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Hello again blog world, sorry I haven’t been as active as in the past. As was suggested, I had writers block 🙂 Anyways, we are back on the road in China, in the southern city of Guangzhou (aka Canton), the capital of Guangdong province. It is the third most populous metro population in China (about 12 million), and is usually considered the center of industry in the country. There are tons of factories in the surrounding areas that pump out cheap goods and textiles, and as a result (SURPRISE!), the city is very polluted and things are very cheap. It is a few hours away from Hong Kong and as the title of this post suggests, the climate here is a little bit humid. It hasn’t been as insufferable as I was expecting, but it is pretty sticky. I am pretty much covered in a nice shield of sweat all day, so it keeps the dirt off of my skin.

Besides sauna like conditions, Guangzhou has an interesting mix of very different looking and feeling neighborhoods. We are staying in the original downtown area of the city, Liwan, and happened upon the best hotel we have stayed at thus far. It has a kitchen, 2 ACs, big TV, microwave, and a balcony with a view of the Pearl River. All for $25 a night! We are in the middle of a fairly happening area, near one of the biggest wholesale markets in China. These markets are strange places, with each street seemingly representing a different type of good one might desire. One street will be the dried fish, the next will be chandeliers, the next will be wires, the next phones, shoes, animals, etc. It is a little weird to be walking along and suddenly every store you see changes from selling shoes and belts to selling chandeliers and fan blades. And yes, the dried fish street doesn’t smell very good.

A quick rundown of the places we saw over the past days:

Shamian Island, the European section of the city, a small neighborhood in Liwan which used to only allow foreigners access. Now it is a trendy place to have some food or drinks and see some European buildings. Both of us remarked once again that it is pretty amazing that tiny countries in Europe were able to go everywhere we have been and seemingly do whatever they wanted while also building the nicest looking buildings.

-Yuntai Garden, a hilarious garden filled with little cartoon characters and things that Chinese people seem to think are nice in parks. It started to pour while we were walking around, but it was good for a laugh.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Memorial Hall, a huge octagonal shaped building in the center of town to commemorate one of the most important figures in the history of Guangzhou. Sun Yat-sen was one of the most influential revolutionary leaders in China in the early parts of the 20th century, and is unique in that he is revered all over China AND Taiwan. He fought to establish a republic in China, and created one of the leading political parties in China at the time. His ideas have since been distorted to be the first calls for communism, when he in fact wanted to emulate the constitutional monarchies of Europe. The memorial hall was closed but we took a look from the outside and got some pictures.

-Guixiao Si Temple and Liurong Temple, two Buddhist temples in the old part of Guangzhou. Both of these temples were said to have been visited by the Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism (this is probably a legend as is the case with most claims such as these). Guixiao Si is a pretty generic looking Buddhist temple, which we have seen a lot of, but Liurong has a pagoda in the middle of it which was cool. Buddhist temples are starting to lose some of their initial appeal for us, because they really all look the same. I don’t mean slightly similar, I mean nearly identical. The pagoda was worth seeing though.

Beijing Lu (Beijing Road), the main shopping area in Guangzhou. A big pedestrian walkway with stores on either side, and the remains of ancient streets and buildings located in the middle. Nothing too incredible here, lots of really cheap clothes, but it is pretty crazy to be walking in what is basically a giant mall, then looking down and notice that underneath some plexiglass are the remains of a building built 1500 years ago.

Those are the sights we have seen, nothing really blew our minds but I was glad we saw them. The food has been different than what we are used to up north, because as people say, Guangzhou people will eat anything. It does appear to be the case, and still saddens and confuses me why people eat so much shark fin, turtle and bird’s nest down south (I guess it tastes good). We had some pizza at an Italian restaurant founded by fellow New Jerseyians, which was pretty good, but overall the food has been less impressive than I expected. That is all from Guangzhou. Tomorrow we head to Guilin and see one of the most beautiful cities in China. For now, I will just keep on sweating! Adios.

“The whole World is one family.” -Dr. Sun Yat-sen

I hope not! Because we have a few more for you. This past Monday we visited the Summer Palace, where the emperors would spend the summer in luxury. The entrance had an impressive canal lined with small shops and ancient buildings, which looked like a perfect movie set. The actual palace was huge and ornate, but overall very similar to many we have visited so far. There was a big lake around which all of the palace buildings were strewn, and my favorite part was the lily pad pond. The Summer Palace is known for the “Marble Boat” which is made to look like an incredible feat of buoyancy, but really it’s made of wood. Unfortunately we didn’t see the boat…strike one.

After the palace it was our mission to find Kro’s Nest pizza, which we had tried to find on a previous trip but couldn’t locate. We took the subway to Mudanyuan and started the quest. We walked around the area for nearly an hour, unable to locate the restaurant. Then, we got in a cab and tried to say “pizza” because we knew we were close…fail. I was getting really hungry at this point so we stopped in “The Library Cafe” which was very nice and Western, and I got a mango smoothie. Re-energized, we set out again. We asked even more people on the street about the confusing address…were about to give up, when finally we asked a guard who understood us and pointed straight ahead. No sign and all, we had finally found the Kro’s Nest! The pizza wasn’t NY quality, but it was the best we have had in China, and the salad and fries were also really good. They were also giving out free beer that night, and although I don’t usually drink, I had a few celebratory sips, ha. Oh yea, and we got veggie and mexican pizza! After dinner we took the metro to the Olympic Village, in hopes to see the buildings at night…strike two. We missed the lights by 20 minutes at 10:20pm.

We slept in a cheap hotel room without windows (hate that but it was a good deal). In the morning we stopped by a bakery and went to Tienanmen Square to see Mao’s embalmed body. Stike three! Viewing hours ended at noon, we were TWO minutes late. Still took some pretty photos and headed to a culture street behind the square. I passed by a store called Me & City and saw a dress that I really liked, and David actually agreed to go in! I debated heavily over the dress, but it was a little pricey, so I just bought a tank-top…and we headed to Lao Shi tea house. This tea house has hosted many politicians and world leaders and it was incredibly beautiful and ornate. This has to be one of my favorite buildings in China…but drinking tea here requires renting a private room and paying over 100 RMB per pot, so we didn’t sip. Maybe we can in the future with some visitors, though! After the tea house we had lunch at an authentic nearby restaurant and, much to David’s excitement, headed back to the store to buy the dress that I couldn’t stop thinking about. The employee informed me that if I bought the dress I would get a free t-shirt…so it was a done deal. (I know you were worried.)

To end the trip we walked on the Wanfujing shopping street for a while, bought two English books at the international bookstore and did some food shopping at Jenny’s Lou’s. We missed the 7:30 bus by a few minutes (strike 4), waited, and headed back. Overall it was a frustrating trip because of timing, but that was our fault for not checking hours better…and we still saw another good chunk of the city.

*I arrived at the public school this morning to find that my classes had been cancelled because the students had to take their final English exam. As it turned out, last week had been my last session with the kids. I was bummed because this is the only teaching gig that I really like because the kids are really energetic, receptive, and good at English. Many of them also don’t have English names, so I thought I could name them during our last class…which reminds me of some of the classic names I have heard recently. “Nationality” attended my English Corner, “Seashell” was interviewed for placement, and the real winner, “Pea Shooter” found his name on the internet.

*Thanks so much to Annie and other contributors to my amazing care package that I received last week. The protein bars have been a life-saver as I’m starting to get a little sick of street food!

*Matt Busa and Billy Bergold are officially visiting us during the second and third weeks of August and we can’t wait!

*Stumbled upon this awesome blog this week that has been inspiring some friends to whip out their sewing machines and start making fashion magic, check out 365 dresses for $365:

*My friend from studying in Spain, Charlie Seltzer, has spent two years in the Dominican Republic with the Peace Corps and is now spear-heading an initiative to help them better market and sell their local coffee. If you would be interested in sampling the coffee and spreading the word, please email your name and address to me!

*Avon Walker and Silly Bus Kid’s Music employee, Jen Dalton, needs your help! Silly Bus produces awesome kids music aimed at getting kids active and healthy. They are in the running for a Pepsi Refresh Grant, so please vote here to help out this great initiative:

*If you are interested in reading a good book about China, that details many similar experiences that David and I are having, check out Peter Hessler’s River Town. One of the passages that struck me most is about the comforting nature of running/physical exertion in any country (despite the fact that lots of people yell at me!)
“The peasants found it strange that I ran in the hills, and they always scared when I charged past, but they never shouted or laughed. As a rule they were the most polite people you could ever hope to met, and in any case they has more important things to do with their energy than scream at a waiguoren. And perhaps they had an innate respect for physical effort, even when they didn’t see the point. ..That old well-known feeling–the catch in my chest, the strain in my legs–connected all the places where I had lived, Missouri and Princeton and Oxford and Fuling. While I ran through the hills, my thoughts swung fluidly between these time and places…As the months slipped past I realized that even these Sichuan hills, with their strange tombs and terraces, were starting to feel like home.”

*Random potty humor success story: Upon arriving at the gym I realized that I had to “go” and didn’t have any toilet paper. I looked up “toilet paper” in the dictionary and headed to the staff room. I asked a cleaning lady for the paper and she miraciously understood me, and pulled a wad of TP out of her pocket! I couldn’t be picky, thanked her profusely, and went off to use the stall without doors!

*In a little over a week we leave for a 9-day trip to Guangzhou and Guilin in Southern China, where we hope to meet up with Robbie Friend, a friend from high school who now runs a Chinese immersion school in Guilin!

*Below are a variety of photos from exploring Tangshan. I have also decided to start writing an essay about my time in China, so I’ll post that next time!

We have officially attended our first Chinese wedding! On Tuesday we traveled back to Tianjin to attend Claudia (Ling Ling) and Wen Xi (Vincent)’s wedding. It was certainly a cultural experience from start to finish. We had expected a “traditional Chinese wedding” to include women in silk gowns, traditional music, and maybe a dragon dance or something…but we found ourselves in quite a different atmosphere. Upon arriving we immediately realized that we were over-dressed for the occasion. I had gone out and bought new shoes and a dress, but the majority of attendees were in very casual (we’re talking Nike dri fit) shirts. Although David opted to go without a coat in his long-sleeve shirt and tie ensemble, he was still more dressed up than the groom, who wore a short-sleeved pink collared shirt and tie. The bride, however, was shimmering in her bold jewelry and long, white, dress. We were sat at a table close to the front, and were offered candy and pumpkin seeds to munch on before the ceremony. There were also liters of soda and bottles of beer and wine at each table. We watched the frenzied bride and maid of honor as they made lots of last-minute preparations for the ceremony, and chatted in our meager Chinese with the bride’s family. Then, our friend Candy (maid of honor and sister of the bride) asked us if we had memorized our script for the cake cutting. “Huh?” we replied. Candy had sent us an email a few days prior with what she explained were wedding greetings for the event, however, we did not understand that we were supposed to memorize these lines to present in front of everyone before we cut the cake for the bride and groom. We had been informed about some type of cake-cutting that we would lead…but the details of the speech had eluded us. So, we furiously tried to memorize some Chinese blessings. I did a terrible job because my short-term memory is horrendous, especially when I can’t see the words in writing. David fared better, but we were still very worried.

At last the ceremony began, and boy what a ceremony it was. An emcee “hosted” the event with a microphone and a laugh track, while another Chinese girl was hired to tell the audience when to clap. Pop songs and “Amazing Grace” played in between the different aspects of the ceremony. Claudia was a music major and she sang a really beautiful song with Vincent…as they were surrounded by bubbles and rose petals. After the song, the emcee announced many prominent government officials and important people who were in attendance at the event, and the couple said their ‘I dos.’ Then Claudia lit a torch of a candle on fire, and Vincent poured champagne over a pyramid of glasses. At this point…the Americans were called up on stage. The emcee pretended our attendance was a “surprise” as Claudia and Vincent stood with their backs to us, and we recited a few English and Chinese blessings together. I’m pretty sure no one understood any of the Chinese, especially because they wanted us to say it in unison, but it was cute and we managed to get through the speech and cut the cake without any major catastrophes. (Ah yes, maybe one catastrophe was that I put on bronzer and looked like a florescent pumpkin…thanks, I know.)

After cake, we ate dinner…obviously. Dinner came as a huge assortment of plates, which came quickly and were stacked 5-levels tall on the table. It was difficult for David to find anything without meat, but most of the guests at our table didn’t seem to eat much either. We had some lively Chinglish conversations with Claudia’s friends from school, some of whom knew some English and were all very nice. Following tradition, Claudia and Vincent walked around to each table and had a drink, and the guests showered them with money in red envelopes. Alas, since it was a Tuesday, everyone went home around 9pm after dinner, and we headed out with the younger attendees to Claudia and Vincent’s new apartment. We said some more Chinese blessings together with the couple for the wedding video, and looked at their truly incredible pre-wedding photos. They went to Hainan in Southern China, and had photos on the beach, complete with a wedding gown and piano! Vincent had just recently purchased the apartment, which was spotless and very nice. There were dates, peanuts and apples scattered around the bed, which are a traditional Chinese symbol for good luck in the marriage.

Overall I think the two most beautiful parts of the wedding were Claudia in her gown and two subsequent out-fits and hair-dos, and a part of the ceremony when the parents were honored. In this tradition, the parents welcome their new son and daughter into their family, the ‘new child’ serves them tea, and calls the other partner’s parent “Mom and Dad” for the first time.

I thought you may like to know what a typical week in Tangshan is like for David and I.

Monday-Wednesday we don’t have to work. Monday tends to be a catch-up day when we clean the apartment, do laundry, catch up on emails/blog posts, etc. For the next two days we either go to a nearby city, or stay around here and go to the gym, visit local markets, (I) get $3 massages, ride bikes to eat on food streets, and say hello to the teachers at school. Last week was actually Arzola’s birthday, and we had a party complete with home-made dumplings and steamed bread (courtesy of Ada and Liu) and a birthday cake!

Thursday David has a public kindergarden class early in the morning, while I used to have private one-on-one sessions with older students in the evening. However, those sessions have now ended and we will both be handing out fliers to potential clients at schools around the city, to promote our summer session. I also start on my lesson plans for the weekend.

Friday I go to the public elementary school to teach in the morning, bike to the mall for a yoga class, and head back to school for lesson plans. We both teach a free “English Corner” at 6pm, and go to bed early for classes the next morning.

Saturday/Sunday we both work from around 8am-6pm, teaching half-hour classes to the youngest kids (3-5), one-hour classes to the middle ages (5-10) and two hour classes (10+) to the older levels. We have 10 minute breaks in between classes and an hour for lunch. These days are tough and honestly not fun at all. I usually have plenty of energy and excitement to teach the 4 hours before lunch, but afterwards my throat and patience begin to wear out. I don’t enjoy the young classes because they are just about lots of repetition. The little kids are incredibly cute, but it’s very tiring to repeat the same questions hundreds of times. The older kids are more engaging, but I think that 2-hour classes and just entirely too long for all of us. I am, however, learning how to introduce grammar better and better, and have found some games that the kids really seem to like. One of my classes was videotaped as a “demo” for one of our workshops, and I liked my one on one sessions with the older kids…but overall I don’t want a future as a English foreign language teacher.

Last week David and I attended two really fun events with the kids. I found out that the public school was hosting a Children’s Day Festival performance, so Ada, Liu, David and I got up bright and early for the event. I felt a little guilty because we were the only adults let inside except for the staff; parents had to take pictures from outside the schoolyard fences because they are too over-bearing and interfere with the performances! The pictures can describe the event better than I, but it was really well-done…they danced and sang to everything from Chinese Opera to Britney Spears! Also, the kid in the cow costume was hilarious, he sauntered around just like a little cow. Check out Ada and Liu’s matching shirts…a popular trend for younger couples in China. Liu even picked these ones out! Will David be next…?

We also went to the Tangshan International Golf course with our school, which was a special event for students that had received the most “cards” in class. We hand out cards for correct answers and good participation, and about 15 kids and their parents came out to the event. The golf course is actually nationally certified and it was REALLY nice. The grass was perfectly green, the buildings were clean and modern, and the day was warm and sunny. We found out that it costs over $40,000 just to become a member, and you pay more to actually golf. Some of kids were able to hit the balls surprisingly well for their first try, and David and I had fun at the driving range. The nicest houses we have seen here were on the golf course, and belonged to government officials. They looked at lot like modern beach cottage mansions…which was a tough pill to swallow for the Chinese and the foreigners alike.

Overall our schedules are very relaxed and we are really enjoying the warm weather. Seeing people out allows us to practice our basic Chinese more and get more exercise. I have struck up a language-limited friendship with a street vendor who travels around the neighborhood corners selling sweet potatoes and other vegetables, and I always try to make as much small talk as possible, and tell potential clients that she’s a good woman. She also gives me a sweet potato or tomato nearly every time I see her. Contacts like these really make living in China fun. I also included a photo of the fattest pug I have ever seen, especially for Matt Busa and Annie Weathers…die-hard pug lovers.

I’m VERY excited to say that we are headed to Tianjin tomorrow for Ling Ling’s traditional Chinese wedding…yeaaaa!!!

Our second day in Tianjin wasn’t as exciting at the first, but what could really top a Chinese bath house?! My experience there was similar to David’s, except that I had some guidance from Candy and her sister. I have also been in love with steam rooms since my co-worker Lisa first introduced me about a year ago, and I also visited the steam rooms at the bath house. They were definitely hot enough for my liking, but not as comfortable as home. The set-up included small marble stools to sit on, the ceiling was dripping water from small stalactites on the ceiling, and there were plants and a pond inside. It was dim so you couldn’t see if the area was clean or not…and I was mostly afraid to move. As David mentioned, the dinner was awesome, and I would give anything to have pictures of all of these adults eating dinner in silk robes!

Experiences like this make me realize how opposite Western and Eastern culture are in many ways. There are many social formalities in China, like denying tips to avoid being seen a begger, giving business cards with two hands, and standing up when answering a teacher’s question out of respect, that would be considered highly rude if not dealt with correctly. However, when it comes to nudity and friendly touching, the Chinese are much more liberal with their actions. I can’t imagine chatting nude with my new co-worker and her sister at a spa in America and thinking nothing of it. When mentioning this to my friend Jenny, she humorously commented, “So that’s why the Chinese women are always the ones walking around the locker room nude!” There is also a lot more hand-holding and general contact between members of the same sex here, and although I’m still getting used to this closeness, I like the bond and trust it automatically creates.

Anyway, on our second day in Tianjin we had lunch with Candy, her sister, and her sister’s finance at a restaurant with typical food from the city of Xi’an. Ling Ling/Claudia also bought a large watermelon from the street, which we all ate with spoons at the table. After saying our goodbyes, David, Candy and I headed to the Tianjin amusement park, where we fed fish (Candy chewed some of Tianjin’s famous Ma Hua bread and spit out pieces for the “little fish” which was hilarious) and rode on the ferris wheel. We stopped by Wal-Mart to pick up some peanut butter, cereal and granola bars, and headed back to Tangshan on the train. Sadly, we left the bag of goodies ON THE TRAIN (waaaah) but we did chat with some locals (via Candy’s translation) on the way back. The thing that most of the Chinese here cannot comprehend is why we left America to come to China if we aren’t making more money and don’t like China better than America. We try to explain that we would like to learn as much about all of the world as possible, but they are mostly confused by this answer or think we are lying about our salaries. After all Confucius did say, “He who will not economize will have to agonise.”…but we have to hope that following our hearts will lead to some type of economization in the future!

When we arrived back in Tangshan we ate dinner at our favorite Uighur restaurant, and received a call from David and Millie to join them for dumplings. So, we ate again…and headed to our first K-TV (karaoke bar). Although we always thought that K-TV would be similar to a karaoke bar in the US, it’s very different. You pay by the hour for a private room, where you and your friends can order drinks and light food. There isn’t a big stage with a group of people in front…it’s just like the small, windowless room like in the movie Lost in Translation. Overall it was enjoyable because it was our first time and with friends, but we can’t quite understand the rage, especially since they don’t play the actual music videos, but show poorly made, 80’s looking Chinese versions of the songs.

I am also proud to announce that we have hit some major landmarks:
*Our blog has received over 10,000 hits
*Tomorrow will be our 100th day in China

As requested, our next entry will detail more of our teaching and daily schedule…

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