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Alright faithful readers, time for another Hong Kong update. We woke up on Tuesday in the area of Kowloon, and headed down towards the water to look around. We checked out the Avenue of the Stars, which is the Hong Kong equivalent of the Walk of Fame in LA. The avenue itself was pretty lame, but the view was stunning. We stared across the water at Hong Kong island, packed with skyscrapers, and started to really feel like we were in Hong Kong (at least I did). We checked out Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow’s stars on the Avenue (Stephen Chow wrote/directed movie Kung Fu Hustle which was a huge hit in China and not a bad flick) and then decided to head towards the area known as Central, which is the densely packed area we were just staring at. It was also where I would be shaving my head in a few hours. We hopped on the MTR, which is about as expensive as the DC metro, making it about 10 times more expensive than the Beijing metro, and headed to Central. Quick sidenote; I must say that the two subways we have been on in China (Beijing and Hong Kong), are the two best subways I have ever been on. They are incredibly efficient, cheap, on time, clean, and have other little innovations like fresh air blowing through the cars that make them pretty darn awesome. Come on USA, Asia puts us to shame in this regards. Anyways, we walked around Central, looked at the big buildings, then went to the Dublin Jacks for St. Baldricks.

We wandered through the Lan Kwai Fang area of town to find the bar where St. Baldricks was, found it, and saw how well organized this event was going to be. It looked as if Erin had organized the event herself! We met the actual organizers of the event, Richard and Marcia Kligler, who are really great people and have a special interest in St. Baldricks. Their son is a childhood cancer survivor, and Richard now hosts 4 different St. Baldricks events in Hong Kong, which he has done for 5 years! As far as I am concerned, he IS St. Baldrick. There were about 30 shavees at the event, one of whom we talked to for a good while, Nick, an Indian guy that lives in Thailand. He is also the first Jain that I have ever met, and we had a nice talk about different aspects of being vegetarians (although it has been a struggle in HK, meat is in EVERYTHING). He said it is easier for him to be a veg because he has NEVER tasted meat in his life, so he doesn’t know what he’s missing. I was about the 8th person to get shaved, and I had a lot of hair. In a few minutes, I had no hair, and have to say I am loving it. Every person should get their head completely shaved at least once in their life, it really is an interesting and great feeling if you ask me. The St. Baldricks event was a ton of fun and we met some really nice people, and it was yet another surreal experience of being in Hong Kong but feeling like you could be in Vienna, VA. Best of all we met Richard and Marcia (could be spelled Marsha), who have invited us over for dinner and to stay at their place on Monday! We were both so glad we could go to an event while we were here, its pretty unbelievable.

After chatting with my friend Bob, a Canadian guy whose son is a policeman in HK, towards the tail end of St. Baldricks (all Canadians hate Alexander Ovechkin), we said our goodbyes and headed out to walk from the Central district to our hostel in Causeway Bay. Erin only made it halfway before we got a cab (weak). Great day though, and I will try to bring you some more updates tomorrow. This gets you caught up to Wednesday for us, and tomorrow (Saturday), we will be going to Macau, the Vegas of Asia! YEA YA! Time to make some money (stop rolling your eyes everyone, I will make money (or lose lots (just kidding (kind of)))). I hope you all love my excessive usage of parentheses as much as I do, because if not, this will probably be the last post you read (you’ll be back). Here are the pictures for the day, hope you all are doing well. Jacobs out!

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A lot has happened since our last blog update. We finished our teaching this past weekend, and got ready for our first really big trip (not counting our initial trip to China). We packed up our stuff and headed out early for the most Western city “in” China, which is, of course, Hong Kong. Monday started with us taking a bus from Tangshan to Beijing at about 8 am, then a train to the Beijing airport, then a flight to Shenzhen, then a bus from the Shenzhen airport to the border with Hong Kong, then a bus from the border of Hong Kong to the actual city of Hong Kong. All told it was about a 12 hour excursion, but considering all of the different portions of the trip, we were very pleased with how well everything worked out. We flew to Shenzhen because it was much cheaper than flying directly into Hong Kong, and it is the Southernmost city in the mainland, so it is easy to get to Hong Kong. And it was! We arrived late on Monday night with 2 suitcases and a backpack, with absolutely no real plans at all. We walked around for a bit in Kowloon without finding a cheap enough hotel, but after a while wandering around Nathan Road we found one for about $35 dollars. Step one complete, so now we could explore.

We went back out on Nathan Road aka the “Golden Mile” and quickly discovered how different Hong Kong was from other places in China. The city is an incredibly dense mass of skyscrapers (7,650 to be exact, #1 in the world) on both sides of the Harbor. The currency is not the Chinese yuan we have grown accustomed to, but is the Hong Kong dollar, which is about 8 to 1 to the US dollar. It is perhaps the coolest and most futuristic looking currency I have seen. There are also lots of Western looking folks in Hong Kong and you will hear people of all types speaking English. It is a little surprising at first to hear a very Chinese looking person say “Alright dudes, let’s roll!” in a perfect British accent, but that is Hong Kong for you. One of the Western folks we saw happened to look like someone that we thought was a former teacher at our school in Tangshan. We approached him and, sure enough, it was him! Being here for 65 days has only made me feel like the world is even smaller than I initially thought, because random occurrences like that happen a good amount of the time. After chatting with him for a while, my stomach was telling me that I needed some good, cheap, Chinese food. We found a real divey looking place that was filled with locals and had visible cockroaches in the kitchen (this was disgusting for us, don’t worry, we didn’t see them at first) and were ready for our 3-5 yuan dinner. Unfortunately we learned that these prices simply don’t exist in Hong Kong, because the cheapest thing on the menu was fried noodles for 35 HKD. Not a good deal even by American standards. My opinion of Chinese food is very positively influenced by the additional savings factor (I swear you can taste how much money you are saving) but this factor does not exist in Hong Kong. Oh well, its still pretty darn cheap. We ate our dinner and headed to the Temple Market which was nearby.

As you have read in other blog posts about markets in Beijing, (if not, welcome to the blog, this will get you up to speed) prices at the markets tend to start at a completely ludicrous level, slowly dropping through aggressive but not impolite haggling. The prices at the Temple market were not as outrageous as in Beijing, but still required some haggling (at least for me, unfortunately Erin is so “generous” that she doesn’t even attempt to haggle (which is where I come in)). The market basically had the exact same stuff as the Silk Market in Beijing, but people weren’t attacking you in an attempt to get you to come to their store. It was much nicer overall. The only people that are aggressive are the legions of Indian guys who try to get you to buy tailored suits, handbags for the ladies, fake watches, or drugs. After the market, we hit the hay, to get ready for Day 2.

Alright kids, that only somewhat catches you up with every detail of our lives, but I will try to post again in the morning about our next days adventures. They include me getting my head shaved in Hong Kong (donate to me for St. Baldricks!) Alrighty, bed time, here are some pictures for your amusement. To be continued…….

Despite being located in a major ecological danger zone, I want to wish you a Happy Earth Day! Fortunately for me, I can access most of the American “green blogs” from over here. Some of the blogs I really like are on the Mother Nature Network (MNN) site: http://www.mnn.com/blogs. No, I’m not getting paid to write this, so you don’t have to ask…but if you are interested in reading about things like saving money by greening your home, the 10 most toxic places to live, organic fast-food restaurants and easy explanations regarding complex environmental phenomenon, I would highly recommend it! Today MNN greatly enhanced my knowledge of one of my very favorite hobbies, using coupons and finding great deals, by way of the Coupon Sherpa! This site gives you practically any printable or internet coupon for major chains, and had some really awesome Earth Day promos and tips for making money in a bad economy on their blog site: http://www.couponsherpa.com/ask-coupon-sherpa/ *Not a sermon, just a thought. (-Name that pastor of McLean Bible Church for a Chinese trinket!)

Yesterday night David and I hosted our first dinner party in China, and it was a success! On the menu was vegetarian chili (canned goods thanks to Jenny Lou’s in Beijing) and rice, fruit salad, mushrooms in oyster sauce, fried potatoes and Chinese puff pastries for dessert. I made everything except the pastries, and it all turned out really well. David cleaned the house and decorated with our ever-growing variety of plants, and we fed 4 additional guests: Ada and Milly who work at the school, Ada’s husband Liu, and the other David teacher. We pumped some American jams through the computer speakers David bought for a few dollars, and continued our ambassador-ship of South Africa by showing our slideshow again. We also showed Christmas photos of David’s family to our guests, and they couldn’t believe how big the families were…and how much everyone looked alike, haha. Overall it was a really fun night, and next time we hope to serve pizza! It makes me feel more at home to be able to host events like this, and I hope we can invite more friends and students over in the future.

The comments didn’t load on the last set of photos, so I wanted to mention that the picture of 3 men includes Eddie and his Chinese business partner. The photo of David and David on the street is the “food street” that we eat at nearly every day, and the little pup is DoDo (little bean) who lives with his chef family on the food street and is one of the smallest full-grown dogs I have ever seen. The girl and boy on TV is my student who hosted a show, and the darker photo is inside the Tangshan “Toy Club.”

I managed to get a really bad stomach ache today for the first time since being here, after eating a great-tasting dish from the food street. The other David felt pretty bad after eating it too, so hopefully it was just a bad batch of food. Anyway, I probably won’t check in again until after Hong Kong, but I look forward to telling more tales!

Men’s natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart. -Confucius

Today we had a bit of a surprise when we woke up to a lack of electricity in the apartment. We called Eddie, and quickly found out that our apartment and about 5 blocks around us didn’t have power either. We figured this would only last a few hours, as even the huge RT Mart Grocery store was operating off generators, but to our unpleasant surprise we didn’t have electricity for 12 hours! It just came back on, and probably most people with a typical working schedule didn’t notice, but needless to say we had a very lazy day of cleaning, sleeping and reading. It was probably for the best though, because we both have sore throats again. Also, the shower is working amazingly well at this point, for which I am grateful. O yea, and my manager got a new motorized bicycle so I can ride her girly bike with a basket, woo!

This week I went to my first yoga class at the gym. It was all in Chinese, but not difficult to follow along because the instructor is actually up on a small stage in the class, so I could see her easily. The class was mostly older woman and it wasn’t too difficult, but I got in some good stretches before running and learned a very good, new, neck stretch. I think they have hot yoga at the gym too, which I want to try. Last week I was stretching in the studio before another class, and was approached by a few college girls that spoke pretty good English. They asked me for my QQ Number, which is like MSN or AIM chat, but unfortunately I didn’t have one. Fortunately, they were not discouraged and I gave them my email and took their QQ numbers. Inspired by my new potential for Chinese friends, I now have a QQ and am officially part of the Chinese social networking community! They have a really easy international/English version to install, and I have given the number to a few of my higher level classes too. I am hoping that the ability for them to chat in English will encourage them to learn more, as they can see a real-life application of learning English! I am also hoping that David and I will be able to meet some university students and maybe get to know some of our kids on a deeper level.

One new class I started last week is a one on one session with two 14-year old girls named Mary and Crystal. They speak really good English because they attend the Tangshan Foreign Languages School, and it has been really fun to meet with them. Mary actually let me know that she was a hostess on a local television show, and I watched her on the show last night! I still also enjoy my public school classes, as the kids are energetic and a little older than at Aston. They taught me a kung foo game that they play, which is similar to rock, paper, scissors but involves full body moves like “energy ball,” “cut,” “X or the big one,” etc. I’m not sure what the game is called, but they get really into it and so I spend a lesson teaching them the English words for these moves. Also at this school (XY) I attempted to say the Chinese word for apple that I learned the day before, but I butchered the pronunciation and the kids all laughed at me. I said to them, “I don’t laugh at you when you speak English!” and they promptly began clapping for my effort. I thought it was so respectful of them, and maybe we bridged a little language barrier. Also, when I walked out of class that day it was raining pretty hard and as I exited the school on my bike two parents came running at me with umbrellas for cover. I don’t them “no thanks,” but felt so appreciated for coming to their school.

Only one more week of classes before Hong Kong…and I am really looking forward to checking out the food and beaches over there. That means that David only has ONE more week to hit his goal of $1,000 for his big shave, so please donate at if you can! Also, one of my favorite Avon Walkers, Lauren Lucas is in second place nationally for a recipe competition. Lauren is a senior in high school and is not only raising all of her funds to walk, but also trying to save money to put herself through cooking school in NY next year. She wakes up at 4am on the weekends to bake bread for Great Harvest, and if she wins this competition, they will give her a lot of money for school! She’s currently 93 votes behind, so PLEASE take the time to send an email to portland_dessert_works@yahoo.com with the message: “Panna Cotta with Chocolate Tuile Cookie
Lauren Michelle Lucas
LML_Lucas@yahoo.com”

Greetings all, just got home from a long day of teaching. Classes go by very fast and are really no trouble anymore, so that is good. The kids are well behaved and intelligent overall, but it really is shocking how unimaginative the vast majority of them are. Today I had students play a game where they had to say 3 things: one thing had to be a lie, and two things had to be true. They would get a card (a reward) if the first person to guess did not guess which of the 3 was a lie correctly. I gave them examples and expected to hear some interesting and funny responses. The first person to go said “I will eat tonight. I will go to sleep tonight. I will go to Beijing tonight.” Obviously the lie was discovered immediately. After about 6 people used 2 of “I will sleep tonight…I will eat tonight…I will go home tonight,” I explained that using these obvious true statements made it too easy to guess what is a lie. I then gave multiple examples, and some of them started to understand. I was pretty stunned at how bad they were at just coming up with something on their own, and most of the time I do have classes try to make up their own story/game/activity, they just try to copy something directly from the book. Creative thinking just isn’t viewed as positively here (Confucius quote at bottom is a good example of why), and it makes teaching a little bit different.

I think we are basically over the initial culture shock that we felt since we arrived here. Things aren’t as strange or amusing as they were not very long ago, they just are the way they are. That being said, there are some things that will be impossible to get used to and which will always be somewhat shocking. I have mentioned the lack of logic used by drivers, bikers and pedestrians, but another frustrating thing is just the general lack of quality. Things just don’t last here, because things aren’t BUILT to last. Buildings are built quickly and cheaply and are expected to either collapse or be torn down in 30-60 years. That isn’t really shocking or noticeable, but walk through the grocery stores and you will be shocked by lots of things. One of these things is the lack of freshness/cleanliness with most of the produce, but that isn’t as glaring as things that have expiration dates. Every single type of cheese that the supermarket had was AT LEAST 3 months expired. Most of these cheeses were in a refrigerated aisle and had visible mold on them. Anything with a shelf life of less than a year is expired and the more expired they are, the lower the sales go. The cheese passed the 3 months expired mark, so they were on a nice sale, but its just amazing to me that nobody seems to even care. The expiration dates are written in Chinese, but I guess nobody looks at them, cares, or understands them. If you can’t beat them, join them, so more very expired cheese for me! Yummy!

Alrighty, another day of teaching awaits us tomorrow. We are both excited and ready to go to Hong Kong, because it is still pretty darn cold here. I don’t know how people deal with this kind of weather all the time, but if you don’t know any better or have no way of moving, I guess you just make do. Get on skype if you want to chat. Please help me with my St. Baldricks event (thanks Gabby and Danny for being the first to donate!!!!):

The Master said, “He who sets to work upon a different strand destroys the whole fabric.” Analects, 2.16 (I and most Americans would probably strongly disagree with this statement)

Quick thanks to everyone for caring about us. We got lots of concerned messages about the earthquake in China, and it is nice to know that people are still thinking about us (especially whenever China is mentioned).

Anyways, we are officially headed to Hong Kong April 25-May 5th. Erin mentioned earlier that we will be attending a St. Baldricks event in Hong Kong (a Children’s cancer charity where you shave your head and raise money), and since we are going, I figured I might as well shave my head. Soooooooo, I need the help of my family and friends back home, to help me raise some money for this cause.

Here is the link to my website : http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/participantid/406813

Thanks again for thinking of us, and please help me out! More updates will be coming soon.

We are fine! Just wanted to update everyone quickly. Luckily the earthquake was in an extremely rural part of China, because otherwise it could have been similarly disastrous to other ones. I have to go teach but wanted to let you all know we were fine.

We have had an exciting morning! We woke up and booked our flights to spend the May holiday in Hong Kong, and our friend Matt Busa let us know that he plans to visit at the end of summer! David and I are already brainstorming as to how we can show Busa the best time possible. Yes, Thailand is out because the package ended up being much more expensive than expected, which I suppose is fortunate given their current political situation. So…we are flying into Shenzhen (Southernmost city in mainland China) because it’s much cheaper, and then taking a train to Hong Kong (considered an “international destination” from Beijing), where we will spend 9 nights! This will be our big trip for the first 6 months, and we leave in 2 weeks, so we need to start planning.

I’m VERY excited because the second night of our trip involves attending a St. Baldrick’s Hong Kong event (http://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/eventid/4154/eventyear/2010) at the Dublin Jack in Central Hong Kong. I have already been in touch with the incredible event organizer over there. His name is Richard and has a son who survived childhood cancer. Richard is from New York but his family now lives/works/goes to school in Hong Kong. They have actually met and been invited to Jackie Chan’s charitable events, and they host 4 events in Hong Kong every year! We have heard about some of the best things to do in Hong Kong, but would appreciate any suggestions or connections. So far we haven’t booked or lodging, as we will probably stay in a few different spots, but please let us know if you have any contacts that are looking to host some American teachers!

*Forewarning, the next paragraph contains literal potty humor and a mention of being nude:
I want to recount a few funny moments in the bathrooms around here. Per these stories, I think there should be a sign in the Chinese airport that says, “Attention foreigners, please leave your modesty on the plane!” Luckily, I’m not a very modest person, but even these situations have challenged my comfort zone:
1. I went to a public bathroom in the Hou Hai area of Beijing…which wasn’t too dirty, but none of the toilets had doors/stalls. Basically you walk-in and there are 4 metal rectangles with a circle in the middle that serve as your toilet. OK, no problem, we all have the same stuff, and luckily I only had to go number 1. The woman beside me, however, had a different plan. As she was going number two, squatting in a public facility without walls, she reached into her purse and lit up a cigarette! Haha, I thought this was hysterical. Maybe next time I should brew a cup of tea for the occasion?
2. The bathrooms at the gym have walls but no doors. So…I went, and as I looked up I found three other women coming over just to look at me because I was a foreigner. Modesty 0, Erin 2.
3. The showers at the gym are nice and warm and relatively clean, but they are open/shared style. You also can’t really bring a towel into the shower, because there is not place to put it where it won’t get wet. So, you quickly run to the shower with just your shower shoes and shampoo and hop in. Yesterday, however, the gym was really crowded and you had to wait in line for the shower. Talk about uncomfortable, I was waiting in the nude line for about 5 minutes with every Chinese woman staring at me/whispering to their friends before I could take my shower. I really didn’t find it too bad though, especially because no one was laughing TOO loud.

OK, hopefully you all found those stories funny and not too distasteful. C’mon though, we’re just humans everywhere in the world!

I also wanted to give you a little history lesson on the Chinese language. As you may know, Chinese characters represent the oldest continuously used writing system in the world. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that literate Chinese people all over the country can read and write the same complex character system, despite the fact that there are a variety of spoken languages throughout the country. Of these dialects, Mandarin is spoken by the greatest number of people (in China and the whole world), which is one of the reasons we chose Tangshan instead of Southern China, where Cantonese is the dominant dialect. Since the character system is so complex and does not lend itself extremely well to technological advancements like typing and international communication, the People’s Republic of China created the “Pinyin” system in 1958, which is a romanization of Chinese sounds. In other words, the A-Z alphabet was assigned to all the sounds of the characters and spoken Chinese language. Although many older people in China do not know how to read or write Pinyin, we have learned Pinyin almost exclusively in our classes. I’m sure from a historical and linguistic perspective it would be considered a shame that we aren’t learning more characters, but since we only have a year in China, our emphasis has been on learning to speak rather than to read Chinese. I only know a handful of characters at this point, including some numbers, man/woman for the bathrooms and the word “entrance” since it’s on everything.

From a grammatical perspective, Chinese is very simple. First of all, there aren’t any conjugations! The past tense is created by adding the modifier “le” after a verb. For example, “chi” is to eat, and “chi le” is ate. Additionally, a question is made simply by adding the modifier “ma” at the end of a sentence. “Ni hao” is “hello” or literally “you good” while “Ni hao ma” is “how are you?” (literally means “you good?”) This may shed some light on the common grammar mistakes you often hear from the Chinese as they are speaking English, and can give you extreme empathy for our students, as they are learning a new language that is so grammatically different from their own. Can you imagine trying to understand the past tense of a verb when you have never used anything like it? My students also have a really hard time with “his and her” because they are the same word, “ta”, in Chinese. I could give many more examples like this, as I find it really interesting, but I will save some for another time.

One last linguistic difference that I wanted to mention are the Chinese tones. Since nearly all Chinese words are monosyllabic (one syllable), one may assume that there simply aren’t many words in the language. However, the 4 tones in Mandarin can change the meaning of a word from “horse” to “hemp” or “pig” to the verb “to live” depending on the inflection. (Yet another advantage of learning Mandarin over Cantonese is that there are 9 tones in Cantonese!) While this allows many words that are spelled the same in pinyin to have different meanings…it gets really confusing. On top of this, many of the exact same words with the exact same tones DO have different meanings depending on context. We have some of this in English, for example “a windy road” or “windy day,” but nothing like they have in Chinese. To illustrate this point, I just opened up a dictionary to a random page. The word lui with and upward tone/accent on the “i” means to stay or to keep, to flow or to run, and sulfur. Additionally, the first tone of this word means six and to walk, and the third tone means willow. Although these complexities are difficult, I am lucky that I don’t have to learn Chinese in any particular time-frame, for any particular goal, so David and I just take it as it comes and try not to get discouraged.

Our classes are helping us to pick-up words spoken on the street and in the classroom, and we can now ask for about 20 different types of food and vegetables from street vendors and restaurants, say that we are American teachers, attempt most question words, count, give cab drivers basic instructions and ask some basic questions.

Try this one: Ni chi le ma? (Ni=you, chi=eat, le=past tense modifier, ma=question word)
Have you eaten?

The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance. -Confucius

Hey all, we are ready for another weekend of teaching starting tomorrow, so I wanted to make a quick post about some random things. Not a whole lot is new since we came back from Beijing, but I went out for the first time to some real Chinese night clubs last night. We started the night getting dinner at a restaurant with our boss, Eddie, and the other teacher, David, and had a nice meal. Eddie was pretty drunk by the time we left the restaurant, so Erin made the wise choice of staying home instead of going to the club called the Toy Bar. David (the other teacher) wanted me to go and I felt bad leaving him with a drunk Eddie (again), so I tagged along. It was a pretty hilarious experience, especially considering all the horror stories the Chinese teachers at our school told us about massive fights, drug use and other things at this bar. Don’t worry, this would have been the tamest club in the USA, so it is incredibly edgy for Chinese standards. There were 3 dancers that came out every 15 minutes to do a little dance show, involving some bad hip hop dance moves that was quite amusing to watch. Random guys kept coming up to me and trying to buy me drinks or talk to me, and were touching me a LOT which was a little awkward, but is totally common in China. It was deafeningly loud and the room was filled with smoke, but it was still funny to see the Chinese people dancing horribly and singing every lyric to some of the worst English pop music I have ever heard. Why they are playing English pop music in a Chinese dance club is beyond me, but every person knew every word, so I guess they really like it. We left pretty early, before Eddie could do any serious damage to the place.

Overall we have adjusted to life here pretty easily and are having a good time. There are some things that are really starting to irritate me though. Nobody here looks before they cross the street. Cars just go before they look to see if things are coming. People will walk right at you until the very last second, then stop in front of you, THEN move out of the way. I truly do not understand why they do this, and it is a miracle that people aren’t killed constantly while crossing the street. I have asked Chinese people if they look both ways before crossing the street and they all say “No, we don’t do that.” Don’t do that?! Why? WHY? WHY?! It makes driving, riding a bike, and even walking that much more difficult, dangerous, and time consuming, because you have to always move out of the way of people that are paying no attention to anything. In America this is some people, some of the time. In China this is all people, almost all of the time. I have seen lots of traffic accidents the past few weeks, almost all involve a taxi and someone trying to turn. People just turn, they don’t look. They just go and hope traffic stops. Most of the time it does, but again, why not just follow the obvious (to an American) rules of the road, which will save you time and cause less accidents. For now, I just keep both eyes on the road at all times, because you never know what people will do.

Only one more complaint, I know everyone is probably really enjoying my whining. I do not think a single person in China turns their cell phone on vibrate. You can be sitting next to someone on a bus that will get 50 text messages in 10 minutes, with their phone making lots of noise each time, and the only person that it appears to annoy is me. It is not just in those situations, though, because the Chinese teachers and the parents of students that are in class will let their phone ring away in the middle of class, and it is like nobody even notices. Obviously this is not a big deal most of the time, but it is pretty annoying when you are trying to teach and have to start screaming to talk over the noise. It is to the point that I think it is perhaps a sign of status to have your phone make a ton of noise, the more often the better. My mind often tempts me to grab the parents cell phones in class, smash them against the wall, but I try to remember good ol’ Kung fu Tze (Confucius) saying, “Let there be no evil in your thoughts.” Serenity now, as Cosmo Kramer would say.

Alrighty, we are going to watch an episode of our new TV series that we got, Madmen. We finished The Wire a few days ago, and if you have never seen it, you should watch it (it is for mature audiences only)! I have attached some more pictures for your viewing pleasure from our trip to Beijing. Time to teach all weekend for us! Get on skype so we can chat. Zaijian.

Ran Qiu said, “It is not that your Way does no commend itself to me, but that it demands powers I do not possess.” The Master said, “He whose strength gives out collapses during the course of the journey (or the Way); but you deliberately draw the line.” The Analects, 6.10

We decided to spend two of our days off this week in Beijing again. We were trying to decide between Tianjin and Beijing, but the other David had not visited Beijing yet, so we all went together. Our first stop after the 2-hour bus ride was the Temple of Heaven; a large park/temple sanctuary constructed in 1421 for the emperors to worship, ask for good harvests, make sacrifices and enjoy its beauty. We went on the Qingming holiday (Tomb Sweeping Day to honor the dead), so it was bustling with people. Lots of elderly people were selling small hand-made wares, dancing around, laughing and singing, practicing tai chi, and generally being a lively addition to the park. The major temple, used for making prayers of good harvest, was really impressive. It is ornately decorated on the inside and out and very architecturally complex. Beside it, we visited the “70-year Door” created in 1779 by during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The Emperor’s health was failing and building door was offered as a way for the Emperor to bypass the long walls and enter the ceremony grounds more quickly. He accepted the offer, but only on the terms that no other Emperor could enter the door unless they had also reached the age of 70. Since no Emperor ever lived to that age again, he has been the only one to use the door.

We experienced a funny situation as we walked through the park, and stumbled upon a Chinese couple who had paid to rent some Qing Dynasty-esque costumes to take pictures. We started to take photos of them, but they immediately invited David and I into the photos. The Chinese man took of his Emperor hat and necklace and put it on David, taking his Avon Walk Crew hat for his own head. Everyone was definitely amused (except the attendants standing around waiting for us to stop taking advantage of the costumes) and the photos came out great. They have these dress-up sessions at almost all Chinese attractions, although I haven’t actually seen any foreigners participating, only the Chinese. I also posted a photo of an older Chinese couple with some really sweet Nike and Adidas shoes. It seems like everyone young and old likes these brands, and I get a kick out of the combination of traditional Chinese clothing and Nikes!

At night we went to the Hou Hai area of Beijing, which is known for its lake-side scenery and night-life. At night it looked great because all of the buildings were lit up and reflecting over the lakes. Not many people were walking around because it was raining on a Monday night, so we were more harassed than normal to patron the many empty bars and restaurants in the area. David was a little sad that the whole area seem really Westernized, as most of the bars featured Budweiser, Gin & Tonics, White Russians and other typically Western bar drinks. The area sort of felt like the Cancun or Miami of Beijing, but it was still really fun to see this touristy place. The drinks and food are all extremely over-priced, but we did find some great deals on DVDs around the area.

It took a little time, but we found a youth hostel nearby, and had dinner at a Thai restaurant. Again, expensive but I thought the food was excellent and the decor was nice. David and I split lemon fried tofu and potato/egg pancakes, and the tofu is definitely some of the best I have ever had. I am a big fan of lemon sauces, but it was awesome! After dinner we found another chic little coffee shop and had tea and cake…definitely felt frou frou for China but it was a good night.

The hostel was good, located next to the Bell Tower in Beijing, and in the morning we each ate an egg omlette from a street vendor for $1.50 total. The second day was bright and sunny after the rain, and probably in the low 60s. It was a prettiest day we have had in China so far, so we walked around a lot! First we went to Beihai Park, which is huge and is definitely the best tourist deal for the money. We saw carp pools, Buddhist temples, a big lake a little reminiscent of the Tidal Basin in DC, Chinese temples on the water, one of the 3-famous 9-dragon walls, and a lot of pretty scenery. You could also rent a small boat to take to a center island in the park, but we didn’t do that this time.

After Beihai, we went to another park across the street from the Forbidden City, called Jingshan (literally Prospect Hill). We climbed to the top of a small mountain in the park and got some really good views of the entire city. We took aerial photos of the Forbidden City, and could see all of the spots we had visited in Beijing. Unlike most cities in the US, it is obvious that Beijing is very old, because the center of the city is filled with small neighborhoods and windy roads, while the malls and skyscrapers don’t begin until you get a few miles out. We are so used to skyscrapers being right in the middle of town, but that isn’t the case in most historical spots. One of the interesting things about this park is that the last Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen, actually hanged himself from a tree here, because he sensed the end of his rule by invasion of the newly proclaimed Shun Dynasty.

After Jingshan and a bidding war between drivers, we got into a small 3-wheel car to head back to Hou Hai for a restaurant that David heard was good. The drivers were really trying to rip off visitors to the Forbidden City, and charging 50 RMB for 5-7 RMB rides. We found a driver that offered us 5 RMB, so we got in. He took us through an Old Beijing neighborhood called Hutong and showed us three houses that were supposed to be hundreds of years old. Then, we stopped at our destination and he first locked the door of the car. He then told us the price was 180 RMB per person. David sprang into action and began yelling,” No 5 kuai, you told us 5″ (in Chinese). He showed us a laminated sheet of paper that said 180 RMB for “Old Beijing” tour. What a joke, he literally showed us 3 houses along the route and was trying to make us pay for a ridiculous “tour.” For this amount of money, we could have literally taken a bus to the Great Wall which is an hour outside of the city. He said, ok fine, 500…just as David managed to unlock the door. We tried to give him the 5 kuai (like saying “bucks” for RMB) he earned, but he refused and pulled out a tire lock and started waving it at us. We began to walk away and he began acting like he was going to run the small car into each of us, as many tourists and Chinese people started laughing at him. I called him a “Huai Ren” (bad person, I think) and we just kept saying that he could come and talk about it in the Tourist Center across the street if he really wanted. He eventually gave up and drove away with no money, but it certainly made me scared and so sad that he rips off tourists like this. So the moral of the story is: 1. David is no fool. And 2. Only take taxis in Beijing because they have meters. The tri-wheel bikes are a cute gimmick but the drivers are real jerks.

To add a little to this point, one of the major benefits of living in Tangshan versus a tourist city is that no one tries to rip you off. They are so surprised and interested in just seeing a foreigner, that I’m not sure thee idea of ripping them off is even in their thought-process. Tangshan doesn’t have anything in English like Beijing, or hardly anyone who can say more than hello, but I really like that there seems to be more embracing and appreciating visitors than trying to take advantage of them. Yes, my bike was still stolen, which is a big problem here…but I don’t think I was targeted as a foreigner, I was just targeted because I had a nice bike! One thing I did learn in the Beijing Silk Market though, is that even the Chinese people there respect the fact that David and I have come to teach, and immediately give us the “teacher price.” Yes, it’s still initially a rip-off, but it’s still somethin!

At this point we were really hungry and walked to a nearby pizza place in Hou Hai. It was ridiculously expensive, but David got a really good veggie burger and we all had pizza. It was ALL foreigners in the joint, and lots of kids getting their pizza fix! After pizza, we took a cab to try and find Jenny Lou’s import store. Somehow the cab actually made it there, and we bought some ketchup, cereal, ingredients for chili, granola bars, and rolos and caramellos for our boss. The prices were the same as at home, but clearly expensive for China. We walked through one last park with a lot of activities for the warm weather (rock climbing for about 4 dollars a day), and headed back to the bus station. Overall it was another successful trip to Beijing, and there is still a LOT there that we haven’t done!

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