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May, 2010:

Mao and Me

What, did you think I *wasn’t* going to get a photo of me in an ironic t-shirt in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing? It seems a bit unrealistic, don’t you think? 😉

I assume his spirit felt honored by his likeness on my shirt.

Thanks once again to Threadless.com & the Communist Party.

Here I am looming over the massive Forbidden City from Jingshan Park, just to the north. Apparently my photographer has not mastered the concept of "Do not position person directly in front of relevant objects in photo"

Note the dour, gray, smoggy sky in photo above… Never though I would be missing the clear blue skies of Mexico City, but Mexico’s air quality is looking pretty good right now!!

A Visit to the Great Wall!

My time in Beijing has come to end (note: 3 days ago, but the blogging is a little delayed, folks). I am (was) typing this offline while sitting in the Beijing airport, with the distinction of being the earliest passenger to arrive for my 8AM flight. I’m unclear if the guy at my hotel has just been acclimated to Americans wanting to arrive 18 hours early for flights, but it took me a mere 40 minutes to get from my hotel room to sitting at the gate (coffee in hand). Now have 1:45 to kill.

This is the most alone I've been since arriving in China

Over the last couple days, I made it to the Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Forbidden City, and saw Tiananmen Square (but got lazy & didn’t wander around through it because it was hot hot hot and I was a sweaty dog). One notable change in my travel style over the years is a steadily decreasing sense of obligation to check the box on all the big tourist sites in a given place. I would much rather people-watch, hit some markets, explore a neighborhood vs. death march through every museum listed in Lonely Planet. (Though maybe this isn’t that much of a change—I still remember my mom’s horror when friend Leigh & I traveled to Florence and skipped the Uffizi gallery, thinking our time and money would be better spent on bread/cheese/wine at the local market.)

To that end, I spend about 1.5 hours yesterday afternoon sitting in a sidewalk café on the busy Wangfujing Dajie shopping street sipping a frosty glass of Tsing Tao and soaking in the masses walking by. It felt like watching my own Chinese TV show, with the occasional foreign extra making a brief appearance. Good stuff.

Speaking of people watching, I spotted this fashion emergency: pink shirt, shorts, blue patterned socks, and yellow shoes. He was also wearing some sort of beret. This is an instance where his girlfriend is not doing her job.

After debating a blog post entitled “I Went to Beijing and Didn’t See the Great Wall,” I capitulated Tuesday night and booked a Great Wall/Ming Tombs tour at the B&B I was staying at. I was a bit reluctant, since the itinerary outlined “tours” of the Jade Factory & Silk Museum (a.k.a. forced shopping periods where your guide gets a commission for each hapless tourist he drags through). However, this seemed to be the case with the majority of tour options & I lacked the time to find a superior option with sub-24 hour advanced planning. J (And I figured that since this was one of the few organized day tours I’ve ever done, I should really have the full bullshit tour experience.)

The tour itself lived up to expectations (low), but I will say it was worth it to see the Great Wall. The drive through the Chinese countryside/small villages was also interesting, as was our tour guide’s commentary on capitalism vs. communism. “Many businessmen are lucky. They make lots of money by being lucky. This is not good for the poor people. Here, it is better for the poor people.” Additionally, our tour bus driver performed an impressive number of slow passes on blind curves, accompanied by liberal honking at any elderly bicyclist who dared to stray into our path.

First stop was the Jade Factory. After a riveting explanation by our guide about the magic of jade, we were left to our own devices in hopes that we would drop some yuan on the outrageously priced jade items on display. Lessons learned/questions wondered:

  • Which Party official did these people piss off to get stuck in the Jade-making Zoo for the day?

You can almost hear the conversation between the two old men... "I wonder what they eat in their normal habitat"

  • Similarly, someone must have lost a bet to end up as the guy forced to do his work on the old-timey foot-pedal carving machine.

Three words: hates his life.

  • The Jade Factory can be very dangerous. For instance, I was attacked by this eagle:

This bird went straight for my jugular. It was touch and go for a while.

  • And THEN I got attacked by this jaguar (or perhaps jade-uar as they are known here):

I was barely able to wrench my wrist away from his death grip.

2nd stop: Ming Tombs. Or more like Ming Tomb, #13 to be exact, and the Underground Palace. Its primary redeeming features were its green, hilly setting:

The Ming Tombs offered a nice spot away from the thicky-settled air of Beijing.

And the amount of money that tourists have scattered around the coffin of the Emperor & his two wives:

With my long monkey arms, I was tempted to reach over the glass wall & yoink some of these bills, but I figured the emperor wouldn't appreciate that.

And these sweet elephant-chair tables, under the careful watch of the Chinese guard.

This is totally what our next dining room table/chair set is going to look like.

Next stop: lunch! Watered down Chinese fare, anyone?? The food was unremarkable, but did allow me the opportunity for my first non-Western bathroom experience.

What, did you think I was *NOT* going to put a photo of a Chinese toilet in here?? Luckily my squatting muscles have been well developed on the toilet-seat-free facilities of Mexico.

Finally, it was time for the main attraction, the Great Wall at Mutianyu (http://www.mutianyugreatwall.net/)!! I chose this spot for my Wall visit as it seemed to combine convenient location (45 miles outside of Beijing) with a reputation for not being *as* touristy/busy/swamped with obnoxious vendors (as Badaling), but not quite as hard core as the 4-hour hike between Jinshanling and Simatai (as I lacked appropriate footwear/sportswear). Plus, it has TWO cable cars, a selling point on which friend Todd tipped me off. Having no other data points on which to base a comparison, Mutianyu lived up to expectations—it was indeed a Great Wall, cool mountain-y setting, cable cars/ski lifts galore, a TOBOGGAN return trip option, and lacking mobs of people.

You can see the Great Wall in the distance from my ski lift perch.

And do you know how else I know that Mutianyu was the right choice? Because TONY HAWK was there too. With his posse. I mean, I’m not one to judge, but I feel like it’s getting a little awkward the way he’s following me all around China. First my international flight & now the same spot at the same tourist attraction on the same day and time…?? Coincidence?  I think not. 😉 Unfortunately he startled me coming out of a guard tower as he + posse were outbound & I was inbound, so all I managed to get were some paparazzi-esque photos of the back of his head & a profile that may or may not be him from a distance.

Red circle: Tony Hawk, carrying child. Yellow circle: one of Tony's posse who appears to be wearing a panda hat. Blue circle: fellow tourists who are more alert than I am on the quick-photo front. Green circle: possibly Tony's wife, who also did not plan well w/r/t proper footwear

The Enquirer is never going to hire me as a paparazzi at this rate.

It was drizzling a bit when we arrived at the wall, so the toboggan run was closed and we had to take the ski lift back down. Upon learning of this disappointment, I thought to myself, “My mom must have been doing a rain dance in Nebraska since she would die before supporting the idea of anyone riding this”:

How sad that we didn't get to rip down this thin metal pipe built into the Chinese mountainside.

Anyway, you’ll just have to trust me that it was cool, since my photos all suck due to the rainy/foggy weather.

It's meeee! At the Great Wall!!

Here I am with Great Wall post-rain or sweat... Let's assume rain. :)

Upon our return to the minibus, our guide informed us that it would be around a 2 hour drive back to Beijing with traffic, and since that is SUCH a long time period, their tour company requires the driver to get a rest. And where we would do that rest?? Why at the Silk “Museum”, of course!! It shouldn’t need to be said that I did not make any purchases. Rather, I was too busy feeling sorry for the girl whose job it is to pull silkworm pupae out of their silky little shells all day in front of gawking tourists, and then soak/stretch the silk over increasingly large bike locks. Woo hoo.

Handling bug carcasses all day? Un-sat.

Must run for now, but more to follow on Peking Duck! Talk soon kiddos!

My time in Beijing has come to end. I am typing this offline while sitting in the Beijing airport, with the distinction of being the earliest passenger to arrive for my 8AM flight. I’m unclear if the guy at my hotel has just been acclimated to Americans wanting to arrive 18 hours early for flights, but it took me a mere 40 minutes to get from my hotel room to sitting at the gate (coffee in hand). Now have 1:45 to kill.

Over the last couple days, I made it to the Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Forbidden City, and saw Tiananmen Square (but got lazy & didn’t wander around through it because it was hot hot hot yesterday and I was a sweaty dog). One notable change in my travel style over the years is a steadily decreasing sense of obligation to check the box on all the big tourist sites in a given place. I would much rather people-watch, hit some markets, explore a neighborhood vs. death march through every museum listed in Lonely Planet. (Though maybe this isn’t that much of a change—I still remember my mom’s horror when friend Leigh & I traveled to Florence and skipped the Uffizi gallery, thinking our time and money would be better spent on bread/cheese/wine at the local market.)

To that end, I spend about 1.5 hours yesterday afternoon sitting in a sidewalk café on the busy Wangfujing Dajie shopping street sipping a frosty glass of Tsing Tao and soaking in the masses walking by. It felt like watching my own Chinese TV show, with the occasional foreign extra making a brief appearance. Good stuff.

è Pic: fashion emergency

After debating a blog post entitled “I Went to Beijing and Didn’t See the Great Wall,” I capitulated Tuesday night and booked a Great Wall/Ming Tombs tour at the B&B I was staying at. I was a bit reluctant, since the itinerary outlined “tours” of the Jade Factory & Silk Museum (a.k.a. forced shopping periods where your guide gets a commission for each hapless tourist he drags through). However, this seemed to be the case with the majority of tour options & I lacked the time to find a superior option with sub-24 hour advanced planning. J (And I figured that since this was one of the few organized day tours I’ve ever done, I should really have the full bullshit tour experience.)

The tour itself lived up to expectations (low), but I will say it was worth it to see the Great Wall. The drive through the Chinese countryside/small villages was also interesting, as was our tour guide’s commentary on capitalism vs. communism. “Many businessmen are lucky. They make lots of money by being lucky. This is not good for the poor people. Here, it is better for the poor people.” Additionally, our tour bus driver performed an impressive number of slow passes on blind curves, accompanied by liberal honking at any elderly bicyclist who dared to stray into our path.

First stop was the Jade Factory. After a riveting explanation by our guide about the magic of jade, we were left to our own devices in hopes that we would drop some yuan on the outrageously priced jade items on display. Lessons learned/questions wondered:

· Which Party official did these people piss off to get stuck in the Jade-making Zoo for the day?

è PIC jade zoo

· Similarly, someone must have lost a bet to end up as the guy forced to do his work on the old-timey foot-pedal carving machine.

è PIC old timey

· The Jade Factory can be very dangerous. For instance, I was attacked by this eagle:

è PIC eagle

· And THEN I got attacked by this jaguar (or as jade-uar as they are known here):

è PIC tiger

2nd stop: Ming Tombs. Or more like Ming Tomb, #13 to be exact, and the Underground Palace. Its primary redeeming feature was its green, hilly setting:

è PIC mingtomboutside

And the amount of money that tourists have scattered around the coffin of the Emperor & his two wives.

è PIC insidetomb

Next stop: lunch! Watered down Chinese fare, anyone?? The food was unremarkable, but did allow me the opportunity for my first non-Western bathroom experience.

è Bathroom

Finally, it was time for the main attraction, the Great Wall at Mutianyu (http://www.mutianyugreatwall.net/)!! I chose this spot for my Wall visit as it seemed to combine convenient location (45 miles outside of Beijing) with a reputation for not being *as* touristy/busy/swamped with obnoxious vendors (as Badaling), but not quite as hard core as the 4-hour hike between Jinshanling and Simatai (as I lacked appropriate footwear/sportswear). Plus, it has TWO cable cars, a selling point on which friend Todd tipped me off. Having no other data points on which to base a comparison, Mutianyu lived up to expectations—it was indeed a Great Wall, cool mountain-y setting, cable cars/ski lifts galore, a TOBOGGAN return trip option, and lacking mobs of people.

And do you know how else I know that Mutianyu was the right choice? Because TONY HAWK was there too. With his posse. I mean, I’m not one to judge, but I feel like it’s getting a little awkward the way he’s following me all around China. First my international flight & now the same spot at the same tourist attraction on the same day and time…?? Coincidence? I think not. 😉 Unfortunately he startled me coming out of a guard tower as he + posse were outbound & I was inbound, so all I managed to get were some paparazzi-esque photos of the back of his head & a profile that may or may not be him from a distance.

It was drizzling a bit when we arrived at the wall, so the toboggan run was closed and we had to take the ski lift back down. Upon learning of this disappointment, I thought to myself, “My mom must have been doing a rain dance in Nebraska since she would die before supporting the idea of anyone riding this”:

Anyway, you’ll just have to trust me that it was cool, since my photos all suck due to the rainy/foggy weather.

Upon our return to the minibus, our guide informed us that it would be around a 2 hour drive back to Beijing with traffic, and since that is SUCH a long time period, their tour company requires the drive to get a rest. And where we would do that rest?? Why at the Silk “Museum”, of course!! It shouldn’t need to be said that I did not make any purchases. Rather, I was too busy feeling sorry for the girl whose job it is to pull silkworm pupae out of their silky little shells all day in front of gawking tourists, and then soak/stretch the silk over increasingly large bike locks. Woo hoo.

Hello from China!

Despite what you may think, a lot has happened since BurroFest ’10. First off, I am DONE WITH MY LAST FINAL EXAM EVER!! This past Friday & Saturday (May 8-9) brought about the last weekend of my 2-year, bi-weekly MBA program, with 3 long-awaited final exams. I still owe y’all a snapshot of what an average weekend was like at my Thunderbird/ITESM program, but for now you’ll have to live with this image:

Campus Santa Fe's Global MBA Class of 2010, posing like the rockstars that we are.

On Saturday evening, a few of my ambitious classmates coordinated a fantastic fiesta at a party room somewhere in Santa Fe, which brought together students from all 3 campuses in Mexico City. I will admit to being a bit skeptical of how much fun I was going to have talking in Spanish for several hours after taking two exams on Saturday & running on minimal sleep…(since exhausted + Spanish chatter = even more exhausted) BUT, I am happy to say, I was wrong & the party was a wild success!!

I mean, how could a party with drinks like these *NOT* be a success??

There was a DJ, loads of drinks, tacos de guisados, dancing, karaoke, AND mariachis– what could go wrong?? One of many highlights included the opportunity to sing Celos with a select group of my female cohorts. 😉 One of the lowlights was being pressured to sing El Rey after the official karaoke portion of the evening had ended (read as: without lyrics displayed on the wall) and realizing how few words I actually know when put under the gun.

After a brief recovery/packing period, I was off to the airport Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn to finally make my trek to China!! (Recall last year’s swine flu debacle & fallout.) I spent merely 8,000 hours on two flights with my knees jammed into someone’s seat-back, trying to prevent any further reclining into my lap. The monotony was broken up briefly on the SFO->PEK flight by spotting fellow passenger Tony Hawk, and discovering that the girl next to me is doing a masters in statistics at the University of NEBRASKA!! (Hi Jinglei!) What are the odds?? :)

What?!??! NO! This is NOT the first place I went, or a place I intend to go. After all, I have to save up all my Mexican cravings for when I get to Shanghai (ask me later about the agenda for our MBA interim...) :

My first day and a half in Beijing have been excellent, liberally sprinkled with eating amazing food. I’m sure you could have guessed that the first place I went is shown in the picture at right. I’ll be here through Sunday AM, when I head to Shanghai to meet up with the MBA crew for the actual week-long  interim. Then, off to Hong Kong from the 22nd -> 27th to round out my whirlwind tour of China’s biggest cities. (Would have loved to stay longer, but graduation week in Arizona beckons beginning May 30th!)

Tomorrow I am off on the requisite Great Wall tour, so I must head to bed to ward off the ever-lurking jet lag. But first, I’d like to share with you a few of the lessons I’ve learned in the brief period of time I’ve been here.

  1. If a taxi driver runs into a biker while gaping at you from his car, the best course of action is to walk away quickly as soon as you observe that the biker is not injured.
  2. In normal parts of town, Chinese people are either a) not as fascinated by my height/hair color as Mexicans are, or b) just as fascinated as Mexicans but since I can’t understand anything, I don’t realize they’re all calling me “shorty”/”chaparrita” behind my back.
  3. Lesson 2 does not apply at tourist sites.
  4. At tourist sites, if you allow one bold, daring Chinese person to take a photo with you, this action is the equivalent of ringing a “come to prayer” bell for all the meek Chinese tourists nearby who have secretly been dying for a photo with you. As soon as Photo #1 ensues, you will be instantly surrounded a zillion petite Chinese women and their cameras.
  5. The Beijing subway system is the one of the first subways I’ve been on where it is actually obvious what station you’re approaching/at.

    Love this lite-up Beijing subway map. The light turns green to signify which station you're going towards.

  6. Each time you see a wet puddle in your path, ask yourself the following questions: Did it rain recently? Was someone using a garden hose nearby? Is there a plausible sanitary source for that wet puddle? If the answer to all of those is “no”, you are probably encountering a spot where a mother just made her 3-year-old child pull down his pants and squat on the middle of a sidewalk in a major tourist site. Consider avoiding it.
  7. Despite Spanish being the only foreign language you know, responding to all Chinese queries in Spanish is really not effective. Even less effective than responding in English. Try to wean yourself from claro, baño, si and gracias, even though your pronunciation of their Mandarin equivalents sounds like a cat vomiting.
  8. Obsessively researching restaurants online & in free local expat mags is totally worth it when you end up eating meals like these:

These "Bridge Spicy Spare Ribs" from Karaiya Spice House were amazing. I was slightly embarassed when this massive plate was plopped down in front of me...

The embarrassment slipped away after I realized you could pick the meat off the bone with chopsticks. Soooo tasty...

Speaking of slight embarrassment, here's a shot of the mountain of food at my very first meal in Beijing (at Dali Courtyard). When they said a set menu of 8 courses, I thought they'd all be wee little dishes of 2-3 bites each. Instead, they were like 20 bites each. This was taken right before I gave up because I was stuffed. :)

9. Apparently all countries have something like the Panini World Cup Sticker Album. Instead of soccer players, though, they may just have emperors/dignitaries of ancient China. (the venue stickers still hold, though.)

I wonder if MBA students trade these stickers in China??

10. That whole thing about “China blocking Facebook” is in fact true. And Twitter. And several blogs I enjoy. So this will be the lone venue for riveting Julie-updates for the next couple weeks. 😉  Frank/Joy/Leah– FYI that your blogs appear to not meet Party standards. Lesley– you seem to be in the clear; good job on your support for communism. :)

More to come soon! Zai jian!

  1. adsfas

New Trendy Wine Store in Polanco: Bacus

A cute little wine store recently opened up about a block from our apartment in Polanco. It’s called Bacus, and this is their 3rd site so far in Mexico City (other two in Del Valle and Satelite). Knowing that having a wine source so close could cause problems for both our budget + my level of alcohol intake, I was initially resistant to visit. My resolve to avoid Bacus lasted all of about 5 days, and then John & I stopped in last week to check it out. :)

From the outside, the decor looked promising:

I do love a trendy font & logo, and the crazy purply-greeny vine motif is a nice touch.

We entered the store, and were promptly greeted by a cheery woman behind the counter. I think she may be the sommelier of the Polanco store. She was very friendly & quickly offered us an overview of Bacus’s offerings– shelves of wine with descriptions & food pairing recommendations, a membership program that gives you discounts on wine + access to tastings held at the store (almost always free to members + a guest), a wine-tasting dispenser area that members can use, and a few sneaky bottles of mezcal lurking around. She offered us a taste of the options in the dispenser (a contraption like this), chatted with us a bit about the two wines we sampled, and left us to assess our options.

John & I have been slightly challenged on the wine front here in Mexico, given that we had a fairly strict “Nothing Over $10” policy when shopping for wine back in the US. I wouldn’t call either of us wine “experts’, but we are fans. Over time we determined that there are a lot of great wine options out there for <$10 USD for those of us in the “fan” category, which also enables you to pop open a bottle with greater regularity (vs. saving expensive wines for a special occasion).

Our experience in Mexico, however, has been that it’s a lot harder to find something good in the <$120-$130 peso range. My impression is that taxes/import duties/distribution system challenges/bribes keep prices on the higher side. While there are plenty of Mexican wines available (and many quite nice!), my experience has been that cheap wines from Mexico are…well, cheap. And crappy. (I welcome evidence to the contrary.)  :)

So back to Bacus– I was pleased to see that despite having a store about the size of my bedroom, they stock a variety of price points. We saw at least a handful priced at around $100 pesos, plenty in the $200-300 ballpark, and then on up from there (but nothing too over the top).  John & I departed the store with 3 whites in the $100-something peso range + my very own Club Bacus card. I think the Club membership cost around $200 pesos (need to double-check), which we felt was worth it to support an amusing new local business, if nothing else.

To solidify my Club Bacus bonds, I began e-stalking them on Facebook & Twitter; this alerted me to our first tasting opportunity last nite. Although I should have been studying for finals, the midwesterner in me felt that we should work on getting some ROI from our membership investment. Also, I was curious where they were going to put 16 people for a wine tasting inside this wee store.

Bacus's flyer on Facebook alerting us to a wine tasting last nite.

Upon arrival, we discovered that Bacus has a secret courtyard behind the store, where they had folding chairs set up on a bed of small white rocks, accented by a makeshift fountain (read as: PVC pipe pouring into a shallow pool of water) and mood lighting. It was cute. :)  The tasting leader was a guy who imports Italian wines, & he talked us through the 3 wines we tried. You always run the risk with wine people that they will be overly snobby/condescending when you are unable to taste the grass/persimmon/soybean/elephant-breath flavors that they claim are in the wine you’re drinking. But this Wine Dude was actually normal, friendly, and used words that I had at least a chance of identifying (i.e. durazno– peach). Our favorite turned out to be a type called Vernaccia, which I’d never heard of. It was nice & sharp/acidic. Between each wine, we were offered a different type of homemade bread to cleanse our palates. You know how this girl likes bread, so that further endeared Bacus to me.

I was also amused by the Wine Dude’s discussion about how no one in Mexico drinks white wine– almost everything is vino tinto (red wine) here.  It’s true– you’ll see restaurant menus that have 60 bottles of red wine and 3 whites; it is rather odd. Anyway, he made a valiant effort to sex up the idea of drinking cold white wines during the hot summer, and talked about how Mexicans need to try a variety of white wines to get used to the acidity that should be inherent in a white wine. He made the analogy that drinking a white wine without any acidity is like eating a chile without any spice (“Es como un chile sin pica”). I think Mexico is the only place you will hear that parallel drawn during wine education. :)

We ended up purchasing a couple bottles of this mysterious Vernaccia wine, despite it slightly exceeding our $10 USD target price. :) The same woman was behind the counter, and she remembered my name & inquired as to how we liked the wine we purchased last week. While her actions may seem minor, let me assure you that normal customer service here in Mexico is usually so awkward/anonymous/stalking-esque that both John & I walked away from Bacus discussing how nice she was, pleasant to interact with, and does her job well.

So long story long, I am excited to see a new local shop that seems to have its sh*t together & is successful enough to open its 3rd location. If you live in Polanco/Satelite/Del Valle, it’s worth stopping by Bacus to suss it out & consider joining the club. Support your local winos, people, and help Mexico discover a world beyond Corona/Sol/Pacifico!  😉

What is the Best Festival EVER in Mexico? Ask the burros!!

Let me start by saying: Feria Nacional del Burro 2010 *exceeded* our expectations. Get ready for some heavy photo coverage, folks. :) As I mentioned on Thursday, I’d gotten wind of this Burro Festival on Twitter, and after seeing how witty their website was, I had no choice but to go. Besides, having a fond place in my heart for all farm-animals, I felt that the donkey should get its day in the sun.

And oh, how it did. We rolled into Otumba at 10:15AM this morning, after about an hour-and-15-minute drive from the middle of Mexico City. Lacking a detailed map of the Burro Festival, we were hopeful that it would become obvious where to go/park/walk, etc.  Otumba had most of the main street leading into the Zocalo blocked off & lined seductively with food/beer stands and assorted vendors, so we abandoned ship in the nearby parking lot (for $30 pesos) & began exploring!

I was able to find some burro ears in time to watch the race as one of the true, committed fans. :)

First observation: numerous people were wearing burro ears, a burro visor, or burro hat. I instantly committed to myself that I would join this elite echelon as soon as an ear vendor was spotted. We slowly perused the merchandise while arriving in the heart of the action just in time to see the start of the Parade of Decorated Burros. I was kind of expecting donkeys wearing a hat or a cape or something lame-o. Um, no: these costumes were not screwing around. Some of my favorites follow:

This construction worker burro was well-adorned with tools, though the beers & bottle of liquor were a nice touch.

Sign reads "We join the gay family-- Ricky Marty." (Unclear if they meant Ricky Martin or if Marty was intentional.) Please note the pink eyelashes.

Emiliano Zapata, complete with pistol attached to side of business trousers + shoes.

One of my favorites, the Tourist Burro. Note that his fur has been painted white, he is wearing sneakers, he has blond hair, a sun visor, a camera dangling from his neck, and a cell phone hanging off his shorts. Brilliant.

Miguel Hidalgo's burro replica. Best part of this, besides the white wig he's wearing & the Virgen poster reading "Viva Guadalupe"? The little kid walking alongside wearing a fake mustache.

Uh, a "Zebra and Peacock". Led by the donkey from Shrek. Don't ask questions, people.

This one was slightly horrifying, but innovative nonetheless. You can't see "Burricornio's" full horn, but just trust me that he is a Unicorn Burro. (or at least that is how I prefer to think of him, rather than a donkey who's been tarred and feathered. After all, I'm sure that glue is organic?)

Happily-wedded burros. I just liked the expression on the face of the right burro. But maybe that's just the effect of her wig & lipstick. Yes, that's right: lipstick.

Can I just say-- that is a bigggg man who was wearing those jeans before this burro was.

After the parade ended, we were a little unclear as to what was next on the agenda (since surprisingly, things didn’t appear to be adhering tightly to the schedule we’d printed off the website). So we did some shopping to kill time.

Yes! You can get a burro-shaped keychain with (assumably) burro fur on it AND your name engraved on the back so you don't lose it-- all for only $10 pesos!! (aka ~80 cents)

Visiting co-worker Tim purchased this sweet burro visor with Otumba emblazoned on each ear.

We also saw this man selling a "lesser" burro ear visor during the parade. (You can see the Pippi Longstocking burro in the background.)

For the more artistically inclined, burro wall decor was also available for sale.

Of course it wouldn't be Mexico if the guest of honor's likeness was not made into a piñata.

I'm not even really sure what this dangling head is promoting, but I just want to point out that John totally initiated this photo on his own-- no peer pressuring was involved on this one (for a change).

Finally, we heard an alert that it was time for the Burro Races!! This was confirmed when we observed the stringing of suuuuper strong yellow rope in front of the spectators who were lining the street around the zocalo. We noted with a mixture of amusement and concern how it was virtually impossible that a burro could penetrate this impressive barrier:

Burro Rope Barricade: another excellent "what could go wrong" example. Also note the two children wearing donkey tails.

We managed to squeeze ourselves in among the throngs of spectators in a spot along the straightaway. This seemed safer than near the 90-degree corners the burros would be required to maneuver 4 times to go around the entire zocalo.

Earlier, we captured this photo of the bleachers surrounding the start/finish of the burro race. As you can see, one must arrive early to get the premier seats for the festivities.

One of the race contestants storms down the straightaway, "riding crop" in hand.

This dude is *barely* hanging on to the rear of this burro. We didn't have a clear line of sight, but we're pretty sure he fell off while trying to make the 90-degree turn at full gallop.

After watching a few heats of the races, we wandered through the courtyard surrounding the large church just off the zocalo. The courtyard had some impressive topiaries.

Pigeon and Burrogirl. Still life, circa 2010.

This got us inspired to take our photo with real, live animals.

This un-manned donkey was a safe bet for a free photo to capture the theme of the day.

John had to pay for a photo with Mr. Brahma Bull, but it was well worth it. This guy was massive.

Emily also got in on the Brahma excitement.

After the burro-viewing & photo opps, we debated whether to participate in any of the carnival rides.

This one was simply too depressing. Poor horsies get their noses put to the grindstone while their burro brethren are off being lauded & cooed over.

Although this "Giant Claw of Death" ride looked exciting....

.... I saw one too many ride structures jacked up on pieces of wood (many less stable-looking than this) to manage to convince myself to jump on.

Finally, it was time for some lunch. Luckily, there was no shortage of establishments to choose from that were busily pumping out amazing grilled meat smells.

We plopped down at some street stall, and ended up with this amazing array of chicken, rabbit, goat, guac, onions, salsas and beers on our table. Everything was fantastic.

While we were eating, we flagged down this passing vendor selling these "I love Otumba" t-shirts. John translated the t-shirt as "I love ass", but the rest of us disagreed. Our group of 4 people purchased 6 shirts in total. :)

Recall my previous "rabbits: from playmate to plate" comment? Well, here are a few examples a bit closer to the "plate" side of the equation.

There was no shortage of pulque drinking opportunities at the Festival...

Including this pulque offering from the back of an SUV!

At this point, we felt like we’d seen the bulk of what we’d come to see. We also felt we’d injected as much of a financial boost to Otumba as possible, each of us having purchased no fewer than probably 6 items between food/beverages/souvenirs. It was time to leave our friends, the burros of Otumba, and return to Mexico City.

On the way out, we made a quick pitstop to snag a Pigcajete that we’d seen on the drive in but clearly couldn’t stop for at that point (and risk missing the fashion show?? I think not!). Pigcajetes, for those of you not in the know, are molcajetes shaped like pigs.

These stacks of Pigcajetes on the side of the road were a principle buy if I ever saw one.

Upon our arrival home, we realized we’d purchased a slightly awkward number of burro-themed items.

Our proud purchases: burro keychains, burro ears, Pigcajete, I love Otumba/ass t-shirt, BurroFest shot glass, and two hats that fold up flat.

In summary, the Feria Nacional del Burro was a wild success. Possibly one of the most entertaining celebrations I’ve been to in our two years in Mexico. John even agreed that it ranked highly, and that’s saying something. Definitely mark your calendars for next year’s Mexican Labor Day (May 1st), which should keep you apprised of the 2011 festival. In fact that day was chosen specifically to recognize the burros who do all the hard work for the rest of us! And I’d like to give a special shout-out to the town of Otumba in Estado de Mexico for putting together quite the array of burro-oriented activities, carnival rides, unique shopping, food & drink. Way to go Otumba, and way to go burros. :)

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