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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 Second, the Chinese education system is strict and outdated in many ways, so some students and families really want the best education they can find.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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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!

This is the first post that I have made from my own computer in a while, and it feels great! Luckily the Chinese have decided that my capitalist propaganda machine known as this blog is of no threat to the stability of the country, so we are back in business. Erin was in Vietnam during the long holiday known as Spring Festival, which is Chinese New Year, which celebrates the first day of the lunar calendar. It is the year of the rabbit (read more about the Chinese Zodiac here) but I don’t really know what it means. Someone is supposedly more lucky or going to get rich or some other astrological theory that I disagree with.

Erin was gone, my two roommates went home to their families, so it was just little David all by his lonesome, with only the never ending barrage of fireworks to keep him company. Never ending barrage of fireworks you say? Indeed I did. A few days before the New Year, you heard an occasional firework, but as the days got closer, the frequency of blasts increased. On Spring Festival Eve, I really cannot put into words what the celebration was like. Basically everyone in the city, everywhere in the city, was shooting off a ridiculous amount of fireworks. I don’t mean run of the mill fireworks you can buy in the USA, I mean like the finale of the fireworks at the National Mall. It is basically Christmas, New Years Eve, and July 4th only for a week and every day is more intensely celebrated than all of those holidays. A holiday like this simply isn’t possible in the USA, because there is no way US society would be OK with the complete disregard for safety that was displayed. I am in the middle of one of the most densely populated places on the entire planet, and there are fireworks going off less than 15 feet from my window. I saw children no older than 6 lighting HUGE fireworks with their father’s cigarette. I saw people angling gigantic pyrotechnics over the biggest roads in the city so to create the most awesome explosions imaginable. I also saw fireworks tip over and blast through the windshield of a car, start a fire on the ground floor of a building, and idiots pointing fireworks at eachother in some weird Chinese game of chicken. Basically, there is no way this holiday can continue as it currently does. An estimated 6000-11000 injuries occurred this year from fireworks, in BEIJING ALONE!!!! 24 hours a day, for about a week. Its a terrifying and mesmerizing display, and I am glad I was here for it. Article written by a guy named Andrew Jacobs about the fireworks.

Besides the fireworks, there are also temple fairs, which are small carnivals at all the parks in Beijing. I was expecting these to be a great celebration of the storied traditions of this ancient culture. In reality it was a bunch of people eating hot dogs and pigeons and buying stupid hats and other dumb souvenirs. I was thoroughly disappointed but was glad to see a bunch of the temple fairs if for no other reason than there were about a billion people walking around. There was also some sort of game where you wrote a wish or your name or something on a sticker, and then had to jump and put it as high as you could. Everyone was amazed when I jumped and put it on a pole that was above where anyone else had put it, so you can all feel proud to be Americans (assuming you are Americans). Probably the coolest thing I stumbled upon at the temple fairs was a building filled with people playing games. Chess, checkers, mah jong, everything you could think of. It seemed that people could sign up to play a “master” who walked around playing many different games at the same time. Everyone wanted me to play but it looked pretty boring, because the expert was playing so many games that each game took at least an hour. I would have lost so fast it probably would have gone quickly, but I was too scared.

It is so nice being able to access the blog without having to switch computers and send pictures from one place to another, so hopefully more exciting things happen so we can kick the blog back into high gear. A friend of mine took video during the peak of the fireworks, so hopefully I can get him to send it to me. Much like Christmas in the USA, Spring Festival is the most wonderful time of the year. There was NOBODY in Beijing, so the streets were driveable. Cabbies were the happiest people in the city and all mentioned how much better Beijing was when no Chinese people were in the city. The streets were empty, which was great. It was the world’s largest ghost town for a week. Hope all is well with you, congrats to all the people born in the year of the rabbit, peace, I’m out.

Happy 5K/Turkey/Tofurkey Day to you all! Actually, we finished up Thanksgiving yesterday, but all of you stateside are currently in your turkey-comas watching football. Celebrating Thanksgiving in China was certainly different than in the states, mostly because we had to work. Although Black Friday isn’t a precious few hours away, I did read articles all week about where to get the best Turkey in town and which restaurants were offering the most authentic and elaborate meals. So, just most of our experience in China, the basics exist, just in a different way.

One of the things I am thankful for was The Jacobs trip to China. Not only did it work out incredibly well, but it eased my mind a little for them to better understand why we are so interested in living here. Despite the support we both receive from our families, I often feel a sense of guilt for being the impetus behind our trip to China. David especially forgoes a lot of family time to be here, as we both love and miss his four incredible grandparents AND we recently found out that he will be an Uncle come May! Sometimes China is hard on the heartstrings, I don’t even want to think about the weddings I may miss this Summer, but overall we are SO appreciative of this experience.
On that note, a few other things I am thankful for in China:
1. The internet and gmail
2. Heat after November 15th
3. Foreign import grocery stores
4. Practicing Chinese with friendly natives
5. Cheap massages!
6. Chinese tea
7. Food streets!
8. The expat community
9. Beijing ‘s extensive networking websites
10. Chinese architecture
I have to admit, I was thinking about a lot of things I miss about home while writing this list…but in the spirit of Thanksgiving I will refrain!

The following are the rest of the photos from the Jacobs visit to Beijing. First we snapped some iconic photos at Tiananmen Square, then headed to the Forbidden City with all of the jet-setters, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy who also stopped by for a visit. We ordered traditional hot pot at a local place, which was ideal for the cold day, and then headed to the Temple of Heaven. Although I had visited the Temple before, our guide took us to a great Tea House on the premises. It was government fun and therefore extremely expensive, but our Tea Hostess, “Miss Tea,” did a great presentation that showcased China’s famous teas while incorporating a good bit of humor. Mrs. Jacobs certainly funded the rent for the week, and was even rewarded with a “pee boy,” which is a little terra cotta figurine who pees when warm enough water is poured over his head. A perfect way to test the temperature of your tea!

The next jam-packed day was actually full of firsts for me as well. I had tried to hold back on many of the major sites so I could be as excited as my visitors, which worked out well. We visited a working Cloisonné factory in the morning, one of the tombs at the Ming Tombs, had lunch at a Jade factory and ended up hiking the Great Wall at Mutianyu. Although the factories were touristy, the guides explained a lot of interesting information regarding the detail-oriented process of making cloisonné and the time-intensive process of carving jade that I found very impressive. The time and energy spent to making authentic Chinese handicrafts gave me a new appreciation for the contrast between authentic and mass-produced Chinese goods. Although I’m not sure it’s evident from his blog, Mr. Jacobs could get enough of the stone animal statues at the Ming Tombs , so I made sure to take his picture there. The carvings are quite impressive, as they were formed from one solid piece of stone that was laid along the path to an emperor’s grave.

Lastly, we made it to The Great Wall! We took a cable car up to the Mutianyu section of the wall, and hiked around until Mrs. Jacobs and I were sufficiently tired, although Mr could’ve stayed there until the sun went down I think. We got lucky because we picked one of the clearest days of the year to visit, and our photos turned out really incredibly. When then battled the typical but massive Beijing traffic jams to eat an authentic dinner complete with Beijing duck and finally headed to a Beijing opera performance. While I thought the dinner was one of the best I have had in China, the opera wasn’t overly exciting. Although the make-up of the Opera Stars was great and there were bits of good acrobatics, it seemed overall like a low-budget production with a very weak and corny storyline. I have a feeling that’s pretty representative of all Chinese Opera, so at least we got to see what it’s all about.

In daily news, David and I have been working a lot and still fighting our visa battles…but we are looking forward to visiting home for the holidays. I am amassing quite a list of items I want to bring back, which mostly revolve around my new goal to run the Great Wall Half Marathon in May!

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

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

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

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

A lot has happened since our last blog update. We finished our teaching this past weekend, and got ready for our first really big trip (not counting our initial trip to China). We packed up our stuff and headed out early for the most Western city “in” China, which is, of course, Hong Kong. Monday started with us taking a bus from Tangshan to Beijing at about 8 am, then a train to the Beijing airport, then a flight to Shenzhen, then a bus from the Shenzhen airport to the border with Hong Kong, then a bus from the border of Hong Kong to the actual city of Hong Kong. All told it was about a 12 hour excursion, but considering all of the different portions of the trip, we were very pleased with how well everything worked out. We flew to Shenzhen because it was much cheaper than flying directly into Hong Kong, and it is the Southernmost city in the mainland, so it is easy to get to Hong Kong. And it was! We arrived late on Monday night with 2 suitcases and a backpack, with absolutely no real plans at all. We walked around for a bit in Kowloon without finding a cheap enough hotel, but after a while wandering around Nathan Road we found one for about $35 dollars. Step one complete, so now we could explore.

We went back out on Nathan Road aka the “Golden Mile” and quickly discovered how different Hong Kong was from other places in China. The city is an incredibly dense mass of skyscrapers (7,650 to be exact, #1 in the world) on both sides of the Harbor. The currency is not the Chinese yuan we have grown accustomed to, but is the Hong Kong dollar, which is about 8 to 1 to the US dollar. It is perhaps the coolest and most futuristic looking currency I have seen. There are also lots of Western looking folks in Hong Kong and you will hear people of all types speaking English. It is a little surprising at first to hear a very Chinese looking person say “Alright dudes, let’s roll!” in a perfect British accent, but that is Hong Kong for you. One of the Western folks we saw happened to look like someone that we thought was a former teacher at our school in Tangshan. We approached him and, sure enough, it was him! Being here for 65 days has only made me feel like the world is even smaller than I initially thought, because random occurrences like that happen a good amount of the time. After chatting with him for a while, my stomach was telling me that I needed some good, cheap, Chinese food. We found a real divey looking place that was filled with locals and had visible cockroaches in the kitchen (this was disgusting for us, don’t worry, we didn’t see them at first) and were ready for our 3-5 yuan dinner. Unfortunately we learned that these prices simply don’t exist in Hong Kong, because the cheapest thing on the menu was fried noodles for 35 HKD. Not a good deal even by American standards. My opinion of Chinese food is very positively influenced by the additional savings factor (I swear you can taste how much money you are saving) but this factor does not exist in Hong Kong. Oh well, its still pretty darn cheap. We ate our dinner and headed to the Temple Market which was nearby.

As you have read in other blog posts about markets in Beijing, (if not, welcome to the blog, this will get you up to speed) prices at the markets tend to start at a completely ludicrous level, slowly dropping through aggressive but not impolite haggling. The prices at the Temple market were not as outrageous as in Beijing, but still required some haggling (at least for me, unfortunately Erin is so “generous” that she doesn’t even attempt to haggle (which is where I come in)). The market basically had the exact same stuff as the Silk Market in Beijing, but people weren’t attacking you in an attempt to get you to come to their store. It was much nicer overall. The only people that are aggressive are the legions of Indian guys who try to get you to buy tailored suits, handbags for the ladies, fake watches, or drugs. After the market, we hit the hay, to get ready for Day 2.

Alright kids, that only somewhat catches you up with every detail of our lives, but I will try to post again in the morning about our next days adventures. They include me getting my head shaved in Hong Kong (donate to me for St. Baldricks!) Alrighty, bed time, here are some pictures for your amusement. To be continued…….

Despite being located in a major ecological danger zone, I want to wish you a Happy Earth Day! Fortunately for me, I can access most of the American “green blogs” from over here. Some of the blogs I really like are on the Mother Nature Network (MNN) site: http://www.mnn.com/blogs. No, I’m not getting paid to write this, so you don’t have to ask…but if you are interested in reading about things like saving money by greening your home, the 10 most toxic places to live, organic fast-food restaurants and easy explanations regarding complex environmental phenomenon, I would highly recommend it! Today MNN greatly enhanced my knowledge of one of my very favorite hobbies, using coupons and finding great deals, by way of the Coupon Sherpa! This site gives you practically any printable or internet coupon for major chains, and had some really awesome Earth Day promos and tips for making money in a bad economy on their blog site: http://www.couponsherpa.com/ask-coupon-sherpa/ *Not a sermon, just a thought. (-Name that pastor of McLean Bible Church for a Chinese trinket!)

Yesterday night David and I hosted our first dinner party in China, and it was a success! On the menu was vegetarian chili (canned goods thanks to Jenny Lou’s in Beijing) and rice, fruit salad, mushrooms in oyster sauce, fried potatoes and Chinese puff pastries for dessert. I made everything except the pastries, and it all turned out really well. David cleaned the house and decorated with our ever-growing variety of plants, and we fed 4 additional guests: Ada and Milly who work at the school, Ada’s husband Liu, and the other David teacher. We pumped some American jams through the computer speakers David bought for a few dollars, and continued our ambassador-ship of South Africa by showing our slideshow again. We also showed Christmas photos of David’s family to our guests, and they couldn’t believe how big the families were…and how much everyone looked alike, haha. Overall it was a really fun night, and next time we hope to serve pizza! It makes me feel more at home to be able to host events like this, and I hope we can invite more friends and students over in the future.

The comments didn’t load on the last set of photos, so I wanted to mention that the picture of 3 men includes Eddie and his Chinese business partner. The photo of David and David on the street is the “food street” that we eat at nearly every day, and the little pup is DoDo (little bean) who lives with his chef family on the food street and is one of the smallest full-grown dogs I have ever seen. The girl and boy on TV is my student who hosted a show, and the darker photo is inside the Tangshan “Toy Club.”

I managed to get a really bad stomach ache today for the first time since being here, after eating a great-tasting dish from the food street. The other David felt pretty bad after eating it too, so hopefully it was just a bad batch of food. Anyway, I probably won’t check in again until after Hong Kong, but I look forward to telling more tales!

Men’s natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart. -Confucius

Greetings all, just got home from a long day of teaching. Classes go by very fast and are really no trouble anymore, so that is good. The kids are well behaved and intelligent overall, but it really is shocking how unimaginative the vast majority of them are. Today I had students play a game where they had to say 3 things: one thing had to be a lie, and two things had to be true. They would get a card (a reward) if the first person to guess did not guess which of the 3 was a lie correctly. I gave them examples and expected to hear some interesting and funny responses. The first person to go said “I will eat tonight. I will go to sleep tonight. I will go to Beijing tonight.” Obviously the lie was discovered immediately. After about 6 people used 2 of “I will sleep tonight…I will eat tonight…I will go home tonight,” I explained that using these obvious true statements made it too easy to guess what is a lie. I then gave multiple examples, and some of them started to understand. I was pretty stunned at how bad they were at just coming up with something on their own, and most of the time I do have classes try to make up their own story/game/activity, they just try to copy something directly from the book. Creative thinking just isn’t viewed as positively here (Confucius quote at bottom is a good example of why), and it makes teaching a little bit different.

I think we are basically over the initial culture shock that we felt since we arrived here. Things aren’t as strange or amusing as they were not very long ago, they just are the way they are. That being said, there are some things that will be impossible to get used to and which will always be somewhat shocking. I have mentioned the lack of logic used by drivers, bikers and pedestrians, but another frustrating thing is just the general lack of quality. Things just don’t last here, because things aren’t BUILT to last. Buildings are built quickly and cheaply and are expected to either collapse or be torn down in 30-60 years. That isn’t really shocking or noticeable, but walk through the grocery stores and you will be shocked by lots of things. One of these things is the lack of freshness/cleanliness with most of the produce, but that isn’t as glaring as things that have expiration dates. Every single type of cheese that the supermarket had was AT LEAST 3 months expired. Most of these cheeses were in a refrigerated aisle and had visible mold on them. Anything with a shelf life of less than a year is expired and the more expired they are, the lower the sales go. The cheese passed the 3 months expired mark, so they were on a nice sale, but its just amazing to me that nobody seems to even care. The expiration dates are written in Chinese, but I guess nobody looks at them, cares, or understands them. If you can’t beat them, join them, so more very expired cheese for me! Yummy!

Alrighty, another day of teaching awaits us tomorrow. We are both excited and ready to go to Hong Kong, because it is still pretty darn cold here. I don’t know how people deal with this kind of weather all the time, but if you don’t know any better or have no way of moving, I guess you just make do. Get on skype if you want to chat. Please help me with my St. Baldricks event (thanks Gabby and Danny for being the first to donate!!!!):

The Master said, “He who sets to work upon a different strand destroys the whole fabric.” Analects, 2.16 (I and most Americans would probably strongly disagree with this statement)

So we had a long weekend of teaching, and we slept in pretty late because we were exhausted. I skyped with my sister and parents, congrats to my sister for getting into and choosing to go to Boston University for graduate school! After talking with them, we met up with our friends, Ada and Millie, to go to the top of what we were told was the tallest mountain in Tangshan. We hopped on the bus and headed over, but this mountain was not very tall. More like a big hill. We were told it could be a long hike up the mountain, but we got to the top in less than 3 minutes. It still had some great views of the city, which can be seen in the pictures below. The city looked bigger from up there, and the always present massive smokestacks were clearly visible too. I do not know what kind of power plants these are, they look like huge nuclear power plants, but I do not think that they are. These things are EVERYWHERE, I have seen more of them here than I have in my entire life in the USA. Its no surprise that the pollution is so bad. After a few minutes, we headed down the mountain, to head to South Lake, another nice park in Tangshan.

We got to South Lake, took a few pictures, chatted, but left relatively soon after because there wasn’t a whole lot to do, and we wanted to eat and try to find a gym. The park looked very nice and will be a nice place to visit in the spring and summer, and the outdoor gym was hilarious. About 50% of the workout machines they had did absolutely nothing, yet they all still swear by them and say that they are useful. It is mind boggling to me, but if someone (or more likely, everyone) tells you that something should be done or is good, then you just do it. That is the Chinese way. I absolutely hate it, because my first question is always “Why?” They don’t seem to appreciate it, and most people tell me I have so many traditional Chinese things to learn (don’t hold your breath). Off we headed to the big mall in the city, to get some grub and find a gym.

We ate some noodles and found a gym that was very nice. It was big and modern, and there were many classes which Erin was pleased about. She can get her yoga fix while she is here. They had typical machines, free weights, a billiard room, a badminton court, ping pong, and multiple basketball courts. The gym membership is about $100 US for the entire year! So we are officially members of the gym and will come back to America looking more toned than we ever have before. Maybe.

After joining the gym, Ada invited us over to her house to cook for us again. We made dumplings with Ada, Millie, and Ada’s husband, Liu. Erin was pretty good at making the dumplings, but I was awful. It is a lot harder than you would think, but making dumplings is often a family affair in China, so they all know how to make them incredibly well. It is a long process, so having the entire family help out is necessary, although I am not sure how much I really helped. I butchered most of my dumplings and many of them opened up while they were being boiled. Woops! They still tasted great, and Ada and Liu were the most gracious of hosts as always. After eating, I taught them how to play Indian Poker, which they seemed to get a kick out of, and then we headed back to get our bikes and head home.

When we got to the supermarket where we locked our bikes, Erin was not able to find hers. We looked and looked, but to no avail. Her bike was gone. She locked her bike next to mine in the morning, but it was taken somehow during the day. It is a little suspicious, but every single time I have locked my bike at this supermarket, someone has watched me do it. Not slightly watched me do it, I mean intensely watched me do every aspect of locking the bike. I never really thought much about it, but it is always either the drivers of the 3 wheel taxi cars, or the bike attendants of the supermarket. I have even had a crowd form around me when I locked my bike, about 6 or 7 taxi drivers just watched me lock my bike. They all laughed after I said “Ta Da!” Now I think they may have had scandalous intentions, and it is unfortunate. Now anytime I am watched by someone locking my bike, which so far has been every single time, I will be concerned. Nothing we can do though, but if I see someone with Erin’s bike in the next couple weeks, I will chase them down (her bike also had a distinct squeaking sound, so it would be easy to distinguish). Oh wells, just have to be really cautious from now on, and make sure the bikes are locked and we don’t leave them someplace all day. It stinks to be suspicious of all the people at the supermarket though, especially because we can’t even ask anyone if they saw anything. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Luckily I didn’t pound anyone, because the bike attendant was acting super suspicious when we got there in the morning, and then intensely watched me unlock my bike at night, and when Erin asked him what he was looking at, he just laughed and walked away. He wouldn’t look at us again. He is my #1 suspect, and if my bike is stolen when he is working again……nothing will happen.

Enjoy the pictures! If anyone wants to skype, we can anytime pretty much in the next few days. If you get on skype at your night time, we will probably be on. Or we will be getting buff at the gym. Peace out!

The Master said, “He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” The Analects, 2.15

David has kindly reminded me that I haven’t been updating the blog as much as I should…but never fear, I have been keeping notes and remember everything I want to share!  Backing up a little, the dust storm really was crazy.  This whole month (yes…we have made it a month already, can you believe it?!) I have felt like I live on a movie set, where someone just controls all the people and atmosphere because it seems too foreign to be real.  If you have ever seen the movie The Truman Show…I feel like that.  The dust storm was the best representation of this feeling so far, riding on my bike through sand and dust to school, I just felt like some special effects guy had just switched on the “Asian Dust Storm” switch.  Oddly enough, when we exited a train station in Beijing, we stumbled across some Mongolian tourists who wanted to take our picture.  I think in the trade-off between dust storms and photos, they won.

I have to recount a funny story that happened in school the day of the dust storm.  I teach a class called NC-1.  It’s an intermediary class for kids that did not pass the previous level and need extra attention.  As you can imagine, this class is tough.  I was reviewing the months of the year, and asked Logan, what month do you like?  He smiled and said, “I like watermelons!”  Oh good, Logan understands the “I like” concept.  So I explained, can you look at the list of the months in the book in front of you: Jan, Feb, etc.  “Logan, I like February because it’s my birthday, or I like August…”  Logan says, “Ohhhh, dui dui (yes, yes), I like watermelons!”  OK, that was a huge fail for me…but the Chinese teacher and I had a good laugh about it after class.  Next class, we will review “I like” and Logan will pass with flying colors.

Lets see, in part of getting our resident permits we had a short interview with a Tangshan government official.  One thing that was very interesting about the government offices is that they all had beds in them!  I’m not sure why, and I reallly like this custom, but it was very unique.  Also, we asked the official about how many foreigners were in Tangshan, since we have seen 4.  He said 700, but half of those work for a German branch of Siemans, 200 are medical students, and the rest are teachers or students.  He said lots of Taiwanese and Pakistani come to study medicine.

One thing I also wanted to mention about the first night in Beijing was the Lao Beijing (Old Beijing) area.  It is near the food street, but is a small area of the city set up with little windy roads and tons of vendors to look more like an old-fashioned Beijing market.  As you may know, I completely love markets and got a total kick out of this place.  There are people and knick-knacks on every corner, and  it’s just a fun vibe.  Also, a funny thing about all the markets (Night Market, Silk, Lao Beijing) is that the Chinese vendors know limited but tourist friendly Chinese.  They are always shouting,  “hello lady, do you like, do you want?  or funny phrases like “Mmmm silk worms!”

OK, now to tell you about the second day in Beijing.  First we walked around the city and found the train station, which is next to the bus station, to buy our tickets home.  It was a VERY confusing experience because although there is a direct line from Beijing to Tangshan, it’s in an unmarked, abandoned-looking tile room about 2 blocks from the actual bus station.  Luckily Eddie had drawn us a map and warned us about this craziness, but it was still shocking.  We found out that we didn’t need to pre-purchase tickets, and would just need to show up 10 minutes before we wanted to leave at night, so we headed on towards the Silk Market.  The Silk Market is the best-known shopping center in Beijing…and it’s incredible.  Oh to see the look on some of you fashionistas faces at this 6-story mega shop!  There are rows upon rows of vendors selling everything from name-brand clothes to Chinese souvenirs.  They have leather jackets, sevens and true religion jeans, paintings, signature seals, pearls, luggage, watches, massages, DVDs…basically shopping heaven!  However, as David mentioned, this place is packed with tourists that come in by the busload, so the first price the vendors offer is outrageous, not even a deal in the states.  In the end, however, if you are persistent, there are huge deals to be had.  Although I wanted to buy a million things, we managed to escape with two paintings (originally offered at over $100 US, bartered by David to about $22) and a tea-strainer mug.  I can’t wait to check out this place with some of you…and buy cashmere together!

After the silk market we headed to the Olympic Village to see the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube.  They were huge, cool and just like you have seen them on TV.  There were a surprising amount of people milling about, but we decided we should go again at night because it would probably look more exciting.  Don’t get me wrong…it’s all really impressive architecture, but not much to do in that area.  We also tried to find this pizza place called the Kro’s Nest that had been recommended to us by some of the teachers, but ended up being taken to Domino’s.  I was starving at that point and didn’t feel like looking anywhere else for food, so much to David’s displeasure we had a $20 pizza.  I thought it was pretty good though!

From there we took a cab to the largest Buddhist Temple in Beijing, Yonghegong.  On the way to the temple was an entire street filled with incense vendors, and the temple itself was very ornate.  I think pictures will describe it better than I can, but it was a great example of a traditional buddhist temple, complete with many rooms housing gold Buddhas.  Many Chinese were also kneeling and praying to the Buddhas with incense, and there were many buses full of tourists there as well.  I was getting extremely tired at this point…David is a walking machine and all I could think about was cuddling up with our new DVDs, so we began another long walk to the bus station.  We stopped on the way at a great vegetarian restaurant and caught the bus home from the divey little room-station.

Overall we were really impressed with Beijing, minus the air quality, and are looking forward to going back!  Today I heard about the Health Care legislation and Google pulling out of mainland China, which are both big updates for me.  I will have to see how this Health Care bill plays out, as I am currently paying for US insurance in fear of having a “gap” in coverage during my time in China, waaah wah and clearly Google pulling out of China completely would not be good.  In other news, I got a haircut today from the best guy in the shop for under $2 and we had our first official Chinese class.  I think we are eager students…but are still completely tone deaf!!!  Also, just as a reminder, the Avon Walk is in one month and if you are looking to fulfill your charitable budget for the year, I know some pretty awesome walkers that still need funds.

Goodbye for now from the land of tea.

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