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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and a more positive one from the good Chairman

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

Ummmmmmm…….yea……….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nihao from Beijing,
Erin

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

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.”

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

*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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