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often when people travel, they forget to budget for souvenirs.

and that’s okay. because for most of us, it is increasingly difficult to justify any piece of plastic tangible memory when you equate the purchase into the local currency of, “this could buy me ____ beers tonight.”  

and while we’re at it, we might as well just state the obvious… no one really NEEDS  souvenirs. (please don’t tell me that you HAD to have those massive foam pens with the personalized key chain attached to the beer mug holder lined with the a knock-off pair of ray bans.)

as for me,  i refused to buy any sort of keepsake, souvenir, or memorabilia. well, except for a pair of grizzly bear flip-flops (because really, nothing is screams “third world beachside” more than rocky mountain wildlife),  yes, i even passed on the massive foam pen with the personalized key chain attached to the mug holder lined with the knock-off pair of ray bans. why? because it equated to about 40 bottles of the local brew.

either way, i figured out a much cheaper way to remember my time in boracay, phillipines…. and the best part? i didn’t even have to open my wallet!

it was a simple ‘aha’ moment when i realized that the most budget-friendly forever-lasting keepings, are simply those which you permanently place on your body…in a non ink & needle sort-of-way.

for example, i wanted to remember the remote ariel’s point and my ambitious claims that i could swim out to a smaller beach, a very misleading kilometer away. instead of a picture or two, i opted to gash myself up on rusted rope or sea urchin as i frontcrawled my way to the small sandfront. if the open-wound and salt water wasn’t painful enough, i volunteered to pour vodka all over the wound when i got back to land. you know, just to make those etched memories that much more vivid. yes, my one-of-a-kind two-inch scars could not be purchased for any amount of pesos.

and at the same time, i never wanted to forget the 10 ft. cliff-diving escapades into the sulu sea. to make those memories really permanent, my only option was to hit the water in a seated position. it was like i was hastily diving into a bed of bean bag chairs….instead of a reef of coral.  the massive blood-clot bruises that line my thighs and bum are surely more budget-friendly then the henna tattoos or braided weaves that are offered across the island.

but as time (and an indestructible immune system) fades the bruises and sea urchin battle wounds, i knew that i needed something more. something i could hold onto forever. something that would definitely scar…regardless of the icing time post-injury.

to make my boracay memories last, i simply had to rent a scooter and travel inland to the more rural rocky-road side of boracay. a steep hill here, a scooter tumble there, and the suctioning of my calve on the exhaust pipe, has left me with a burn the size of a nfl regulation-sized football. with my three-times-a-week visits to the emergency room to change the dressings, i am continued to be reminded of the beautiful yet scooter-unfriendly landscape of the phillipines. 

i’ve taken a couple peeks at the scar that is forming… and i can with certainty that i will always remember my time in the phillipines.

and i didn’t even have to barter over a glass bottled filled with white beach sand.

(sidenote: i wanted to call this post “budgeting for memories” but that title teetered on suggesting to the reader that this would be an informative and well-thought out post. wouldn’t want to mislead the masses here now would i?)

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anthony bourdain (foodie and verging silver fox) once proclaimed that taiwan has some of the best food he has ever tasted.

now i can’t say for sure, but i am fairly certain that mr. silver fox was referring to the shortlist of stranger-than-strange themed restaurants that occupy the streets, lanes, and alleyways of taiwan.

from airplane take-out meals to hospital diners with wheelchair seating, the novelty of these opportunities are almost as attractive as both the second-largest ferris wheel and free-standing building that landmark the city of taipei.

but let’s be honest, nothing can compete with a toilet-themed restaurant. (i mean come on, no one really has a fair shot when you’re talking about drinks being served out of mini urinals).

and just like that, suddenly “eating off a toilet seat” quickly surpassed “climbing mt. cising” for the top spot on my must-do list while in taiwan.

and naturally as it goes with any must-do list, i would promptly deem this trip an epic fail if i was unable to put all of my potty humour jokes to use while celebrating the year of the rabbit. and perhaps the food delirium had something to do with it, but other facets of taiwan (and more specifically, taipei) were also all kinds of impressive.

they’ve got this ridiculously efficient transportation system that costs pennies (no, really) to take.

 

their temples are all kinds of colourful and have these well-hidden designs that once discovered, make you feel like you have just found the ‘x’ on a pirate treasure hunt.

 

 

they’ve also got this extremely urbanized cityscape that couples with this slighty seedy (in a good way) miami-like landscape that almost seems passable as a backdrop from a scene in dexter.

where was i?

oh right. they also have a restaurant all about poop.

and i as whined my way through my last night in taipei, i spotted the iconic blue pants man and pink dress girl. those recognizable symbols you would hope to see on a stretch of highway after a big gallon of gatorade, much less an underpass in downtown taipei.

 

it didn’t take much convincing before i was enjoying a cereal-decorated sundae, served in the culturally relevant squatter toilet. maybe the ice cream wasn’t that noteworthy. but in modern toilet’s defense, when you’re seating customers at sink basins and using toilet paper for napkins, the actual meal may have the tendency to take a back (toilet) seat.

 

the fact that my visit to the loo was a taiwanese highlight, perhaps reveals something more about one’s maturity level. but for me, the consolation is knowing that mr. silver fox himself was probably making the same shitty puns (ha!) in the exact same (toilet) seat. all the while grinning to his foodie buddies after making some half-assed (double ha!) joke about taiwan being the shit.

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me and renegades go together like bread and butta.

i kid you not, whenever i meet a renegade i basically lose my shit and get all kinds of sorority-girl giddy.

now i am by no means self-labelling myself as a “renegade,” but what i can attest is that when two renegades meet and share similar ideals in which they (we) have no ideals well then that there my friend, is a whole new ball game (or war zone…depending on their (my) blood alcohol level).

and renegades often find each other in this cosmic synergy kind of way. maybe its outside of a bar, as they (i) plead to the bouncer that they (i) simply confused the tip jar with those ‘take a penny, leave a penny’ dishes you would find at rural convenience stores. or maybe you make quick eye contact with another renegade at your local ihop as you catch each other thrifting new silverware for your forkless kitchen.*

*okay so maybe it was a forkless, spoonless, cupless kitchen. but i gave the waiter a hefty tip. AND i didn’t steal the tip back to pay for my next pint. so it all works out in the end… see what i mean? cosmic. synergy.  

it was this type of synergy that presented itself in the form of a cheap plane ticket during one of south korea’s busiest flying times. for all us expats, lunar new year basically means a fury of days off to escape the less-than-ideal winter conditions of the korean countryside.

maybe the flight was so cheap because it is during this country’s onset of typhoon season. or maybe it’s because this country is currently on the outs with south korea after a recent taekwondo diss at the asian games. or maybe, just maybe, it’s because this country has been nicknamed “the renegade province” of planet earth and cosmic synergy chose to pull through in the clutch and offer me a window seat and a lacto-vegan meal.

whatever the reason may be, taiwan stands as one of the defiant forefathers for all us amateur renegades. it has been stirring up political and country-identification controversy for years but at the same time, remains quietly under the radar as any sort of highlight on any sort of travel itinerary.

the fact that the most recent lonely planet on taiwan is over 4 years only further supports the country’s renegade status within the tourism industry.

now we all know that taiwan is NOT part of mainland china. this distinction is what has obviously earned taiwan it’s renegade nickname. but is it part of the massive china china? i mean, taiwanese hold taiwanese (not chinese) passports , they show up with their own team to the olympics, and  the whole country (or province) considers themselves independent from the big guns of chinese prime minister, wen jiabao. but even some recent stats said something like 46% of taiwanese people still consider themselves “chinese.” (i realize that tossing in an actual link to actual valid statistics would be far more supported, but i’m trying to uphold my credibility with the ‘gades.*)

* ‘gades=renegades. (just making sure you’re still with me here.)

in a couple of days i’ll be taking on taiwan solo (because apparently, that’s how a genuine renegade roles). i don’t have much of a plan (i’m letting lonely planet take the blame on that one), or really any vague idea on what it’ll be like.

but i can only imagine i will feel right at home.

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the not-so-secret secret great wall

sometimes people really enjoy doing things, even if they are awful at them. for me, its things like sudoku and painting.

the activity of trying to figure out if it is a 6 or a 9 that will be fitting in that top right hand corner box is enjoyable. but the puzzling limitations of sudoku often leave me frustrated and in the end, there are waaaay too many 7’s in each and every row.

with painting, i could argue that it is semi-therapeutic and that i could spend hours just gliding my dipped brush over some crisp-white canvas (sounds calming, doesn’t it?). but the final piece always looks like something that should be hung on a kindergartener’s fridge, not the walls of the AGO.

oh yes, and secrets. i’m a big fan. love em. secrets make me all kinds of wound up and i cannot picture a better scenario than leaning in for someone to tell me one of their whispering facts (or fictions) that only a handful of other people know (yes, i really hit my stride as a 14-year-old gossiper. it’s all down hill from here, i s’pose). 

the minor problem in this scenario happens after the secret is shared. it’s more the fact that i am awful at keeping them.

but let’s just focus on the appeal of a secret. and what’s more appealing than gaining access to a secret part of the great wall of china for less than the price of a serious night out in okpo?

nothing. the answer is nothing is more appealing.

our motives for staying at the shady (re: authentic) leo’s hostel went beyond the $5 a night price tag. they also offered a clandestine package that included access to a secret part of the great wall. “only you and friends on the undiscovered secret wall.” ex. cite. ment.

i was almost expecting leo’s to really play up the whole “shhh its a secret” thing and blindfold us on the cramped mini-van trek up to the wall. or even make us take an oath to never pass on the coordinates or exact location of the secret wall to anyone ever forever (don’t worry, i would have obviously crossed my fingers behind my back). or even you know, threaten us a bit with a rock or something that if they ever found out that we told someone, they would hunt us down and bury us inside the wall itself (i’ve read that the casualties of the building of the great wall were actually buried inside the wall. apparently, the human skeleton makes for a great architectural foundation).  besides, i doubt they would actually bury us in the wall.

ANYWAYS, these things were absent from the secret.

the only thing that really made the trip so secretive was the security guard we passed on the way to the base of our hike. this security guard didn’t try to intimidate us or even make us pinky-swear. instead, he simply ducked his head inside the mini-van, let out an exhale of bone-chilling air, and offered us some shaky advice.

“if the air gets cold, put your body down.”

tb and i kind of snorted out our cucumber-flavoured chips (seriously lays, bring this delectable snack over to s.k. i’m begging you) and thought that this character must be part of the secret.

fast-forward in time to me ducking inside a corner of the wall, clutching to the corners of my toque as the wind practically pierced my eardrums. putting my tendencies to exaggerate aside, trust me when i say that as i wobbled up each unrestored step of the great wall, i have never felt that low degree of temperature before.

to illustrate the weather conditions further: at one moment in the hike, the 5 of us who were in on the secret sat huddled inside one of the handful of watch towers perched along the wall. as we clinched our entire bodies and anticipated the next gust of wind, a piece of rock slid out from one of the sides of the watch tower. the wind was so strong that THE WALL WAS ACTUALLY FALLING APART. the great wall is apparently no match…. for the great wind of china.

i cursed the wind, the weather, and my ridiculous choice of mittens without thumbs, and then realized i was clambering up one of the greatest man-made wonders of the world. and leo’s was dead-on about it being uncrowded. try more like, empty. yes, that’s more like it.

as i mentioned before, there were 5 of us on this part of the wall. 5 ice-cubed travellers from spain, germany, and okpo. over the course of three or four hours, we only saw one other person on the wall.

for reals, we didn’t even see our tour guide (slash “secret keeper”) after the first 5 minutes.

and there was no exaggeration on leo’s behalf when they advertised this section as “unrestored.” in addition to the deteriorating pieces from the wind, many parts of the wall were without railings, or steps,…or even walls (i’m sorry, i just had to).

needless to say, my time spent gripping onto decrepit ledges as my knuckles turned white (and my thumbs turned even whiter) became the highlight of my time in china.

so if you are ever in beijing seeking out the secret part of the great wall, just drive an hour out of the pollution until the  wall starts to dot the skyline. if you pass by the security guard that tells you to put your body down in times of frost-bitten temperatures, you’ve gone to the right place.

just don’t tell them that i can’t keep a secret.

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an indescribable china

okay, here i go. i am going to try to write about my time in beijing, china.


 ………
ya man, i got nothing.
 
i could waste even more time (mainly, yours) trying to search my literary backlog for some accurate descriptors of china but inevitably, i would just come up with mumbles and grunts. perhaps a joke or two about china “doing my head in” or the entertainment of haggling with chinese vendors while communicating only through a voice-over calculator. but other than that, i can’t really put china into words (and shift + f7 isn’t much help either. dear microsoft word: please update your thesaurus). 
 
for starters, how do you even begin to describe the people and the city of beijing without considering the jaw-dropping numbers of the most recent statistical census? this city packs in over 22 million people and has a population density 130 times that of canada (yes, beijing is a city and canada is…not). i’m thinking “cramped” just doesn’t seem to quite fit the bill for a beijinger’s style of living.  

 or even more so, how do you try to describe a city so plagued with pollution that the sky always looks like verging sunset, even at high noon? after all, this is a city which clutches onto the rank of the 13th most polluted city in the world. better yet, within the top ten spots of said list, china appears 4 times. 

 
with shoulder-to-shoulder living considered the norm; the city of beijing faces the very real potential of running out of water reaallll fast. but don’t fret friends, beijing’s got it covered. when the city worries about running out of aitch-two-oh, beijing will shoot off some cloud-seeding chemicals into the air to induce rain-fall. so not only is beijing tending to those parched sardine-packed citizens, they are also contributing to their ever-increasing pollution index. oh beijing, you are a true multi-tasker.  

 
at the same time, how do you describe the whole i-just-climbed-the-great-wall-and-i-do-not-see-a-soul-for-miles feeling? the spaciousness that is such a drastic change from the whole downtown beijing that’s-my-foot-you’re-stepping-on kind of feeling.

to try to describe beijing (or even china as a whole) seems like such an impossible task. because on one hand you want to knock it and be like “yo jingers, get yo shit together.” but then on the other hand you realize that this city is so unreal/ surreal that it kind of takes you over….and steals all your witty travel descriptors in the process.

i mean come on, how do you really describe the taste of a deep-fried arachnid?

and i bet chuck klosterman would not even be able to think of a witty yet intelligent passage to describe the contrast between china’s communist/surveillance-heavy regime with such peaceful buddhist and taoist practices taking place at the 100s of temples all over the city. (the irony alone of mandatory bag checks on your way to heavenly temples is enough to stop any pop-culture travelist dead in their tracks).

so with full intent of trying to write about beijing, i get a big ol’ fail.

china: you’re indescribable (and no thanks to you, shift + f7).

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