Vicky Collins Online

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The Chinese Scam I Almost Fell For

It’s amazing the lengths people will go to to rip others off.  I recently was contacted by a Mr. Dehua from Henan Yu Xin International Co. Ltd. in Zhengzhou, China.  He emailed to say that his company was making a 20 episode series of 25 minute documentaries in HD for television broadcast.  The intention was to enlighten the Chinese audience about America’s history, economy, culture and tourism.  At first I was a bit skeptical.  How did he find me?  Was it because I did a documentary length piece on Chinese influence in the Caribbean for Dan Rather Reports?  Was it because I spent three months in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics?  Did I impress someone along the way who referred me?  I emailed him back.  He followed up with the project information.  It was in detail and he clearly understood the logistics of production.  He also informed me that they would pay $50,000 to $60,000 US per episode.  The project was a dream come true with a budget that would allow us to produce excellent television.  It kept me up at night thinking of ideas that I would bring to the Chinese and people I would collaborate with.  I worked out a production schedule and sent him off my ideas.  He said “I am so happy that we have a so good beginning.”  Today as I was looking for more information I came across this warning from a production company in Munich, Germany.

Thanks to the internet and the experience of the production company in Munich I was saved from going any further down this scheming road.  I am now posting this as a cautionary tale to warn fellow producers and production companies.  The scam which first swept through Germany and Italy and other European countries has now reached American shores.  I guess if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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The Camel and the Cell Phone

Andres from Switzerland, his girlfriend, Paola from Brazil and I were riding on camels in the Thar Desert outside of the western Indian town of Jaisalmer. We were in a spot as remote as I’ve ever been, 21 hours by train from Delhi, just 60 kilometers from the border with Pakistan. It’s a flat, arid locale, punctuated by sand dunes and populated by only villagers, camel wallas and shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats. To me it was a place that time forgot, more like the Middle East than India. It probably hasn’t changed much at all in a thousand years. I felt like a silk or spice trader heading west into the desert. I was deep into my reverie on a camel named Michael when suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the Nokia ringtone. Dadadadadadadadadadadadada. It seemed our guide, Ali, was a very popular man. For the entire camel safari his cell phone rang. It rang on the sand dunes, it rang under the tree where we stopped to have our vegetables and chapati lunch, it rang at sundown while we were drinking our beer. It rang after we went to bed under the stars and it was the first sound I heard at sunrise. The Nokia ringtone, piercing the tranquility of the desert.


Ali and his cell phone


The Lonely Planet guide book said the power generating wind turbines that have sprouted around Jaisalmer were altering the historic and mystical qualities of the area, that they made it harder to transport yourself to another time and place. But I barely noticed them. I found it was Ali’s cell phone that kept me coming back to now. I had a similar experience while working at the Olympics in Beijing. Dean, Jim and I took a day trip to hike the Great Wall of China. We climbed in Hebei Province, in Inner Mongolia, about two and a half hours outside of Beijing. We took a 10 kilometer trek from Jinshanling to Sumatai. Up and down stairsteps in a place far out of the way. Yet there was cell service. No place this remote would be served by AT&T in the U.S.A. My colleague, Jim, who probably shouldn’t have been on the adventure because he was so busy with his Olympic assignment as the head technical supervisor of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, spent the entire trip talking on his cell phone. I have no idea how he managed to catch his breath as he scrambled up and down the mountainside. It was truly the most difficult physical challenge of my life, yet he yakked the whole way on his mobile.

We have gotten to a place where we are so interconnected that you can no longer escape, even in some of the most remote spots on earth. While in India I have stayed in touch with friends by Skype, email and Facebook. I tuned in to an computer chat on that my friend, Kerry Sanders, a correspondent for NBC News, was holding as he covered the rescue of the miners from Chile. There was really no update from family, friends and colleagues that was inaccessible to me from a half a world away. And even though I am grateful for all the technology and connectedness at my fingertips, and understand the need of the camel walla to stay in touch with his people when he travels through the desert too, I still wish the only sounds that day were my thoughts, the wind and the camels, and not Ali’s incessant Nokia ringtone.

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Delhi’s Commonwealth Games Face

When I came to Delhi in 2008 I remember the palpable culture shock.  It was overwhelming even for a rather intrepid traveler.  I had been in Beijing and Uganda earlier in the year so I thought I would be prepared for anything, but nothing I had ever experienced set me up for India.  On the roadway from the airport cows roamed the street.  The traffic was indescribable and everyone honked their horns. There were thousands of stray dogs loafing in the sun, then at night they would roam in hungry packs and turn aggressive.  Squatters camped along the roadways and children would race up to your car when you were stopped at intersections to beg or perform little tricks in hopes of a handout.  It took me about 24 hours to adjust and I still am ashamed of my ugly American moment when I couldn’t get the hot water to work.

Two years later, I see a different city.  For all the international ridicule Delhi suffered as it ramped up to the Commonwealth Games, the Indian capitol definitely has on its game face now.  The cows and dogs have been relocated for the time being to shelters.  There are few squatters and I haven’t seen one beggar yet.  Traffic is moving well and things are clean and tidy.  It remains to be seen what it will be like in three months when the international spotlight turns away (I still wonder how Beijing transformed once the Olympics were over.)  Of course Delhi will be left with the emotional and financial hangover these huge international sporting events leave behind, but for the moment, it is a new day in Delhi.  The only thing that hasn’t changed is the warmth of the people.  That is the same as it was in 2008.  Warm smiles and namastes.  Great hospitality to cure the worst case of culture shock.

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Olympics: Canada Style

I walked out of my hotel room in Vancouver this morning to see a flock of seagulls squacking their heads off.  That’s the most noise I’ve heard since I arrived in Canada.  Toto, we’re not in Beijing anymore.  In 2008, with the Olympic Games a week and a half away, the city was buzzing with anticipation and chaotic with last minute preparations.  Thousands of people were planting flowers, cleaning up and security was fierce.  Here in Vancouver it is so calm and low key you hardly know it will soon be the center of the universe.  There are some banners, new buildings and infrastructure improvements but you don’t sense that Canada’s place in the world hangs on these games.  I’ve been asking around and people tell me that’s just how it is in British Columbia.  People are pretty relaxed and take things in stride.  Even the security is laid back.  Police greet you with friendly smiles.  Maybe it’s because there aren’t that many media, athletes or guests here yet, or maybe folks are being polite and deferential to those who felt the money could be better spent.  Or maybe it’s just that the only thing Canadians get really worked up about is sport.  As one young woman told me, “I’ll get excited for the men’s hockey.”

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Greyhound Bus to Vancouver

This blog was born so that I could post to my friends, family and anyone else interested from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Now on the eve of 2010 Olympics, as I prepare to board an airplane for British Columbia, I find myself blogging again and reflecting on the only other time I was in Vancouver. I was 10 years old and my great uncle Jacques, who lived in Canada, was getting married. My great grandmother, Daisy Peraya, would not fly on a plane so four generations boarded a Greyhound Bus in Long Beach, California and spent the next 36 hours heading up the coast to Vancouver.

I am certain that this is where the seeds of my wanderlust were planted. I loved looking out the windows at the rugged coast and pulling into Oregon and Washington bus stations at 3 in the morning.  I was mesmerized by the people along the way with character written on their faces and smoke coming out of their mouths.  More than anything else I loved talking to the teenage girls in the back row. They regaled me with the stories about running away, sex, boyfriends and bad behavior. I was flattered that they would tell me secrets only older kids knew.  I aspired to be free just like them. 

I don’t really remember much about the wedding. My most vivid memory of Vancouver was going with a 17 year old distant relative/hottie named Boris to the Pacific National Exhibition. The PNE was a huge provincial fair and I developed the biggest crush on Boris as we were hurtling down the largest roller coaster I had ever dared to ride.   I literally “fell” in love.  I’m certain the Olympics in Vancouver will be another great adventure and I will do my best to share them on this blog.

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Vacation in Afghanistan

One year ago I was in Beijing, China for a three month gig working at the Olympics.  In November 2008 I headed to Kampala, Uganda again to do more television production work for BeadforLife ( then immediately after a quick trip to Delhi, India for a wedding.  No exotic destinations this summer but I’m hungry for an overseas trip.  I’m already thinking about what to do for our 25th wedding anniversary in 2010.  Saw this article about vacationing in Afghanistan.  The land mines will be cleared out by October.  Bamiyan seems like the place for an intrepid traveler to be.

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The Truth About China

The truth, my friend Song and I agreed, is somewhere in between.  When people see things from completely different points of view, more than likely the reality lies in the middle.  Song and I were having lunch towards the end of the Olympics in the International Broadcast Centre cafeteria and I asked her what she planned to do after the games ended.  She said she’d like to return to Europe and travel around for a while.  Maybe visit Serbia and Montenegro this time.


     “You should come to America?”

     “Oh no, not America.”

     “Why not?”

     “I’m scared.”


Turns out since Song was a small girl she was told negative things about America that cloud her view to this day.  I explained that the United States was not what she imagined, that it is diverse and she would be safe and welcomed warmly by Americans.  Song has been out of China before.  She received her Masters Degree in England and mentioned that as she got acquainted with her new classmates she was surprised that Westerners were not as she had been led to believe growing up.  She found it all quite confusing and wondered if she had somehow been misled.  I explained that if she visited America her experience would probably be very similar to that.    


In the end China was not how I imagined it would be.  It is a fascinating, welcoming land with friendly, mostly content people.  They work hard and enjoy life.  Most in Beijing share in China’s prosperity and get along fine with the government.  Many think the laws of the country are sensible.  Confucious teaches obedience and it is embraced by the Chinese people.  I was even surprised to know that some young Chinese are not willing to judge their leaders and recent history.  It’s not because they are afraid but because they believe it is too new for them to have the perspective that comes with time.


During the closing ceremony as the IOC’s Jacques Rogge complimented China on “exceptional games” he said, “through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world.”  Hopefully that will be the enduring legacy of this time in Chinese history.  The door will open a bit wider. 


Now as I sit home and reflect on the adventure I had I find myself missing China very much.  I miss the yin and yang of the old China and new China.  I miss evenings hanging out on the rooftops in the hutongs drinking Tsingtao beer with Chinese and Western friends.  I miss walking down busy Beijing boulevards and seeing shops and lanterns and so many people coming and going on foot and bicycles.  I miss tai chi in Behai Park.  But mostly I miss Jack and Eir and Ming and Song and Sophie and Lynn and Matt and all the laughs.  I especially miss the immersion into another culture and the opportunity to really see a country through the eyes of someone who lives there.  One learns that despite what they’ve heard, the truth is somewhere in between.


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Olympic Countdown

The Olympic Games are less than three weeks away and Beijing is spiffing up.  When you have a workforce of over a billion people you can get lots done in a short time.  Every day the city transforms itself more and more.  Signage has gone up from one end of town to the other.  You drive over logos in special Olympic lanes, see Fuwas and banners flapping in the wind and pass huge floral displays that have been planted at major intersections.  You can not turn around without being reminded the Olympics are coming.  There are so many people cleaning, planting flowers and scurrying about to get the city ready.  The air is even clearer and this coming week traffic will lighten up as odd/even license plate restrictions keep half the cars off the road. 

Days are busy indeed, but at night Beijing slows down and that is my favorite time.  I love to walk about in the evening.  In my neighborhood, women gather together on benches to visit and fan themselves.  Men with their shirts rolled up to show their exposed bellies sit around, smoke and play board games.  Stylish young couples fill restaurants and children hang out with their grandparents in the alleys around their homes.  Squat legged dogs putter about and now and then you come across a litter of puppies.  One of my favorite scenes is the many people who show up every night outside the Outback Steakhouse near Worker’s Stadium for ballroom dancing.  The whole world seems to come to the street.  It’s an Olympic city for sure but it is still very much Beijing and those who are coming to see it are in for a treat.

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Ginger and the Great Wall

There were two places on my must see list on this journey to China and this past weekend in an Olympic sightseeing marathon I visited both.  On Saturday friends and I flew to Xian for a whirlwind day trip to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and on Sunday three of us visited the Great Wall of China.  The Terra Cotta Warriors are amazing to ponder.  What compelled some Chinese royal to create such an army in the first place?  Did he really believe the soldiers, generals, archers and horses could help him rule in the afterlife?  And what would drive an invading army to pillage and burn such a spectacular treasure?  Were they not in awe like I was?  Archaeologists have done a brilliant job restoring the ancient warriors, and continue their work to this day, but answers to these questions still escape me.



As incredible as they are I’m not writing about the Terra Cotta Warriors.  I’m writing about the Great Wall.  We chose to visit a fairly remote section between Jingshanling and Sumatai after it was recommended by intrepid colleagues.  They said it was the most spectacular section and far less crowded than the areas at Badaling and Mutainyu that are packed with tourists and closer to Beijing.  They warned us though that it was a difficult hike with lots of steep sections going up and many areas where the wall is crumbling and difficult to descend.  It was an understatement.



It’s a two hour drive from Beijing to the spot in Inner Mongolia where we would embark on our ten kilometer hike.  As we entered Hebei province and the wall started to reveal itself in the distance a hush fell over the car.  The wall snaked its way up and down high green mountains and we all were quietly thinking this might be more than we could handle.  I suppose there are hundreds of reasons to talk yourself out of making this trip but if you muster the courage it will be one of the most memorable things you do in China.  Our driver left for Sumatai.  We had no choice but to proceed.



As we set off on the rugged wall in Jingshanling, a group of Mongolian farm women fell in step with us.  They had tsotchkes for sale and as we hiked they engaged us in conversation.  “Where are you from?  How long have you been in China?  Are you family?  Do you have children?” We really didn’t want them along.  It was an uneasy arrangement.  You don’t come to a place this remote to be hustled but as I struggled with one of the most challenging physical feats I’ve ever attempted, Ginger was by my side.  She coached me, told me to watch my step and walk slowly.  After 103 huge steps straight up, when I could hear my heart pound in my head and could barely breathe, she offered me a hand to help me up.  When she sensed I needed a break she would wait, and when she thought I could go on she would move again.  When I finally got up to the tower she would fan me in the shade.  “You are almost at the top,” Ginger would say.  “Keep going.”


At the halfway point as we crossed back into Beijing province Ginger had to leave.  I bought a t-shirt, some bookmarks and a bottle of water.  Another woman picked up where Ginger left off and walked towards Sumatai with me.  “Where are you from?  How old are you?  Do you have children?  I have twins.”  Before she headed down a trail to her farm I bought some bracelets from her.  Somewhere on the border of Hebei and Beijing provinces I pushed through the pain and found myself in a state of grace.  It occurred to me that we are all walking alongside each other on this journey.  You support me, I support you and we both come away feeling whole.  A short while later I made the final push to the top in Sumatai and rode a zip line down to the parking lot.  I felt powerful like a warrior.            

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Hen hao (very good) taxi ride

Mr. Li gets the good Olympic citizen award.  I left my new Nike sweatshirt in his taxi following a ride to the Emperor Hotel.  After a couple days of searching my Chinese colleague tracked him down and learned he had delivered the item to the hotel thinking I was a guest there.  When she told him otherwise, he retrieved it and delivered it to me at work clear across town.  He refused to accept any compensation or even a tip for his trouble.  I fell over myself trying but he said no.  Mr. Li told me he wanted to do the right thing and treat foreign guests to the Olympics well.  Xie Xie, Mr. Li.

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