing that Northface Doubletrack
2100 bag. I’ve been looking for the perfect round-the-world travel bag
for a while now, and this bag is a serious contender.

It’s easy to cut down on electronics if you’re smart at purchase time,
and standardize on things that can be charged via USB. That way, you
don’t have to bring a charger for electronic doodad in your bag.

By the way, if you click through to the photo, you can see little notes
that I inserted. Yes, I have no life, thank you.

Ok, I need to wrap up my taxes instead of more pointless blogging.