No Summer Coincidence


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, August 24, 2004 was originally posted on August 31, 2004.

DAY 311:  “If there’s anything I’ve learned [in my travels so far], it’s that nothing is coincidental,” my American roommate Paul from Kansas said as we entered a sort of deep conversation about the meaning of Life — perhaps to balance out the fact that we had just watched Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Snoop Dogg in Starsky & Hutch on bootleg DVD on my iBook connected to our TV, which has no real redeeming philosophical value whatsoever.

“Yeah, whatever religion it is that says that everything happens for a reason, that’s what I am,” I said.  The two of us had solidified similar philosophies on the road — that there are no coincidences and that God (or some higher power) definitely exists and looks out for us.  Paul, who had left the high-tech engineering sector of six figure salaries to travel long term (after reading Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding and Travelers’ Tales latest book after Hyenas Laughed At Me And Now I Know Why), came to the realization in his two months abroad so far that he was determined to find out the reason of his existence.  He had been declared dead at birth, a stillborn baby, but had miraculously survived. 

“Really I should be dead,” he said.  “There must be a reason why I’m alive right now.”  Until the answer presented itself to Paul, he was having a blast in the process of searching, traveling away from his native Kansas — also keeping a Blog with the same self-deemed obligation of having to share his travels to people back home who might never go to such places as he.

IF YOU’VE FOLLOWED THE BLOG for the past several months, you no doubt have seen that I’ve developed a sort of Fatist philosophy on Life.  For example, choosing to go out on a Sunday in Cape Town to a place I had already gone to before led me to a mugging at knifepoint, which led to waiting around for a replacement bank card, which led to flight cancellations, which led to traveling overland through central Africa, which led to meeting incredible American ex-pats in Zambia and ultimately Tanzania — the last of which was someone who recognized me back in metro New York.  (Perhaps that meeting wasn’t coincidental and that Tangent of Fate hasn’t completely ended yet.)  While that path of Fate wasn’t realized until after the fact, that’s not to say paths begin or continue on a regular day.

“WHAT’S THE EASIEST WAY to get to The Summer Palace?” I asked Lily, the incredibly helpful girl working the desk at the Beijing Gongti HI Hostel. 

“Go to the North Gate and take the 834 bus,” she answered.  She was also in the process of booking me a train ticket to my next destination of Xi’an and had asked me for 400 yuan up front to get it.  I handed over the 400, almost the rest of my available cash in my wallet, and went off to the two ATMs in the area — both were out of order.  So not to waste time, I hopped on the 834 and figured I’d go to an ATM in the northwest suburbs near The Summer Palace, a fairly touristy destination in Beijing.

“[Where are you going?]” was what I think the bus conductor was asking me.  She needed to know what to charge me for a ticket, based on my answer.

“Uh… gongdian,” I said, reading the Pinyin for “palace” in my phrasebook.  I think I managed to mess up the pronunciation because she didn’t get me.  “The Summer Palace,” I said, hoping that maybe she’d understand that.  Still nothing.  She left me to attend to others getting on the bus.  Passengers already in seats gave me stares.

“[Does anyone here speak Cantonese, or some other dialect?]” was the question I think she asked the bus crowd.  I think she thought that perhaps I was Chinese, just not fluent in Mandarin.  One woman responded and asked me, but we ended up not making any progress.  I didn’t have any map or guidebook on me to point to.  The bus continued one, me still without a ticket.

“Where are you going?” a man in the back finally spoke up in a Chinese accent.

“The Summer Palace.”  He translated to the conductor and I got my ticket for three yuan.  The conductor helped me out after that, tapping me on the shoulder when I had to get off about an hour later.

“Xiexie,” (“Thank you,”) I said and hopped off the bus near the Summer Palace’s North Gate.  There weren’t any ATMs around, leaving me with just 53.80 yuan, which I thought would be enough to get through the day — The Temple of Heaven was only 35 yuan.  However, the entry fee was 50 yuan, leaving me with just enough to take a bus back to the hostel. 

IT MAY BE OF NOTE that I had been feeling a bit under the weather since that rainy morning — with a sore throat and the feeling of a slight fever, I was debating whether or not to go out or not — but when the sun came out by noon, I decided to force myself to go out so as not to waste a day.  My destination was the place everyone I met had raved about, Yiheyuan, known more popularly as The Summer Palace, the imperial summer resort of the Qing dynasty — although it was famous as the playground for Empress Dowager Cixi whose rule led to the deterioration of the Chinese empire.  I figured the Summer Palace would take 2-3 hours tops to explore, not knowing that it was much larger than the Temple of Heaven, a massive and beautiful park with over 3,000 buildings built on a big mound known as Longevity Hill overlooking Kumming Lake — a place so big it’d require multiple visits to see everything.  The “palace” had gardens, a shopping district, prayer temples, a three-story opera theater capable of three performances at a time, recreational boat facilities and more — it was no wonder the Empress was distracted from her duties of the empire.

Of course I didn’t realize how big the Summer Palace grounds were until I got really frustrated from getting lost — even more so because I was still feeling sick — and ended up spending my bus money to buy a map.  Hopefully there’d be an ATM somewhere. 

Still feeling a bit feverish, I pressed on seeing what I could, even in the humid air rising from the puddles brought forth by the morning rains.  According to my three-yuan map, many of the buildings had names that sounded like they were in a kung-fu movie:  “Quiet as Idle Clouds,” “Strolling in Scenery,” “Abode in Clouds and Pines,” “Heart Purifying Pavilion” and “Natural Affinity of Water and Trees” — most of which had been converted to gift or food stands.  One entire area around a portion of the Back Lake known as Suzhou Street (modeled after the southern Chinese city of Suzhou) was completely converted for retail, with shops, cafes, little pedestrian bridges of wood and stone, and people offering services such as calligraphy. 

The main buildings of the Summer Palace remained unfettered by commercialism, like the Tower of Buddhist Virtue (an active Buddhist temple), The Revolving Archive (where Confucian books were kept), The Hall of Happiness in Longevity (Empress Cixi’s quarters), the Pavilion of Precious Clouds (picture above), most of which had the signature Chinese architectural element on the corners of its roofs I had seen in all the imperial buildings since The Forbidden City:  a “parade” of animals led by a guy riding a rooster to ward off evil spirits.  One other notable structure of the Summer Palace was the notorious the Boat of Purity and Ease, known more commonly as the Marble Boat, which Empress Cixi had built as a pleasantry using navy funds — costing China to lose Hong Kong to the British.     

THE SUMMER PALACE, A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE, is one of Beijing’s favorite sites amongst tourists, and it was easy to see why — although in my illness I’m sure I would have appreciated it a lot more if I was better and I had cash on me.  I had only 0.80 yuan on me (about a US penny), not enough to buy anything.  As I walked around up and down Longevity Hill — particularly up to the stairs to the Temple of Buddhist Virtue — I got hungrier and hungrier.  I felt even worse when I’d see a smiling person munch into a piece of fried chicken or ice cream bar.  I got so weak I felt like collapsing. 

I was near the East Gate when the park was about to close, leaving me in an unfamiliar area of the suburbs — there was no time to get back to the North Gate where I had started.  As Fate would have it, there were two ATMs at the East Gate, but Fate worked in mysterious ways because both were out of order.  I walked away from the gate until I found a familiar main road the bus rode on that morning, and ultimately found a bank with an ATM — that machine didn’t work with my card either.  Luckily there were ten more minutes left in the bank’s hours, and I went to a teller to get an emergency travelers check exchanged.  They didn’t take it, and so, I head for the exit — but turned around before reaching the door.  Suddenly, I realized why I had left a 50 euro note in the corner of my secret pocket — one I had kept off exchanging.  The bank took that and I was saved.  I immediately went to a fried chicken stand and got some food for the hour-long bus ride back to Workers’ Stadium.

“COME ON, WE’RE GOING TO A BAR,” Toni said back in my room with my two roommates that he befriended. 

“No, I think I’m coming down with SARS,” I joked.  Then again, when you’re in a place like China it wouldn’t be unheard of.

Toni and my other American roommate Sam went out, leaving Paul and I to veg with my DVD player on my iBook.  Afterwards we fell into that conversation about Life and the lack of coincidences.  I’m not sure if it was my fate to get sick or to wind up in the palace grounds with no money, but at least I finally got the explanation to why I had been traveling with that 50 euro note in my secret pocket for so long.

Next entry: The Zoo Debate

Previous entry: No Common Denominator

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Comments for “No Summer Coincidence”

  • GREETINGS FROM CHENGDU!  Sorry if this seems a little off… I’m rushing through a bunch to catch up… I’m two cities behind right now!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/30  at  05:50 PM

  • LIZ:  Don’t know if my email went through—Yahoo buggy here—but as of right now, typhoon or no typhoon, I am to take the boat from Shanghai to Osaka on the 14th… (i have yet to get the ticket though)...  Hope to get to Tokyo by the 20th…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/30  at  05:52 PM

  • EL ZEE:  Your sis e-mailed me… Looks like she’ll be a character on “The Trinidad Show” in about a week…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/30  at  05:55 PM

  • oh cool….can’t wait for the upcoming guest appearances!!!

    LIZ - you better prep up for those pictures!  hahahaha….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/30  at  07:26 PM

  • I should have stayed in Japan…

    That was a great entry Erik… don’t stress to much… “pole pole” remember? Wicked pics too.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/30  at  07:39 PM

  • Excellent!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/30  at  07:46 PM

  • I’m getting further and further in the archives….January 2003….

    Can’t wait to here about all your adventures in Japan with my cousin, Liz….

    I too love the history you give, I really am not wasting my time at work….I’m learning so I can justify every moment I spend here!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/30  at  09:43 PM

  • I really should “preview” my posts….I mean January 2004…..and “can’t wait to hear”

    Geez you think my mind was turning to mush reading this blog hour after hour….I think I need to travel! LOL

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/30  at  09:45 PM

  • Wow - you sure do know a lot of people with names similar to mine.

    Ni hai jide wo ma? - pinyin for do you still remember me?

    I really enjoyed reading your post & the pics are of course incredible. When I met you, you didnt mention you were such a popular badass. It has taken me this long to get to your website and find this out. Kinda shady:: :

    Cant wait to read about your travels in Chengdu -
    thanks for making me jealous


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/30  at  10:26 PM

  • Hey, when you said that someone spoke up in the back of the bus and asked “where are you going,” was that in English, or was it in Mandarin? I ask because I thought that you wouldn’t normally find people within China speaking English.

    Posted by Moman  on  08/30  at  10:31 PM

  • Still watching…..........

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  03:36 AM

  • Erik - e-mail didn’t come thru, but I’ll expect you around the 20th. 
    Man, the pressure - I have to clean my house now.  Don’t want the whole world to see the shocking state of disaster I normally live in. wink

    Posted by Liz  on  08/31  at  03:49 AM

  • Liz….that should give you lots of time to reorganize your 3 rooms and… BUY BEER!  Erik needs his beer when he arrives!  Get him one of those little baby cans of beer….lol
    I hope the worst of the typhoon has passed and it has got cooler.

    Erik…..I think you will be impressed with Tokyo.  Very clean & safe! and guess what?  Lots more temples!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  05:54 AM

  • LIZ / ROSE:  Beer?  I love a good Sapporo (that’s what they drink there right?)... although in the words of Austin Powers, “Sake it to me baby…”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  09:29 AM

  • MOMAN:  It was in Mandarin, hence the [brackets]...  Sorry if it wasn’t clear.  Word life.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  09:31 AM

  • BILL:  There ye are matey!  What’s goin’ on man…  Are you still traveling or are you back in a cube farm?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  09:33 AM

  • E:LISA:  Of course I remember you, what with all that quality time we spent together—what was it, like two hours?  Well, they were two good quality hours.

    Anyway, as you can see, I’m days behind on my Blog, unlike yours…  Don’t worry, the entry of our meeting will be up soon, with a plug for your Blog of course…

    “Popular badass?”  Couldn’t you read that in my palm?  wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  09:39 AM

  • Hey Erik, If your still making plans to go to Nepal you might wanna check this out ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  04:44 PM

  • Great entry Erik…Beijing sounds amazing.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  04:55 PM

  • SIMF2P:  That story might be filtered out of China b/c I can’t get it… what does it say?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  05:34 PM

  • can i check out a book from the revolving archive w/ my teaneck library card?  great pics!


    sharon, stop calling me im over you…marcello

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/31  at  05:36 PM

  • Hey, still sounds like you’re suffering from no guidebook. See if you can get to
    It’s gotta be better than nothing!

    Love this entry too! I’m really enjoying the pics & story telling.

    keep up the great work, and feel better!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/02  at  01:30 AM

  • Erik: Since the murders of Nepalese citizens in Iraq there have been protests & riots near Mosque in Katmandu .. Bottom Line just be careful there if you decide to go and leave the headscarves at home ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/02  at  06:16 PM

  • Beautiful pictures… but a marble boat? How does that one work?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/07  at  04:05 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
The Zoo Debate

Previous entry:
No Common Denominator


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