Life Adventures -- Part I

Hello friends (for lack of a better word choice),

Hope this email finds you all well and happy. It has been a long time since I last sent out such an email. Earlier, the moment did not feel right. I was in Shanghai on 9/11 when the cell phones throughout the restaurant started to ring all around and people chatted with energy as I never seen before. What I thought to be a vicious rumor brought me into a state of shock when I realized it was news. As the realization came to me slowly, a strong urge began to build inside me to be back in the US to be with my friends, family and fellow Americans who must have been going through an unimaginable confusion beyond what I was feeling while abroad. I immediately sent out emails to my friends in NYC and anxiously waited for their replies. Thankfully, they all replied saying that they are ok, but not without personal stories of the horror that they experienced and witnessed. I, as I am sure with many others, are lost for the realities of such an act and the continuing fear that we all now have to deal with. It all seems like a nightmare. But we all learn to cope and learn to move in this way, I hope that we will all come to some rational for this in our own way...and to look at the difficulties to find a positive aspect of the event. On the positive side, I hope the incident has all driven us to learn and understand the greater society and community that we live in and that we all have developed a greater appreciation for ours and others' lives.
So in appreciation of life, I share my adventures with you: Since I last wrote in late July when I was in Pakistan, I finished my travel through the country by visiting Peshawar and the bordering towns with Afghanistan. It is scary to think at that time, I contemplated to go into Afghanistan for a look as the tour guide said that he would escort me over the border if I paid him a small "fee." Thinking back, it is probably an understatement to say that it was a wise choice not to go in. But one gets a sense how long the region has been at war based on how common to see the average person carry military guns on the streets as if they are wearing a tie in the western culture. We even visited one town that manufactures in little mom and pop shops any types of military, hunting and handguns. Whatever guns are available in the world I am sure was being made there as all the families were involved in various processes of the manufacturing. This activity is of course illegal but out in the open, and we foreigners were able to go and be escorted by the local police for a small fee (of course even at that time my friend said he was Canadian and I said that I was Taiwanese). We even go to shoot off a round of an automatic AK-16 with much reluctance as we fired over the village houses and watched people run out!! So that was the end of the adventure of Pakistan. I am glad that I was there as now the news somehow seems much more real and understandable. The war also seems saddening as I think of the many porters and friends that we met while we were there and the consequences they are now suffering.

After Pakistan, my friends George and Hope continued on to India and I did not follow as I was not really interested in seeing India after the many horror stories heard from friends about traveling in India. Guess what!!!??? Four months later, now I find myself in India and excited to explore all that it offers. How strange life leads us to the most unexpected. But before writing about India..What I have done since.... I flew from Pakistan over to Bangkok. And since that time, I have traveled through northern Thailand, Laos, China, Tibet and Nepal.

Arriving in Bangkok was like dying and going to heaven in many ways. Having been in Africa and Pakistan for over 2 months total, being in a more familiar culture was like coming home. I indulged myself in meeting up with old friends living in Bangkok, seeing a movie, going to a bar, having a steak, going to a mall and just simple things as sitting on a clean toilet!! I visited ChianRai via ChiangMai. The surrounding in northern Thailand was so different from Pakistan. It was plush full of lush jungles, numerous rivers and green fields. We took short treks into the hills visiting small villages and tribes, and had small adventures riding elephants and floating down the rivers on a bamboo raft. One can not avoid recognizing how Buddhism is so deeply a part of Thai's culture as there are probably more Monasteries than there are churches in Europe. It is apparent also in the characters of the people. I found them to all be friendly, soft spoken, generous and sincere..and overall happy and joyous. I left Thailand thinking that I would like to live there some it offers all that one could ask land, nature, exotic wildlife, nice people, great food, sunny weather, and all comes at a price much cheaper than any western countries.

From Thailand, I was able to get a one day entry visa into Myanmar. The 3 hours visit into a border town of Myanmar was enough to see that the culture had many differences. Strange how a simple imaginary line can cut cultures apart. The people looked to be more Indian/Pakistanians. The food and dress reflected this. But the Buddhism culture here is just as deep. From Thailand, we crossed into Laos from the northern town of HouXiay. The border crossing was late so we stayed overnight waiting for the boat up the river the next morning. It was a strange experience as again, you cross over the river and you were in another world. A friend wanted to make a call home, and was told no phone.but one can go over to Thailand over the river within view. A sleepy town with not much going on, maybe about 10,000 people. I was shocked to find out it was Laos's 3rd largest city/town!! My time in Laos was short as I was hurried along by a schedule meeting with friends in China. So my 10 days in Laos was too short to visit only LuangParang and Vientienne. But does not mean without adventures. So we left the border town to LuangParang on a what I would call a wooden stick operation that is apparently run by drug dealers. But it was FAST!! Six of us crowded into the small boat that I can probably carry by myself. But boy does it move!! We put on our helmets and put down the facemasks and sat in a turtle position for six hours. We traveled so fast that the rain drops would sting as it hit our faces and bodies. A funny story: On a lunch stop, I ordered what the locals ordered. After I finished the meal, I asked what the meat was. For ten minutes, I made noises and body motions to ask if it was a cow, pig, chicken, bird, dog, cat, or rat. The only conclusion was none of the above but it was small and lives on land and had four legs. I fear that it was an Armadillo that villagers often eat! My greatest memory of Laos was how the hostel owners treated us like family. They invited us for dinner, we watched TV with the kids, we did laundry together on the lawn. I never forget the morning that I left, the Mother woke me up at 5:30 for my bus, called a tuktuk and sent me off with a prepared bag full of bananas and water for the long bus ride ahead. Reminded me so much of Mom sending me off to school when I was a little boy.

I flew out of Laos to KunMing China, in a rush to meet my friends coming from Taiwan for a week tour looking for minority tribes in less traveled areas of China. Upon arriving in KunMing, I was surprised how clean, beautiful, and new the city was. Everyone seem to be "well off" as everyone wore nice colorful clothes with mobile phones dangling somewhere on their bodies. This was a continual thought as I traveled through China. Although I lived in Shanghai before and know the speed of progress of which the country is capable. But it was still beyond my imagination. When I arrived later in Shanghai, the city did not seem like the same one I left four years ago. The sky was blue, the streets are wide and new and buildings in my memory did not exist anymore but replaced by the ones that you would think belongs in Chicago or NYC. The progressiveness of the city planners blew my mind! Taxis are now on natural gas, traffic is reduced by well planned roads and a newly completed subway, and the numerous green parks dotted around the city to give a large city charm and warmth. Same with the people, they also seem to have progressed..Many of my old friends there, seem to have a new confidence derived from establishing their own foundation from a new commerce system.. Many reaped from the success of personal businesses, or climbed up the corporate ladder and from their incomes were able to buy beautiful homes and cars.

I was happy to travel through China's country sides with adventurous friends. We took the less-traveled roads and saw parts of China that I did not see in my previous four year stay nor did I know existed. We hiked around ZhangJiaJie National park that was gorgeous with its endless rolling mountaintops that I thought only existed in traditional Chinese paintings. We saw visited numerous tribes and their homes, when I naively only thought there was a homogenous Chinese race in China. At one point we ventured too far into China, when the local police showed up at our hotel room to escort us out of town..explaining that no foreigners were allowed due to military areas. I ended the one week travel with friends by meeting up with Hash House Harriers from Hong Kong and Taiwan to do a drinking and running fest through some of the nicest areas of China. I then traveled on by myself to see the Three gorges on a 3 day boat "cruise" Again, I was impressed that on the Yellow river, they already have a couple boat elevators similar to the ones in Panama Canal. They also already completed a small hydro electrical dam and is due to finish the major project soon. I have read many western news articles doubting the Chinese's ability to complete such a major project. I learned not to ever doubt the more ways than one. The 3 day cruise was low budget, so basically the boat ride was not luxurious, and much of the scenery could have been amazing if one could see through the ever-existing mist (fog or pollution, could not figure out) But nevertheless it was a worthwhile trip as I now know what the three gorges are all about when I read about this controversial subject. One thing is clear in my mind, China is moving ahead at a speed that not many people in the west can understand and want to believe. And I think the media and the government indirectly ignores or sidetrack these views for one reason or another. So you heard it here first.. That China will be one to watch in the next decade ( I'll leave this vague -- as after all this is a mass email!)

Boy this email is getting long.. I am sure you need a break.. Maybe I should have sent you a book so that you could read it at your leisure or have the rewarding action to burn it or throw it in the trash barrel. So with that in mind, I will stop here of Part I.

To be continued...

Again, wishing you all peace and happiness and having the good fortune to be sharing it with your close ones..

Love ming