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Got a bit busy with the holidays, but finally wrapping up my final week of the challenge, from Tangshan!

Tuesday, November 22nd
After waking up multiple days with neck pain, I thought it would be appropriate to make my first trip to a Chinese chiropractor recommended by a friend. Having been to a few chiropractors in the US, I found the experience quite similar yet overall less comprehensive than past experience. Instead of taking x-rays and asking about my lifestyle, I just pointed to where it hurt, got a massage, an adjustment and was given some magnesium to ease muscle tension. The massage was a nice component, which I have never received in the states, as well as the doctor being bi-lingual (since he also practices in California.) However, I only spent a total of twenty minutes with him and was quite shocked to get a bill over 700RMB! I’m interested in visiting a more traditional office, but my Chinese isn’t good enough to go without a friend to translate.

That evening I attended Carol Liu’s inspiring documentary, Restoring the Light, about rural blindness and healthcare issues in China. The movie was exactly what I needed, a good cry and reminder of problems bigger than paying too much for the chiropractor. Professor Scott Rozelle from Stanford also gave an insightful talk about healthcare and priorities, illustrating for example, that eliminating one-third of China’s budget to reach the moon could fund vitamins, food and worm detection for all of the children in western, rural China. In my eyes, the event also highlighted another theme of local culture; China’s discomfort with allowing foreigners (or anyone) to highlight social issues. More than one Chinese audience member responded on the defensive to Professor Rozelle’s statistics regarding rural poverty and healthcare, citing that Obama’s healthcare plan also didn’t make significant strides in solving US healthcare issues. It’s unfortunate that this is the message gleaned from such fieldwork, but addresses some of the sensitivities present in beginning to accurately diagnose social problems in China.

Wednesday, November 23rd
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Malaika Hahne, the new Executive Director of Little Flower Projects. She took me out to their orphanage in Shunyi, where I was incredibly impressed by not only the facility and organization of the center, but the compassion and dedication of the staff. Although each ayi is responsible for two babies, many of the staff seem to know each child intimately. Malaika’s compassion to help these children was genuinely heart-warming, and her efforts seem to be paying off, as Little Flower Projects is making quite a name for itself in the local community. Nothing puts a smile on your face more than holding a little smiling baby.

For lunch I had a locally-sourced lunch made from Chef Sue’s trial-run dishes for a future class, and hosted a charity cooking class at The Hutong.

Thursday, November 24th
On Thursday I either completely lost my mind, or decided that I really needed to go all out during the last week of the challenge. Fighting off the urge to go across the street to Jenny Lou’s for soymilk and kitty litter, I ran in the freezing cold to Jinkelong. The run back ended up being much colder and difficult than I expected, and it took all I had to waddle home clutching my bag of litter with both arms and freezing hands.

Thursday night was Thanksgiving, which I celebrated with a group of expat and Chinese friends; turkey and gong bao ji ding was quite the combination!

Friday, November 25th
I spent the morning biking around the city doing errands and buying supplies for a corporate holiday party. In the evening I met up with Joel Shucuat from The Orchid, who introduced me to the social networking wonders of WeiXin. I spent the night leaving voice messages, throwing bottles out to sea, and shaking to find friends. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the WeiXin app, it’s a great way for foreigners to make Chinese friends and practice their Chinese! We also snacked on some local Hainan chicken while Joel frantically arranged dinner preparations for the guests at his hotel.

Saturday, November 26th
I taught in the morning and was informed by the school nurse that there was 500+ API…perhaps the most polluted day I have experienced in Beijing. I waited til the air cleared a bit in the evening, and went on my last training run before the half marathon. I know I shouldn’t have run, but it was my last reasonable period of free time before the race. Although I noticed the cold a lot more than the air quality, my clothes reeked of coal when I got home. This was the first time I had noticed the pollution is such a tangible way, and was quite disheartened to think about how much Beijinger’s lives are affected by the poor air quality.

Sunday, November 27th
On Sunday I was a real expat. I helped plan a traditional American birthday party alongside my co-workers, which included homemade birthday cake, baseball and rugby in Chaoyang park and flipping burgers at The Filling Station in Shunyi. It was incredibly fun and decidedly UN-local.

Monday, November 28th
On Monday I recruited my friend Tom Pattinson to show me his favorite Shaanxi restaurant around the hutongs where we work. We chowed down on their famed roujiamo and dumplings, which was perfect a perfect meal for a cold winter day. That evening my friends arrived from the US and we had a feast at Jing Zun duck restaurant. Eating local is quite ful-filling!

Tuesday, November 29th
On Tuesday I became tour guide for a day and took my friends to Dong Jiao Market, one of my favorite spots in Beijing. I showed them around some food stalls, the wet market and tea warehouse. During an extended tea ceremony we bought way too much tea and learned more about Nanjing greens, Taiwan oolongs and Huyi Shan blacks. They liked the black and oolongs, while I preferred the greens and whites. It was so fun to briefly introduce friends to the Chinese tea culture I love, and pick-up a bag of awesome An Ji Zhejiang cha. That night we also had hot pot on Gui Jie!

Wednesday, November 30th -END OF CHALLENGE
Appropriately, I celebrated the last day of the challenge with KTV! The Hutong staff and I donned Santa hats and rockstar gear and belted out tunes from Michael Jackson to The Carter Sisters, to which my Chinese colleagues knew the lyrics better than I. Chinese culture never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, December 1st
I promptly went to Jenny Lou’s and loaded up on Silk soymilk and cereal, the two things I missed most during this adventure.

Saturday, December 3rd
I headed off to Shanghai to run in my first Chinese half-marathon. Race day was a story within itself, but overall the race was a big success and despite gaining a few pounds, my predominantly Chinese diet did not prevent me from crossing the finish line with a personal best.

I think it’s pretty obvious that my lifestyle is far from local. Throughout this challenge I bounced between feelings of guilt and satisfaction, but overall feel content that this personal quest helped me reflect on my expat lifestyle and motivate me to seek out new experiences in the capital. I realized that while I loved living in the typically Chinese city of Tangshan, it’s the ability to choose between western/international and Chinese options that makes me most content about living in Beijing. However, this experience made me miss my Chinese “hometown” so much that I’m writing this conclusion from a brief visit back to Tangshan.

To sum up my experience, I thought I would give a few tips gleaned from living and traveling for nearly two years in China, for us lao wais who want to have a more local China experience:

1. Learn basic Chinese. Although I haven’t taken formal classes, I often carry around a dictionary, notebook and ipod full of Chinese lessons. I can’t tell you how much more fun China becomes speaking a bit of Mandarin. Learning Chinese doesn’t have to happen in a classroom; I prefer getting one-on-one Chinese lessons from taxi drivers, masseuses, shop owners, co-workers and even my elementary-aged English students. Start with pointing in markets and go from there!

2. Make Chinese friends…but how? Cheesy as it sounds, lots of normal and friendly local Chinese use social networking sites like WeLiveInBeijing, BJ Stuff and The Beijinger to find language partners and friends.

3. Spend time in a smaller Chinese city. It’s nearly impossible not to learn more about Chinese food, hobbies and language if you live in a place with far less foreign exposure, and there are a variety of solid programs that will assist you in this experience. My friend Robbie Fried runs the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, which I would highly recommend for this type of immersion. Additionally, Tangshan is only two hours east of Beijing, and private English centers there are always looking for foreign teachers; I would be happy to connect you!

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It was obvious from first week of the Local Local Challenge that I needed some help. Throughout my time in Beijing I have been lucky enough to come across a variety of foreigners who have really immersed themselves in the local culture, so I called upon a few “expat experts” to enhance my participation in the challenge.

On November 9th I popped in my Pimsleur Chinese lesson and biked over to Jie GuLou #147 for tea at Zheng Yun Cha She with local artist, Helen Couchman, and tour guide Jeffery Schwab. Jeffrey had been friends with the owners of the shop for some time, and although the boss was away on travel, his employee treated us to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony complete with Pu’er tea served from a 5,000RMB yixing clay pot! He also explained that one of their tea table adornments was a bull because its representative of the hardworking and obedient nature of the employees at the tea shop. I got the chance to teach my local experts a few things about Chinese tea before they broadened my horizons around the city.

Helen has been living and making art in Beijing for six years (, and lives in a hutong off Guolou Dajie. She agreed to introduce me to her favorite Sichuan restaurant, and go easy on the spiciness. The two of us headed over to the corner of Gulou Dong Da Jie and BeiLuoGuXian on my bike (Helen pedaling, me holding on for dear life) and feasted on some of Helen’s favorite dishes. (I also brought my re-usable, eco-friendly chopsticks, courtesy of The Hutong We ate lazi ji, a spicy fried chicken dish loaded with hot peppers, ma jiang feng wei (fresh greens and sesame sauce) and san san hua dan dou huar, a salty soup with egg, tofu, mushrooms, tomato, carrots and peas.

Needing to get a bit of work done, I headed to Café Zarah and sipped more Chinese tea. (Perhaps this establishment is considered one of the gems of the expat community, but it’s locally run and I only ordered tea.) For dinner I headed to Sanlitun, but had a tang hu lu while waiting for a friend and then dined outdoors at the Han Zhou Xiao Chi restaurant. I ordered a standard xi hong shi jidan gai fan and tudou jiding, which I had never tried before and loved the flavor.

On November 10th my roommate helped me eat local by making an egg sandwich with bread from a local street vendor, and I managed to get a seat with fellow challenger Jessica Greene, at Noodle Bar in Sanlitun. That place was packed and rightfully so, as the flavors of the noodle dishes were excellent. Jessica and I talked a bit about the challenge, which had prompted her to cook a lot more at home and generally focus her Local Local efforts on not being so wasteful. Quite reflective of our experience Noodle Bar, she commented that even eating locally wasn’t necessarily a waste-free or inexpensive option, and we chatted about how the concept of “local” culture is constantly changing and quite hard to authentically capture no matter where you are.

On November 11th I shopped at Jinkelong for lunch and went to a traditional Chinese medicine treatment. I always find these treatments to be quite intriguing from a physical and educational standpoint, and this time I got huge needles stuck right in the middle of my stomach! I then proceeded to eat a roast and cheese, and drink wine at a dinner party, but I figure it’s only half as bad if I’m not paying…and I met the organizer for Monday Night Jiaozi nights, and planned to attend as part of my challenge!

I hate to say it, but by Saturday I was already getting sick of Chinese food. My school provides a ton of Chinese dishes for lunch, but thinking about eating all that oil before taking a run later in the afternoon was really not enticing. I had veggies (still doused in oil) and one of my favorite dishes, tangsu liji before purchasing some sunflower seeds and a red bean bun from Jinkelong. I was craving a western energy bar, but at least these snacks had a bit of protein. I also headed to a workout session that I won with fitness guru Tony Nicholson of 4 Point Fitness, who didn’t exactly support my attempts to eat more Chinese food from a health standpoint. I’m pretty serious about fitness, so that made it additionally hard to stick to the challenge.

(*Before I get attacked here, I realize that Tony is a foreigner and that personal trainers are a luxury, but he has lived here over ten years, speaks fluent Chinese and trains lots of locals…so we chatted a bit about the culture of exercise in China. This brings us back to the issue of what is really considered “local”?)

To make up for past transgressions, I really upped my local game on Sunday, November 13th. I woke up early to meet back up with Jeffrey at The Hutong for his Prophets, Prostitutes and Spies tour, and spent most of the afternoon at the Xi Xian Zhai Teahouse in the hutongs behind the Lama Temple. A group of us sipped Wu Yuan Mingmei Jiangxi Cha (婺源茗眉江西茶), nibbled on suan jiao (funny translation: “acid horn”) gummy candy, and ate a traditional vegetarian teahouse meal. and ate a traditional vegetarian teahouse meal. Next we headed north to Yuan Dynasty DaDu Park where Jeff amazed us with his skills as a Diablo master. For those of you that don’t know, the Diablo is a spinning top that can be made to do a variety of tricks as it spins on strings. This experience is worth an article on its own, but Jeffrey has been coming to this park for years and has fully integrated into the talented Diablo community. Everyone was so happy to see this American lao wai spinning his Diablo magic, and I could tell they respected Jeffrey’s ability and friendly nature. As Jeffrey puts it, “Playing diabolo replaces going to church…it’s my spiritual solace.” The masters graciously tried to teach me to get the top up and running, but I was almost a total failure.

To finish off the day, we walked around GuLou to visit some hot spots, such as the restaurant where Vice President Joe Biden recently dined. We then walked south to Man Fu Lu (满福楼) Xinjiang-style hot pot where we ordered an incredible feast of everything from mini jiaozi to pig heart…I think.

On a local high from my “Local Sunday,” I headed out to an organic farm with my co-workers, only to have my wallet stolen on the subway. Instead of basking in the glory of organic foods, I rushed home to cancel my credit cards. On a positive note, China Citic froze my account when the thief entered the wrong pin three times, and my co-workers came home with a pumpkin half the size of my body!


This week I branched out from simply eating locally to participate in quite a few more local activities. I’m lucky to know people like Jeffrey, who are exceptional at integrating into Chinese culture, and are quite willing to share their interests with others. I think I did a better job of going local this week than last, but this was primarily due to a temporarily decreased workload. I’m quite worried about next week, when things really pick up again.

Editor’s Version in The Beijinger.

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Wuddup everyone. I am back in China as of about 35 hours ago. I spent a nice 2 months in VA/FL/NJ working/playing but all good things must come to an end. It is 6 am here and I haven’t been able to sleep due to my body clock being completely messed up. I slept from about 9 pm until 1:30 am which is something very unlike me so I decided to write a blog since I haven’t in a while and seeing as I can’t sleep.

I was in Orlando for about 1.5 months working a summer camp that my Chinese company sends students to. I had to work a lot for the vast majority of the time and the camp had some major problems, but Orlando was a fun town and I was lucky enough to stay with my fams neighbors in NoVA (northern VA), the Shenefelts. They had a very nice lakehouse and were the most wonderful of hosts, letting me do whatever I pleased while I was there. Some highlights:

– Jetskis. I love Jetskis. Stealing a joke from Daniel Tosh..”Money doesn’t buy happiness?…Have you ever seen someone frowning on a jetski?”
– Ate a ton of Mexican food. I hit up every divey looking Mexican place I saw, and although it didn’t always feel good afterwards, it was amazing.
– Spending time with the Shenefelts, good people I didn’t spend a lot of time with in recent years.
– Going out for happy hour with the Shenefelts and Bill and Betty Sue, their 86 year old neighbors. Relaxing and spending time with good people when most of my time was dealing with chaos.
– Talking about politics. This is something I miss doing, one of the most underrated aspects of living in the USA and especially the DC area.
– Hanging out with students and group leaders from all over the world. The vast majority of people at the camp I worked were great, and the students put up with some major nonsense and for the most part didn’t complain. The Chinese leaders were also cool and very helpful.
– Driving around bumping rap music. I didn’t miss driving, but this is a guilty pleasure of mine. Actually, I don’t feel guilty about it.
– While in a standard, cheap, Chinese take out restaurant with two group leaders from China, who proclaimed it was the best Chinese they had ever had (LOLZ), I was told by a large guy in a southern accent, “You are the first redneck I have ever heard speak Chinese.” I was speechless.
– Blue skies and trees. I miss you.

After Orlando, I headed to NoVA for about 15 hours, briefly saw my fam and Ms. Stemetzki, a family friend. My fam is looking great and everyone seems happy which is good. There really is no place like home. I had my first flight ever cancelled while I was there and had to dash to the airport to be told that the other flight I was put on was also cancelled, then head to Union Station to take a train. I have taken the train maybe twice in my life, and did it twice while back on this trip (once to go from Orlando to DC with a girl that lost her Chinese passport…20 hours, wasn’t fun). I was off to New Jersey for an orientation and to spend time with the rest of the fam.

I stayed with my gparents in Westfield, NJ and Doylestown, PA. Spent some quality time with some of my favorite people that I don’t get to do very often seeing as I live in China. The hardest part about living in China is not seeing my fam and friends, and this trip was bittersweet in that I got to see people but knew that I would soon be on a plane back to China. I also had to spend an additional 3 days in Orlando so I missed my dad’s parents 60th anniversary reunion, but what can you do? It was still a great time, activities including shooting an old time photo, playing badminton with my cousins, having good food and just shooting the breeze. My family is awesome so thanks everyone.

This is a “bloggier” post than usual, probably because I am in a complete daze due to jetlag. Things in Beijing are different though. Erin and I are not living together anymore and are reevaluating our lives in certain regards. I just got back to Beijing and have already gone back to work and had to do a decent amount of stuff, so I am still getting my bearings and trying to readjust to the smog, food, and empty bed. As I am constantly telling everyone that seem stressed about my life, I am always fine and feel very happy to be who/where/what I am. Tutu (the rabbit) is twice the size but still hilarious and awesome. I was sad to leave and will need to re-acclimate to Chinese life, but re-acclimate I shall.

Aite, that is all for now. I wanted to conclude with a hello and happy bday to my bro (Aug 23rd), who is doing a great job being a dad. I met Holden (my nephew) while I was home and he seems like a dream baby. Andrew and Christine seem like dream parents so I guess it is just a dream family. I look forward to spending more time with him and everyone else…until next time.

The combination of the trip home and a visit from Anne Baughman has caused me to reflect a bit on the time that David and I have spent in China. I just read David’s post from our first trip to Beijing, and can still recall the totally different perspective with which I saw this city. Everything seemed like a confusing mystery, but I have to say that David did a pretty incredible job orienting himself with so much uncertainty.

We have been here for almost a year and a half, and our impressions of the country have certainly changed in many ways. Almost nothing is shocking anymore…at least about Beijing, and it gets more and more difficult to maintain a fresh and objective eye with which to write the blog. I have received a few comments that the beginning of our blog was really the most interesting, and I have to agree. Mostly I think it was easier to present the fascinating things in China when everything was new. Now I see a lot of things on a daily basis that I’m sure would blow your minds, but I have seen them so many times that it has become commonplace in my mind.

Although part of the essence of this blog is our personal journey, growth and transformation, I still hope to use it as a tool with which to illuminate Asian culture in comparison to our Western home. With that in mind, I am trying to re-discover my outsider perspective on Beijing.

The thing about China that fascinates me even more than the food is the language. I don’t know why, but I never assumed that Chinese would use the same general thoughts and ideas in their speech as in other languages. I guess my perception was that because the language was created so many years ago, the whole concept of communication would have evolved differently. Stupid of me to assume that language doesn’t evolve with society, but that was my perception. Sure, there are different colloquialisms and expressions, but in general you can translate speech using the same ideas of a word. To illustrate my point, I never assume that words like “yet, because and still” would be used in the same manner to express different states of happening…but more or less, they are!

Other than tones and characters, a major difference between English and Chinese is that the Chinese use WAY less words. If brevity is the soul of wit, the Chinese must be the masters of wittiness. This (and the lack of conjugations and tenses) accounts for much of the perception that English-speaking Chinese speak like cavemen. I recently read a funny article that said something to the effect of:

The way a Chinese person says I want to take a cab: Da di qu.
The way an American says they want a cab: I think I would like, if it’s convenient and not too expensive, to call company to send a driver to the corner of my apartment and the store around eight pm or a few minutes before, to avoid rush-hour and get there quickly if that’s ok.

I have also racked my brain to think of a few funny Chinglish phrases that make a lot more sense now that I have a vague understanding of Chinese:

-If I ask, “Why?” in the classroom, students will often respond, “No, why” instead of “No reason” because in Chinese “Bu Weishenme” or “No why” is a perfectly acceptable response.

-Almost all Chinese people know how to say hello, bye bye and Oh my god! Which is apparently a phrase from English that they simply love. Children also say “Oh my ladygaga” quite a bit, hilarious and kills in the classroom.

-Although the use of America and American is very similar to the translation of this noun to adjective in Chinese, it poses huge problems for the Chinese. They are always mixing up these words and have also been taught the word “Americ” with no “a” at the end for some unknown reason.

-Despite being brief with words, the Chinese love to add extra syllables to the end of words. I can’t even blame this on the differing sounds of pinyin and American letters, as my three year olds would even pronounce d-o-g “dog-guh” and c-a-t “cat-uh”…and many more

-What’s your name is also NOT a common greeting in China. Often if I ask a child what his name is, he will look quizzically at his mother and wonder why I’m asking such a strange or private question. Fortunately I have had some parents reply (In Chinese), “It’s OK honey, that’s just what foreigners do!”

Despite the fact that we haven’t been serious about studying Chinese, David and I have picked up quite a bit of the language through listening, repeating, and looking up words when needed. It was so cool to speak with Chinese tourists and Chinese Americans this summer while visiting DC. It seems we kept running into Beijingers, and it’s awesome to think that this could be possible for the rest of our lives.

I also wanted to recount a story from back in Tangshan that I’m not sure I have shared on the blog. I was tutoring a smart, seventeen year old girl for her IELTS exam (the most important English exam for foreign students) and asked the practice question, “Name someone you admire and why.”

“Hitler,” she immediately responded, “because he was a great, powerful leader that many people followed.”

Shocked Erin explains, “While this is a thorough answer, I do not think you should say it for your exam.”

“Why?” asks perplexed girl.

“Well, the people testing you probably don’t have a favorable opinion of Hitler. In fact, most Americans probably think he’s one of the most evil people in the world and you don’t want to offend anyone during this exam.”

“Oh, ok. Let me think then.”

A quite shocking example of the differences in respect for leaders that is accepted and taught in schools. Chinese students are generally brought up to revere Mao, Hitler and Stalin for their charismatic natures and leadership ability, which is quite a unique perspective for Americans.

Also, after reading Evan Osnos’ article in The New Yorker (a GREAT piece on traveling with a Chinese tour group to Europe) and participating in Chinese-led tours with the Jacobs and Anne, it seems that tourism Chinese-style is dramatically different. First of all, tour guides seek to control and regulate their groups in a way that leaves no real room for deviation from the set schedule. Our general perception of customer service and listening to the needs of the traveler are thrown out the window in favor of trying to create an air of importance surrounding the tour guide and delivering on exactly what the tour offers and nothing more. Secondly, tour guides are not able to discuss aspects of near history that shed a less-favorable light on China. While Emperors can be bad-mouthed to a certain extent for being sexual deviants or not treating people fairly, the same rules do not apply for politicians. Additionally, the “Three T’s” are simply not discussed, and it’s my understanding that the employment of tour guides is state-supervised, they can be relieved from their duties for talking about such issues. Thirdly, Chinese tours often highlight the progress of modern China much more than the exceptionally long and innovative history. Although Americans often come to China hoping to see relics of China’s great past, they are often met with skyscrapers and examples of how quickly China is modernizing as a world-player. Young tour leaders know their history, but cannot understand why Western tourists are much more interested in the hutongs and construction workers using man-powered tools than their futuristic cityscapes. The truth of the matter, in my perspective, is that “old China” really doesn’t play a part in the modern life of big cities, which is why it’s so hard for tourists to find an authentic examples of its existence. This is not to say that it doesn’t exist, but its not the kind of experience you and uncover from a tour bus or a young Chinese guide. I can’t tell you how perplexed many people are when I tell them that I came to China for the experience and the culture and not the money. In that case, I would have been gone long ago!

Well, if you got all the way through that, I’m proud. Hopefully you learned a bit and will continue to read on as we continue to answer the question, What is China all about? To appropriately compliment the theme of this post, the photos include the more traditional Chinese culture of markets and a man who sources antique tea pots in Anhui province, and a few fancy events that we have attended around the city.

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Erin is always talking about her jobs so I figured I would inform people more about my job. I work in a cultural exchange company, which basically recruits and sends students from China to study abroad. The company that I work for primarily sends high school students to study at high schools in the USA, but we have many other programs like summer camps, work and travel programs, a program for foreigners to come study in China, etc. My office is in southwest Beijing, a place that foreigners basically never venture to, so it has a somewhat “Tangshan-ny” feel to it, which is fun. Now that the weather is warmer, I can ride my bike to work which halves the amount of time it used to take on the bus, plus I eat enough carbon and dirt on the ride over that I don’t need to have breakfast. I get to ride past the Temple of Heaven, one of China’s most famous landmarks, and almost everyday I look over and think, “Wow I live in Beijing,” similar to living in Washington, DC and seeing all the monuments.

I am the only foreigner at my office of about 10 people. Almost all of them speak good English, so there is no difficulty communicating with people. Although I go to the office everyday, I don’t always have a lot of work to do in the office (hence me writing this post right now (shhhhh)). Unfortunately, the planet that we live on is an imperfect sphere, so there are times where the sun is shining on one side and not on the other. Seeing as I am the only native speaker of English, it is my duty to deal with the foreign partners that we work with, trying to coordinate our existing business as well as create and establish new projects. This sometimes means staying up late or getting up early to coincide with other time zones, but it isn’t too bad for the most part (I hate the west coast of America though). We have stopped working with some of our old partners and started working with new ones since I have started working here, and I assume that in the future I can add a lot more partners. Now that I have been in Beijing for a while, I am meeting more and more people interested in working together, and I think that there are some potentially exciting possibilities for future projects and such. As I always say to people, there is a never ending sea of Chinese students that want to study abroad. Let me tell you why.

First, there are more than a billion people here. Second, the Chinese education system is strict and outdated in many ways, so some students and families really want the best education they can find. Third, success in the Chinese education system is completely reliant on doing well on tests, especially the “Gao Kao”, literally meaning tall test, which is given at the end of high school. If a student does well on the Gao Kao, they can choose what and where they want to study, but if they do badly, they will potentially have to study something that they don’t want to at a place they don’t want to. Not only that, the job market isn’t exactly ripe for new graduates, with about 20% unemployment for college grads, and the people with jobs aren’t making a lot of money for the most part. So, we provide a service primarily to the students that are not going to do well enough in China to study at a good school, and either their parents are really rich and want to send them abroad, or their parents are willing to make a gigantic sacrifice to give their only child the best possibility of succeeding. As we have mentioned before, having one child tends to leave Chinese children spoiled and unprepared for adult life, but you can also see the pressure that is placed on these children from a young age. If a child doesn’t succeed, not only will the child suffer, but the parents of the child, who are relying on their child to care for them when they get older, will also suffer. It is a complicated and different attitude then in the USA, but their society demands it in a way.

The job isn’t always exciting but the people I work with are pretty solid. It is a fairly laid back atmosphere, in large part due to me being a foreigner. People here have treated me well and we get along, which is better than almost every other place that I have worked. I also have a chance to meet a lot of enterprising and interesting people, which is really the best part of the job. Many of the students we send really don’t “get it,” never even attempting to embrace American culture or talking to their host families, but some of them really do. Some of the students are really special and it is really refreshing being able to help them pursue a dream. I do think that programs like this are important for developing the relations between China and the rest of the world, and, obviously, it is a field that is only starting to open the floodgates. The number of Chinese students that studied abroad grew by about 30% SINCE LAST YEAR!!!! I really can’t explain how many students there are (more than 1.2 million), but just know that almost every boarding school and university in the USA is bombarded by applications from China, and it is only the tip of the iceberg. It is a pretty exciting field these days.

Only about a month before I become an uncle! Can’t believe it. Hope that everyone is doing well and enjoying the spring weather. Our rabbit is doing well, getting fat, and starting to really gain confidence in his exploring of our house. He has learned how to climb onto our bed by jumping onto the nightstand or climbing up a backpack, pretty clever little guy. Whatever he can do to spread his little turds to as many places as possible it seems. Another post coming up soon, as they say in China “Bye bye.”

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

“Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy.”

-Laozi (aka Lao Tzu)

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Wuddup. I haven’t posted in a while and can’t think of anything of particular importance, so I am going to make a very “bloggy” blog post that discusses what I did yesterday. The day started early with Erin and I heading over to The Hutong for a quick tour of one of the local markets. We were led by master chef Joel who took us through the market explaining what everything was. We have been to a lot of markets so it wasn’t anything new, but it was good to learn what some of the questionable looking spices were and what they are used for. It was a pretty beautiful day for Beijing, the sky was a bluish gray and it was pretty warm. After the tour, we headed back to the Hutong for a Thai cooking class, where we were going to make minced pork, a green curry, and a papaya salad. Our teacher was Ling Pei, a Malaysian chef that obviously knew a lot about Thai cooking, and I was pretty amazed at how good the green curry tasted. The class was a good example of a foreigners outing in Beijing; there were 4 Americans, 2 Russians, a Spaniard, a German, a Malaysian, and a Chinese ayi (literally means Auntie, in this instance the woman who helps the class and cleans).

After the class I went to Jingshan park with a friend to enjoy the day. The weather was nice but the sky wasn’t really clear, and a normally stunning view of Beijing was only mediocre. I will attach some pictures of when we came to the same park on a clearer day. I had some food a little bit later and walked around some of the old parts of Beijing for about an hour. On my way to the subway station, I saw an unfortunately all too common scene.

Two old foreigners were trying to talk to a guard and a driver and I already knew what was going on. Many taxi’s and 3 wheel “cars” prey on the old foreigners in this area and offer them rides at seemingly fair prices. Upon arriving at the destination, the price which was originally 3 turns into 300. I saw what was going on and asked them what was going on, and they told me that the driver said 3 and they said OK, and then was asking for 300 when they got there. I don’t know why, but these things make me so angry that I can barely control myself. I picture my grandparents or parents coming to China for a visit and getting ripped off by some scumbag that intimidates them and acts like his price is a fair one. It even happened to Erin, the other Tangshan teacher and I, with us almost getting run over by the angry driver after I kicked the door open and we paid him nothing. That being said, I got into the driver’s face and told him he was a cheat, a bad person, and to leave now. He tried to act like his price was fair but as soon as I started speaking Chinese, he realized the jig was up, and basically ran to his little bike and rode off. The young guard that was approached by the old couple just laughed at the whole situation, and I yelled at him too, saying that he knows the price isn’t fair and the old couple asked him for help. The French couple was happy that I arrived, and I hope that this blog post can help someone avoid these scams in the future. A very drunken Chinese man then talked to me on the walk to the subway, telling me I was a good guy and that he hopes I don’t think everyone in China is a cheat (I don’t). I stopped for some street food (dinner for $1), and went back home.

So that is a fairly typical non-work day I would say. I am not taking cooking classes and fighting with drivers on a daily basis, but you get the picture. Hope everyone is doing well and I am thinking about home a lot more recently with my brother and his wife soon to have their first baby! I can’t wait. That is all for now, 再见 (this means goodbye).

“Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”


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Hello everyone. This is a short post to give our heartfelt condolences to Japan who is dealing with a catastrophe of gigantic proportions. Not only are they devastated by one of the most powerful earthquakes in history followed by a 30 foot tsunami, now they have to deal with possible nuclear meltdowns and a lack of electricity and power that a modern society like Japan hasn’t had to deal with in a long time. I want to assure everyone that we are completely safe here and have nothing to worry about, but that hasn’t stopped people from worrying. We are 2000 miles west of the nuclear sites, and the winds off Japan travel east not west. Also, Beijing and most major cities in China are always protected by a thick shield of coal and pollution so we don’t need to worry about any gamma rays getting through that forcefield (zing (I already made that joke yesterday)). Just because there is no reason to panic doesn’t mean people aren’t panicking and I wanted to share the current events that are transpiring in China due to the disaster in Japan.

I was at work yesterday when a friend of mine texted me asking if I needed any salt. Erin had asked me a few days ago where the salt was when she was cooking, so I told him that yes, we did actually need salt, even though I was completely perplexed why my friend would randomly ask me if I needed salt. I googled salt in Beijing, and sure enough, salt was the rage in major Chinese cities. A few days earlier, Erin was sent home with some iodine by her boss who is also very worried about radiation getting to Beijing. The Chinese heard that iodine was helpful in protecting against radiation, and the only thing they could think of that contained the characters iodine (碘) was iodized salt (碘盐). And so the mayhem began, with grocery stores flooded with Chinese demanding salt, driving the price of salt up 5-10 times yesterday’s price.


All of this started based on complete misinformation. The daily sale of salt the past 2 days was 8 times higher than usual. The share prices of China’s leading manufacturers of salt jumped 10% (the maximum amount possible for Chinese stocks) the last 2 days. You can’t buy salt anywhere. You can barely even find soy sauce anywhere. Part of this is humorous, but part of it is terrifying to me. People did not stop to think about why they needed salt, they just did it. When other people heard that people were buying salt, they just got in line with everyone else. The urge to follow in Chinese society is strong, and asking “why?” is something that just isn’t done. This is over NOTHING. There is no benefit at all from buying salt. I can’t even imagine the pandemonium that would occur in a real state of emergency here, but it would be chaos of legendary proportions. Luckily for me, I had a friend with a car who was part of the madness, and he told me that walking out of the grocery store and filling up his car with ridiculous amounts of salt in front of a clamoring horde of jealous Chinese people was a special experience, and he would give me a box of salt the next time he saw me.

Here is an article about the Chinese salt craze. If this is happening in China, I can only imagine the mood in Japan. The entire society has been negatively affected, either by the earthquake, tsunami, meltdown, or the giant financial drop that the Japanese stock market has experienced. It is a long road to recovery, but this wouldn’t be the first time that Japan has had to recover from a society altering calamity. If you want to help out, check out the Japanese Red Cross.

Hope you all are doing well, enjoy your salt and go Hoyas!

“One hundred thousand lemmings can’t be wrong…” – Anon

So I tried to think of a new and interesting post about my life but could not. I went to a rap concert on Saturday which was pretty cool, saw my first Chinese rapper who was decent, and a rap legend (Pete Rock) for 10 dollars which is absurd. I was just looking at some of our most popular search engine hits from the past week and thought they were funny, so I will share them with you.

#1 = houseplants shower – you may recall that our plants died instantly when they were in the living room, so our shower was filled with our plants for a few months. Apparently other people are having the same problem, or they want to shower themselves with houseplants. You decide.

#2 = deaf haiku – We get lots of random hits for deaf people, which is unfortunate seeing as we offer nothing for the deaf community. You may remember I wrote a critically acclaimed haiku about our instantly scalding/freezing shower. Apparently people wanted to find a haiku for deaf people…

#3 = mongolian deaf skype – see above

#4 = erin and dave blog – Wooo! If you google “erin and dave blog” we are #1! If you google “erin and david” we are #7 (mostly behind women named Erin David). We are moving on up people.

Now that we are getting 3 hits a day from people searching for “houseplants shower”, get ready for tons of pop up ads! Soon we can start selling tonedeaftraveler apparel and stuff. Here are some random pictures (China and South Africa) for your amusement. Enjoy!

Now that I can use the blog on my computer, I have unlocked the wonderful bounty of easily accessible pictures as well. Here are some from Shanghai that we did not include in the Shanghai post. The pictures are of The Bund (the old Western part of the city), People’s Square (a big park), at the top of the tallest building in China (arguably the world), and of the Pudong section of the city, which basically didn’t exist 20 years ago. Enjoy!

I put on a decent guise for being computer and tech savvy by keeping a blog and being a gmail fiend, but really I loathe the technology learning process. I find that it’s often tedious and counter-intuitive and causes me to get irrationally angry. (Can you tell I prefer doing to thinking?!)

My usual plan to increase personal blogging aptitude involves gchatting David or other friends to fix my problems. However, on this particular morning I:
1. Read Amy Anselmo’s sweet new blog about training for her LLS triathlon.
2. Was told (appropriately) by David, to “figure it out myself.”

Thus, I was inspired to forego my typical reaction of shutting down the computer, and actually give the blog gadgets a second look. And watta ya know?! I figured some things out!

I certainly like organizing, planning, information exchange, and planning organizing to enhance information exchange (obviously)…so I have spent months pondering how to make our blog more information-friendly. I spent the morning updating “widgets” and educating myself about WordPress changes to bring you the New and Improved ToneDeaf Blog! Now you can see our archives, choose your own adventure through the tag cloud and even support charity through the blog! We chose to donate to the WWF, as it seemed most appropriate given the environmental situation in China. Also, I certainly can’t take credit for all of these changes, as David was still my primary consultant.

I hope you enjoy the changes, and a photo of the wildly inappropriate toothpaste brand that is a best-seller here in China. I read online that the original name was actually “Darkie” but was apparently changed in 1985 when Colgate-Palmolive aquired the brand. They are careful to say, via Wikipedia, that they don’t market the product. I bought this cultural relic hoping to leave my mouth minty-fresh, but unfortunately all I got was a green tea after-taste.

More Vietnam updates coming soon, and let us know what you think about the updates!

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