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Been a while since we blogged, but not too much new to report. We did go on another trip recently though, hitting up the 6th biggest city in China; Tianjin. We were going to go a week ago, but it was raining so we pushed it back a week. One of the Chinese teachers at the school, Candy, went with us because her sister lives in Tianijn. We hopped on the train (somehow cheaper and faster than a bus) and the two girls got to sit together while I had to sit with my fellow Chinese laborers. It was good practice for my Chinese though, and all of the people on the train were completely fascinated by everything that Erin and I had to say. It is hilarious (and kind of sad) how little the people of China know/understand about America and the West, so this leads to some very interesting questions. For the most part though, they want to know how much money we make, and then why we don’t stay in America if we can make more money. They really do not understand this because they pretty much would do whatever pays them more. We arrived at Tianjin after 1.5 hours, and met with Candy’s sister, Ling Ling (we named her Claudia), who was nice enough to take 2 days off work to show us around.

We mainly heard negative things about Tianjin from other Chinese folks and the internet, mostly saying that it was dirty and not as nice as Beijing, but Erin and I were both very impressed. It seemed much cleaner than Beijing to me, and had a lot more history to it than I thought. I will say that it is not a very impressive historical city from a Chinese perspective, because it is relatively young, but it does have some pretty impressive Western buildings and obvious Western influences, which really made you feel like you weren’t in China in some places (if you ignore everything being in Chinese and all the people being Chinese, of course). We saw the big clock in front of the train station and then headed off to do some shopping. We went to the Ancient Culture Street which is famous for its shopping and looked at many of the stores. It felt very similar to some markets in Beijing, but with some pleasant differences: nobody physically grabbing you to look at their store or not letting you leave and a lack of people talking to you in English. It felt a little less like you had a bullseye on your back. Ling Ling (Candy’s sister) loves jade which happens to be one of Tianjin’s specialties, so we looked at lots of the jade stores. There are some really cool looking jade carvings, but all the ones I liked were REALLY expensive. We also got to haggle a little bit with some friendly guys, and it is pretty fun and funny if you have a nice shop owner. They act like every discount they give you hurts as bad as getting stabbed and generally exaggerate everything. Its a pretty good show!

After the Ancient Culture Street, we went to the modern shopping street. This was the most impressive part of the city in my opinion. It looked like any super chic shopping area in the USA or Europe, with lots of Western brands and of course their Eastern counterfeit counterparts. We stopped by one of the English cathedrals in the city, making you feel even less like you were in China, then hopped on a bus to see streets modeled with houses from various regions of the world. Most of the houses looked the same and we didn’t really think that they looked that much like the places they were supposed to, but it definitely didn’t look like the typical Chinese apartment blocks. We got on another bus which was PACKED and steaming hot, causing me to say “Tai han le!” I figured this wasn’t correct, but “han” means sweat and “Tai ___ le” is an expression to indicate that something is very good/cute/sweaty. This caused most of the front of the bus to chuckle, including the bus driver, who got up at a red light to open up the roof window for me. What a guy! Candy likes to laugh at me being stupid, so she found this very amusing. Things got much stranger once we got off the bus.

I had no idea where we were going, but I thought we were getting dinner somewhere. Ling Ling needed to go to the bathroom, so we stopped at a little hotel. The owner of the hotel came right up to me, squatted down in front of me, and put his arm out as if he wanted to arm wrestle. He was covered in tattoos, a bigtime rarity in China but somewhat prevalent in Tianjin, and was bigger than me, but I gave it my all for the stars and stripes. He beat me pretty easily but got cocky trying to beat me with two arms against one. He told Candy that he used to be in an acrobatic show so was very strong. It was bizarre but pretty hilarious and you could tell he was a funny guy. After that, Candy started talking about going someplace where we could relax and eat fruit, and I had no idea what she was talking about. Little did I know we were going to our first Chinese bathhouse! Of course the 3 girls could be together, but little (or big here I guess) David had to be by himself. We walked in, took off our shoes and then I was ushered into the men’s locker room. I had no idea what to do, but figured I needed to get naked like everyone else was. I stripped down and walked out of the locker room to the baths, which were basically one big pool of warm water and smaller pools of ice cold water. It is a very relaxed and nice looking atmosphere, with copious amounts of fruit to eat, as well as old, naked Chinese guys to look at. What could be better?! I went in the pool for a while, eating my fruit, and then took a shower. Back in the locker room I was given a silk robe, which I put on and was then ushered to the exit. I met up with Candy, Erin and Ling Ling out here, and Erin took a pic of me in my silk robe. She was immediately told that no pictures were allowed (obviously!). Erin and I laughed about the whole thing because it was pretty unexpected and funny. We got in the elevator in our silk robes, with Erin and I still befuddled by the whole experience.

After getting off the elevator, we saw a giant buffet. I was starving so this was a pleasant and still very strange surprise for me. Here we were, after walking around naked at a Chinese bathhouse, wearing silk robes and now eating at an all you can eat buffet. Erin kept saying she felt like she was on another planet, and it really did feel like something out of a movie. The two Westerners were just sort of giggling and amazed at this whole operation, while all the Chinese people didn’t think twice about eating at a buffet in a silk robe with strangers. The food was good though, and overall the experience was very fun. We got a hotel nearby, said good night to Candy and Ling Ling, and went to bed.

This is day 1 of our trip to Tianjin. This is also very long, so I will try to post the other portion of our trip and other ranom events soon. We are both doing well and hope that you all are too. I want to say congrats to my sister graduating from college (cum laude)!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hopefully talk/hear from some of you soon! Zaijian!

Back by popular demand, Confucius.

“The Master said, “To Prefer it is better than only to know it. To delight in it is better than merely to prefer it.” -6.18

“The Master said, “I for my part am not one of those who have innate knowledge. I am simply one who loves the past and who is diligent in investigating it.” -7.19

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Personally, I think we saved the best for last. On our second to last day in Hong Kong we took a Ferry to Lamma Island, which is known for its seafood restaurants, fishing villages and beautiful scenery. Upon arriving on the island we visited a typical Buddhist temple with tons of overpowering incense hanging in spirals from the ceiling, took pictures of funny tourist stickers, and I bought some tea at a small tea shop. Soon after we took a pretty nature hike around the island, and got to put our feet in the water.The dichotomy of beautiful Lamma island with huge smoke stacks in the background represents much of the feeling of China that I have experienced thus far. We also took photos of these great houses that were completely surrounded by lush vegetation, and look like little tropical hideaways. On our way around the island we ran into Angel and Javi, two very entertaining and vibrant Spaniards, who wanted our help taking a picture. We ended up speaking Spanish with these two for a good part of the afternoon, and their antics and strong northern accents had me laughing the entire time. We found out that Javi had taken a last-minute leave from the army to visit Angel, his long-time friend who was “working” as a corporate lawyer in Hong Kong for a week or so. Javi didn’t speak Chinese or English, so he was very happy to have people to communicate with for a while. Angel told us about his life learning French, traveling, and living currently in Los Angeles. We had an incredible seafood lunch together, complete with the best mini-lobster I have ever tried! Sadly, we had to catch a ferry back before they were ready to leave, so we quickly exchanged emails…but I haven’t heard from them. The experience definitely made me want to visit Spain again!

We took a nice, sunny, ferry ride back to HK island and caught the 6 Bus (with a bunch of hyper French teenagers) to Stanley. Stanley is a upper-class beach neighborhood outside of downtown Hong Kong that seems like an ideal place to live. In Stanley we met back up with the Kliglers, who had graciously offered to host us for the night! We got to meet Sean and Jill, the Kilgler kids, as well as the newest addition to the family…Jet, the Hong Kong dog. It was really nice to have a relaxing evening full of great home-cooked food and conversation with the Kliglers. I regret to inform you that we didn’t get pictures of the kids, the dog, or the apartment, which was decorated with incredible art from all over Asia. However, both the home and family gave me inspiration for the future. And of course…we toasted the end of the night with some good old fashioned Baijiu.

The next day was our last in Hong Kong, and we spent it leisurely in the town of Stanley. I bought a few souvenirs in Stanley Market, and we ate some pizza in one of the water-front restaurants. O yea, and I took a quick nap under the sun! After that, we caught the bus back to the metro, took the long metro ride to the HK/Shenzhen Boarder, passed through customs, spent the night in Shenzhen (where we managed to eaten some “Mexican” food), took a complicated bus from Shenzhen downtown to the airport, flew to Beijing, took a bus from Beijing to Tangshan…and taxied back to our apartment. Simple, right? Only for David the transportation wizard!

Good morning to all of those in the Western Hemisphere, I assume you are reading this with your Monday morning cup of coffee. Its been a rainy two days here in Tangshan, and our plans to visit the nearby city of Tianjin were foiled by the weather. Tianjin isn’t known as a large tourist attraction, but it’s the sixth largest city in China and is known for good food, large building and a few unique streets. Our friend and Chinese teacher, Candy, has a sister who lives there, so she has offered to show us around at some point! In the meantime, I will probably watch some movies, go to the gym, and stop back at the massage store (I wouldn’t really call it a spa because it looks like a typical storefront with table beds) to get a foot and shoulder massage. Last week I went there and got a 30 min neck and shoulder massage and one-hour foot massage for 70 RMB, which is $10 USD. That was also expensive because I didn’t buy a frequent-customer card, which I will do next week! Although you still have squat toilets at this spa, it’s a pretty clean place. They also practice traditional Chinese Cupping, which I will probably try after reading some more about the methods.

For your daily dose of charity wrap-ups, I have some exciting news! David’s St. Baldrick’s event in Hong Kong ended up raising $37,819 and he personally raised $670. Thanks again to all that donated! There are some great professional pictures of the event posted online. David and I are on the first page, and David alone is on page 6.

Walkers in the May 1st-2nd Washington DC Avon Walk for Breast Cancer raised over $6.5 million this year! I think that’s an amazing feat given all of this craziness in the financial world and am so impressed by these incredible participants.

I am also a strong supporter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and their endurance events. Did you know you can participate in the half-marathon training programs as a walker, run-walker or runner? If you are thinking about making a difference in an incredibly fun way, I would really suggest checking out the LLS Team in Training Programs. The money you raise helps fight cancer, and also provides you with a really great training program, incentive to be healthy, ability meet other like-minded do-gooders and experience the incredible atmosphere of a race-weekend. I have told many people that even if you donate the funds yourself, it’s worth the training and trip that the event entails (seriously.)

And finally, my former co-worker and good friend, Allie Bouton, is competing in her first marathon in October! She got a spot in the Chicago Marathon through agreeing to fundraise a LOT of money for Fred’s Team, which benefits the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Allie is running for many people, but specifically Mrs. Merry, who is battling a brain tumor. If you would be willing to support Allie, Mrs. Merry and Sloan-Kettering, please make a donation here.

And NOW back to Hong Kong! The day after our trip to Macau started with an incredible Japanese-style lunch at Miso, a restaurant tucked away in the IFC building with great sushi that David had read about in the guide book. The prices for the fresh seafood were excellent and so was the ambiance. Pictures provided! The day was really beautiful and sunny, so we decided to hike…and hike we did! On the way we were really confused to find thousands of Filipino women camped out on the streets and in the subways at every turn. We thought maybe there was a protest or that they had all come from the for sales during the holiday-weekend, because we saw lots of huge boxes that were being packed to ship to the Philipines. What made the scene even more confusing was that many had brought food, pedicure and manicure kits and even laptops to this sit-in. Well, upon futher questioning with some of the participants and HK locals, we found out that this is pretty common on many Sundays with nice weather, and that these women were just getting together for some bonding time! I’m still somewhat confused as to why they decided to stay in places like hot subway halls, but it’s very obvious that the have a strong community in HK.

Well, we started from sea-level and hiked the 1,811 feet to the top of Victoria Peak (the second tallest mountain in HK). A significant part of this hike is literally straight-up, and although we saw lots of people coming down the hill, we only saw one or two going up. It was the steepest grade I have ever encountered, but I was feeling good in the new Mizuno running shoes I had bought the day before! ($65 instead of the normal $100 in the States, not a great deal but I was happy!) At the shopping hub of the peak we got a gelato and headed onward to the Victoria Gardens, which is the tallest point of the Peak and offers some good views of the surrounding land and islands. There seemed to be a ton of cute kids playing in the gardens around the million-dollar communities atop of the peak, which was an added benefit! The cars parked at all of the apartments ranged from Mercedes to Ferraris and were all in perfect condition. We read that this was one of the most expensive places to live in the world, based on square footage. It seemed like a really beautiful place to live…but not really ideal if you want to want around, since the community is built on a massive, steep hill.

After the gardens we walked the 2-mile Peak Loop trail around the circumference of the mountain. This was a great walk because it was like hiking through a mini-jungle, and included many spots to view the incredible Hong Kong skyline. Many runners were jogging along this path, and although it gets a little crowded at points, this has to be one of the best running routes I have ever seen! After this walk we went to the Hong Kong Cafe, which specializes in Hong Kong style diner food. This style of restaurant came around during the 1960s when prosperity and contact with the west was really flourishing in Hong Kong, and the natives began offering menus that would appeal to both the Cantonese and foreigners alike. One of the best-sellers was Hong Hong tea, which is 1/2 coffee and 1/2 tea! I also tried HK french toast, which is two pieces of thick bread, held together by peanut butter, fried in eggs and topped with a light-honey syrup. It tasted GREAT after a long day of hiking and I have since made it for the teachers in Tangshan! David also got a curried vegetable dish, which was also very good! After food we paid to visit the top of the Victoria Peak building and viewed the city all lit-up at night. Needless to say, the views were one-of-a-kind and we got some really excellent photos.

Sorry that our Hong Kong adventures have taken so long to write out on the blog…blogging becomes much less fun in mainland China when the site is behind the firewall and therefore operates at a snail’s pace. The show must go on though. We headed to Macau on a beautiful day, not really knowing what to expect at all. We got on the turbo ferry which was a confusing process and were dropped off on the other side of Macau, nowhere near the city center. We hopped in a cab and got dropped off in the Largo de Senado, the center of the town with a strong Portuguese feel to it. Like its nearby counterpart, Hong Kong, Macau was occupied by a European empire: the Brits in HK, the Portuguese in Macau. Lots of people in HK are still Brits and speak English, but there are very very few people of Portuguese descent in Macau, and less than 1% of the city can speak Portuguese. The signs are still all in Cantonese and Portuguese though, and the city looks and feels very European. Again like HK, Macau was separate from China until 1999, when it became a special administrative region of China, which means China still makes money off of it and will protect it with its military, but Macau still maintains its own government and currency, the Pataca. You also have to have a passport and go through customs (same with HK). The city center was JAMMED with Chinese folks, primarily because it was a holiday weekend in mainland China. There also wasn’t a casino in sight, which I was very surprised by. It was mostly beautiful European style buildings and sidewalks in the center, and then the normal, ugly Chinese buildings a couple blocks away. We walked around for a bit, admiring the Macau tourist specialties, mainly large sheets of beef jerkey which Erin said was the best she has ever had and cookies. We needed food though.

Macau is also famous for its blend of cuisines from Southern China and Portugal. We went to a pretty authentic looking place which turned out to be a very nice restaurant, but neither one of us was particularly impressed with the food. It was good but not noteworthy, and I of course still missed my mainland China prices. Erin did a little shopping and then we headed up to the old Portuguese fort, which offered amazing views of the whole city, and then down to the ruins of St. Paul’s cathedral. These ruins are probably the most famous landmark in Macau, even though all that remains is the facade of one end. The weather was great and the city was energetic and bustling, so it was fun to walk around the crowded streets (even though constantly having people walk right at you because they are not looking or are transfixed by your white skin is getting old). We did a little more shopping in a tea house that I read about beforehand, grabbed dinner at a great noodle place, and then it was time for me to get my gamble on! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Macau is the center for all Asian gambling. The Chinese are ingrained with notions about luck and horoscopes, so gambling is something that they really love and unfortunately read WAY too much into. I wanted to play a little poker, so we headed to one of the biggest casinos in the city, the Grand Lisboa, a really cool looking casino with the best poker room around. I don’t know why, I like casinos and it was fun just being inside the place, and when we got to the poker area, I saw that there was a tournament starting shortly. So I decided what the heck, you are only in Macau for one night, why not? 60 people were in the tournament, with a mix of people from all over the world, but primarily older Chinese guys. I have played a lot of poker, and after a few minutes I could tell that I was one of the best players in the tournament, and felt like I had a good chance of making the top 7, which were the people that made money. Nobody ever had any idea what cards I had, partially because I only had to show my cards twice and was playing a very aggressive style. After a few hours, there were 14 people left, and I had just won a very big hand and was doing very well. Unfortunately, the two times I had to show my cards at the end of a hand, both as a 3 to 1 favorite to win the hand, I lost. That is poker though, and although it was hard to get myself to stop thinking about having the most chips had I won even one of those hands, the dream was over. I finished in 13th place, but it was a good time overall, just a very painful ending. Wah wah, everyone loves reading about me losing in poker right?!

Erin and I felt impressed with Macau, and I can really see why it has become such a popular tourist destination. There is a lot to do other than gambling and it is only an hour away from HK. Good food, architecture, weather, and, oh yea, gambling! What could be better? I was glad we got to see it, and some Americans that Erin met while I was playing told her that if I came back around Chinese New Year, I could probably make many thousands of dollars raking in the dough from the innocent Chinese guys whose horoscopes told them they would have good luck and get rich this year (they said they were not very good and made between $5-10k each). Might have to come back someday…

Aaand we’re back! Sorry for the delay, we were busy soaking up the rays in Hong Kong, traveling back to Tangshan and getting right to teaching. To get back to the trip, I wanted to re-iterate how much I loved that tea house! The whole culture of the miniature tea pots with various designs depending on the type of tea leaf, and intricate system of pouring and sipping was really fun for me. The really nice clay teapots in China are small and made of red or black-colored clay (typically referred to as purple or red). The most famous clays are called yixing zisha (red clay) from the Yunnan province in Southern China. These pots and cups are so small that I thought they were only for show, but really the traditional style is just somewhat miniature, and only one type of tea is meant to be brewed per pot, because the clay absorbs the flavor of the tea it brews. Also, after many pourings, the dull finish of the pot begins to shine like it was polished. I have been able to sample many types of oolong, pu’er, green, black, white and red tea, but green still remains my favorite. One of the most famous green teas is called Long Jin or Dragonwell, and it has a great, earthy and strong taste. As Laura Jacobs has reminded me, I’m very lucky to have sampled lots of pu’er black tea, because it’s an expensive and somewhat rare in the states. It tastes a little like Thai tea without the milk or sugar. Pu’er is interesting because it is sold in circular “bricks” that increase in value depending on their age. We have seen some bricks of Pu’er that are hundreds of years old and sell for thousands of dollars. Long Jin green tea is completely opposite of Pu’er, as it is considered best when drank during the same season in which it was harvested. Tea has always been a major comfort and source of satisfaction in my life, and I am really enjoying learning all about the different types, benefits, and flavors over here. I’m not much for wine, but am understanding through tea the desire to try all different flavors, types, etc. I hope to purchase my own tea set and bring back lots of different types to host some authentic tea tastings. (Sound like a great fundraiser to anyone else?!)

Lets see, the night after rainy Victoria Peak we took Richard’s suggestion and headed to the Red Pepper restaurant near our hostel/hotel in Causeway Bay. The food was good, but unfortunately my stomach problems came to a head with the spicy cuisine and I kept David and I up until 5am with really serious cramps. We slept in the next morning and I got some herbal chinese medicine that came in little black balls and smelled really strongly of herbs. My stomach hurt for most of the day, but we headed out to neighboring Lantou island via a ferry. Lantau was a pretty sleepy, traditional fishing village, complete with many clammers along the edge of the water. There wasn’t too much to do in the port, so we took a bus to Tai O fishing village, which is famous for its dried seafood and fishing village on stilts. The rows of dried seafood were stinky and a little scary, but pretty interesting to see. There were huge dried squids stretching at least 4 feet, and sadly lots of dried sharks fin. As a result of my stomach situation and sheer disinterest, we didn’t try and of the salty, dried goods, but enjoyed the unique architecture of the quiet, secluded village.

Stay tuned…next up we will recount our adventures in Macau, the Vegas of China!


(Also, the last photo of the “No Hawking” from the IFC building was posted especially for Megan Newhouse.)

So we are currently in Shenzhen, because tomorrow we fly back to Beijing (boooooo). We had a great time in Hong Kong, and I am so glad that I got to see such a cool town. Anywho, on Wednesday we went to see the Noonday Gun, a big gun that they shoot everyday at noon, carrying on a tradition of the old British Navy. It was MUCH louder than expected and everyone was rubbing their ears in pain after it went off. After that we just headed downtown and did some generic touring of the big buildings, which was cool. We then took the Star Ferry, a very efficient and cheap mode of transportation that connects Hong Kong Island to the mainland and various other islands nearby. Everything we read said this was the #1 thing you have to do if you go to Hong Kong, but it was just a ferry. I don’t really understand what was the big deal. It would be like saying if you do one thing in New York City, you have to take the Staten Island Ferry. We just took it across to the mainland because the museums are free on Wednesdays, looked around the science and art museums quickly, and Her Worship (Erin) was tired so we went back so she could take a nap before the true excitement of the evening.

Every Wednesday night, the only legalized form of gambling occurs at the two racetracks in Hong Kong. The Happy Valley Racecourse is a beautiful horse racing arena in the middle of the city, and every Wednesday the place gets packed for a hot and humid night of gambling. Unlike the ferry, this was an actually noteworthy event, and we were very glad we went. The British loved their horseracing, so when they occupied Hong Kong, they built two racetracks. When the British left, the racetracks stayed, because the Chinese love gambling more than anyone loves anything. In one Wednesday at Happy Valley, more money is bet than in an entire week of horseracing in the UK. The Chinese are OBSESSED with it. Everyone in attendance was frantically reading some sort of horse gambling newspaper that had all sorts of information in it, placing wagers, and then watching the races. The place really exploded when the horses came down the stretch, even in the first few races which are the weaker/slower horses. It was a pretty electrifying experience, and the arena itself is gorgeous. There are skyscrapers surrounding the track, and the stands and track was very nice looking also. One of, if not the coolest sporting venue I have ever been to. It was an interesting mix of Chinese and British people too, yet another example of how gambling really brings the world together. We placed a few bets on the horses that I researched, narrowly missing out on a huge haul in a photo finish where I picked the 1st and 2nd place finishers, but not in the right order. We left down about $4, but it was a very cool night. We wandered a bit, found a great international grocery store, bought a bunch of stuff to bring back, and then took the trolley (just like in San Fran) back to our hostel.

On Thursday we arranged to meet up with Richard Kligler aka St. Baldrick aka the organizer of the St. Baldricks event where I (David) was shorn. We met him at Times Square, a trendy shopping area near where we were staying, then walked through some food markets. Hong Kong (and most of Asia) really likes Durian, a stinky, milky fruit that kind tastes like damp armpit, and dried seafood of all kinds. Needless to say these markets don’t smell too good, especially when it gets warm and sunny outside. We went to Central again and saw the world’s biggest bank vault at the HSBC tower. It was so big it literally had an escalator inside of it! Richard knew a lot about the various buildings so it was nice to hear about the buildings instead of just saying,”Oh look, another huge financial building.” We hiked up past St. John’s Cathedral towards the Victoria Peak Cable Car station. We took the cable car to the top of the 2nd tallest mountain in Hong Kong, which offers extraordinary views of the city. Unfortunately it started to pour once we got to the top, so we only got some hazy pictures of the skyline (we went back though and got some great ones). Richard took us to a great restaurant though, and we had our best meal of the trip (best mushrooms I have ever tasted). We waited for the rain to subside, then headed back down on the cable car.

As soon as we got off the cable car, the rain started again. We quickly walked through a public park/aviary downtown, which was really cool, and then stopped in a tea shop to get out of the rain. This was our first true tea shop experience, and we learned a lot about tea and tea etiquette from Richard. I have never met anyone that knows more about and likes tea than Richard, and we tried 3 different kinds: a pu’er tea, which is a black tea that is put into bricks and gets better (and costs more) with age, a green tea called long jin, and another fruity black tea. It was interesting to learn that the first brew of tea is not drank but instead poured onto the cups and pot to help bring out the flavors. Their is a huge tea subculture that I never knew existed. The rain started to let up, so we left, after Richard showed us one of his favorite restaurants, Red Pepper, which Erin and I ate at later. It was another great meal, making that day the best food day we have had since being in China (in my opinion).

More updates to come….

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