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28 November 2011

Magnetic Levitation

A little blip on the MagLev train from Shanghai Pudong Airport to downtown. The main star is my primary traveling companion Hinnie "Xiaoai" Fumbeggins, with cameos from Lena Zhang and yours truly. The MagLev, derived from magnetic levitation (how cool is that?!), literally levitates, being elevated and propelled forward by magnets at insanely high speeds. And since the train doesn't actually touch the ground, the ride is also silky smooth. Shanghai's MegLev has reached a top speed of 501 kmh (311mph), but on this particular ride we are moving at a slurping snail's rate of 300kmh (186mph).

I still think it's pretty cool.

21 November 2011

Floating the Mekong


Another slowboat passing us on the river.
A gray haired man teases a small Lao girl with a leopard puppet. The prowling hand-cat lurches out across the space between them and then retreats as the young girl giggles gleefully. Her brilliant white hat bobs back and forth as she mirrors the faux predator’s movements, leaning out into the aisle and then huddling back for cover. Mom watches with smiles.
Golden afternoon light cascades through the glowing cabin. Pale gold tassels dangling from drapes shift and shine in the breeze and reflected sun. The motor thrums in the stern. Eddies and waves caress the hull and return to the river.
A man works on his boat in the setting sun.
Women clean grains in wicker baskets at the water’s edge while their children wave frantically to boats passing by. Hamlets tucked beneath crumbling limestone walls appear cut off from everything but the river. The jungle swells around rock and home.
Small canyons and tributary valleys spit streams, tumbling waterfalls down stepped rock embankments and into the Mekong, the mother river.
Children roll down sand dunes in their underwear, then climb hand-and-foot back to the top to do it again. They tug at their friends and siblings, good natured pushing and shoving. They spin with flying roundhouse kicks and lift their shirts over their heads.
Water buffalo sleep in the sandy floodplains, their ears calmly and resolutely flicking away insects. Grazing cows navigate crumbly cliffs to get to the river’s bank and have a drink.
Bright red flowers adorn an otherwise leafless tree. It’s stark white bark shines out into the valley, an absence of color amidst a saturated landscape.
The reverie is intermittently interrupted as speedboats buzz by, their passengers’ faces cloaked in masks to keep off the foam, spray and wind.

A riverside golden abode.

Heaping sandbars pile up out of the water’s edge, the work of countless years of molding, carving, and transporting by water. Their steep flanks are pockmarked with prints of all the valley’s inhabitants, two-legged and four-, wild and domestic, as all flock to the river as a source of life, the central artery of existence.
An elephant lopes along the shoreline, his mahout treading behind him. Gray, fleshy, muscled legs carry his lumbering mass while sail-like ears flop and flutter in the valley breeze. The imagined thumping of his great flat feet syncs in time with the firing pistons of the slowboat engine. A wondrous mammal.
Bones, turrets, spines of dragons, molars and canines of rock jut up from the swirling waters. The boat deftly navigates the otherworldly obstacles.
The largest land animal lopes along.
White, yellow, black, and orange streaked karst towers erupt from the dense green landscape, crowning the horizons and crowding the river. A small temple with Buddha images is tucked into a large cave in a cliff. White washed steps lead up into and then past it. Monks wait in longtail boats below.