Summertime and the livin’s easy

So summer’s definitely here – I know this because when I’m outside for more than a few minutes everything gets blurry and my skin starts to melt. I’m Canadian — +40°C weather is something for fairytales of where the old folks go come winter.

Of course it’s the perfect time to take a holiday and trek around the country — so that’s exactly what I’m going to be doing next week and the week after.

Heat or not, I couldn’t be more excited. The timing of the vacation is because my best friend Cory is (coufinallygh) coming to visit me in China. We’ve been friends for going on 20 years, which for me is no small feat. See, I’ve called 25 different places “home” over the course of my 32 years (birthday this Thursday), and as such have shuffled through friends nearly as much as I’ve shuffled through addresses. But whereas many friends come and go, Cory is as close as to being kin to me as you can get without sharing blood. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve seen him, and even then it was only short visits. It’s going to be great to be able to spend two weeks catching up.

As it’s his first time here, there’s no shortage of things that he would like to see — 3rd or 4th largest country in the world be damned. So in the two short weeks of his visit we are going to attempt the following jam-packed itinerary:

Our Chitinerary

July 16 – Cory Arrives – Ryan’s birthday dinner
July 17 – Suzhou: catch up/relax/explore Suzhou
July 18 – Suzhou: catch up/relax/explore Suzhou
July 18 – Take night train to Xi’an
July 19 – Xi’an: Arrive, check into hotel, check out city, Drum Tower, meet friend Tom for dinner? etc.
July 20 – Xi’an: Head for Terracotta Warriors
July 21 – Xi’an: Check out any remaining things.
July 21 – Take night train to Suzhou
July 22 – Suzhou: 7:30 – 9:00 am Solar Eclipse (it better be clear!)
July 22 – Take Night train to Beijing
July 23 – Beijing: Arrive, book into hotel, Forbidden City / Tiananmen Sq
July 24 – Beijing: Great Wall / Dinner-Drinks near Sanlitun?
July 25 – Beijing: Hutongs / Temple of Heaven? Olympic Stadium?
July 25 – Take night train to Nanjing
July 26 – Nanjing: Arrive. Quick stop. Nanjing Massacre Memorial, some other stuff
July 26 – Take late train back to Suzhou
July 27 – Chilax in Suzhou, wander down town. Etc.
July 28 – Shanghai: Head to Shanghai early morning, stay in Shanghai 1 night – The Bund, Oriental Pearl Tower, French Consession, dinner with friends
July 29 – Cory Departs

Despite living here, I’m pretty excited about the travels as well. I’ve become entirely too sedentary in recent years, a sharp contrast to the itchy-footed globetrotter (I suck at basketball) that washed up here nearly half a decade ago. This will be my first trip to Xi’an and first *real* trip to Nanjing (I bussed up there for a cheap airfare once, but only saw the bus station, airport and a traffic-filled blur inbetween). It will also be the first time I’ve been back to Beijing since travelling there in 2005, only three months after arriving in China.

Cory and I will be leaving Maggie at home, and so will largely be depending on my craptastic language abilities to navigate us through — a fact that excites me nearly as much as it scares the hell out of me. I mean, I’ve travelled in 10+ countries, many of which couldn’t speak much English, and have done fine. I guess I’m just apprehensive about being the sole language-point for us. It will, however, give me the opportunity I need to dust off my Chinese skills, which have been steadly going stale since we moved from downtown Suzhou out to the SIP area — a district where you’re nearly as likely to pass a foreigner on the street as you are a local.

Recapturing the Shutter Bug

The trip will also provide me with an opportunity to revisit a former passion – photography. I got into photography in high school, and was knee-deep in SLR gear by my late teens. I then studied photography, if rather basically, in college as part of my journalism program, and adored it. After college I went to work for some magazines and got to play concert photographer for a few shows, which was awesome (I think I still have lumps on my skull from water bottles being thrown at Cake during a outdoor summer festival).

But when I decided to pack in the journalism career and live out of a backpack for five months, I made the difficult decision to trade in my SLR and lenses for a much more compact digital point-and-shoot. It served me well (see photos from UK/Ireland, Mainland Europe and Thailand), but I’ve always missed having a real camera.

After deciding to stay in China I flipped a coin on whether to buy a DSLR or a new laptop with some of the money I had saved to move to Australia. I ended up meeting in the middle and getting a new laptop and a prosumer p&s. Over the years I’ve had a few opporunities and wasted much of my friend Derrick‘s time asking endless questions of what his recommendations for DSLRs is.

canon-500dFinally, after humming and hawing about this for a few years (ask Maggie, next to a sailboat, it’s the “awe I want one” thing she’s listened to me whinge about the most) and with this 2-weeks of travel looming, I bit the bullet last week and grabbed myself Canon’s new entry-level DSLR, the 500D. A few of my friends have the 450D, and I was decently impressed with it. The 500D is a mild improvement over the 450D, but among its new features is the ability to shoot HD video.

I wrestled over whether to buy just the body and grab the lenses seperately, but the minimal cost difference (and lack of time) prompted me to just grab the kit with a Canon EF 18-55mm IS lens attached (effectively about a 30mm-70mm lens). It’s alright, but a bit slow — basically just a 100% mediocre lens. However, it and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 I’ll grab this week will do the job until I can afford to laydown some serious bucks on a good telephoto and a nice wide-angle. Suggestions enthusiastically welcomed.

I bought the camera at one of Canon’s authorized dealers in Suzhou. It involved some pretty heady negotiations on the part of my wife, as we wanted to get the price down to approximately the costs found on Taobao. We considered buying it from Taobao, but were a bit nervous getting such a large purchase from someone we couldn’t physically visit if something went wrong.

We couldn’t get the price as low as it is on Taobao, but did mange to wrangle a pretty decent deal in my opinon. I got the Canon 500D (18-55IS) kit, 4GB SD card, 58mm UV filter, a crappy little bag and LCD scratch protector for 5750 RMB. I’ve all but tossed the waffer-thin lunchbox style bag they gave me, and instead ordered a rather awesome Crumpler bag.

7milhomeBoth my friends Ric and Elvina swear by them, and they look great — not much like a camera bag, which is exactly what I wanted. I checked out Crumpler’s US site and the bags were a bit pricey, and so I decided to see if Taobao had knock-offs cheaper. Sure enough, it does. I ordered the 7 Million Dollar Home, as it is big enough to fit extra goodies in it and wont force me to buy a new bag when I finally get some new lenses later this year. It took 2 days to get here, and while I don’t have a *real* Crumpler to A-B it with, it looks just as advertised, and appears good and sturdy. In fact, comparing it to the pictures on Crumpler’s site, the only difference is the colour of the interior lining. Everything else seems pretty much exact — and at about 1/3 the price of the US Web site, I ain’t complaining.

Well – best I publish this and get back to the rather insane list of things I need to get done before I shut down shop for 2 weeks. I love holidays, and love that my situation allows me the flexibility of choosing my holidays whenever I want – but the unfortunate side-effect is there’s no one here to fill in for me while I’m gone.

Oh, as I do whenever summer hits, I’ve been listening to a lot more Sublime. Have had Doin’ Time stuck in my head for the last few days, but keep singing it with a slight China-tinge…. it’s stupid, but I just can’t help it. Such a great song though.

Doin’ Time – Sublime

Summertime and the living’s easy
And Bradley’s on the microphone w/ ras m.g.
All the people in the dance will agree
That we are well qualified to represent the PRC
Me and Louie run to the Party
Dance to the rhythm it gets harder
Me and China we got this relationship
I love her so bad but she treats me like shit
On lock down like a penitentiary
She spreads her lovin’ all over
And when she gets home there’s none left for me


Oh take this veil from off my eyes
My burning sun will someday rise
So what am I gonna be doin’ for a while
Said I’m gonna play with myself
Show them how we come off the shelf


Evil I’ve come to tell you that she’s evil most definitely
Evil ornery scandalous and evil most definitely
The tension is getting hotter I’d like to hold her head underwater

Incidentally, if you find a puddle of fleshy goo that smells faintly of maple syrup and bacon somewhere between Xi’an and Suzhou, please scoop it up and return it to my dear mother – you can keep the camera. Damn it’s hot.

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