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Mike's Around-The-World Trip Update #13 - 11.15.2004
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i cannot update or even view my website,
www.michaelkivisto.com, from china, so it has grown
quite stale. i will add dozens of pictures and update
the text when i get to hong kong in a week. for the
new readers on this e-mail, check out my site if you'd
like to see what i've done so far...now to the update:

if you had told me that i'd celebrate my 33rd birthday
in shanghai, china with 3 norwegian women and an
englishman whom i'd meet on a train in mongolia, i'd
never have believed you.

but here i am, sitting in maggie's international youth
hostel in shanghai on the morning of my birthday
writing an e-mail update to you as my traveling
companions, marie, charlotte, and camilla from oslo,
and neil from manchester, continue their slumber
storing energy for what should be a very fun day and
night. we are going to celebrate on a large scale
here on the central eastern coast of china where the
sun is struggling to melt the clouds for the first
time in several days.

as david byrne said in the talking heads song "once in
a lifetime": you may find yourself in another part of
the world and you may ask yourself, well, how did i
get here?

it goes something like this...

a goal of my trip is to travel completely around the
world without flying and nothing helps that quite like
a train ride that crosses 1/3 of the earth's surface.
last time i updated you i was in ulaan baatar,
mongolia, a major stop on the world's longest train
journey, the trans-siberian railway. to complete the
ride i had only the last leg remaining, that from u.b.
to beijing, china. two dudes barged into my cabin and
tried to steal my laptop but i caught them in the act
and stopped them, so my heart was racing as we pulled
out of u.b. towards china.

i still was traveling with guust and chantal from
eindhoven, netherlands, although they were in another
car of the massively long train, so i walked from car
to car to tell them the latest unbelievable story
(something i will detail more later on my website).
along the way i noticed a table full of "westerners"
in the restaurant car, drinking beer and partying.
a-ha - after being stuck in the train from moscow to
irkutsk, russia for 4 days with a woman i could barely
talk to it was nice to see that my 1.5 day ride to
beijing would be with people i could have a drink and
a conversation with. it's so easy to meet anyone you
want while traveling (that's what we are out here for)
so it was just a matter of time before guust, chantal,
and i were talking and drinking with marie, charlotte,
camilla, and neil. we were all staying at the same
hostel in beijing so we would not have to stop the
party when the train stopped.

beijing was incredible. we stayed in an old section
of town called a hootang, an old, old, old part of
town. i literally couldn't write anything (i'm
writing a book) for a week because around every
corner, in every shop, down every gray, grimey alley,
was another thing i had never seen in my life. my
senses were exhausted every moment trying to take in
the smells, the sounds, the sights, the tastes of the
fascinating city. the neighborhood consisted of short
gray brick crumbling buildings, divided by twisting
alleys, along which thousands of bicycles with wobbly
wheels carried carts of coal, or bizarre vegetables,
or scrap metal, or skeletons of computers, or
refrigerators, or other people. also on those streets
squatted countless men with weathered wrinkled faces
playing board games, or chatting, or arguing over
piles of flattened cardboard boxes. many, many times
i sat with a friend from the hostel at a table on
those streets just outside a tiny restaurant as a
chinese man whipped up some amazing food in a kitchen
that looked like it had been hit by a bomb. the
sizzling of the wok and the smoke pouring from it
danced in the air toward our folding battered table as
we listened to men shouting sales pitches from fruit
stands, or those trying to sell newspapers, there
where 5 tiny alleys came together and maximized the
daily spectacle of life in the hootang. i ate at the
same restaurant 9 times, each time with a different
companion. the food was spicy, tasty, fresh,
wonderful and cost just about nothing. you got a bowl
of rice, a huge steaming plate of chicken and peppers,
and a drink for about $2.

on day four in beijing it was time to see it. to see
IT. that twisting ancient structure that
rollercosters up, down, and around the mountains of
north central china, put there to keep out marauding
mongolians from the north, the GREAT WALL OF CHINA. i
have attached 4 pictures to this e-mail since i can't
update my site and picture number one is of yours
truly standing on it. i went with three people from
the hostel and walked 10 kilometers of the wall. much
of it was crumbling and almost totally flattened.
often times the wall climbed straight up the spine of
the mountain and it felt like rock-climbing to scale
it. observation towers rose high from the wall every
so often and the views from them were spectacular.
the wall ran over the mountains on and on and on, as
far as the eye could see, disappearing into the
horizon up the backbone of the mountains. the work it
must have taken to build it....whoa....gives you a
sense of how ferocious the mongolians were to warrant
such a project just to keep them out.

a highlight of beijing was going to the u.s. embassy
with 2 other americans to vote for the president of
the u.s. i sat on the floor around a cramped table
with dozens of fellow citizens filling out an absentee
ballot in plain view of everyone else, one week before
the actual election. it was a cool experience,
especially when i helped people who spoke poor english
with their votes: i had them vote for my guy but it
didn't help because he lost. hey, at least i did my
part.

i did a thousand other things in beijing of course but
let's move on to pingyao, an ancient chinese village
south of beijing. picture number two is of marie
pointing down the street in pingyao. standing next to
her is camilla and off to the left is charlotte.
looking on in the military coat is mr. liu, a local
guide, and three other interested locals. in china
when you walk onto a street, or into a store, or off a
train or bus, especially in the smaller places,
everyone stops and stares at you. you have an
audience everywhere you go, an entourage. it makes
you feel like a celebrity. the chinese are very
curious, very helpful, and very, very friendly. mr.
liu charged us 20 yuan ($2.50) to take us around
pingyao for about 6 hours. we went to a primary
school and taught some english, we watched men
buildings coffins, we went into a protestant church,
we toured some homes, we ate where the locals eat, and
then when we left town the next day he bought us our
train tickets.

from pingyao, we went to xi'an, home of the famous
terracota warriors. the emperor 2000 years ago, whose
name escapes me at the moment, had his tomb filled
with lifesize ceramic sculptures of warriors who would
protect his body. long halls filled with thousands of
warriors spoke out from his crypt, many of which have
been uncovered and are open to the public. quite a
site.

there was a bar in the basement of our hostel in xi'an
with a stage on which sat a guitar and a microphone so
i entertained the masses on one fun night, singing
some john denver, rolling stones, and oasis.

we took off from xi'an to chengdu where we went to a
research facility for the preservation of panda bears.
they have a really nice facility there, up in the
mountains, with plenty of food, trees, and vegetation
for the animals, all covered in a perpetual blanket of
mist.

we bussed it from chengdu to chongqing where we picked
up a riverboat for a three day cruise down the yangtze
river. this was the highlight for me after the great
wall. we floated lazily down the river past ancient
villages dotting the green mountainous river banks
with ramshackle homes. the air became balmy, tropical
and the resulting palm trees added mystique to the
misty shores. we got off the big boat at one point to
ride through the three gorges, a canyon of towering
granite walls, tall waterfalls, and wild monkeys.
pictures number 3 and 4 on this e-mail show neil with
his lifejacket on in a small wooden boat with a
thatched roof which we used to explore the narrow
parts of the canyon, and the view off the back of the
boat in the canyon, respectively.

anyway, from there we made our way to shanghai where
the sun is now coming out! hey hey! 33 is my lucky
number and is now my age, but if things can get better
than they have been on this trip i won't be able to
handle it. i am meeting incredible people from all
over this amazing planet we live on and experiencing
places, sounds, smells, and tastes i only ever dreamed
of - i am loving it all, and feel so fortunate to have
this opportunity.

in the words of (the *sshole) dave from cracker:
happy, happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me,
happy birthday to me, and to you....

keep on keepin' on,
michael


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