We're getting pretty close to being ready to launch SETT to the (unsuspecting) public. Shooting for mid December, but no later than January no matter what.
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If you're not a blogger, sorry about the clutter of sending you this post. The picture at the top is a panorama I took on Hua Shan. On the right is the cliff walk.
Actually, that reminds me of a quick story. After getting back to Xi'an from Hua Shan, we took a taxi to an Indian restaurant about 20 minutes from the center of the city. Because we were picking up a taxi in such a busy place, we got a little bit ripped off. Instead of using the meter, which would have been about 15 yuan, the guy offered us a flat rate of 30 yuan, which is about $4.50. Okay, fine, better than waiting around and saving a couple bucks.
The taxi was actually this weird cargo van with a seat and a bench in it, both barely bolted into the floor. At one point the driver went over some huge bump and I went flying around, swinging the seat with me.
Anyway, the guy was really friendly and nice. For some reason, whenever I speak Chinese, the Chinese person responding to me speaks at normal speed using normal vocabulary. I don't speak well enough to really have a conversation at that pace, so things deteriorate quickly. The driver, on the other hand, slowed it down for me, so we had a nice little chat on the way to the restaurant.
Getting along well, and undoubtedly happy that we paid the 30 yuan, he gives me a business card. I told him that we're going straight to the train station afterwards, so he says to call and he'll pick us up. I take the card, but sort of expect that we'll just hail a cab.
We sit down, order dinner, and begin waiting for the food to come. On the train ride up I had taught Carl how to play Gin Rummy, so we had an ongoing series running.
"Hey, let's play rummy..."
I reach for my backpack to get my little deck of cards and.... my backpack isn't there. I lift up my jacket. Not there. I look over at Carl, assuming he's playing a prank on me. He's not. I look under the table. Not there.
I remember having my backpack on the way to the taxi, so it must be there! Panic!
But wait... he gave me his card. I frantically call him.
"Wo xiang ni zai ni de che yo wo de bei bao!" (I think you have my backpack in your car!)
".... wo yo! yo!" (I've got it!)
Sweet relief passes over me. I would have had to either buy a new laptop or go back to the US if I lost my laptop. My pictures (and camera) would have been gone. My wardrobe would have been reduced by almost half!
The Indian food, at the time anyway, was some of the best I've ever had. My gastrointestinal system was in full revolt on the train ride back, so I have to dock it a star or so retroactively, but man was it tasty. Mutton and eggplant.
We finished up, called the driver again, and he offered to pick us up for 25 yuan instead of the normal thirty. I guess we'd gone through the traumatic event of me losing my backpack together, so we were friends and I was getting the friend discount.
Reunited with my backpack, we headed to the Xi'an railway station for the last time. I pulled out my wallet and handed him 200 yuan.
"A! Tai duo la!" (What! That's too much!)
In my broken Chinese I explained that it was because he brought my backpack back, and that it was important to me. He refused to take it, so I set it down on the seat next to him. In Chinese he continued to protest, and suggested that I give him one US dollar instead, as a souvenir. I gave him that, too, but refused to take the money back.
As I crawled out of the taxibus with a smile on my face, he realized I was going to insist he kept the money. He thanked me and said to call any time I was in Xi'an. As far as I'm concerned, that was about as cheap as I could possibly get off on such a dumb mistake. A less scrupulous taxi driver could have easily sold my stuff for a lot more money.
This weekend I'm going to Wuyi, where the best Oolong tea in the world comes from! The Chinese train system is amazing for overnight trains. It's about $20 for a pretty comfortable bed, and the schedule works out so that we can get there at 6am and leave again at 10pm on another overnight train.
I used to have a bit of an obsession with Zero Halliburton luggage. Look familiar? That's because bad guys in all the movies use the briefcases to hold their money and bombs. Over the years I kept buying these things, and usually traveled with a huge 26" suitcase as well as a matching computer case.
I still really like my Zero Halliburton suitcases, but they're somewhat unweildy. Two day trips don't require a hectare of packing real estate.
Plus, there was the allure of the carry-on only passenger. I never really understood how it worked before. How do people carry everything in such small suitcases? Is it really that much more convenient? What's so bad about checking bags? I was curious.
Morocco - The Country that Travels within You ... i thought it was a strange tagline the first time i saw it. But it intrigued me and inspired me to return soon after my first short visit, to spend a few months in a country that remains within me, wherever i travel, in part because i picked up so many precious gifts from being there ...
SHARING I The first time I encountered someone on the train who offered and shared her kitkat with fellow travellers in the same cabin, it still surprised me even though it was something I had read about. That was repeated time and again on the train and on the bus trips I took exploring the country. It seems such a simple and natural gesture for any moroccan, yet so awkward and difficult for me to simply offer a stranger to share my snack (only good thing was that it prevented me from snacking on the trips just so I wouldn't look rude snacking by myself). Finally, on the bus ride from Rabat to Chefchaouen, I plucked up my courage to respond in kind and offered the lady sitting beside me mandarin oranges; after she gave me an apple. And on the bus ride back to Rabat, I made sure I had two bananas so I could offer the passenger next to me one.
SHARING II My student Mohammed offered to show me Salé on my last day after English class at the cafe in downtown Rabat with Younes and Rachid. We took the blue rowboat across the narrow strip of river and walked to the medina where we had tagine in a little local cafe. After lunch and tea, we walked to the old maderasah which was pretty much like the one in Fes. Climbing out of a window and onto the roof terrace, one could see the whole sprawling city of Salé. The old fort walls along the coast seem a lonely reminder of a once important stronghold of a bygone empire. We walked past the cemetery to the beach where surfers hang out to catch the waves... Mohammed is a surfer too, though he is too busy trying to make a living nowadays and has not gone surfing for a while. He insists on buying my ticket for the train back to Rabat, just as he paid for lunch and tea. I know it's in their culture to offer such hospitality and though I feel bad about him spending his hard-earned dirhams, I knew that the only thing to do was to say shukran and accept with a completely open heart and gratitude. It always humbles me to be the recipient of kindness and generosity from someone who we perceive has so much less than ourselves. Shukran Mohammed for sharing Salé with me and showing me that it matters not how much we have, only how much we want to share.
SHARING III Taxis can stop and pick up other passengers along the way if they are along the same route, to fill up the taxi. There is a separate metred fare for each passenger and all's fair. This is a practice which I have only come across in morocco and yet it seems to make good sense. When public taxis can cater to more passengers, it can reduce traffic; taxi drivers can earn more efficiently and passengers have access to more taxis rather than having to wait for only empty ones. So why don't other cities adopt this practice as well?
FACADESThe walls and doors along the narrow winding streets of Fes and any ancient medina look pretty much the same and one has no inkling of the economic status of the residence that lies within. Whether motivated by pure humility or a superstitious fear of having riches taken away if one flaunts them publicly...it doesn't really matter. Indeed it's a blessing not to be judged by one's facade and not allow others to do that.