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My second day of trekking in Sapa started off better than the first, mostly because I got a good night’s sleep and it wasn’t raining. After breakfast at my hotel (which incidentally looks a LOT more elegant in these photos) with some other tourists who were also from the same hostel in Hanoi, I walked with my tour-buddy Lisa into town to meet our tour group. The downtown area was bustling with locals buying vegetables in the market, transporting livestock and hassling tourist to buy “hande-made” goods. Our tour guide later told us that she knows most of the goods are imported from China, ha.

I took some great photos of the local women; the kind that really make people jealous you were able to interact with such “authentic” and unique cultures. I know a lot of the women wear their traditional minority clothing for tourists now, but it still looks amazing and the Sapa Valley minority groups still seem to thrive in this area. Our group for the day consisted of multiple guides from the Mao minority village, and 5 females in their late 20’s. We were a chatty and energetic group from America, Canada, Switzerland, France and Germany…which made sliding down the muddy hills together all the more fun. Due to the rain our knee-high rubber boots became essential for the hike, and once I stepped in a mud pit so deep that the tall boots saved me by just an inch. While the minority women practically skipped down the muddy hillside, us foreigners labored through the mud-drenched paths, often taking a hand for balance.

Despite the fog, the rivers alongside the muddy trails were a stunning aqua-marine color and the bamboo was thick and impressive. We came across quaint village homes that were stunningly set between miles of terraced rice fields, and somewhat larger villages that were bustling with activity. There were children whipping around on bikes too-large for their bodies, 7 year-olds leading heards of oxen, families busily preparing meals for Tet, pigs and other animals tending to their young, and of course, the minority women hawking their wares. One of the photos below depicts two boys cleaning a pig in the river in preparation for their feast. Also, the photo of two young kids on the steps of a run-down, vacant-looking building, is actually a hospital in one of the towns.

I was a bit sad when the trek ended for the day, as I could’ve spent a few more hours wandering around those villages…every single thing I saw was picturesque. Little did I know that I probably should’ve just trekked back to my hotel instead of waiting for our “shuttle bus.” We waited for two hours to get picked up due to some miscommunication and the lack of employees during Tet. Then, when a beat-up, rusty, old pick-up truck finally jammed us all in, it broke down 20 minutes later. The driver spent a good half an hour getting the thing running again, while my ever-positive group assured our cute tour guide that we didn’t mind.

After tipping our tour guide $5 USD (which nearly doubled her days pay) Lisa and I headed back to the train station. We ate some Vietnamese egg rolls before hopping back on the night train, and this time I slept pretty hard. I arrived back at Hanoi around 5am, checked my email for a bit at the Rendezvous Hostel, and headed back to the airport for a flight to DaNang!

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I have a few additional things to add regarding our trip. First off, we almost didn’t make our initial bus from Beijing to Tangshan, because the last bus out of Tangshan apparently leaves at 7:30 and we were a few minutes late to arrive. It’s difficult to figure these things out because there isn’t a posted schedule, you just have to know by word of mouth. Luckily the bus guys were interested in making an extra buck, and we say on our suitcases in the middle of the aisle for the 2-hour trip to Beijing. Upon arriving in Guangzhou, we could immediately tell that the cuisine was different. Lots of restaurants displayed all of their live seafood in aquariums near the entrance of the restaurant, where patrons could literally choose which items they wanted for dinner. Most of the seafood looked alright, but there were large containers of eels and half-dead turtles that made me grossed out and sad. The thing I really don’t like, which I have seen in a few cities, are the large glass jars of dead snakes in some type of liquid…which really make me lose my appetite. I have tried chicken heart, pig tendon and picked chickens foot since being here, but the slimy things are the ones that really get me. (I hope you didn’t just eat breakfast, sorry!) After visiting Southern China, I definitely believe that saying that “the Chinese will eat anything with legs except a table, and anything that flies except a plane.”

As David mentioned, our room/mini apartment in Guangzhou was awesome. In fact, I just created a review on Trip Advisor to let others in on the secret! The weather was so sticky in Guangzhou that I found it hard to leave the comfort of the A/C, my new book and the cute apartment…and I definitely took a few relaxing naps. Despite the fact that it was overall difficult to find enticing food in Guangzhou, there was lots of cheap, fresh fruit being sold on every corner. I ate a good amount of melon and sweet lychees, and had some fresh watermelon juice.

One aspect about the trip that was rewarding was that we could actual tell some difference between local dialects! Yes, we’re still tone deaf, but we actually picked up on many sound changes in the northern vs. southern language. For example, many words up here (north) add an “r” sound to the end that is lacking in the southern accent. To play is “wan” in the South instead of “war.” Additionally, the southern accent even deletes the “r” sound on some words, like the number ten. This made things a little confusing for us, because usually ten had been “shier” and four was “si”, but in the south the both sounded very similar. Anyway, this gets confusing, but we managed to make some accent jokes with the locals about the changing language and felt a little proud for noticing this difference. Now, we are back in Tangshan instead of Tangsan!

Overall, Shamien Island was my favorite part of Guangzhou because it was like a quaint oasis in the middle of the city. David looked up some to top rated Western restaurants (Danny’s Italian and Wilber’s) which we found after some wild goose hunts, but even there the food just wasn’t great. In Guillin we stayed at another nice hotel for around $20/night, and found out the beauty of Ctrip, because we booked our hotel through this site, and found the posted prices at the accommodation to be about 4 times what we paid! I think this case was unique to more touristy places like Guilin and Yangshuo, but we were glad we booked ahead. Meeting up with Robbie and his girlfriend and hearing about his entrepreneurial ventures with cli.org was a cool aspect to the trip, and visiting Yangshuo was incredible. I had an incredible time biking through the Karst peaks on the tandem bike with David. The scenery was so incredible with tall and slim mountains on both sides of the road, and many rice patties strewn all about. The photo of the Li River with the bamboo boats and the peaks is one of my favorite from our time in China. I would be happy to go back to Yangshuo for more biking, boating, good western food and hospitality from the locals.

One reoccurring theme that I am beginning to recognize through our travels is how people not only reasonably adapt to their circumstances, but thrive in a variety of conditions. When I see a migrant worker taking his or her long commute home on the train or watch a trash collector ride around on their bike all day in the hot sun, I often think that I could never endure a life like that, and I truly appreciate the options I have in my life. However, the more I see here, the more I believe that I have come to value my lifestyle because it’s free, but also because it’s comfortable and normal for me. Maybe I am naive, but if I had grown up as a migrant worker, I think I would find a lot to like about this way of life. This is not to say that I haven’t experienced whining in the school regarding wanting a new job, but when it really comes down to it, when I discuss alternatives with my friends here, most of them seem to value living in China and being connected to all things Chinese. Opportunities are certainly more limited in this country than ours, but not so much so that a person can’t change their life if they really desire a new one. Maybe this is just overall ignorance of condition or opportunity, but I prefer to see this mindset as a positive ability for human’s to thrive emotionally in their surroundings, no matter what those may be. In response to these thoughts David says I’m a true anthropologist at heart, and I take that as a huge compliment. I like knowing that the human condition is different for many, yet we are all linked in our ability to develop a fondness for “home.”

We had a really good time today.  We slept in for the first time so far and despite another episode with the shower of horror (not just freezing water, but alternated to skin-scaldingly hot, too.  Neither a usable temperature, woo!) had a relaxing morning.  We met our managers (Eddie and Sally) and the other teacher (David A) at school and headed off to lunch with Eddie’s business partners.  We went to a traditional “hot pot” restaurant, which is a tradition started in Mongolian and is now popular in many parts of China.  The style is similar to American Fondue in that there are tons of small dishes that are cooked in a pot of boiling water and spices.  This hot pot restaurant was pretty fancy, as we got our own private room and personal hot pots.  The food was awesome; a variety of tofu, thin slices of meat, vegetables and other interesting items.  The most unique dish was probably thin slices of cow stomach.  We also tried bamboo meats and I tried the raw beef, and really liked both.  We also had sugar-glazed sweet potato for dessert (although it’s just a main dish in China) which had the texture of candied apples and was also delectable!  Eddie’s associates were so generous and half of the table was drunk off of bijou (traditional rice wine) by the end of lunch.

After lunch we headed to the Giant (same bike brand as in American) bike store to buy bikes!  Eddie offers his new teachers the opportunity to buy bikes, and we gladly accepted.  David and I now both have brand-new Giant bikes, which we rode right out of the store.  It was an exhilirating and exciting experience to ride our bikes on the streets of China for the first time, especially when Eddie yelled out from his motorbike, “WE ARE THE ASTON GANG!!!”  Oh yes, and it was also snowing, but you probably figured that, since it apparently snows wherever we go!  As Little Miss Warmy McWarmerson, I never thought I would be riding a bike in the snow.

I also would like to share a few updates:

1.  We both have Skype and would love to chat, so look us up! *David: davidjacobs85  *Erin: erin.henshaw

We are usually on Skype/gchat between 8-10am (US) every day and can be available during the evenings most Mon-Wed.

2. Our blog has had over 1,000 views as of yesterday, cool!  Just FYI, you can subscribe to the blog through WordPress and then you will be updated each time we make a new post. Also, it seems that we are starting to be come a little bit of a resource on world travel, so if you have friends with questions/concerns about visiting China or anywhere else we have visited, please send them along! Between David and I we have visited: Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Alaska, England, France, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and have particularly good/recent knowledge of Spain, China and South Africa.

3. I’m thinking about trying to create a China/US book club that would meet on Skype/post to the blog.  It would happen at a relatively slow pace (one book every month or two) and would be focused on both Chinese cultural books/novels and current fiction.  If you would be interested, please post a comment or email me…anyone is welcome!

4. All is well; we are healthy and happy and our apartment is warmer than the Jacobs’ house!

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