Saturday, November 26, 2011

Things to make and do - Volume 2

This weekend I wanted to stay at "home" in Yongchuan and get some things done, so I did. It's been a satisfying couple of days. I spent some of yesterday wandering around the old town, getting lost, finding interesting things, buying a nice shirt, confusing the locals by asking the price of welding equipment and grinding wheels, and then finding myself again with the help of the GPS. Getting the street-maps to work on the GPS has been a great thing, maybe almost worth the endless hours of monkeying around that it took me to do it.

Something I finally got around to doing this week was finding a fee internet radio app for my iPod. I have been excited by the thought of using my iPod as a radio since I got the wireless to work in our apartment in another monkeying-around epic. That episode was resolved by installing an older version of the firmware on our router. Why does it happen that the new version of something doesn't work when the old one does? Anyway, I downloaded the TuneIn App which has been working really well. I can listen to my favorite BBC radio stations, CBC, plus hundreds of other stations... all for free... and working just fine here in China. Excellent.
That's me wearing my new shirt. Oh, and my iPod playing BBC Radio in China.

Another long-standing "thing to do" was to get some real High Dynamic Range photo software on my computer and figure out how to make my new camera take bracketed pictures and save the files in RAW format. My old camera could do this with some help from the CHDK software, but I never really got along with it. The new camera, which I am slowly learning to love, can do it all by itself... so I'm giving it another go. I've set one of the custom settings to give me what I need for HDR at the twist of a knob. So far, so good. I too this quick photo on my way home from teh supermarket (where I was buying supplies for today's making project). It's a bit wobbly as I was just resting the camera on a brick with no tripod or whatnot, but I think it shows there is potential for some fun stuff here. I used Luminance for this one, which is a bit of a weird piece of software... but free and has lots of options for playing with the images. I also have Photonaut which I I will have a go with when I have some more photos to play with. 
I think there is potential for some fun with this HDR business
 And finally, I needed a waterproof case for my camera. The G12 is more lumpy than my old G9 (which is a shame) and it won't fit in my old Pelican case. Pelican cases are not an easy thing to find here, so I came up with my own solution involving a lunchbox and some foam floor tiles. It appears that a Canon G12 is about the same size as a small lunch (perhaps macaroni cheese) as it fits very nicely in a box I found. With a couple of pieces of foam to stop it rattling around I have a pretty decent (and hopefully waterproof) case. What a great bodge, even if I do say so myself.

Pixels for lunch
Also, some exciting news. Our short film about our Yukon River SUP expedition will be shown at the Cumberland Mountain Film Festival on January 12, 2012. If you happen to be in Cumberland on that Thursday night, go and support the Cumberland Trails! 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fun sandwich

Weekends away are a fun thing, but it's taken us a while to figure out how to make them happen here in China. The complications of living in an out-of-the-way place and relying on public transport in a country where we can't communicate very easily present a new level of complication. However, someone did once said that nothing worth having comes for free. I think it was me.

After school on Friday we burst out and overloaded the school car with adventure-hungry teachers, followed by a taxi (to the displeasure of the drivers) and got to the Yongchuan bus station far too early for the bus to Chengdu. Better than being late (as we were to later find out). We got to the Traffic Inn Hostel in time to make it out for noodles, a pint, and a slightly strange encounter with a chap from Manchester who was partying his way around the world. I already liked Chengdu as it features a river that doesn't smell like poo... a rare commodity in China.

Big Mao
Hao, Mao.
Saturday was spent touristing (is that a word?) around town, visiting temples, eating pizza, and stumbling across a few fine things along the way. We enjoyed some overpriced beer in the "Revolutionary Box Bar", but felt the ambiance was worth it.  We met our teacher travelling companions in the evening for a poke around the Jinli shopping area. I failed to buy anything that wasn't edible, but got my ears cleaned and massaged in a traditional Chinese style... which was actually quite pleasant.

Fine goods for sale in Chengdu... apparently

Most important thing to us in Chengdu was to concoct a plan to meet the Chendu Pandas Hash House Harriers (CPH3) for their bi-weekly hash run. On Sunday morning we decided to squeeze in a trip to the Panda Breeding and Research Center, which I really enjoyed... and I don't usually like zoos. The pandas didn't seem in the least bothered by the hoards of tourists and generally lay around luxuriating and eating bamboo. One of them was trying to climb a tree bottom-first, which was either some kind of game, panda exercise routine, or perhaps a result of a confused mind due to captive panda inbreeding.... but he seemed to be enjoying it regardless. The baby pandas crawled around after their human surrogate mother wearing her blue apron and face mask, crowding around here feet to be fed. It's weird how pandas can recognize a giant Smurf as their mother... but I guess all that's important when you're that age is who's got the milk.

Apparently this is how pandas climb trees

Panda nurse

The hash run was tremendous. Despite having lived in places where I've seen the flour markings of a hash from time-to-time most of my life, I've never been on one. Unusually, the week we came the run was held quite far out of the city, among some farmer's fields. We ran through the bushes and along the dikes between the muddy ponds and quickly got the hand of yelling instructions and searching for the flour marks. During the post-run reverie we realized that there was very little chance of us using any of our planned ways to get home. All the direct buses were long-gone and our backup plan of getting the train to Chongqing would get us there too late to get the bus to Yongchuan. Some kindly fellow hashers gave us a ride to Chengdu East train station and we ran over to the ticket counter. No space on any trains to Chongqing. Whilst this solved the problem of arriving too late in Chongqing, it did leave us stuck in Chengdu with work the next morning. Some of our trademark note-passing, gesticulating, and three words of Chinese got us night-train tickets to Yongchuan... arriving at 4.30am on Monday. Not really what we intended, but we would at least make it to work for 8am.

Hash in the crops 

Chengdu train station looked like the kind of place the space shuttle might launch from.... all white polished things and bright lights. And fake palm trees. When our train boarding was announced in the space-station, the fancy glass-encased escalator took us down to a rickety looking old train full of nocturnal budget Chinese travelers. We loaded up and got what sleep we could as the train creaked along. Thankfully, we made it back to the apartment at 5am, got a little sleep and made it to school on-time. We'll be back in Chengdu again I have no doubt.

Chendgu East space(train)-station

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tea Mountainbiking

When we left Vancouver back in August, I left behind all three of my mountain bikes. Due to packing in as much mountain biking as possible before we left, all three bikes are now languishing in some state of disrepair at the back of a five-by-ten storage locker and buried under the accumulation of everything else Lina and I own. However, out of sight is not out of mind as far as bikes and my mind go. I have been spending some of my spare moments plotting my faithful bike's return-to-form when I unearth them and the tools to fix them. After thinking, rethinking, forgetting, and re-inventing my plan for fettling all three bikes into their most appropriate format I have ended up just about where I started with a plan to concoct a heavy bike, a light bike, and a bike that is somewhere in-between. Ground-breaking stuff, no? It keeps me amused anyway.

On the subject of bikes, we got out before the rain today to ride the trail we found on Tea Mountain a few weeks ago, and try some more bouncy bamboo slacklining. Both were very successful, though riding a bike with fairly slick tires on damp clay was quite alarming on the steeper parts. The dirt-road climb up to the ridge turns out to be all rideable... and pretty long and strenuous, so that should keep us honest.

Unusual mountain biking

Confused locals
A place we found along the way

Did someone used to live here?

Shoes-on slacklining due to spiky bamboo stumps - tricky

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A change is as good as a rest

In this case, the change required quite a lot of resting to recover from it. Whilst I'm not a natural runner, I have found that running around in the forest and up and down mountains is a great way to keep fitness and I enjoy the simplicity of a sport that doesn't involve an expensive bike or skis, helmets, Gore-Tex, and endless equipment maintenance. My greatest running achievement to date was the 50km Knee Knacker up and over the three North Shore mountains. Not only was this a mental triumph for me, but I was reasonably fast (in my opinion) and didn't get badly damaged by the experience. The point I am getting around to here is that I stepped back from ultra-marathon running into old-fashioned road-marathon running this weekend. I've never run a road race before, because I didn't want to. Living in China means some concessions need to be made and Lina proposed we traveled to Hangzhou to enter the well-regarded International Marathon. I don't mind trying something new, so with a bit of grumbling I agreed to run.

The concept of jumping on a bus and a 'plane after work on Friday and spending a day and a half in a strange city in China, running a marathon and jumping straight back on a 'plane again in time for work on Monday isn't exactly my idea of a good time. I like to have time to let my surroundings soak in and to enjoy the experience. I also think short-haul flying (and any flying at all for that matter) is a bad thing on just about every level. Swallowing my ethics I buckled in for the ride.

Saturday we spent doing some sight-seeing and a bit of impromptu clothes shopping in Hangzhou. We walked around Feilai Park and peeked at various Buddhist statues hidden in caves carved around the mountain. It was an interesting place to visit, though as with many things here in China, some rather unsympathetic "improvement" of the ancient sites with concrete street furniture and paving made the place feel somewhat fake. What was definitely real however was the gatherings of locals singing songs, praying in the caves, or playing cards at outdoor tables. Whilst recreation for the Chinese is not what I have grown used to living in Canada, the Chinese do a great job of social gatherings in what seem (to me) the most unlikely places. I will try to organize a "poker game in a Buddhist cave" night when I return to Vancouver and see how far I get.

A walk in the park.
Mystical trees.
Puff the magic dragon (possibly)
An ancient Buddhist monument to rain.
One of Hangzhou's major attractions is West Lake, which is renowned to be one of the most beautiful lakes in China. When we got a view of the lake from the top of a hill in Feilai Park I was a little underwhelmed. West Lake is certainly nice, but "the most beautiful"? Later that day I had a realization. I think my concept of beauty is the property something has in its natural form. A mountain is beautiful because it is a mountain. However, I think West Lake shows how the nature of beauty can be different in other cultures. Here in China, things described as beautiful usually seem to be heavily adorned with gold paint, red curtains, and possibly flashing lights. My theory is that in China, beauty is something that can be bestowed by man (given enough supplies of gold pain and red fabric), and not an intrinsic property. West Lake's unique beauty, in the Chinese sense,  seems to come from the island-temples, the causeways, and the pagodas and other auspicious man-made constructions on the surrounding hills. I feel that as a scientist I need to find two similar ugly objects then spray-paint one of them gold, wrap some red cloth around it, and put a flashing light on top... then get some Chinese and Western volunteers to rate each one's beauty. The results might possibly be fascinating.

West Lake... beautiful or beautified? 
Anyway, back to this running business. I ran a marathon. It took three hours fifty-three minutes. It hurt a lot and on the whole was something I would like to never repeat. Unfortunately, we are already entered in the Bejing Great Wall marathon. Oh dear.

Finally, here are some things I saw at the weekend.

Firebags prohibited?
Chinese fries. Yum.
Hello Mr Brown.