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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

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Hello again blog world, sorry I haven’t been as active as in the past. As was suggested, I had writers block ūüôā 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 hope not! Because we have a few more for you. This past Monday we visited the Summer Palace, where the emperors would spend the summer in luxury. The entrance had an impressive canal lined with small shops and ancient buildings, which looked like a perfect movie set. The actual palace was huge and ornate, but overall very similar to many we have visited so far. There was a big lake around which all of the palace buildings were strewn, and my favorite part was the lily pad pond. The Summer Palace is known for the “Marble Boat” which is made to look like an incredible feat of buoyancy, but really it’s made of wood. Unfortunately we didn’t see the boat…strike one.

After the palace it was our mission to find Kro’s Nest pizza, which we had tried to find on a previous trip but couldn’t locate. We took the subway to Mudanyuan and started the quest. We walked around the area for nearly an hour, unable to locate the restaurant. Then, we got in a cab and tried to say “pizza” because we knew we were close…fail. I was getting really hungry at this point so we stopped in “The Library Cafe” which was very nice and Western, and I got a mango smoothie. Re-energized, we set out again. We asked even more people on the street about the confusing address…were about to give up, when finally we asked a guard who understood us and pointed straight ahead. No sign and all, we had finally found the Kro’s Nest! The pizza wasn’t NY quality, but it was the best we have had in China, and the salad and fries were also really good. They were also giving out free beer that night, and although I don’t usually drink, I had a few celebratory sips, ha. Oh yea, and we got veggie and mexican pizza! After dinner we took the metro to the Olympic Village, in hopes to see the buildings at night…strike two. We missed the lights by 20 minutes at 10:20pm.

We slept in a cheap hotel room without windows (hate that but it was a good deal). In the morning we stopped by a bakery and went to Tienanmen Square to see Mao’s embalmed body. Stike three! Viewing hours ended at noon, we were TWO minutes late. Still took some pretty photos and headed to a culture street behind the square. I passed by a store called Me & City and saw a dress that I really liked, and David actually agreed to go in! I debated heavily over the dress, but it was a little pricey, so I just bought a tank-top…and we headed to Lao Shi tea house. This tea house has hosted many politicians and world leaders and it was incredibly beautiful and ornate. This has to be one of my favorite buildings in China…but drinking tea here requires renting a private room and paying over 100 RMB per pot, so we didn’t sip. Maybe we can in the future with some visitors, though! After the tea house we had lunch at an authentic nearby restaurant and, much to David’s excitement, headed back to the store to buy the dress that I couldn’t stop thinking about. The employee informed me that if I bought the dress I would get a free t-shirt…so it was a done deal. (I know you were worried.)

To end the trip we walked on the Wanfujing shopping street for a while, bought two English books at the international bookstore and did some food shopping at Jenny’s Lou’s. We missed the 7:30 bus by a few minutes (strike 4), waited, and headed back. Overall it was a frustrating trip because of timing, but that was our fault for not checking hours better…and we still saw another good chunk of the city.

We decided to spend two of our days off this week in Beijing again. We were trying to decide between Tianjin and Beijing, but the other David had not visited Beijing yet, so we all went together. Our first stop after the 2-hour bus ride was the Temple of Heaven; a large park/temple sanctuary constructed in 1421 for the emperors to worship, ask for good harvests, make sacrifices and enjoy its beauty. We went on the Qingming holiday (Tomb Sweeping Day to honor the dead), so it was bustling with people. Lots of elderly people were selling small hand-made wares, dancing around, laughing and singing, practicing tai chi, and generally being a lively addition to the park. The major temple, used for making prayers of good harvest, was really impressive. It is ornately decorated on the inside and out and very architecturally complex. Beside it, we visited the “70-year Door” created in 1779 by during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The Emperor’s health was failing and building door was offered as a way for the Emperor to bypass the long walls and enter the ceremony grounds more quickly. He accepted the offer, but only on the terms that no other Emperor could enter the door unless they had also reached the age of 70. Since no Emperor ever lived to that age again, he has been the only one to use the door.

We experienced a funny situation as we walked through the park, and stumbled upon a Chinese couple who had paid to rent some Qing Dynasty-esque costumes to take pictures. We started to take photos of them, but they immediately invited David and I into the photos. The Chinese man took of his Emperor hat and necklace and put it on David, taking his Avon Walk Crew hat for his own head. Everyone was definitely amused (except the attendants standing around waiting for us to stop taking advantage of the costumes) and the photos came out great. They have these dress-up sessions at almost all Chinese attractions, although I haven’t actually seen any foreigners participating, only the Chinese. I also posted a photo of an older Chinese couple with some really sweet Nike and Adidas shoes. It seems like everyone young and old likes these brands, and I get a kick out of the combination of traditional Chinese clothing and Nikes!

At night we went to the Hou Hai area of Beijing, which is known for its lake-side scenery and night-life. At night it looked great because all of the buildings were lit up and reflecting over the lakes. Not many people were walking around because it was raining on a Monday night, so we were more harassed than normal to patron the many empty bars and restaurants in the area. David was a little sad that the whole area seem really Westernized, as most of the bars featured Budweiser, Gin & Tonics, White Russians and other typically Western bar drinks. The area sort of felt like the Cancun or Miami of Beijing, but it was still really fun to see this touristy place. The drinks and food are all extremely over-priced, but we did find some great deals on DVDs around the area.

It took a little time, but we found a youth hostel nearby, and had dinner at a Thai restaurant. Again, expensive but I thought the food was excellent and the decor was nice. David and I split lemon fried tofu and potato/egg pancakes, and the tofu is definitely some of the best I have ever had. I am a big fan of lemon sauces, but it was awesome! After dinner we found another chic little coffee shop and had tea and cake…definitely felt frou frou for China but it was a good night.

The hostel was good, located next to the Bell Tower in Beijing, and in the morning we each ate an egg omlette from a street vendor for $1.50 total. The second day was bright and sunny after the rain, and probably in the low 60s. It was a prettiest day we have had in China so far, so we walked around a lot! First we went to Beihai Park, which is huge and is definitely the best tourist deal for the money. We saw carp pools, Buddhist temples, a big lake a little reminiscent of the Tidal Basin in DC, Chinese temples on the water, one of the 3-famous 9-dragon walls, and a lot of pretty scenery. You could also rent a small boat to take to a center island in the park, but we didn’t do that this time.

After Beihai, we went to another park across the street from the Forbidden City, called Jingshan (literally Prospect Hill). We climbed to the top of a small mountain in the park and got some really good views of the entire city. We took aerial photos of the Forbidden City, and could see all of the spots we had visited in Beijing. Unlike most cities in the US, it is obvious that Beijing is very old, because the center of the city is filled with small neighborhoods and windy roads, while the malls and skyscrapers don’t begin until you get a few miles out. We are so used to skyscrapers being right in the middle of town, but that isn’t the case in most historical spots. One of the interesting things about this park is that the last Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen, actually hanged himself from a tree here, because he sensed the end of his rule by invasion of the newly proclaimed Shun Dynasty.

After Jingshan and a bidding war between drivers, we got into a small 3-wheel car to head back to Hou Hai for a restaurant that David heard was good. The drivers were really trying to rip off visitors to the Forbidden City, and charging 50 RMB for 5-7 RMB rides. We found a driver that offered us 5 RMB, so we got in. He took us through an Old Beijing neighborhood called Hutong and showed us three houses that were supposed to be hundreds of years old. Then, we stopped at our destination and he first locked the door of the car. He then told us the price was 180 RMB per person. David sprang into action and began yelling,” No 5 kuai, you told us 5″ (in Chinese). He showed us a laminated sheet of paper that said 180 RMB for “Old Beijing” tour. What a joke, he literally showed us 3 houses along the route and was trying to make us pay for a ridiculous “tour.” For this amount of money, we could have literally taken a bus to the Great Wall which is an hour outside of the city. He said, ok fine, 500…just as David managed to unlock the door. We tried to give him the 5 kuai (like saying “bucks” for RMB) he earned, but he refused and pulled out a tire lock and started waving it at us. We began to walk away and he began acting like he was going to run the small car into each of us, as many tourists and Chinese people started laughing at him. I called him a “Huai Ren” (bad person, I think) and we just kept saying that he could come and talk about it in the Tourist Center across the street if he really wanted. He eventually gave up and drove away with no money, but it certainly made me scared and so sad that he rips off tourists like this. So the moral of the story is: 1. David is no fool. And 2. Only take taxis in Beijing because they have meters. The tri-wheel bikes are a cute gimmick but the drivers are real jerks.

To add a little to this point, one of the major benefits of living in Tangshan versus a tourist city is that no one tries to rip you off. They are so surprised and interested in just seeing a foreigner, that I’m not sure thee idea of ripping them off is even in their thought-process. Tangshan doesn’t have anything in English like Beijing, or hardly anyone who can say more than hello, but I really like that there seems to be more embracing and appreciating visitors than trying to take advantage of them. Yes, my bike was still stolen, which is a big problem here…but I don’t think I was targeted as a foreigner, I was just targeted because I had a nice bike! One thing I did learn in the Beijing Silk Market though, is that even the Chinese people there respect the fact that David and I have come to teach, and immediately give us the “teacher price.” Yes, it’s still initially a rip-off, but it’s still somethin!

At this point we were really hungry and walked to a nearby pizza place in Hou Hai. It was ridiculously expensive, but David got a really good veggie burger and we all had pizza. It was ALL foreigners in the joint, and lots of kids getting their pizza fix! After pizza, we took a cab to try and find Jenny Lou’s import store. Somehow the cab actually made it there, and we bought some ketchup, cereal, ingredients for chili, granola bars, and rolos and caramellos for our boss. The prices were the same as at home, but clearly expensive for China. We walked through one last park with a lot of activities for the warm weather (rock climbing for about 4 dollars a day), and headed back to the bus station. Overall it was another successful trip to Beijing, and there is still a LOT there that we haven’t done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye for now from the land of tea.

Despite the fact that the snow is STILL following us from the US…we are having a good time in Tangshan! ¬†We taught all weekend, which was especially rough for David because he was sick. ¬†Teaching 15+ hours with a sore throat is not fun, but we made it and are beginning to get to know the kids a little better. ¬†We also had our first classes at a public school at the end of last week, and I really loved the experience. ¬†With all that I had heard about the intensity and rigor of schooling here, I expected public school to be a very solemn atmosphere. ¬†Much to my delight, kids seemed happy and excited to be in school. ¬†I assume that English classes with a foreign teacher are particularly exciting, but the kids were giggling and clapping when I walked into the room and they were even better at English than most of my students at Aston. ¬†The most touching moment of the day came when I introduced myself and then asked the kids to tell me what they like to do. ¬†One girl said, “I like to sing,” and I replied, “can you sing?” ¬†She immediately looked at the teacher, who hesitantly nodded her head, and the girl skipped to the front of the room and began to sing! ¬†Her voice was so sweet and really good, and the kids mostly clapped along with her. ¬†I really hope to have more experiences like that, where I can encourage kids to show me a little more of themselves. ¬†The teachers in the public schools were also good at English and very professional, I hope that we can befriend a few.

After class on Sunday I had a long talk with one of the teachers at Aston about education in China. ¬†She explained that in Chinese schooling only three subjects really matter: Chinese, Math and English. ¬†Parents generally get upset when classes like music and PE are introduced into their children’s schedules. ¬†This teacher mentioned that her sister had always loved music, but was not allowed to pursue her interest. ¬†However, she didn’t do very well on the final high school exam (the really important one that determines which type of university you will attend) and had no other choice than to attend a music school. ¬†Apparently music and arts schools are the most expensive and least desirable, and are mostly for kids that don’t have any other options for schooling. ¬†Fortunately, this girl’s parents were liberal enough to let her attend, and she’s now a Chinese folk singer!

On Monday we were off and although David didn’t feel great, we went around the city a little. ¬†We met a new 24-year old student that we will be tutoring once a week. ¬†His parents own a tree-fencing company and want to expand to English-speaking tradeshows, and he’s hoping to learn business and conversational English in one month. ¬†I think this may be quite a challenge because while he knows the phrase “Next time it’s on me,” he doesn’t know colors! ¬†I also got a basket put on my bike, we ate “pizza” at the “Italian” joint in town, and bought a lot of groceries at RT Mart. ¬†Oddly enough…there was a stage and live singing in front of the mega-store too! ¬†Afterwards, I attempted to cook our first real dinner at home, which consisted of a stir-fry of beans, onions, peanuts in vinegar, ginger, mushrooms and eggs over rice…which turned out pretty well. ¬†One of the teachers at our school has offered to teach us how to cook some more traditional Chinese food, so we hope to learn more. ¬†We have also watched the movies Kung Foo Hustle and Memoirs of a Geisha, which have been really good. ¬†Our manager has over 3,000 DVDs at his house, so we hope to catch up on a lot of Chinese and American films.

Today (Tuesday) we met the other David and teacher, Ada and went downtown to the Palagic Mall and street market. ¬†Ada was nice enough to help us buy cell phones. ¬†We got two phones for $20 each, which included a few hundred minutes per month, and a plan that allows us to call each other for free…sweet deal! ¬†The phones won’t be active for 48 hours, but after that we can receive calls for free and call the US in case of an emergency for about $2.50/min. ¬†The mall was really nice, complete with a movie theater and good restaurants. ¬†Ada also wants to find a gym with yoga classes, so I’m very excited about that. ¬†After the mall we headed to the plant and pet market. ¬†We bought 5 plants for the house for about $20, and pet lots of cute puppies. ¬†David was asking how much all the plants were and as a joke, he pointed to a man’s dog and asked how much he cost. ¬†At first the man laughed, but then told Ada that he would sell us the dog for 300 RMB, haha. ¬†Tempting to have a little pup in our apartment, but we had to pass.

Next up we need to open bank accounts and further decorate the apartment. ¬†We also plan to take our first trip to Beijing this weekend. ¬†And now to post lots of pictures of the things I have just described…

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