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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.

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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.

Today we had a bit of a surprise when we woke up to a lack of electricity in the apartment. We called Eddie, and quickly found out that our apartment and about 5 blocks around us didn’t have power either. We figured this would only last a few hours, as even the huge RT Mart Grocery store was operating off generators, but to our unpleasant surprise we didn’t have electricity for 12 hours! It just came back on, and probably most people with a typical working schedule didn’t notice, but needless to say we had a very lazy day of cleaning, sleeping and reading. It was probably for the best though, because we both have sore throats again. Also, the shower is working amazingly well at this point, for which I am grateful. O yea, and my manager got a new motorized bicycle so I can ride her girly bike with a basket, woo!

This week I went to my first yoga class at the gym. It was all in Chinese, but not difficult to follow along because the instructor is actually up on a small stage in the class, so I could see her easily. The class was mostly older woman and it wasn’t too difficult, but I got in some good stretches before running and learned a very good, new, neck stretch. I think they have hot yoga at the gym too, which I want to try. Last week I was stretching in the studio before another class, and was approached by a few college girls that spoke pretty good English. They asked me for my QQ Number, which is like MSN or AIM chat, but unfortunately I didn’t have one. Fortunately, they were not discouraged and I gave them my email and took their QQ numbers. Inspired by my new potential for Chinese friends, I now have a QQ and am officially part of the Chinese social networking community! They have a really easy international/English version to install, and I have given the number to a few of my higher level classes too. I am hoping that the ability for them to chat in English will encourage them to learn more, as they can see a real-life application of learning English! I am also hoping that David and I will be able to meet some university students and maybe get to know some of our kids on a deeper level.

One new class I started last week is a one on one session with two 14-year old girls named Mary and Crystal. They speak really good English because they attend the Tangshan Foreign Languages School, and it has been really fun to meet with them. Mary actually let me know that she was a hostess on a local television show, and I watched her on the show last night! I still also enjoy my public school classes, as the kids are energetic and a little older than at Aston. They taught me a kung foo game that they play, which is similar to rock, paper, scissors but involves full body moves like “energy ball,” “cut,” “X or the big one,” etc. I’m not sure what the game is called, but they get really into it and so I spend a lesson teaching them the English words for these moves. Also at this school (XY) I attempted to say the Chinese word for apple that I learned the day before, but I butchered the pronunciation and the kids all laughed at me. I said to them, “I don’t laugh at you when you speak English!” and they promptly began clapping for my effort. I thought it was so respectful of them, and maybe we bridged a little language barrier. Also, when I walked out of class that day it was raining pretty hard and as I exited the school on my bike two parents came running at me with umbrellas for cover. I don’t them “no thanks,” but felt so appreciated for coming to their school.

Only one more week of classes before Hong Kong…and I am really looking forward to checking out the food and beaches over there. That means that David only has ONE more week to hit his goal of $1,000 for his big shave, so please donate at if you can! Also, one of my favorite Avon Walkers, Lauren Lucas is in second place nationally for a recipe competition. Lauren is a senior in high school and is not only raising all of her funds to walk, but also trying to save money to put herself through cooking school in NY next year. She wakes up at 4am on the weekends to bake bread for Great Harvest, and if she wins this competition, they will give her a lot of money for school! She’s currently 93 votes behind, so PLEASE take the time to send an email to portland_dessert_works@yahoo.com with the message: “Panna Cotta with Chocolate Tuile Cookie
Lauren Michelle Lucas
LML_Lucas@yahoo.com”

Greetings all, just got home from a long day of teaching. Classes go by very fast and are really no trouble anymore, so that is good. The kids are well behaved and intelligent overall, but it really is shocking how unimaginative the vast majority of them are. Today I had students play a game where they had to say 3 things: one thing had to be a lie, and two things had to be true. They would get a card (a reward) if the first person to guess did not guess which of the 3 was a lie correctly. I gave them examples and expected to hear some interesting and funny responses. The first person to go said “I will eat tonight. I will go to sleep tonight. I will go to Beijing tonight.” Obviously the lie was discovered immediately. After about 6 people used 2 of “I will sleep tonight…I will eat tonight…I will go home tonight,” I explained that using these obvious true statements made it too easy to guess what is a lie. I then gave multiple examples, and some of them started to understand. I was pretty stunned at how bad they were at just coming up with something on their own, and most of the time I do have classes try to make up their own story/game/activity, they just try to copy something directly from the book. Creative thinking just isn’t viewed as positively here (Confucius quote at bottom is a good example of why), and it makes teaching a little bit different.

I think we are basically over the initial culture shock that we felt since we arrived here. Things aren’t as strange or amusing as they were not very long ago, they just are the way they are. That being said, there are some things that will be impossible to get used to and which will always be somewhat shocking. I have mentioned the lack of logic used by drivers, bikers and pedestrians, but another frustrating thing is just the general lack of quality. Things just don’t last here, because things aren’t BUILT to last. Buildings are built quickly and cheaply and are expected to either collapse or be torn down in 30-60 years. That isn’t really shocking or noticeable, but walk through the grocery stores and you will be shocked by lots of things. One of these things is the lack of freshness/cleanliness with most of the produce, but that isn’t as glaring as things that have expiration dates. Every single type of cheese that the supermarket had was AT LEAST 3 months expired. Most of these cheeses were in a refrigerated aisle and had visible mold on them. Anything with a shelf life of less than a year is expired and the more expired they are, the lower the sales go. The cheese passed the 3 months expired mark, so they were on a nice sale, but its just amazing to me that nobody seems to even care. The expiration dates are written in Chinese, but I guess nobody looks at them, cares, or understands them. If you can’t beat them, join them, so more very expired cheese for me! Yummy!

Alrighty, another day of teaching awaits us tomorrow. We are both excited and ready to go to Hong Kong, because it is still pretty darn cold here. I don’t know how people deal with this kind of weather all the time, but if you don’t know any better or have no way of moving, I guess you just make do. Get on skype if you want to chat. Please help me with my St. Baldricks event (thanks Gabby and Danny for being the first to donate!!!!):

The Master said, “He who sets to work upon a different strand destroys the whole fabric.” Analects, 2.16 (I and most Americans would probably strongly disagree with this statement)

Quick thanks to everyone for caring about us. We got lots of concerned messages about the earthquake in China, and it is nice to know that people are still thinking about us (especially whenever China is mentioned).

Anyways, we are officially headed to Hong Kong April 25-May 5th. Erin mentioned earlier that we will be attending a St. Baldricks event in Hong Kong (a Children’s cancer charity where you shave your head and raise money), and since we are going, I figured I might as well shave my head. Soooooooo, I need the help of my family and friends back home, to help me raise some money for this cause.

Here is the link to my website : http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/participantid/406813

Thanks again for thinking of us, and please help me out! More updates will be coming soon.

Hello and welcome back!  Today I (Erin) had my first classes at a private kindergarten.  These classes are still part of my contract with Aston, but are fulfilled in another location to fill extra hours.  I got up nice and early to greet students as they arrived to the school at 8am.  For the first half-hour my job was simply to stand in front of the school and say “Good morning” and “Give me a high five!” to kids as their parents dropped them off.  I think the general idea was to impress parents that their children’s English classes would be taught by a real English-speaker.  I was very happy with this arrangement, as it’s getting warmer and is much easier than running around a room with flashcards.

It should be known that this school is very swanky.  Parents drive up in their BMWs, Audis and yes, even Hummers to drop their kids off.  This status parade is a car company’s dream, because it is clearly the size and price of a car that is most important.  (The wealthiest also made sure 8’s were included on their license plates.) I find the contrast between the dirty, run-down look of houses, shops and restaurants with flashy, new, bright cars to be quite interesting.  I guess a car is more personal and portable, and thus works better as a status symbol or representation of “face.”  Also, I guess I am just more accustomed to homes being a major status symbol, so when you live in a country of over a billion and property is scarce, the appeal of a car is even greater.  I had to laugh when I saw a suped-up VAN with rims and leather interior, because the whole point of owning such a car is that it’s just BIG.  Unlike most of China, only one student arrived on the back of a bicycle.  I should mention, parents do NOT get out of the car, a young teacher lifts their kid out of the seat and escorts them to class.

The inside of the school was incredible, nicer than any building I have seen thus far in China.  I have attached pictures, but it was decked out with couches, bright colors and very clean!  It definitely made me question whether the “strict function” of things is really as important an ideal as the Chinese say, or whether money may change this equation.  Either way, I respect a good combination of form and function!  The classes were pretty standard, I taught 4: 1/2 hr sessions to groups of about 15-20 three to five year olds.  One or two in each class were incredibly good at picking up the vocabulary, which was exciting.  I think it’s fun teaching the little ones, but they are about done after 20 minutes…and so am I.  There are only so many ways you can go over 5 vocabulary words.

There were also two other English-speaking teachers who were quite characters.  I have heard that there is somewhat of a prejudice against Filipinos and gays in China, but these two men defied both odds!  They have actually been living in China for 7 years and just recently came to Tangshan for work.  They were extremely energetic and funny, and hopefully I will hear more of their story in the upcoming weeks.

One disappointing aspect of the school is that “We happy every day” is posted everywhere; it’s even built into the exterior of the school walls.  Eddie told me that this could be due to the fact that the manager of the school is not a principal but a businessman who seems to value money more than a legitimate education.  I just find it so counter-productive that these kids are trying to learn English in an environment that isn’t helping them do so.  Learning English is already so complicated, but having wrong information posted all over schools (there have been similar signs in Aston, too) and teachers that are constantly saying and pronouncing really basic things incorrectly is really disheartening.  I can deal with these mistakes on menus, in stores or anywhere really except an institution that is actually trying to teach a subject the correct way.

Lets see…you have been asking for pictures of the bikes and our dungeon of a bathroom, and I finally remembered to take both!  Pictures of our city and apartment will be forthcoming.  I wanted to give a shout-out to Jane, who skyped us on a whim last night, and it worked out!  Also, to my extreme satisfaction, Joe Warren proved that reading our blog is not only entertaining but useful, as he used his newly gained knowledge about the Chinese obsession with the number 8 in trivia last night, go Joe!  David and Eric also wanted me to mention that amazingly, David watched the Gtown basketball game LIVE last night on his computer.  Shout out to technology (and the Hoyas, beat ‘Cuse)!

As you may know, the Chinese celebrate Labor Day during the first week of May and National Day during the first week of October, which means that we will have at least a few additional days off from classes at that time.  This also may mean that hotels and flights are more expensive, but could be a good time to visit!

I was very excited to find out today that there are TWO St. Baldrick’s events being hosted in Hong Kong this year!  They are both in April and although I don’t think we will be able to take enough time off right now to make the events, I have started doing some research about getting involved with some more head shaving over here.  (PS…check out http://www.stbaldricks.org if you haven’t already.  My former co-worker Brooke Everhart will be going bald in Georgetown in one week, so please donate to her if you can: http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/participantid/374247) Also, St. Baldrick’s Charlottesville is still alive and kicking for its 5th year…and will host their event in 2 weeks: http://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/eventid/3998/eventyear/2010

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