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I’m happy to report that things are MUCH better since my last post! We now have internet in our apartment, I figured out how to turn the A/C into a minimal-heat producing machine, my roommate kindly taught me that we should be using the fridge in the living room instead of the kitchen because it actually works (how silly of me to think we should use the one in the kitchen) and my various positions here are going great. I am doing marketing for a western bakery, charity events for a chinese cultural center and teaching English at an international school on saturdays! So far I have worked 7 days a week for the past two weeks, but it beats the heck out of sitting around the apartment or going to an endless amount of interviews and networking events. David has been in the US on a business trip for almost a week now, and apparently is doing a great job getting new partners for his high school study abroad organization.

We still don’t have a light in our bathroom which is a bit of a challenge, but overall I’m actually enjoying Beijing. I also just spent a lot of time touring and eating dinners with the Jacobs, and I think their Beijing portion of the trip was practically ideal. Per usual I’m a little behind with posting…but today I wanted to share some photos from various food spots around the city. We ate in the Wudaokou (university) area with our friend Caroline, who I owe greatly for introducing me to the owner of the bakery. (BTW, did I mention I got a macbook as part of my new position?! My old computer couldn’t even open documents, so I am relishing this thing like a newborn baby. It’s so beautiful, and fast and helpful…thank you Lin!!!) OK, back to food. Caroline picked a Korean BBQ place, where they bring out a huge platter of fresh food on a large skillet and cook it all in the middle of the table. We had major ordering problems because they literally would not serve any dishes without meat because they said it wouldn’t cook right…and when the food arrived it looked NOTHING like the photo in the menu. The oh-so-understanding waiters pointed us to the disclaimer on the menu which stated, “Actual food may be different than pictured.” Considering exactly HOW different the photo was, David asked if they thought it appropriate to bring a plate of meat even if we had pointed to a plate of veggies. They were not amused.

We had a more successful dinner with another new friend, Betsy, on Gui Jie or “Ghost Street.” The street looks awesome at night, filled with lanterns and bright lights. They also do a lot of bbq and seafood here, but we opted for a more traditional Chinese location. Below you can also find many photos of our neighborhood in Shuangjing. We live in a foreign-friendly but still very Chinese part of the city, about a 20-minute walk from Guomao and the Central Business Distracit (CBD), so there are lots of skyscrapers and overall congestion. The view out the window is actually from our old apartment, sigh. The other place was more updated and had a great bathroom with marble and a western tub, but our new place is still pretty good. We are located across the street from the Viva mall which has a big food court and movie theater, and are around the corner from an almost western grocery. The square in front of the mall is very lively, often filled with Chinese line-dancing women, salsa classes, in-line skating, men’s singing groups and various other events. We don’t have a good, cheap, food street nearby which David especially misses, but I’m happy that most food is very convenient.

OK, I’m crossing my fingers that uploading these photos works, as the internet has been super-slow tonight, but here goes nothing. Oh, and I almost forgot, I wanted to give major shout-outs to my tough and caring friends who all recently completed the longest fundraising endurance events of their lives. They each raised thousands to fight cancer AND all managed a major wipe-out before or during their events. Um, is that a requirement to compete or something?! Allie Bouton finished her first marathon in Chicago to benefit Fred’s Team, Lisa Galik walked a marathon and a half to benefit the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, and Amy Anselmo also finished her first marathon in Seattle to benefit Team in Training. I’m so lucky to have awesomely caring friends! AND…coming up, Jenny Lou has signed up for her first-ever marathon with Team in Training; I could not be more proud of her! I will be updating you on her progress as I live vicariously through her efforts. Yeah Jenny!!!

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In short, moving to Beijing was terrible. We (mostly David) lugged many suitcases and bags from our apartment, to a taxi, to the Beijing bus, through the subway, to a taxi…left the things a few nights in offices/apartments…and finally to our new apartment in the Shuangjing neighborhood of Beijing. The really difficult part of the move was that we initially thought we had an apartment, but it didn’t work out at the last minute. Thanks to the generosity of some new Beijing contacts we left our belongings in various locations around the city, but it was quite a hassle to get it all back together and into our new place. However…after a few days of apartment searching with what felt like every agent in the area, we found a comfortable new pad. We share the master of a 3-bedroom apartment, and pay about $500 USD/mo including utilities. The place is nicer than any we have lived in before, and has a good amount of space. Our roommates are two Chinese guys, one 20-year old college student and a 30-year old IT whiz. The college student is studying Spanish but only leaves his moment for brief seconds, usually saying Buenos Dias, as he nervously jets by. The other roommate is named Er Wei (his brother is Da Wei, so he’s Wei #2 or Er Wei) and he has become our good friend. His English is basic but good enough to communicate, and he’s always willing to teach us Chinese. He’s a really friendly guy and what you do you know? He’s another Dongbei ren! Photos of the apartment and area we live in will be posted shortly.

On our first weekend in Beijing we volunteered at the Slow Food Saturday Event at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. I had heard about this event through The Beijinger, one of the best expat guides in the city, and thought that volunteering would be a good way to meet people and see a part of the Beijing countryside. Slow Food is an international movement founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s
dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. (taken from www.slowfood.com) The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu is a sustainable dining and lodging facility that hosted the first annual Beijing Slow Food event, and is located near the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

The scenery at the event and people involved were really great, and it was good to be a volunteer again. Despite the fact that there was some organizational chaos involved with the actual event, it was a nice introduction to the countryside. I think that David’s highlight to the day was probably hosting a information booth where he threw a bottle with a very excited local kid for about a hour. The Schoolhouse is set in a naturally beautiful atmosphere, complete with more lily pads at our lunch destination! Although we didn’t get to hike the great wall, you can make it out behind David’s head in one photo. I also helped The Schoolhouse with a post-event survey to make recommendations for next year, which made me feel more connected to the community and less of a waste of a human as I sat around looking for employment.

David’s job continues to be going well; he has helped coach a few kids to visa interview success and found some new partners to work with in the US. He often gets up in the middle of the night to make international calls and still goes in to work early the next day. I don’t know how he does it. I am have connected and volunteered with various non-profits and smaller organizations, and am hoping that one will turn into a paid position. It has not been fun to be constantly uncertain if I can stay in the country due to my visa status, which hinders decisions like buying a phone, joining a gym, etc. However, the Autumn holiday ends in two days, so I am hoping for some good news after that. On a more positive note, I am going to Hong Kong in two weeks and will be meeting up with The Jacobs, The Kliglers and hopefully Erin Manfredi, too!

I have given David a break in his posting responsibilities since he has been working a lot and I need the distraction…but I will get him back on here shortly. Below are the photos from the Slow Food Event:

So I don’t really remember where I left off, and the internet is too slow in our apartment for me to risk reloading the blog to see where I left off, so I apologize if there is a break in the story. I also apologize for the lack of posting. We just moved to the capital of China, Beijing, and have had to jump through many a hoop in order to move into an apartment, get visas, etc., but now hopefully we can resume our previous posting pace. Our apartment is a 3 bedroom in Shuangjing, a residential area of Beijing that is only a mile or so away from the central business district. We live with 2 Chinese guys, one of whom has been a good friend and helped us with our move in. Things are going well for me, but Erin’s job did not provide her with a visa, so she is going to have to figure something out. We will update you more in the near future. Alrighty, I will continue the tale of Busa’s visit.

We left Xi’an and flew to Tianjin, which would be the 2nd biggest city in America if it were in America, and yet nobody has ever heard of it. From there we took a train to Tangshan, and we had to get tickets for the sleeper cars because there were no tickets for just seats. We each had a bed to ourselves for the long 1.5 hour trip. People were very perplexed when we got off the train at Tangshan, because most people in the sleeper cars were going for 8+ hour trips. I was glad Busa got to see Tangshan, because it gives a better indication of what most places in China are similar to, and it was also a good place that we knew very well (obviously). He got to see Erin and I teach for a bit, checked out the pet and plant market with Erin, the zoo and a few parks with me, the one Chinese night club in Tangshan, a real Chinese KTV (karaoke bar), and of course hit up most of our favorite restaurants. I was glad that we were able to keep busy in the couple days we were there, and the “tourist” activities we did turned out better than expected: the Tangshan zoo had 3 lions, a tiger, a bear, and even a rare golden retriever! Busa and I were very confused when we walked by cages filled with monkeys, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and then….a golden retriever. He got to meet most of our good friends and our favorite people on the food street, so all in all he got a compact yet complete tour of Tangshan. We had to teach on the weekend, so he headed to Beijing before us, and we met up with him on Sunday night.

Beijing is a great city in many ways, but it can also be a pretty cold place (not temperature cold, emotionally cold). This is especially true for a foreigner that can’t speak or read Chinese, so I was a little concerned with sending Busa there on his own. I booked a hotel that said it was right near the place he would be dropped off, but of course it was not where the map said it was, and also had a completely different name than it said it did. To top it off, my phone, which I gave to Busa for emergencies, ran out of battery. Luckily, after much confused wandering, Busa found the hotel, and we were able to find it right away too. We ate a forgettable dinner together because the night market was closed, but the next day Busa and I headed to the Great Wall.

There are multiple spots where you can access the Great Wall from Beijing. The most popular is one called Badaling, and I read about a bus that drops you off right at Badaling for very cheap. Busa and I headed to the bus stop, and after being repeatedly told that foreigners were not allowed to get on the bus (and me very nearly pummeling a guy that told us to “go home”), I decided we should just try to take a taxi. I asked 2 ladies if they wanted to take one with us, and they seemed very disgusted that a foreigner would suggest such a thing, let alone speak to them. I asked two 25ish year old guys if they wanted to go, and they said yes, and also happened to speak English. Woo hoo! Now we had translators and people we could rely on to avoid getting ripped off or kidnapped, so I was pleased. The two guys were brothers, spoke decent English, and were really cool. They were from Dongbei province, which seems to churn out the friendliest people in China, and we really had a good time. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the Great Wall, and the landscape changes drastically in that short amount of time. Suddenly you are not in a city of 15 million people, you are surrounded by mountains and farmland. The wall has been rebuilt in most places, so it is kind of lame that you don’t get to see any of the original wall, but the Chinese hate things that are old and ruined. It is pretty bizarre. We did some serious hiking on the wall, which had some stupidly steep steps, chatted with our new friends, and again lucked out in terms of weather. After 3 hours we were ready to head back, called the taxi, and that was that.

We headed back to the hotel, ate a quick linner (lunch/dinner) at a very cheap Chinese place, and then headed to Hou Hai. Hou Hai is one of the biggest areas to go out in Beijing. It consists of a group of lakes that are surrounded by bars and restaurants, many of which are very Western friendly. It was Chinese Valentine’s Day, so the place was jammed with couples, but it was more lively than I had ever seen. Busa commented that it was the coolest place to go out for drinks/food that he had ever seen. I ate a veggie sandwich, which was perhaps the worst sandwich I have ever had, then stopped at another place which charged me 30 yuan for a coke (they cost 3). It was a great atmosphere though, even including the barrage of people saying to us “Hello friend, beer, cheap beer. You like ladybar?” It is a very beautiful area and was especially alive that night, so it was fun. We were pooped and headed back and called it a night.

This was much longer than I expected. I will finish the Busa excursion hopefully tomorrow (lol yea right), and then try to get everyone up to speed on our current life. I am thinking about my grandma right now, who just got out of the hospital, and I hope that everything goes smoothly with her recovery. Talk to you soon.

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