Archive for September, 2006

Reverse Culture Shock

29 September 06

Anyone who has travelled away from their homeland has probably felt the effects of culture shock – you know, the weird feeling you get when you realize that you are no longer in Kansas. This is inevitable. For an American, culture shock shows up in funny ways – like noticing that no one outside of America uses round doorknobs or the giant spoon in the silverware set is what you use for soup. Or getting used to dinner time at 10PM instead of 7 or remembering that everything closes between 2 and 5 and most everything closes on Sunday. Or having your weekend on Thursday and Friday instead of Saturday and Sunday. Or turning on the TV and noticing that not everyone has 357 channels.

China produced a great deal of culture shock, because the way of life and the way of thinking is soooo different from the West. I’ve given you examples, like the driving.

Now that I am back in the West, I am experiencing something called Reverse Culture Shock. That is the feeling you get when you return to your homeland and you are surprised by things all over again. For example, when I returned to the US after living in Costa Rica, I was astonished by all the new cars on the road and the fact that most restaurants were not open to the street (they have doors and windows).

So what am I surprised by in Spain? First, the realization that I can actually communicate with people around me. Even if my Spanish isn’t perfect, it sure beats my Mandarin! I catch myself walking around a store completely ignoring the salestaff, because I think I can’t talk to them. Then, when they ask me if I need help and I can understand, it just boggles my mind!

Another thing is the absolute absence of chopsticks. I got so used to using them, that I feel like a Neanderthal with my savage fork, spearing my food. And whenever I see a Chinese person, which to be honest is daily, since there are a lot of Chinese immigrants in Spain, I want to say Ni Hao! even if they were born in Spain and speak better spanish than I do. Speaking of shopping, it is a bit astonishing to me that I can just walk right into a clothing shop and they will have my size! And noone will giggle about it! And just where are all the bicycles??

Getting to know new cultures is one of the things that I like best about travel. Getting to know your own culture all over again is one of the interesting side effects of travel.


La Senda del Oso, or The Bear’s Path

27 September 06

La Senda del Oso, or the Bear’s Path, is an easy walking and bicycling trail in the heart of Asturias. It was built over the remains of a railroad built to unite the mines in the mountains with the Arms factory in the city of Trubia. The arms factory is still in use, and no, they do not produce legs. Ha Ha.

The route passes through typical Asturian villages and follows the Trubia River, which pleasantly gurgles and babbles along the trail.

We walked the first stage of the trail, from Tunon to Proaza, about 14 kilometers round trip.

DH next to the Pre-Romanic church Santo Adriano. Here you can see my amazing photographic skills in action, with the telephone pole positioned in line with DH’s head.

Several times along the trail we crossed over the river. Here I am on one of the bridges.

Villanueva is the first village that we entered.

From this village you can begin the hike up one of the mountains on a separate trail called “El Desfiladero de Las Xanas.” Xanas are mythical creatures, kind of like sirens, who live in mountain springs and creeks. Villanueva has a Medieval bridge – here we are on it:

And another church, twelfth century.

And of course, horreos. Horreos are traditional Asturian buildings where grain and food was stored. They are designed to prevent mice and animals from entering and destroying the stores of grain.

Further along the trail we passed an enclosed area where two Iberian bears live – Paca and Tola. We didn’t see the bears. Maybe that is because the day before one of them was naughty and injured the hand of a worker who approached the enclosure.

“Prohibido lanzar alimentos y objetos” Do not throw food or objects.

At the end of the first stage is the village of Proaza.

La Senda del Oso is just one of many trails found in Asturias.

Where are You?

26 September 06

See that green spot up there at the top? That is Asturias, Paraiso Natural. (Natural Paradise) And that is where I am.

Asturias is a lot different from what you might think Spain looks like. For one, it is not desert, and the houses are not all white-washed. There is not a lot of bullfighting here, and neither is there too much sangria. What they do have is amazing – tall, rocky mountains, transitioning to lush, green meadows and forests, sweeping down to the craggy, harsh coast where you can find charming fishing villages clinging to the cliffs and sandy beaches you can have all to yourself. It is foggy and rains a lot here, so it sometimes seems more like Scotland than Spain. There were Celts here, too, so there are bagpipes and other celtic influences.

As a pale redhead, the Asturian climate is perfect, with lows of 10 C and highs of 30 C. (That is like 50F to 90F.)

Now, if you are into outdoor sports, Asturias is for you! There are hundreds of trails to hike on, for every level, including many for bicycling. There are mountains to climb, waves to surf, canyons to rapel down, and more. Interested in culture? There are tons of small historic villages, churches, celtic ruins, cave paintings, and more. Food? Don’t get me started – the best seafood in Spain, delicious stews, a huge variety of cheeses, sidra! (Sidra is fermented apple cider that is poured ceremoniously from a bottle over one’s head.)

Many of you have probably heard of the Camino de Santiago, or the Pilgrim’s Way, a walk that starts from points of all over Europe, eventually crossing the Pyrenees and entering Spain at the Western border with France. From there, the walk continues along several routes all the way West to the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela. Of course, the walk was originallya pilgrimage route to see the remains of St. James, but has since become a challenging walk/bike ride/horse ride for millions of people all over the world, whether for religious reasons or other. The Southern route is the most well known and popular, it stretches across a beautiful, rugged part of Spain known as Leon. (It also crosses through Pamplona, La Rioja and Galicia.) What you may not know is that there is a Northern route which travels along the Northern coast of Spain – Green Spain, La Costa Verde, including Asturias. I recommend this route, especially in summer because it is green, cool and beautiful.

Okay, I know I probably don’t need to sell you on this place, I’m sure you think that it must be great. If you want to know more, here are some websites:
Info Asturias – The Government Site
Asturias in Wikipedia – For some history
BootsNAll Guide to Asturias

Oh – and for those of you phobic types who like to travel to places where you are the only tourist – Asturias is popular among Spanish tourists, and is gaining interest from French, Germans and Brits, but it is still blissfully free of the masses that overtake Madrid and Southern Spain.

To Be a Part of History

24 September 06

When I visited the city of Xian and the famed Terracotta Warriors, this is as close as I got:
(My Sister and I in front of pit 1.)
Evidently, there are people in this world that think that is not close enough! It seems they want to be a part of history.

I read in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo recently that a young German student took his visit to the warriors a little too far – right over the side of the pit! Seems the German, Pablo, is obssessed with the warriors and decided to dress up like them, and hide out among them until the police came to take him away. Due to his “passion” for the warriors and the fact that he didn’t actually harm any of them, the police confiscated his costume and gave him a warning.

There is also an article in English at China News.

Pablo the Terracotta Warrior
You have to admit that costume is great! I would have loved to see this myself. Nothing like a little humor and mischief to shake up the PRC!

The Terracotta Warriors were constructed around 200BC under order of the first Emperor of China – Qin Shi Huang. They are found in Xian, which is an ancient city right about in the middle of China. They are part of Qin’s tomb, which extends for at least 1.5 kilometers. The soldiers were first found by a farmer who was attempting to dig a water well in 1974. Instead of water he found the head of a warrior – which freaked him and his family out. Now the old farmer works at the souvenir shop signing autographs. He didn’t seem too thrilled with his new line of work, although I imagine it must beat working as a farmer. He didn’t seem too thrilled about having his picture taken, either. He thwarted any potential papparazzi with a strategically placed fan.

Here are a few personal photos taken when I visited the TCW in June 2006.

Views into pit 1 – The soldiers were burned and partially destroyed shortly after their completion by angry peasants. Thousands have yet to be uncovered. Of those uncovered, many have been restored.
Above, you can see how the soldiers were set up in rows. A few soldiers were set apart in a different area of the pit, as you see on the right. I love how the lazy soldier gets a nice soft pillow to rest on.

TCW4 Man With Red Phone
Above is a close up of a soldier that still has a bit of paint on his uniform. Evidently when the tomb was first opened, the paint on the soldiers faded within minutes. To the right you have the ubiquitous Chinese security guard – this one has a fancy red phone. Perhaps he is the one who made the call when Pablo jumped into the pit?
Intact Warrior
And finally, the only warrior uncovered so far that is totally intact. You can walk all the way around this soldier, one of three different types. He is supposed to be an archer. The details of his uniform are really amazing considering he is over 2000 years old.

Heavenly Perspective

21 September 06

I must admit to becoming a sort of sky gourmet – I am always checking out the horizon and the sky to assess for clarity, clouds, and color. Before my stay in China,  I never noticed too much pollution around me. Sure, I could tell if a day was a bit smoggy, or if there was a haze hanging over a city.

However, I’m now a connoisseur of beautiful days. After one year in the most shockingly polluted place I’ve ever been, I’ve never appreciated the blue sky more. I now notice the slightest touch of pollution, the very vaguest veil of smog, the thinnest hint of haze.

I have been surprised upon entering Madrid by the amount of pollution hanging over the city. Even in the green paradise of Asturias – traditionally quite polluted due to the mines, coal plants and steel plants – one cannot escape the scourge of the particle.

I’m not really sure what affect living in the not-so-natural clouds of China will have on my health. I read once that simply living and breathing in China equals the health detriment of living in a home filled with second-hand smoke. (That on top of the fact that most Chinese are smokers or at least living in a home with second-hand smoke.)

In an effort to scrub my lungs, I am making this my main view:

Blue Sky and Fig Tree
(The view up from the patio of a lovely cafe in San Cristobal, Asturias, Spain, under a Fig tree.)

Spending as much time as possible looking up!

View from the house
(The view from my in-law’s apartment.)

Reminiscence – Hot Pot Nights

20 September 06

What do I miss the most about China? Possibly, Hot Pot nights!! We had for a while a ritual known as “Family Night” where we would go out to eat Hot Pot in a large group. (Usually the group consisted of all the usual rowdy flight instructors who didn’t have an early flight in the morning.) The table would be covered in food, and all the guys would simultaneously attack the boiling pot, looking for pieces of meat. The waiters would always look on in astonishment as we ordered more and more food and beer. At the end of the evening, the table would resemble a war zone. I can remember at least one Hot Pot Night that grew to legendary status…

Here is a photo of a much more sedate Hot Pot Night that we spent with DH’s students. We were celebrating a birthday and the awarding of a PPL (private pilot license) and Instrument rating. Left to Right: Weigo, Grant, Gavin, Brian, M and DH.
Hot Pot with the Boys
Notice how clean the table is – that would never happen at a Family Night!

A Case of Writer’s Block and a Prescription

20 September 06

I’ve got writer’s block. Seriously, everyday I think about updating this blog and everyday I procrastinate and I’m not sure why.

Everyone keeps asking me, “What was China like?” and this is the perfect opportunity for me to honestly answer that question. But I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to write this great manifesto on my year in China and I don’t think you all want to be bored with that anyway, so bear with me as I slowly let myself return to the blogging world!

I’ve got several questions to answer here:
“What was China like?”
“What are going to do now?”
“What are you up to?”

So let’s see if I can do that!

Slothful Holiday Excuses

3 September 06

Going Native asks for your patience and understanding as she lazily procrastinates on updating the blog. Don´t worry, she hasn´t stopped writing and the blog will continue, if she can pull herself away from all the Tapas, Cañas and Siestas!