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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.

LOL

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

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The posts have slowed, but that is because we are very busy. We just got back from a trip to Xi’an with my buddy from Georgetown, Matt Busa, which will be discussed later. This post details some of the more interesting Tangshan happenings in the last few weeks. As you all know, Tangshan was devastated by an earthquake 34 years ago. Our boss was given two tickets to the earthquake anniversary commemoration concert at the Tangshan stadium, but was unable to go. So Erin and I went to the concert on a hot and smoggy night. There was a big crowd, and an elaborate stage with a massive screen in the background. Erin and I understood 1 of about 50 words that were said (most of which were Tangshan), but it was an interesting concert. Many emotional songs and speeches were delivered, which were received with extremely tepid applause. I guess Chinese people don’t like to applaud very much, because it was bizarre how little they clapped from a Western perspective. The highlights for us were the dancing by some of China’s minority groups, but the highlight for the rest of the crowd was an apparently famous comedian. He seemed like a jolly enough fellow, but overall it seems that the Chinese sense of humor is quite different from the Western world. Comedy is Rated G, for children and adults. I was expecting the concert to be a bit more touching than it was, but I think I should expect things to be much more corny in the future. It didn’t seem like the crowd was particularly moved either, but we were glad we went.

One of our favorite restaurants in Tangshan is a Uighur restaurant. The Uighurs are a muslim minority group from western China and their food is an interesting blend from many different regions. We have frequented this restaurant dozens of times, and have become friendly with the staff who treats us like royalty (we translated their menu into English). We went to the restaurant for our boss’ birthday, and had a feast as always. The owner of the restaurant is a hilarious and friendly guy that looks like a Uighur version of the rotund laughing buddha, and he of course wanted to make the birthday special. After multiple attempts to give us the meal for free, he instead brought out an ancient looking disco ball and strobe light. After pumping up the Uighur jams, the dance party was on. The 2 Uighur boys that man the outdoor grill came out in Uighur clothes and did some traditional dancing, then pulled all of the foreigners out onto the floor to give them a dose of Western dance. It was very fun, my favorite part being when the owner’s 2 year old son who can barely walk went out on the dance floor and seemed to know how to dance. The Uighurs know how to party, and we all had a very good time.

The last story I will share took place in our apartment complex. We were walking to get a cab for something one day, and said hello to the guard and another Chinese fellow who was standing there. Instead of replying with an awkwardly pronounced “Hellooooo”, the man simply said “Hi.” This was an instant sign of fluency for me, so I asked if he spoke English. In perfect he started talking to us, explaining that his wife’s family lives in Tangshan, but that he lives in Baltimore with his wife and daughter. Such a small world, that we can be wandering in our little apartment complex in a somewhat obscure Chinese city and meet a guy that is from our neck of the woods. His name was Luke, and he asked us to get lunch with him, his daughter and his niece. We had a great lunch with them, and his niece will actually be headed to the University of Texas in 4 days for graduate school. It was a little sad to learn that in Tangshan, Luke was a surgeon at the hospital and in the USA he is a researcher, but he said he likes the USA and obviously likes it enough to keep his family there. Even a Chinese guy who has lived in the USA for 6 years maintains the tradition of being a great host, and we were certainly happy to have stumbled into him that day.

Alrighty, some pictures of the concert and random shots of Tanshan are below. Hope all is well with you, and expect some new and exciting blog updates in the next few days. My friend Busa is currently by himself in Beijing, so we are a little worried about him but he made it through Hong Kong on his own, and now knows the words for thank you, hello, goodbye, and can count to 3, so he should be fine. Good night/morning!

The Master said, “The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse of this.” -The Analects, 12.16

Wuddup wuddup, its been a while since I posted, mainly because nothing too exciting has happened. We haven’t gone anywhere except for Beijing which is growing commonplace now. Don’t worry though, we should have a flurry of exciting updates coming in the next week or so. We will be going to Xi’an, a “new, old city” most famous for being the location of the Terra Cotta warriors. More importantly, my friend Matt Busa will meet us there on his trip to China! So we are excited and hope that he can make a guest post about his experience.

Yesterday , I watched the highest grossing movie in Chinese cinematic history, and it was about the Tangshan earthquake (English subtitles). I think it is hard to imagine the kind of devastation that the city endured, but basically everything in the city was destroyed and the majority of people living here died. The movie did a very poor job of depicting this, as it focused mostly on one families struggle AFTER the actual earthquake. We really haven’t encountered situations where the earthquake was brought up, but I think the spirit of resiliency and perseverance is very strong with people from Tangshan. The movie was not very interesting, but what I did think was interesting is how much the audience talked during the movie. Cell phones were ringing CONSTANTLY throughout the movie, people were talking like they would anywhere else…it was a little strange. As you walked into the theater, which was the old-style with a balcony, they handed you a bag of tissues in case you were crying.

I have been practicing my Chinese more recently and am noticing improvements particularly with my listening and pronunciation. About 1% of the people that I talk to tell me that they can’t understand me, where before it was probably about 40%. It is also very easy to seem like you understand what someone is saying if you just grunt, probably the most common response to any comment or question. It has taken a while, but we are starting to think more in Chinese rather than in English, which is a big step. An easy example that happens all the time is if someone asks you a question such as “Can you speak Chinese?”, the English speaker would respond “yes” or “no”. In Chinese you say “Can.” It is very hard to not respond with the words yes or no, but we are both getting much better at it. I had 2 census workers come to my apartment yesterday, and when I opened the door both of their jaws actually dropped. It is was pretty funny, and I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t wearing a shirt, I was a foreigner not wearing a shirt, or just in awe of my incredibly chiseled physique, but they were so dumbfounded that they couldn’t even utter a sound. I told them 2 people lived here, both Americans, and that we are teachers, and they both had huge smiles and said that was all they needed. It is going to be hard going back to America and not treated with the same level of awe, but it will also be nice to just fit in, so what can you do?

Alrighty, as I said before, check back in a few days, we will have some updates with our travels and friend visiting (picture of him and his girlfriend below). We are almost at the 20,000 views mark too, so we will have to have a huge tonedeaftravelers post/pictures extravaganza when that happens. So get excited!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! Bye bye everyone.

The Master said, “From a gentleman consistency is expected, but not blind fidelity.” (Analects, 15.36)

So we had nothing at all to do today, so we decided to try to see a little bit of the city we will be living in.  We went with Eddie and Sally (owners of the school) and the other teacher, David.  The first place we stopped at was one of the major outdoor markets, which was an interesting experience.  It started with 4 of us getting in the back of a 3 wheel, motorized cart.  These things are all over the place, and they are just really cheap taxis.  You can see a picture of 3 of us and the driver all crammed into the little cabin.  At the market, there was a huge meat and fish market which was a little depressing, and I don’t think it would have quite passed the US’s food and health inspection.  Everyone was pretty surprised to see a bunch of foreigners walking around, and would laugh at our attempts at speaking Chinese (except for Sally who is Chinese).  They sell lots of random things as well, like mops, gloves, batteries, light bulbs, video games…pretty much you name it, they have it.  It probably isn’t authentic or high quality, but they probably have it.  I got a pair of gloves and a mop for about $3.00, so it was a successful trip.

The street food here is something to experience in itself.  It isn’t your typical American street food, with hot dogs, nachos, sausages etc.  They do eat hot dogs, but they are usually either fried or served on a stick.  One of the primary street food items, at least up here, is the baozi (pronounced bow-tze), which is a small dumpling filled with meat.  It kinda looks like a big hershey’s kiss, only it is filled with meat.  They are everywhere, and are pretty good.  Most of the food has a distinct and very different flavor to it too, similar to cumin and also with lots of bean paste.  Most of it isn’t bad, but I don’t particularly like it, although I do really like the prices.  None of it costs more than 50 cents, and most of it costs between 20-35 cents.  It is pretty incredible.  We sampled a bunch of different street foods at the market, such as cookies, fried sweet potato balls (very good), vegetable baozi, and a chicken pancake wrap.  All for less than 3 bucks (before I am asked, I did not eat the meat)!

After stopping by our apartment to drop off the mop that we got, David, Erin and I decided to take a bike trip downtown (isn’t it great that the other teacher is also named David).  I wanted to see the earthquake memorial, which is in the center of the city, so we hopped on our bikes and started riding.  Getting around in China is different from in the USA.  It is best to think of transportation as a food chain; buses and trucks are at the top of the food chain, followed by cars, motorbikes, bikes, and lastly pedestrians.  The rule of the road is “Don’t be in the way of something higher than you on the food chain.”  If you are lower on the food chain, you are expected to move out of the way of the bigger vehicles, and it is a little scary at first.  People also honk their horns CONSTANTLY, for all sorts of reasons.  Usually it is a warning of some kind, such as “I am going through this red light!!!!!!!” but sometimes it is hard to find any reason for the blaring.  You will see people hold their horns for 10 seconds, and then drive straight through a red light or make some crazy left turn through pedestrians.  It works though, so who am I to argue that the pedestrian has the right of way.  That is not the case here, and even if it is, you would be killed in a day if you lived by that.  Luckily our bike trip was successful, and we made it downtown safely.  I have attached some pics of the earthquake memorial, it is a park with one big obelisk.  Nothing too special, but it also had a huge fountain so it will be cooler in the summertime. (quick aside: in 1976, Tanghsan had the deadliest earthquake in human history, killing about 250,000 people.  That is the government reported number though, and most think it was actually 700,000+.  Kinda scary, especially considering I have felt a tremor already.)

After the memorial, we wandered over to the dinosaur market (photos attached), a collection of stores that were nothing particularly special.  Again, everyone was very amused by us, especially when Erin and I bought some street food.  Within 10 seconds a crowd of about 25 people had gathered just to see what we were saying, which was “I don’t understand, what are you saying?  How much does this cost.”  It was exciting for them though!  We wandered the market for a while, then headed back to our bikes, stopping at Pizza Hut on the way.  We didn’t actually eat at the Pizza Hut, because it is THE MOST EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT WE HAVE SEEN SO FAR!!  The menu offered meals with multiple courses, had classical music playing, and was connected to a 4 or 5 star hotel.  Somehow American fast food has convinced the Chinese that they are very high class establishments in the West, but to us it was just bizarre and over-priced.  Have they never heard of the $5,5,5 deal?!  I don’t want soup, salad and pizza from Pizza Hut.  I have also read that KFC has somehow convinced the Japanese through advertising that the typical American meal on Christmas is a bucket of fried chicken!  There are weeks long reservations to get a BUCKET of KFC in Tokyo on December 24th and 25th!  Ahh, the power of advertising.

That was the extent of our journey pretty much.  I added some amusing pictures from today, of the Glory Palace, with random Statue of Liberty on top, and two signs from bathrooms that I thought were funny.  Men smoke pipes, women wear high heels, got it?  Erin and I bought some fried bread that we used to make little pizzas, which turned out very well, and now I am starting round 2 of mopping our floor.  Exciting!  Order some Pizza Hut for me!

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