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When I first arrived back in the states, everyone kept asking how it felt. I didn’t really have to think about this answer, as it came in one word: EASY. I could walk outside without a dictionary. I was surrounded by food I love. I didn’t have to convert prices in my head or wonder about what all the signs say. I didn’t have to prep myself for any future dialogues. I knew the roads and the best places in town, so I could actually complete a few errands a day! And, admittedly, I had the freedom of driving a car.

I also greatly noticed the slower pace and friendliness of others. Its funny to think that DC is a really laid back city, but in comparison to Beijing, it’s quite slow! A few additional things I immediately appreciated were the abundance of good, healthy food (that I didn’t have to make from scratch), running stores, and of course the support of family and friends. I also freshly appreciated the diversity of the DC-area. While shopping at Tysons Corner, I heard at least three different languages being spoken in just one store. While enjoying the bliss of tangy yogurt on a bench in the mall I once again felt like a racial minority, but this time the majority wasn’t only Chinese and no one was taking photos, ha.

Fortunately I stayed home a week longer than David, and I got to see and buy all the things I could’ve hoped for. I may have mentioned one too many times that the number one thing I miss about America are the granola bars, because David and I received approximately 15 boxes for Christmas and I had to pay a little extra to bring my 61lb suitcase on the flight (and had to leave a few boxes behind as well.) I didn’t have to work too much while home, so I got to spend most of my time eating at all my favorite spots with friends and spending Groupons.

Other highlights included:
-Buying out Roadrunner Sports with Mom
-Avon Walk reunion at Founding Farmers (and subsequent free meal for reviewing some of the poor service on Open Table)
-Christine’s baby bump
-Meeting our most loyal blog followers, Janet and Bob Soong
-Giving out gifts from China
-Sitting 10-deep in a 6 person booth at P.F. Chang’s with the Henshaw fam.
-Matching pajamas for Christmas!
-Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Portrait Gallery (still running, check it out)
-American FOOD

Although I had some hesitation about this trip initially due to the $1200 plane ticket and the toll that jetlag would take, I am definitely glad I went! I actually stayed up for the first 24 hours of the trip, which made the time transition a little easier. Thanks SO much to everyone who has supported David and I in this journey, and we hope to fill 2011 with even more stories and experiences.

P.S. Remember back in October when I posted comments and photos about the moon cake lines at the mall? Well, look what some charitable little moon cakes accomplished: http://www.chinahospitalitynews.com/en/2011/01/04/18978-shangri-la-moon-cake-sales-aid-migrant-schools-in-beijing/

*Photos are uploaded online for our RSS feed subscribers, internet is crawling once again!

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For all the ups and downs, there are days when I definitely love living in this country. On my way home from working a booth at The British School of Beijing’s Christmas Fayre, I was thinking about how to describe my first acupuncture experience. However, instead of walking directly home, I stopped off at a tea shop to purchase my favorite green tea for those of you that requested it! (I’m still more than happy to bring more home if you let me know.) As I was asking a nice employee for additional recommendations, two younger guys at the lone tea table in the corner said “hello” in English. I saw they were eating some kind of seed with tea on the outside, and I asked if it was pumpkin. They were surprised I could speak some Chinese, and asked me to sit-down and have tea!

We chatted a little about what we do, Chinese food and America, and I drank some really awesome, expensive teas. I even got to taste bamboo tea, which I liked a lot. At the end of the impromptu tea ceremony I asked to take everyone’s picture, and one guy offered to pay for the tea I was buying! I declined, and I ‘m pretty sure he thought I didn’t understand the offer. Regardless, it was a very pleasant and unexpected experience.

As I neared our apartment I saw a friendly city donkey and his owners selling fruit out of the back of a wooden cart. It seemed almost too perfect that after a day of feeling very much like an expat I would have tea with locals and then stumble upon a donkey cart; how quintessentially Chinese. To top it all off, I made one last stop at the dry-cleaners to pick up our new roommates dry-cleaning…which was half full of stuffed-animals. Did I mention that most Chinese, especially girls, seem to be about ten years behind in maturation in comparison to their Western counterparts? I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I cannot tell you how many girls dress like little kids, carry around stuffed animals and have toy key chains and all sorts of cartoon accessories. The reason I see this as a slowed maturation process is that most woman never carry these things. Maybe it’s a generational gap, but it’s a major difference from the emphasis on looking “cool” or “grown-up” in the states.

Unfortunately for David, he had a more frustratingly Chinese day, including additional issues with our apartment and a dispute with the water jug people about a receipt without an infamous “red stamp.” Anyway, more about acupuncture later and we will be home for the holidays in a few weeks!

Greetings blogworld. I apologize for my extremely long delay in posting, I have been busy/tired/blog is now blocked on my computer, so that is the reason for my absence. I took a 2 week long business trip to the US of A, and it was nice to get a taste of the motherland. Unfortunately it is a 12 hour difference in time so I came back and was pretty tired for a few days. I am back now and am ready to give the people what they want, which of course is a new blog post. I will detail the portion of my parents journey that I was able to join them with to the beautiful city of Guilin.

It seems like ages ago, but the time of my parents trip was the most hectic that I have had in China. My visa was expiring the day I was supposed to fly to meet them, I had to get a new visa in order to get entry into China after the business trip, 2 of my companies biggest partners were visiting to discuss contracts and such, we were scheduled to visit a school the afternoon of my flight to Guilin, a school that we were donating to that was a free school for some children whose parents died in the earthquake of 2008, and we were being forceably removed from our apartment! Typical last-minute-I-have-no-idea-what-is-happening kind of thing. The day of my flight, I had to go to 2 different places to get a new residence permit and emergency visa extension, rush back to meet with the partners, go to the school to meet the earthquake children, rush back in a huge traffic jam to get my passport with new visa, give Erin keys to the apartment and finally get on the plane to Guilin. Somehow, all of these things worked, and I ended up getting on the plane. It was an incredible feeling, I really couldn’t believe that everything had worked out, but I walked into my parents hotel room at 2 am and that was that.

My parents were obviously asleep so we saved the real hellos until the following morning. We were staying at a nice hotel on the Li River, in a very good location in the city. My parents still looked the same and it sounded like they had a good time on the first portion of their Chinese journey. The breakfast at the hotel was incredible and it was amazing to have a decent, real breakfast for a change. We met up with our tour guide, Karen, who was very helpful throughout and took us to the Longji terrace, a village on the top of a mountain chain that was covered with terraced rice fields. It was a little hazy but still an amazing view. Hard to imagine that people make a living growing rice on top of this mountain that had no road going to it even a few years ago, but they did. I did some haggling with a lady to get a tablecloth for my mom, and it was a good introduction to haggling in China for my parents. No matter how upset they act, it is all for show. Stick to your original price and walk away, you will probably get it. We watched some rich people get carried up the mountain on a little throne, which also seemed like a pretty tough way to make money. It was my first terraced field experience in China though, so I was glad to see it.

After the terrace we went on the Guilin city night boat cruise, which I thought was pretty lame. All of the lakes in Guilin are man made, as are most of the old traditional looking buildings. Three ancient looking pagodas are actually 7 years old, so it wasn’t really my cup of tea. The Chinese eat it up though, the cornier the better. After that we wandered around downtown Guilin, ate some pizza that came with gloves so the grease doesn’t get on your hands, and went to bed.

The next day we took the famous Li River cruise to the nearby town of Yangshuo. The river was a little shallow so we couldn’t go very fast, but it was a very nice trip. The weather was incredible and the scenery really is amazing, plus there was a bad lunch buffet! What could be better?! It was nice to have a lot of time to just chat with the ‘rents though, and Yangshuo is one of my favorite places in China. A super touristy town with tons of amazing restaurants and shops, it can seem tasteless at first, but as our village tour showed us, there is a reason why foreigners love Yangshuo so much. We took a little truck with an engine that seemed ready to explode at any second and stopped at an old farmhouse. We were able to walk around and meet the people who lived there, 2 old ladies who were completely hilarious. My mom get a kiss from one of them and it was interesting to see how they live. My first thought was, what, no flatscreen TVs?! Don’t worry they did have a TV, pretty astounding if you saw how rustic the rest of the house was. The drive led us to more fields of rice which were orange and ready to be harvested, and then lastly to a little place where all the bamboo boats gather to give people tours. So beautiful, for anyone that wants to travel to China, you have to come to Yangshuo. The night concluded with a show on the Li River, with boats doing crazy choreography and girls singing and flashing outfits. Hard to explain but it was interesting. It was created by the guy that organized the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and again the scenery around the stage is ridiculous. My dad and I headed back to the town at night just to see it, and it is hard to explain just how many people are out and about in most places like this. The street is just packed with people, the town has transformed into a party zone, and my dad and I were offered our first prostitutes of the evening. As a foreigner, you get used to the offers pretty quickly, because it is everywhere you go. Wasn’t something that my dad and I are really accustomed to doing. The next morning we got up early and saw the major sites in Guilin, the Elephant Trunk hill and Reed Flute Hill, and then it was back to the airport.

All in all it was a great time, and considering all of the hoops that I had to jump through before I could even go, it was relaxing and fun just to be with my parents. It would have really left a dent on the China experience if my parents had come all this way to see me and China, and then I couldn’t see them at all. It was a big relief to me and a good time. So now the rest of you need to get your butts over to the Middle Kingdom to visit me! Hope all is well with everyone back home, hopefully I can post again soon. As before, I leave you with some wise words from some wise Chinese dudes. Peace.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” -Chairman Mao

and a more positive one from the good Chairman

“Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.” – Chairman Mao

Ummmmmmm…….yea……….

Well, my experience in Beijing has certainly done a complete 180 over the past few weeks. For the first time since coming to China I really feel like I’m in the right place in my personal AND professional life. I have been doing a mix of marketing, events and teaching…and getting a kick out of it! I also booked my flights home for the holidays, so I will be visiting December 19-Jan 2nd and David is also likely coming home, but just working to figure out his work schedule.
If you are interested in seeing the details of the first two events I have helped organize, look below:

11.11 Get your singles Rum Truffle making on at The Fig Tree! http://www.thefigtree.cn/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=79

HAPPY HUTONG; The first charity event I have helped organize in Beijing: http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/events/77161/

This past weekend was the first I didn’t have to work Sat/Sun, and I got to attend Beijing’s Chi Fan for Charity fundraising event (http://chifanforcharity.org/event.aspx) which raised over RMB 200,000 for three different local charities. I invited Betsy and Jessica and we ate gourmet Chinese food at LAN, and I tried my first sea cucumber. This dish is quite a delicacy in China, and although I’m not sure I ever would’ve ordered it myself, I was happy to have had the chance. It looks like an over-sized, dark brown, spikey caterpiller, but has a gelatinous texture and actually tastes pretty bland. For the dish they smother the poor sucker in gravy, so it reminded me of a Chinese version of Thanksgiving turkey. If I had known I could’ve ordered the vegetarian version, I would’ve, it looked the same but was made out of flour!

Our table was mostly filled with very successful Chinese Americans who were all living in Beijing for one reason or another. Our table sponsor was Chen Daming, an up and coming Chinese writer/film director. He just directed Gong Li’s newest movie, which is a remake of Mel Gibson’s What Women Want for the Chinese audience. He was a friendly guy with some good stories about Hollywood, so I certainly ate that up! LAN also had a great atmosphere that looked like Alice in Wonderland, and of course the three of us hosted a mini photo shoot for the occasion. We also attended the after party for the event, where we had a good time eating a few free cupcakes and schmoosing with the local Expat community. People say the expat community here is small…and they aren’t kidding! It’s kinda nice though because after only being in Beijing for about 3 months I see some familiar faces. I chatted with the founder of the event, Michael Crain, who should be really proud of hosting such an excellent fundraiser!

On Sunday I volunteered to host a UVa table at Tsinghua University and answer questions for prospective students. Although it’s quite a trek to Tsinghua from my house, it was great to see so many nervously excited kids. I was really impressed with their knowledge of the admissions process and handle of the English language.

And now that I’m officially little miss Beijing Carrie Bradshaw (officially meaning…its been up for 9 months and we’re almost at 20,000 clicks) I have been introduced to a whole new world of high-class writers, also known as my friends. Anyway, my friends keep awesome blogs here if you are interested:

http://faruppereastside.blogspot.com/ First of all, how great is the name of this blog? Alison and Adam are from New York and have only been in China a few months. They just recently posted about an incredible trip to Xinjiang in Western China.

http://blog.sina.com.cn/laowaidianbao Caroline is an aspiring journalist and writes for an English magazine for expats interested in Chinese language and culture. Her entries have a really great voice, and I have her to thank for my marketing position.

http://betsybecky.wordpress.com/ For sure Betsy has the most off the wall blog, her references are hysterical and she’s very creative. She just started up again after a year in Shanghai, so get ready for more Betsalicious antics.
*The most interesting thing I have EVER seen in a vending machine…only in China:
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/149434.html

NEXT UP…Barbara and Mark Jacobs do CHINA

Using our blog as a handy Chinese time machine, I would like to take you back a month to the October holiday. Since David’s passport was somewhere in Visa land and we had not made any money, we spent most of the holiday laying low in Beijing. However, David and I had been wanting to take a trip to the outskirts and more natural areas of Beijing, so when our friend Caroline suggested the ancient village of Cuandixia, we jumped at the opportunity. As explained by Beijing.trip.com, this small village about 90 m outside Beijing “has a history of about 400 years and preserves more than 70 courtyards with approximately 500 rooms which were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).”

Four of us began our journey with a long bus ride to the western end of Line 1, the Pingguoyan Bus Terminal. Like bus terminals anyway it was pretty gritty and full of people trying to rip us off with taxi and car services. Caroline had researched the bus service, so we headed for the local bus to Cuandixia. Well, after the first bus came and left completely packed, we started looking towards a private car. We tried to ask a few Chinese going to the same town if they wanted to all go together, but they just nervously declined. Despite the fact that Caroline was slightly in favor of the 7RMB standing room only bus, we got a driver to down to 100RMB for the slightly over 2-hour trip. I will pay 20 RMB extra for a seat any day…heck, we know I will pay three times that for a cab in the city if I’m tired, cold, or lost and David isn’t around to complain about it.

Anyway, after a somewhat treacherous ride winding in and out of trucks on a windy mountain road, we arrived at the “quaint” village of Cuandixia. Well, not exactly. Although the area was certainly remote and natural, it was teeming with tourists. It wasn’t exactly the village we had envisioned in terms of seclusion, but the authentic courtyard houses were certainly not a let-down. We quickly breezed through Cuandixia and headed on a hike further into the mountains. The leaves were just changing, and the bright red vines snaking down the cliffs made a gorgeous spectacle that almost resembled dripping blood. We hiked for about two hours, stopping to take lots of photos and wound up in another ancient village called Baiyu.

Baiyu was great; truly secluded and sparsely populated with courthouse families cooking dinner and offering places to sleep. The people and animals in this little village made for one of the most fun picture-taking experiences I have had in China. As you can see from the photos, the doors and goat man were my favorite! We settled on a courtyard with a friendly Ayi, who made us a large dinner full of local ingredients as we chatted with some self-proclaimed avid “outdoorsmen” and women. I didn’t really love the dinner, kind of bland, and went to bed rather hungry.

The four of us shared a large room for 100 RMB ($15) and got up early to the rooster’s crow in the morning. We had a breakfast of soggy mantou and the most disgustingly rotten egg I’ve ever seen or smelled, so needless to say I was happy I packed a granola bar. We hiked for about two hours further into the mountains, hoping to catch a glance of The Great Wall in the distance, but had to head home for lack of water and to catch the bus. We stopped on the way back to have another local, bland lunch, but the highlight was a “grass” tea that is harvested from actual grass up in the mountains. I wouldn’t drink it every day, but it was a unique taste.

We walked back to Cuandixia to catch the local bus…and experience the least fun part of the trip. They crammed twice as many people on the bus as there were seats, and left us in there with no A/C for a half an hour before taking off. After walking most of the day we stood half of the way home, and then sat on the floor when the bus emptied a little. Thank goodness for my ipod, as I try to stay lost in the music. Overall though, a good trip to a more remote village outside of Beijing and nice break from the city.

I’m happy to report that things are MUCH better since my last post! We now have internet in our apartment, I figured out how to turn the A/C into a minimal-heat producing machine, my roommate kindly taught me that we should be using the fridge in the living room instead of the kitchen because it actually works (how silly of me to think we should use the one in the kitchen) and my various positions here are going great. I am doing marketing for a western bakery, charity events for a chinese cultural center and teaching English at an international school on saturdays! So far I have worked 7 days a week for the past two weeks, but it beats the heck out of sitting around the apartment or going to an endless amount of interviews and networking events. David has been in the US on a business trip for almost a week now, and apparently is doing a great job getting new partners for his high school study abroad organization.

We still don’t have a light in our bathroom which is a bit of a challenge, but overall I’m actually enjoying Beijing. I also just spent a lot of time touring and eating dinners with the Jacobs, and I think their Beijing portion of the trip was practically ideal. Per usual I’m a little behind with posting…but today I wanted to share some photos from various food spots around the city. We ate in the Wudaokou (university) area with our friend Caroline, who I owe greatly for introducing me to the owner of the bakery. (BTW, did I mention I got a macbook as part of my new position?! My old computer couldn’t even open documents, so I am relishing this thing like a newborn baby. It’s so beautiful, and fast and helpful…thank you Lin!!!) OK, back to food. Caroline picked a Korean BBQ place, where they bring out a huge platter of fresh food on a large skillet and cook it all in the middle of the table. We had major ordering problems because they literally would not serve any dishes without meat because they said it wouldn’t cook right…and when the food arrived it looked NOTHING like the photo in the menu. The oh-so-understanding waiters pointed us to the disclaimer on the menu which stated, “Actual food may be different than pictured.” Considering exactly HOW different the photo was, David asked if they thought it appropriate to bring a plate of meat even if we had pointed to a plate of veggies. They were not amused.

We had a more successful dinner with another new friend, Betsy, on Gui Jie or “Ghost Street.” The street looks awesome at night, filled with lanterns and bright lights. They also do a lot of bbq and seafood here, but we opted for a more traditional Chinese location. Below you can also find many photos of our neighborhood in Shuangjing. We live in a foreign-friendly but still very Chinese part of the city, about a 20-minute walk from Guomao and the Central Business Distracit (CBD), so there are lots of skyscrapers and overall congestion. The view out the window is actually from our old apartment, sigh. The other place was more updated and had a great bathroom with marble and a western tub, but our new place is still pretty good. We are located across the street from the Viva mall which has a big food court and movie theater, and are around the corner from an almost western grocery. The square in front of the mall is very lively, often filled with Chinese line-dancing women, salsa classes, in-line skating, men’s singing groups and various other events. We don’t have a good, cheap, food street nearby which David especially misses, but I’m happy that most food is very convenient.

OK, I’m crossing my fingers that uploading these photos works, as the internet has been super-slow tonight, but here goes nothing. Oh, and I almost forgot, I wanted to give major shout-outs to my tough and caring friends who all recently completed the longest fundraising endurance events of their lives. They each raised thousands to fight cancer AND all managed a major wipe-out before or during their events. Um, is that a requirement to compete or something?! Allie Bouton finished her first marathon in Chicago to benefit Fred’s Team, Lisa Galik walked a marathon and a half to benefit the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, and Amy Anselmo also finished her first marathon in Seattle to benefit Team in Training. I’m so lucky to have awesomely caring friends! AND…coming up, Jenny Lou has signed up for her first-ever marathon with Team in Training; I could not be more proud of her! I will be updating you on her progress as I live vicariously through her efforts. Yeah Jenny!!!

Coming to you straight from Lily’s American Diner in Beijing, I know it’s time for a post because I’m seriously questioning my sanity. Lets start from a few days ago…

On Sunday I arrived to an incredibly beautiful day in Hong Kong, where I was flawlessly picked-up from the train station from Richard Kligler and whisked away to the beach oasis of Stanley. Richard and I spent the day on dueling laptops, chatting about our favorite things: tea, traveling, St. Baldrick’s, Hong Kong and the US. I got on facebook for the first time since May, and had a good time catching up on all your lives! Marcia made us a wonderful dinner, and I was entertained by Jill, Sean and Jet the wonder dog. Jill graciously offered me her bed, and I fell asleep with the waves crashing outside my window…I was feelin GOOD.

Monday morning I got up bright and early and headed to the visa office downtown. Although the place opens at 9am, there was already a line stretched around the corner at 8:45. Fortunately, I had all of my information together and had submitted all of my materials and was finished around 10:30. I walked around the Wan Chai/Central areas of Hong Kong for a while, and then headed back to Stanley. Again, more nice chats with Richard and dinner complete with jerk ribs and cornbread!

Tuesday, the real adventure of the past few days began. It was my plan to meet The Jacobs on the top of Victoria Peak, and Richard agreed to drop me off in the morning. I got a little confused about the Jacobs itinerary, and we had some trouble figuring out whether to meet at the bottom or top tram…which ended up confusing the heck out of Richard, who took a last minute turn onto the Peak Circuit. Now, a friendly passerby told us cars were allowed to drive around the 3K the circuit, but having walked the relatively narrow, pedestrian path before, I was immediately worried. You may remember the photos of this path from our previous Hong Kong post, which was one of David’ and my most memorable experiences in Hong Kong. Richard maneuvered skillfully between walkers, runners, groups of school children and a rock cliffs to our right and a 1200m drop on the left. We did see a few residences and hotels as we crawled by in the car, so it was obvious that cars sometimes DO make this journey. However, we were finally halted by construction halfway around the walk. BIG Oh No! We had hardly had enough space to drive forward, now we had to reverse out?! At this point I was a half hour late to meet the Jacobs, who had been calling me on Richard’s phone that was accidentally on silent. So…backing up we went. I CANNOT believe we made it through about five 30-point turns without scratching Richard’s Jaguar, but thank goodness. After an additional hour of ushering every type of walker by, including a group of nearly 200 French students, we made it to a turn-around and back to where we started on the peak.

Well, the Jacobs had left at that point and I was left to converse with their extremely English-limited tour guide. Fortunately, Richard the savior took me to meet them in Aberdeen, and we linked up for the rest of the day. I won’t go into detail about how the tour guide thought it was reasonable for them to spend 25 minutes on Victoria Peak and over 3 hours at Ocean Park children’s amusement park…but that day about wrecked every last nerve in my body. Fortunately, it was all made better by seeing the Jacobs and having an excellent day two of touring in Hong Kong together. We toured all the different markets, sign-laden streets and made it back to do Victoria Peak justice! David’s computer is really best for uploading photos and he’s meeting the Jacobs in Guilin now, so I will have to post more photos and details about the trip when he returns (or hope that the Jacobs will guest post!)

That night…more crap news. I got on the internet to find that David didn’t get his Z-visa, and would be running around furiously the next day to get an emergency extension from the security bureau to have any chance of seeing his parents. Already stressed about this potential, I also found out that the biggest Typhoon in years was scheduled to make a direct hit on Hong Kong on Saturday…the day I was supposed to leave. I immediately called the airline to switch my flight, but they informed me that I would have to fax or email a copy of my passport to them in order to change flights. Oh good, that passport that’s at the visa office? Excellent. So, after a brief break-down, I brainstormed with Richard about options. I would pick up my visa as early as possible, go straight to the train station/apparently a place to check baggage for the airport and buy tickets (wow, Hong Kong service is incredible!!!) and try and get on the only flight leaving through China Southern 4 hours later the same day. And, it worked. I was extremely bummed not to be able to meet up with Erin Manfredi to see Danny Boselovic’s big show at The Beijing Club on Friday night…but I thought it was more important to get back to Beijing.

Then, quick re-cap of my night after arriving to the Beijing airport:
-Take train from airport to new apartment (after being kicked out/potentially robbed, David moved us in while I was in Hong Kong)
-Knock on door with suitcase…no one is home/no idea if David is on his way to Guilin or what
-Go to Starbucks to use internet and try to contact someone in Beijing.
-Computer is dead.
-Lovely employee says there are no outlets. (Umm, how do you make frappacinos? Someone helllp me!)
-Brief crying session in Starbucks.
-Walk to newspaper stand to buy money to re-charge phone.
-No cards left for China Telecom.
-Walk to another stand, guy over-charges me (do NOT say thank you to him!) and gives me card.
-Add money, try to call friend.
-RE-charge did not work.
-Phone blinks low battery.
-Stand, stare, want to die.
-Try phone again, it works! Betsy quickly gives me directions to her apartment, which I have never been to but apparently is unlocked, thank you second savior of the week.
-Find apartment, enter.
-Freak out dog, who pees all off the couch, twice.
-David calls, he’s home. Seriously? Ahhhhhh
-Meet him to get new key at the metro, he leaves for Guilin.

Happy Ending/Minor Miracles: David got his emergency extension and is in Guilin meeting his parents. There’s no heat or internet in the apartment, so I’m sitting in Lily’s (thank you Lily and Joe), re-telling a story I’m sure will be funny for prosperity but makes me feel like sharing with you is the only way to regain some sanity.

Nihao from Beijing,
Erin

*ps…Our new apartment currently has one empty room. For those of you that are interested in having a similarly stressful yet potentially life changing experience here, feel free to get in touch.

Hello, hello! I know you were promised a post from David a few days ago, but the poor boy has been running around senseless due to his visa and job, so you are stuck with me until I leave for Hong Kong tomorrow! I don’t really have the time to post tonight because I am supposed to be packing up ALL of my things to move into our new apartment across the street, but I promised change.org that I would blog about WATER today. The idea of this project is for all bloggers to raise awareness about a given issue on a particular day, to generate discussion and ultimately change about a pressing concern. I was also shocked myself to read that “Unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. So without further ado, here are some more devastating facts about this issue:

1. Unclean drinking water can incubate some pretty scary diseases, like E. coli, salmonella, cholera and hepatitis A. Given that bouquet of bacteria, it’s no surprise that water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week.

2. More people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets. This means that sewage spills into rivers and streams, contaminating drinking water and causing disease.

3. Every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water. They do this while carrying cisterns weighing around 40 pounds when filled in order to gather water that, in many cases, is still polluted. Aside from putting a great deal of strain on their bodies, walking such long distances keeps children out of school and women away from other endeavors that can help improve the quality of life in their communities.

4. It takes 6.3 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger. That 6.3 gallons covers everything from watering the wheat for the bun and providing water for the cow to cooking the patty and baking the bun. And that’s just one meal! It would take over 1.8 billion gallons of water to make just one hamburger for every person in the United States.

5. The average American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world. From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, Americans use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. Now imagine using just 10 gallons to bathe, wash your clothes, cook your meals and quench your thirst.

Also, I recently asked a guy on The Beijinger for some Visa advice, and asked his permission to share his comical response with you; comical only in that these stories of ridiculous hassle are becoming more common the more I ask:

Hey . . In the end I went through a friend of a friend of a friend who happened to be a visa agent within beijing . . But man I wouldn’t recommend the one I used. They took my passport to another province where visa restrictions were more lax, but didn’t manage to get it to the police station in time before my visa expired. So there was some trouble there, but it was ok because everyone’s corrupt. I got my visa back after nearly a month . . but not before they tried to scam me for between 0 – 70000 RMB (it changed depending on what day and who spoke to them, i.e. myself or my chinese friends). When i got it back, it wasn’t the 12 month L visa I had decided to settle for, but rather a 6 month F visa . . with two months already expired . . Absolute nightmare. My friend convinced the person to return it without charge but it certainly wasn’t easy. these numbers may or may not help as it was a while ago now; *numbers deleted for privacy!
Still another teacher friend of mine got his 12 month F visa through a different agent, They flew out to Qing Dao from beijing, where a group of other foreigners met up at some office and collected fake working documents, then had to take those to the qing dao local constabulary and lie in person. Perhaps its more risky, perhaps not but at least you keep your hands on your passport the whole time.

So folks, do I stand a chance getting my own visa? Only time, travel, forms, endless lines and money will tell…tear.

In other news, Bank of America and a Chinese Bank combined charged me $16.50 to take out $149.50, including a $5 charge to check my balance. I went on an 8K run with the Beijing Hash House Harriers that was a fun way to explore the Beijing Hutongs, and we have done a lot more things that I will elaborate on next time!

So I can’t hyper-link most of these links because the internet is going so darn slow…so just copy and paste, okie? thanks.

*Check out this great menu translation, I have seen many similar.

*Just heard about this amazing story about two guys’ bike ride from Paris to Beijing. The photos on here are absolutely incredible, and they are hoping to raise money for an orphanage in Western China.

*I have been looking into participating in the China Charity Challenge Bike Ride in the future, they just got back from a tea tasting trip to Yunnan province, and despite my aching tailbone whenever I attempt to ride, I am really interested in joining. If you want to make the trip over here for this, let me know!

*And on one final note, all I want for Christmas is a chance to see McSteamy.

-Pictures below are from french toast I made in a Chinese wok and Apple Strudel in a pot, as well as the Tienanmen Area for National Day.

If you were able to fully understand my life right now, you may be surprised that this blog post is not about being kicked out of our apartment in three days. It’s not about how two of our roommates illegally subletted their rooms, and the less-intelligent of the two got caught by posting the exact address on the internet for the owner to find. It’s not about how we paid an agent a lot of money to secure an illegally subletted room, or how we had a very awkward run-in with the Chinese-speaking owner about how we have three days to vacate the apartment.

OK, so maybe I lied a little…this post is only partially about that. This recent turn of events isn’t the entire focus of my life because I have freaked out so much over my visa, job and the stresses of living here that I’m trying very hard to analyze and appreciate the other things happening in our chaotic Chinese lives, namely, The Beijing Subway. (And also, our friend and roommate Er Wei, who has agreed to move out with us and help find another place to live.)

I have been storing a mental list of the visual spectacles I have encountered on the Subway for about a month now, and felt a strong compunction to share them today. Coming home on Line 10, I overheard some relatively loud music while listening to the soothing instruction of my Pimsleur Chinese podcast. Assuming it was someone’s ridiculously loud ring tone, I ignored the sound at first. However, I soon realized that it was a guy playing the guitar with a surprisingly great voice. I turned off my podcast and listened to this tall, lanky, musician who was visibly nervous but playing his heart out. It was so refreshing to see a Chinese person standing out from the crowd, risking public disapproval, to share something beneficial with others. What really made my heart ache was that he didn’t receive the public shame so many Chinese are petrified to experience, he collected kuai after kuai to fill his guitar case with money. Old and young, male and female, they all appreciated the music and supported the young “rebel.”

Then, as so often happens during even one commute in China, I found that my mood careened from elevated high to depressing low. I heard a clipping sound to my left, and dearly hoped it wasn’t what I thought it was. I followed the sound, peered through the crowd, and found a thirty-something adult male clipping his finger nails in the car! Seriously?! My mind raced to find the words to tell him how completely disgusting and inappropriate I found his actions, but in the end my limited Chinese forced me to curse him only in my head. Where was that musician to confidently tell this guy off when I needed him?

Seething in my anger, I was reminded me of a few other subway spectacles I had experienced since moving to Beijing a month ago. First, there was the baby whose parents helped him squat to pee in the middle of a moving subway car. Fortunately for those hoping to rinse the bottom of their shoes that afternoon, the pee managed to slide all around the floor and and create an array of mini-puddles. While I understand that some perils often accompany the decision not to use diapers on children,(which I actually applaud for the resulting lack of non-biodegradable plastic in landfills) the fact that the parents had encouraged this behavior instead of reprimanding the child for peeing on public transportation caused these poor souls to feel the wrath of my disapproving looks for a long ten-minute ride to my stop. Additionally, there was the woman who not only completely exposed one breast to feed her child during the commute, but both breasts because the child would not stop screaming until he was drinking from one side and holding the other for comfort. I just chuckled at that one, I suppose you gotta do what you gotta to do keep a kid from screaming during rush hour.

So, I write this post for you today as a way to put my troubles into perspective. China is a trying place for foreigners to make a life for themselves, especially trying to do it mostly on your own. However, through every day and every struggle I learn how to better manage life here, and I am certainly exposed to scenes that I never would have experienced at home. Who would’ve thought that the crowds and pushing of the mosh pit that is Line 1 of the Beijing Subway would seem insignificant compared to the other shocks I have experienced during my commute?

*A great visual depiction of Eastern vs. Western culture: http://www.slideshare.net/praveenvarghese/eastern-culture-vs-western-culture

In short, moving to Beijing was terrible. We (mostly David) lugged many suitcases and bags from our apartment, to a taxi, to the Beijing bus, through the subway, to a taxi…left the things a few nights in offices/apartments…and finally to our new apartment in the Shuangjing neighborhood of Beijing. The really difficult part of the move was that we initially thought we had an apartment, but it didn’t work out at the last minute. Thanks to the generosity of some new Beijing contacts we left our belongings in various locations around the city, but it was quite a hassle to get it all back together and into our new place. However…after a few days of apartment searching with what felt like every agent in the area, we found a comfortable new pad. We share the master of a 3-bedroom apartment, and pay about $500 USD/mo including utilities. The place is nicer than any we have lived in before, and has a good amount of space. Our roommates are two Chinese guys, one 20-year old college student and a 30-year old IT whiz. The college student is studying Spanish but only leaves his moment for brief seconds, usually saying Buenos Dias, as he nervously jets by. The other roommate is named Er Wei (his brother is Da Wei, so he’s Wei #2 or Er Wei) and he has become our good friend. His English is basic but good enough to communicate, and he’s always willing to teach us Chinese. He’s a really friendly guy and what you do you know? He’s another Dongbei ren! Photos of the apartment and area we live in will be posted shortly.

On our first weekend in Beijing we volunteered at the Slow Food Saturday Event at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. I had heard about this event through The Beijinger, one of the best expat guides in the city, and thought that volunteering would be a good way to meet people and see a part of the Beijing countryside. Slow Food is an international movement founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s
dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. (taken from www.slowfood.com) The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu is a sustainable dining and lodging facility that hosted the first annual Beijing Slow Food event, and is located near the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

The scenery at the event and people involved were really great, and it was good to be a volunteer again. Despite the fact that there was some organizational chaos involved with the actual event, it was a nice introduction to the countryside. I think that David’s highlight to the day was probably hosting a information booth where he threw a bottle with a very excited local kid for about a hour. The Schoolhouse is set in a naturally beautiful atmosphere, complete with more lily pads at our lunch destination! Although we didn’t get to hike the great wall, you can make it out behind David’s head in one photo. I also helped The Schoolhouse with a post-event survey to make recommendations for next year, which made me feel more connected to the community and less of a waste of a human as I sat around looking for employment.

David’s job continues to be going well; he has helped coach a few kids to visa interview success and found some new partners to work with in the US. He often gets up in the middle of the night to make international calls and still goes in to work early the next day. I don’t know how he does it. I am have connected and volunteered with various non-profits and smaller organizations, and am hoping that one will turn into a paid position. It has not been fun to be constantly uncertain if I can stay in the country due to my visa status, which hinders decisions like buying a phone, joining a gym, etc. However, the Autumn holiday ends in two days, so I am hoping for some good news after that. On a more positive note, I am going to Hong Kong in two weeks and will be meeting up with The Jacobs, The Kliglers and hopefully Erin Manfredi, too!

I have given David a break in his posting responsibilities since he has been working a lot and I need the distraction…but I will get him back on here shortly. Below are the photos from the Slow Food Event:

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