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

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

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

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

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

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Whats up faithful readers! We just got back to Tangshan, but I will fill you in on the 2nd half of our vacation. Our last day in Guangzhou we wandered around the largest wholesale market in China. As I described before, basically the market consisted of one block of all chandeliers, the next toys, etc. The streets we were walking around were toys, then spices, and then, much to my dismay and disgust, shark fins. There was about 3 or 4 blocks of stores selling dried fish, with most of them being 50% shark fins. As Erin said to me, “I didn’t even know there were this many sharks in the world.” We didn’t even make it to the endangered species and pet portion of the market, but I am sure those would have been similarly delightful! We stopped in the mall which was 8 floors of the same kinds of things, mostly small souvenirs, then had lunch, then were on our way to Guilin. A random guy tried to kick me twice because I had my foot on the bench he was sitting on, and although I really wanted to pound him, I remembered Confucius saying “Let there be no evil in your thoughts.” So yea, Guilin.

Guilin is a city about the size of Tangshan, but is renowned for the karst peaks which are located all over the city. These strange shaped mountains are pretty different looking than anything you will see and Guilin is considered by many the most beautiful city in China. We also have been talking to a acquaintance from our high school, Robbie Fried, who lives in Guilin and has set up a Chinese language learning program for Western folks, the Chinese Language Institute. We saw the big sites to see in the city the first day, including Elephant Trunk Mountain and Seven Star Park. Guilin is a decent tourist attraction that has a number of foreigners visiting, so the culture is a little bit different than what we are used to (and appreciate) in Tangshan. Basically everyone is trying to rip you off in some way. It is a little annoying having to start the meter in most of the taxis that you get into and constantly having to tell people that you don’t want whatever it is they keep saying “Hello?” to you about, but its expected in a town that is so tourism dependent. It really is a beautiful place though, with 3 rivers winding through the city. We met up with Robbie and his girlfriend, Lauren, who took us to a hot pot restaurant which was easily the best we have been to, and followed the Chinese custom of not even giving us a chance to pay for the meal. It was pretty awesome though, and I must say I approve of this Chinese custom (since I am basically never the host = free meals).

We also hopped on a bus to Yangshuo, a much smaller town which was apparently not much of anything 10 years ago, but has exploded due to it being the end of the popular Li River cruises from Guilin. The town is gorgeous though, with karst peaks everywhere and a great downtown area filled with shops and restaurants. The restaurants were very Western, but had some of the best food we have had in China for a decent price. We had a Middle Eastern meal for lunch and then rented a tandem bike to explore the area, which was fun. I have never been on a double bike before, so I am glad I can cross it off the list of things to do. We biked around the town admiring the karst mountains and rice paddies, all the while sweating buckets. We spent the next day back in Guilin for July 4th, and unfortunately Erin got food poisoning and was barfing all night, but I still got to go out with Robbie and his brothers to celebrate at a bar in Guilin and shoot some heavy duty fireworks down by the river. It was a good time and Uncle Sam would have been proud.

With Erin back in fighting form, we decided to stay the night in Yangshuo, so back on the bus we headed. We met a lady who offered us a nice deal on a bamboo boat with her husband to head down the river, which was for me the highlight of the entire trip. Amazing scenery and friendly people waving and yelling hello. We walked around the town some more and ate some pizza at the Karst Cafe, which is a popular spot for rock climbers, and had some really good pizza and chatted with the employees for a long time. After some shopping/haggling, we were ready to call it a night. Fast forward through a day of traveling, and we are back in our living room. All in all it was a fun but hot trip, with Yangshuo being the clear highlight for both of us. Most Chinese people think it is way too touristy, but a place that gorgeous is going to be filled with tourists. Put in a bunch of bars and pizza places and the foreigners will follow. Thats all for now, happy 4th of July everyone, missing home but still liking it here. Enjoy the pictures!

The Master said, “A gentleman covets the reputation of being slow in word but prompt in deed.” Analects, 4.24

Hello again blog world, sorry I haven’t been as active as in the past. As was suggested, I had writers block 🙂 Anyways, we are back on the road in China, in the southern city of Guangzhou (aka Canton), the capital of Guangdong province. It is the third most populous metro population in China (about 12 million), and is usually considered the center of industry in the country. There are tons of factories in the surrounding areas that pump out cheap goods and textiles, and as a result (SURPRISE!), the city is very polluted and things are very cheap. It is a few hours away from Hong Kong and as the title of this post suggests, the climate here is a little bit humid. It hasn’t been as insufferable as I was expecting, but it is pretty sticky. I am pretty much covered in a nice shield of sweat all day, so it keeps the dirt off of my skin.

Besides sauna like conditions, Guangzhou has an interesting mix of very different looking and feeling neighborhoods. We are staying in the original downtown area of the city, Liwan, and happened upon the best hotel we have stayed at thus far. It has a kitchen, 2 ACs, big TV, microwave, and a balcony with a view of the Pearl River. All for $25 a night! We are in the middle of a fairly happening area, near one of the biggest wholesale markets in China. These markets are strange places, with each street seemingly representing a different type of good one might desire. One street will be the dried fish, the next will be chandeliers, the next will be wires, the next phones, shoes, animals, etc. It is a little weird to be walking along and suddenly every store you see changes from selling shoes and belts to selling chandeliers and fan blades. And yes, the dried fish street doesn’t smell very good.

A quick rundown of the places we saw over the past days:

Shamian Island, the European section of the city, a small neighborhood in Liwan which used to only allow foreigners access. Now it is a trendy place to have some food or drinks and see some European buildings. Both of us remarked once again that it is pretty amazing that tiny countries in Europe were able to go everywhere we have been and seemingly do whatever they wanted while also building the nicest looking buildings.

-Yuntai Garden, a hilarious garden filled with little cartoon characters and things that Chinese people seem to think are nice in parks. It started to pour while we were walking around, but it was good for a laugh.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Memorial Hall, a huge octagonal shaped building in the center of town to commemorate one of the most important figures in the history of Guangzhou. Sun Yat-sen was one of the most influential revolutionary leaders in China in the early parts of the 20th century, and is unique in that he is revered all over China AND Taiwan. He fought to establish a republic in China, and created one of the leading political parties in China at the time. His ideas have since been distorted to be the first calls for communism, when he in fact wanted to emulate the constitutional monarchies of Europe. The memorial hall was closed but we took a look from the outside and got some pictures.

-Guixiao Si Temple and Liurong Temple, two Buddhist temples in the old part of Guangzhou. Both of these temples were said to have been visited by the Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism (this is probably a legend as is the case with most claims such as these). Guixiao Si is a pretty generic looking Buddhist temple, which we have seen a lot of, but Liurong has a pagoda in the middle of it which was cool. Buddhist temples are starting to lose some of their initial appeal for us, because they really all look the same. I don’t mean slightly similar, I mean nearly identical. The pagoda was worth seeing though.

Beijing Lu (Beijing Road), the main shopping area in Guangzhou. A big pedestrian walkway with stores on either side, and the remains of ancient streets and buildings located in the middle. Nothing too incredible here, lots of really cheap clothes, but it is pretty crazy to be walking in what is basically a giant mall, then looking down and notice that underneath some plexiglass are the remains of a building built 1500 years ago.

Those are the sights we have seen, nothing really blew our minds but I was glad we saw them. The food has been different than what we are used to up north, because as people say, Guangzhou people will eat anything. It does appear to be the case, and still saddens and confuses me why people eat so much shark fin, turtle and bird’s nest down south (I guess it tastes good). We had some pizza at an Italian restaurant founded by fellow New Jerseyians, which was pretty good, but overall the food has been less impressive than I expected. That is all from Guangzhou. Tomorrow we head to Guilin and see one of the most beautiful cities in China. For now, I will just keep on sweating! Adios.

“The whole World is one family.” -Dr. Sun Yat-sen

*I arrived at the public school this morning to find that my classes had been cancelled because the students had to take their final English exam. As it turned out, last week had been my last session with the kids. I was bummed because this is the only teaching gig that I really like because the kids are really energetic, receptive, and good at English. Many of them also don’t have English names, so I thought I could name them during our last class…which reminds me of some of the classic names I have heard recently. “Nationality” attended my English Corner, “Seashell” was interviewed for placement, and the real winner, “Pea Shooter” found his name on the internet.

*Thanks so much to Annie and other contributors to my amazing care package that I received last week. The protein bars have been a life-saver as I’m starting to get a little sick of street food!

*Matt Busa and Billy Bergold are officially visiting us during the second and third weeks of August and we can’t wait!

*Stumbled upon this awesome blog this week that has been inspiring some friends to whip out their sewing machines and start making fashion magic, check out 365 dresses for $365: http://newdressaday.wordpress.com/

*My friend from studying in Spain, Charlie Seltzer, has spent two years in the Dominican Republic with the Peace Corps and is now spear-heading an initiative to help them better market and sell their local coffee. If you would be interested in sampling the coffee and spreading the word, please email your name and address to me! erinleehenshaw@gmail.com

*Avon Walker and Silly Bus Kid’s Music employee, Jen Dalton, needs your help! Silly Bus produces awesome kids music aimed at getting kids active and healthy. They are in the running for a Pepsi Refresh Grant, so please vote here to help out this great initiative: http://www.refresheverything.com/getkidsfit

*If you are interested in reading a good book about China, that details many similar experiences that David and I are having, check out Peter Hessler’s River Town. One of the passages that struck me most is about the comforting nature of running/physical exertion in any country (despite the fact that lots of people yell at me!)
“The peasants found it strange that I ran in the hills, and they always scared when I charged past, but they never shouted or laughed. As a rule they were the most polite people you could ever hope to met, and in any case they has more important things to do with their energy than scream at a waiguoren. And perhaps they had an innate respect for physical effort, even when they didn’t see the point. ..That old well-known feeling–the catch in my chest, the strain in my legs–connected all the places where I had lived, Missouri and Princeton and Oxford and Fuling. While I ran through the hills, my thoughts swung fluidly between these time and places…As the months slipped past I realized that even these Sichuan hills, with their strange tombs and terraces, were starting to feel like home.”

*Random potty humor success story: Upon arriving at the gym I realized that I had to “go” and didn’t have any toilet paper. I looked up “toilet paper” in the dictionary and headed to the staff room. I asked a cleaning lady for the paper and she miraciously understood me, and pulled a wad of TP out of her pocket! I couldn’t be picky, thanked her profusely, and went off to use the stall without doors!

*In a little over a week we leave for a 9-day trip to Guangzhou and Guilin in Southern China, where we hope to meet up with Robbie Friend, a friend from high school who now runs a Chinese immersion school in Guilin!

*Below are a variety of photos from exploring Tangshan. I have also decided to start writing an essay about my time in China, so I’ll post that next time!

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