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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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We are a little mixed up chronologically on the blog at this point, but it’s an accurate reflection of the chaos of our lives, so maybe it’s really just literary genius. Ha! If you want a really accurate, awesomely detailed account of the Jacobs trip, you should check out Mr’s blog here: http://mb2china.blogspot.com/ Before David’s miraculous meet-up with his parents in Guilin, I met them in Hong Kong on my visa run/family run and then again in Beijing after their journey to Xi’an. I blogged about my experiences in Hong Kong earlier, but not so much about my time with The Jacobs. So…without further ado:

After the Victoria Peak car ride adventure, I met up with the Jacobs in Aberdeen and were then whisked away to the Hong Kong Lifeguard’s Club, which also houses a great little somewhat Buddhist temple. I have to say, this was one of my favorite temples we have visited to date, as was set right in the middle of the beach and a portion of the ocean actually washed up into a ramp leading to the temple. It was pretty elaborately/garishly decorated with bright-colored mosaic tiles and statues, and was complete with a mini-bridge to walk over and extend your life. After Repulse Bay we were dropped off at Ocean Park amusement park…no comment except the Jellyfish exhibit was pretty cool.

The next morning we headed to the Wong Tai Sin temple in Kowloon. This temple looked similar to many we have experience, but exhibited a lot of unique cultural aspects such as Falun Gong demonstrators and various types of fortune telling stalls with readers who would tell you your future based on everything from wooden stick readings to your facial features. We also participated in surveys for a school group English-learning field trip, very cute. Next up, the Wan Chai district markets. We saw the bird market, which seemed to have more cages and grasshoppers than birds, and made me a little sad for all the caged birds and squished grasshoppers. We also visited the flower market and a street filled with all sorts of fish, in bags, bowls, tanks, etc! I think the highlight for all was just walking around these authentically Chinese districts and checking out the every day vegetable markets and incredible amount of signage in downtown Hong Kong. This night we went back up to the peak to do the Peak Circuit, view the city lit up and eat at the famous Peak Lookout restaurant. Although the views certainly disappoint, the restaurant was beautiful but expensive and over-rated in our opinion. We took the Peak Tram down, and I said goodbye to the Jacobs until Beijing!

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.

Hello, hello! I know you were promised a post from David a few days ago, but the poor boy has been running around senseless due to his visa and job, so you are stuck with me until I leave for Hong Kong tomorrow! I don’t really have the time to post tonight because I am supposed to be packing up ALL of my things to move into our new apartment across the street, but I promised change.org that I would blog about WATER today. The idea of this project is for all bloggers to raise awareness about a given issue on a particular day, to generate discussion and ultimately change about a pressing concern. I was also shocked myself to read that “Unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. So without further ado, here are some more devastating facts about this issue:

1. Unclean drinking water can incubate some pretty scary diseases, like E. coli, salmonella, cholera and hepatitis A. Given that bouquet of bacteria, it’s no surprise that water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week.

2. More people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets. This means that sewage spills into rivers and streams, contaminating drinking water and causing disease.

3. Every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water. They do this while carrying cisterns weighing around 40 pounds when filled in order to gather water that, in many cases, is still polluted. Aside from putting a great deal of strain on their bodies, walking such long distances keeps children out of school and women away from other endeavors that can help improve the quality of life in their communities.

4. It takes 6.3 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger. That 6.3 gallons covers everything from watering the wheat for the bun and providing water for the cow to cooking the patty and baking the bun. And that’s just one meal! It would take over 1.8 billion gallons of water to make just one hamburger for every person in the United States.

5. The average American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world. From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, Americans use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. Now imagine using just 10 gallons to bathe, wash your clothes, cook your meals and quench your thirst.

Also, I recently asked a guy on The Beijinger for some Visa advice, and asked his permission to share his comical response with you; comical only in that these stories of ridiculous hassle are becoming more common the more I ask:

Hey . . In the end I went through a friend of a friend of a friend who happened to be a visa agent within beijing . . But man I wouldn’t recommend the one I used. They took my passport to another province where visa restrictions were more lax, but didn’t manage to get it to the police station in time before my visa expired. So there was some trouble there, but it was ok because everyone’s corrupt. I got my visa back after nearly a month . . but not before they tried to scam me for between 0 – 70000 RMB (it changed depending on what day and who spoke to them, i.e. myself or my chinese friends). When i got it back, it wasn’t the 12 month L visa I had decided to settle for, but rather a 6 month F visa . . with two months already expired . . Absolute nightmare. My friend convinced the person to return it without charge but it certainly wasn’t easy. these numbers may or may not help as it was a while ago now; *numbers deleted for privacy!
Still another teacher friend of mine got his 12 month F visa through a different agent, They flew out to Qing Dao from beijing, where a group of other foreigners met up at some office and collected fake working documents, then had to take those to the qing dao local constabulary and lie in person. Perhaps its more risky, perhaps not but at least you keep your hands on your passport the whole time.

So folks, do I stand a chance getting my own visa? Only time, travel, forms, endless lines and money will tell…tear.

In other news, Bank of America and a Chinese Bank combined charged me $16.50 to take out $149.50, including a $5 charge to check my balance. I went on an 8K run with the Beijing Hash House Harriers that was a fun way to explore the Beijing Hutongs, and we have done a lot more things that I will elaborate on next time!

So I can’t hyper-link most of these links because the internet is going so darn slow…so just copy and paste, okie? thanks.

*Check out this great menu translation, I have seen many similar.

*Just heard about this amazing story about two guys’ bike ride from Paris to Beijing. The photos on here are absolutely incredible, and they are hoping to raise money for an orphanage in Western China.

*I have been looking into participating in the China Charity Challenge Bike Ride in the future, they just got back from a tea tasting trip to Yunnan province, and despite my aching tailbone whenever I attempt to ride, I am really interested in joining. If you want to make the trip over here for this, let me know!

*And on one final note, all I want for Christmas is a chance to see McSteamy.

-Pictures below are from french toast I made in a Chinese wok and Apple Strudel in a pot, as well as the Tienanmen Area for National Day.

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

Personally, I think we saved the best for last. On our second to last day in Hong Kong we took a Ferry to Lamma Island, which is known for its seafood restaurants, fishing villages and beautiful scenery. Upon arriving on the island we visited a typical Buddhist temple with tons of overpowering incense hanging in spirals from the ceiling, took pictures of funny tourist stickers, and I bought some tea at a small tea shop. Soon after we took a pretty nature hike around the island, and got to put our feet in the water.The dichotomy of beautiful Lamma island with huge smoke stacks in the background represents much of the feeling of China that I have experienced thus far. We also took photos of these great houses that were completely surrounded by lush vegetation, and look like little tropical hideaways. On our way around the island we ran into Angel and Javi, two very entertaining and vibrant Spaniards, who wanted our help taking a picture. We ended up speaking Spanish with these two for a good part of the afternoon, and their antics and strong northern accents had me laughing the entire time. We found out that Javi had taken a last-minute leave from the army to visit Angel, his long-time friend who was “working” as a corporate lawyer in Hong Kong for a week or so. Javi didn’t speak Chinese or English, so he was very happy to have people to communicate with for a while. Angel told us about his life learning French, traveling, and living currently in Los Angeles. We had an incredible seafood lunch together, complete with the best mini-lobster I have ever tried! Sadly, we had to catch a ferry back before they were ready to leave, so we quickly exchanged emails…but I haven’t heard from them. The experience definitely made me want to visit Spain again!

We took a nice, sunny, ferry ride back to HK island and caught the 6 Bus (with a bunch of hyper French teenagers) to Stanley. Stanley is a upper-class beach neighborhood outside of downtown Hong Kong that seems like an ideal place to live. In Stanley we met back up with the Kliglers, who had graciously offered to host us for the night! We got to meet Sean and Jill, the Kilgler kids, as well as the newest addition to the family…Jet, the Hong Kong dog. It was really nice to have a relaxing evening full of great home-cooked food and conversation with the Kliglers. I regret to inform you that we didn’t get pictures of the kids, the dog, or the apartment, which was decorated with incredible art from all over Asia. However, both the home and family gave me inspiration for the future. And of course…we toasted the end of the night with some good old fashioned Baijiu.

The next day was our last in Hong Kong, and we spent it leisurely in the town of Stanley. I bought a few souvenirs in Stanley Market, and we ate some pizza in one of the water-front restaurants. O yea, and I took a quick nap under the sun! After that, we caught the bus back to the metro, took the long metro ride to the HK/Shenzhen Boarder, passed through customs, spent the night in Shenzhen (where we managed to eaten some “Mexican” food), took a complicated bus from Shenzhen downtown to the airport, flew to Beijing, took a bus from Beijing to Tangshan…and taxied back to our apartment. Simple, right? Only for David the transportation wizard!

Good morning to all of those in the Western Hemisphere, I assume you are reading this with your Monday morning cup of coffee. Its been a rainy two days here in Tangshan, and our plans to visit the nearby city of Tianjin were foiled by the weather. Tianjin isn’t known as a large tourist attraction, but it’s the sixth largest city in China and is known for good food, large building and a few unique streets. Our friend and Chinese teacher, Candy, has a sister who lives there, so she has offered to show us around at some point! In the meantime, I will probably watch some movies, go to the gym, and stop back at the massage store (I wouldn’t really call it a spa because it looks like a typical storefront with table beds) to get a foot and shoulder massage. Last week I went there and got a 30 min neck and shoulder massage and one-hour foot massage for 70 RMB, which is $10 USD. That was also expensive because I didn’t buy a frequent-customer card, which I will do next week! Although you still have squat toilets at this spa, it’s a pretty clean place. They also practice traditional Chinese Cupping, which I will probably try after reading some more about the methods.

For your daily dose of charity wrap-ups, I have some exciting news! David’s St. Baldrick’s event in Hong Kong ended up raising $37,819 and he personally raised $670. Thanks again to all that donated! There are some great professional pictures of the event posted online. David and I are on the first page, and David alone is on page 6.

Walkers in the May 1st-2nd Washington DC Avon Walk for Breast Cancer raised over $6.5 million this year! I think that’s an amazing feat given all of this craziness in the financial world and am so impressed by these incredible participants.

I am also a strong supporter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and their endurance events. Did you know you can participate in the half-marathon training programs as a walker, run-walker or runner? If you are thinking about making a difference in an incredibly fun way, I would really suggest checking out the LLS Team in Training Programs. The money you raise helps fight cancer, and also provides you with a really great training program, incentive to be healthy, ability meet other like-minded do-gooders and experience the incredible atmosphere of a race-weekend. I have told many people that even if you donate the funds yourself, it’s worth the training and trip that the event entails (seriously.)

And finally, my former co-worker and good friend, Allie Bouton, is competing in her first marathon in October! She got a spot in the Chicago Marathon through agreeing to fundraise a LOT of money for Fred’s Team, which benefits the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Allie is running for many people, but specifically Mrs. Merry, who is battling a brain tumor. If you would be willing to support Allie, Mrs. Merry and Sloan-Kettering, please make a donation here.

And NOW back to Hong Kong! The day after our trip to Macau started with an incredible Japanese-style lunch at Miso, a restaurant tucked away in the IFC building with great sushi that David had read about in the guide book. The prices for the fresh seafood were excellent and so was the ambiance. Pictures provided! The day was really beautiful and sunny, so we decided to hike…and hike we did! On the way we were really confused to find thousands of Filipino women camped out on the streets and in the subways at every turn. We thought maybe there was a protest or that they had all come from the for sales during the holiday-weekend, because we saw lots of huge boxes that were being packed to ship to the Philipines. What made the scene even more confusing was that many had brought food, pedicure and manicure kits and even laptops to this sit-in. Well, upon futher questioning with some of the participants and HK locals, we found out that this is pretty common on many Sundays with nice weather, and that these women were just getting together for some bonding time! I’m still somewhat confused as to why they decided to stay in places like hot subway halls, but it’s very obvious that the have a strong community in HK.

Well, we started from sea-level and hiked the 1,811 feet to the top of Victoria Peak (the second tallest mountain in HK). A significant part of this hike is literally straight-up, and although we saw lots of people coming down the hill, we only saw one or two going up. It was the steepest grade I have ever encountered, but I was feeling good in the new Mizuno running shoes I had bought the day before! ($65 instead of the normal $100 in the States, not a great deal but I was happy!) At the shopping hub of the peak we got a gelato and headed onward to the Victoria Gardens, which is the tallest point of the Peak and offers some good views of the surrounding land and islands. There seemed to be a ton of cute kids playing in the gardens around the million-dollar communities atop of the peak, which was an added benefit! The cars parked at all of the apartments ranged from Mercedes to Ferraris and were all in perfect condition. We read that this was one of the most expensive places to live in the world, based on square footage. It seemed like a really beautiful place to live…but not really ideal if you want to want around, since the community is built on a massive, steep hill.

After the gardens we walked the 2-mile Peak Loop trail around the circumference of the mountain. This was a great walk because it was like hiking through a mini-jungle, and included many spots to view the incredible Hong Kong skyline. Many runners were jogging along this path, and although it gets a little crowded at points, this has to be one of the best running routes I have ever seen! After this walk we went to the Hong Kong Cafe, which specializes in Hong Kong style diner food. This style of restaurant came around during the 1960s when prosperity and contact with the west was really flourishing in Hong Kong, and the natives began offering menus that would appeal to both the Cantonese and foreigners alike. One of the best-sellers was Hong Hong tea, which is 1/2 coffee and 1/2 tea! I also tried HK french toast, which is two pieces of thick bread, held together by peanut butter, fried in eggs and topped with a light-honey syrup. It tasted GREAT after a long day of hiking and I have since made it for the teachers in Tangshan! David also got a curried vegetable dish, which was also very good! After food we paid to visit the top of the Victoria Peak building and viewed the city all lit-up at night. Needless to say, the views were one-of-a-kind and we got some really excellent photos.

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…

Aaand we’re back! Sorry for the delay, we were busy soaking up the rays in Hong Kong, traveling back to Tangshan and getting right to teaching. To get back to the trip, I wanted to re-iterate how much I loved that tea house! The whole culture of the miniature tea pots with various designs depending on the type of tea leaf, and intricate system of pouring and sipping was really fun for me. The really nice clay teapots in China are small and made of red or black-colored clay (typically referred to as purple or red). The most famous clays are called yixing zisha (red clay) from the Yunnan province in Southern China. These pots and cups are so small that I thought they were only for show, but really the traditional style is just somewhat miniature, and only one type of tea is meant to be brewed per pot, because the clay absorbs the flavor of the tea it brews. Also, after many pourings, the dull finish of the pot begins to shine like it was polished. I have been able to sample many types of oolong, pu’er, green, black, white and red tea, but green still remains my favorite. One of the most famous green teas is called Long Jin or Dragonwell, and it has a great, earthy and strong taste. As Laura Jacobs has reminded me, I’m very lucky to have sampled lots of pu’er black tea, because it’s an expensive and somewhat rare in the states. It tastes a little like Thai tea without the milk or sugar. Pu’er is interesting because it is sold in circular “bricks” that increase in value depending on their age. We have seen some bricks of Pu’er that are hundreds of years old and sell for thousands of dollars. Long Jin green tea is completely opposite of Pu’er, as it is considered best when drank during the same season in which it was harvested. Tea has always been a major comfort and source of satisfaction in my life, and I am really enjoying learning all about the different types, benefits, and flavors over here. I’m not much for wine, but am understanding through tea the desire to try all different flavors, types, etc. I hope to purchase my own tea set and bring back lots of different types to host some authentic tea tastings. (Sound like a great fundraiser to anyone else?!)

Lets see, the night after rainy Victoria Peak we took Richard’s suggestion and headed to the Red Pepper restaurant near our hostel/hotel in Causeway Bay. The food was good, but unfortunately my stomach problems came to a head with the spicy cuisine and I kept David and I up until 5am with really serious cramps. We slept in the next morning and I got some herbal chinese medicine that came in little black balls and smelled really strongly of herbs. My stomach hurt for most of the day, but we headed out to neighboring Lantou island via a ferry. Lantau was a pretty sleepy, traditional fishing village, complete with many clammers along the edge of the water. There wasn’t too much to do in the port, so we took a bus to Tai O fishing village, which is famous for its dried seafood and fishing village on stilts. The rows of dried seafood were stinky and a little scary, but pretty interesting to see. There were huge dried squids stretching at least 4 feet, and sadly lots of dried sharks fin. As a result of my stomach situation and sheer disinterest, we didn’t try and of the salty, dried goods, but enjoyed the unique architecture of the quiet, secluded village.

Stay tuned…next up we will recount our adventures in Macau, the Vegas of China!


(Also, the last photo of the “No Hawking” from the IFC building was posted especially for Megan Newhouse.)

So we are currently in Shenzhen, because tomorrow we fly back to Beijing (boooooo). We had a great time in Hong Kong, and I am so glad that I got to see such a cool town. Anywho, on Wednesday we went to see the Noonday Gun, a big gun that they shoot everyday at noon, carrying on a tradition of the old British Navy. It was MUCH louder than expected and everyone was rubbing their ears in pain after it went off. After that we just headed downtown and did some generic touring of the big buildings, which was cool. We then took the Star Ferry, a very efficient and cheap mode of transportation that connects Hong Kong Island to the mainland and various other islands nearby. Everything we read said this was the #1 thing you have to do if you go to Hong Kong, but it was just a ferry. I don’t really understand what was the big deal. It would be like saying if you do one thing in New York City, you have to take the Staten Island Ferry. We just took it across to the mainland because the museums are free on Wednesdays, looked around the science and art museums quickly, and Her Worship (Erin) was tired so we went back so she could take a nap before the true excitement of the evening.

Every Wednesday night, the only legalized form of gambling occurs at the two racetracks in Hong Kong. The Happy Valley Racecourse is a beautiful horse racing arena in the middle of the city, and every Wednesday the place gets packed for a hot and humid night of gambling. Unlike the ferry, this was an actually noteworthy event, and we were very glad we went. The British loved their horseracing, so when they occupied Hong Kong, they built two racetracks. When the British left, the racetracks stayed, because the Chinese love gambling more than anyone loves anything. In one Wednesday at Happy Valley, more money is bet than in an entire week of horseracing in the UK. The Chinese are OBSESSED with it. Everyone in attendance was frantically reading some sort of horse gambling newspaper that had all sorts of information in it, placing wagers, and then watching the races. The place really exploded when the horses came down the stretch, even in the first few races which are the weaker/slower horses. It was a pretty electrifying experience, and the arena itself is gorgeous. There are skyscrapers surrounding the track, and the stands and track was very nice looking also. One of, if not the coolest sporting venue I have ever been to. It was an interesting mix of Chinese and British people too, yet another example of how gambling really brings the world together. We placed a few bets on the horses that I researched, narrowly missing out on a huge haul in a photo finish where I picked the 1st and 2nd place finishers, but not in the right order. We left down about $4, but it was a very cool night. We wandered a bit, found a great international grocery store, bought a bunch of stuff to bring back, and then took the trolley (just like in San Fran) back to our hostel.

On Thursday we arranged to meet up with Richard Kligler aka St. Baldrick aka the organizer of the St. Baldricks event where I (David) was shorn. We met him at Times Square, a trendy shopping area near where we were staying, then walked through some food markets. Hong Kong (and most of Asia) really likes Durian, a stinky, milky fruit that kind tastes like damp armpit, and dried seafood of all kinds. Needless to say these markets don’t smell too good, especially when it gets warm and sunny outside. We went to Central again and saw the world’s biggest bank vault at the HSBC tower. It was so big it literally had an escalator inside of it! Richard knew a lot about the various buildings so it was nice to hear about the buildings instead of just saying,”Oh look, another huge financial building.” We hiked up past St. John’s Cathedral towards the Victoria Peak Cable Car station. We took the cable car to the top of the 2nd tallest mountain in Hong Kong, which offers extraordinary views of the city. Unfortunately it started to pour once we got to the top, so we only got some hazy pictures of the skyline (we went back though and got some great ones). Richard took us to a great restaurant though, and we had our best meal of the trip (best mushrooms I have ever tasted). We waited for the rain to subside, then headed back down on the cable car.

As soon as we got off the cable car, the rain started again. We quickly walked through a public park/aviary downtown, which was really cool, and then stopped in a tea shop to get out of the rain. This was our first true tea shop experience, and we learned a lot about tea and tea etiquette from Richard. I have never met anyone that knows more about and likes tea than Richard, and we tried 3 different kinds: a pu’er tea, which is a black tea that is put into bricks and gets better (and costs more) with age, a green tea called long jin, and another fruity black tea. It was interesting to learn that the first brew of tea is not drank but instead poured onto the cups and pot to help bring out the flavors. Their is a huge tea subculture that I never knew existed. The rain started to let up, so we left, after Richard showed us one of his favorite restaurants, Red Pepper, which Erin and I ate at later. It was another great meal, making that day the best food day we have had since being in China (in my opinion).

More updates to come….

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