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This is the first post that I have made from my own computer in a while, and it feels great! Luckily the Chinese have decided that my capitalist propaganda machine known as this blog is of no threat to the stability of the country, so we are back in business. Erin was in Vietnam during the long holiday known as Spring Festival, which is Chinese New Year, which celebrates the first day of the lunar calendar. It is the year of the rabbit (read more about the Chinese Zodiac here) but I don’t really know what it means. Someone is supposedly more lucky or going to get rich or some other astrological theory that I disagree with.

Erin was gone, my two roommates went home to their families, so it was just little David all by his lonesome, with only the never ending barrage of fireworks to keep him company. Never ending barrage of fireworks you say? Indeed I did. A few days before the New Year, you heard an occasional firework, but as the days got closer, the frequency of blasts increased. On Spring Festival Eve, I really cannot put into words what the celebration was like. Basically everyone in the city, everywhere in the city, was shooting off a ridiculous amount of fireworks. I don’t mean run of the mill fireworks you can buy in the USA, I mean like the finale of the fireworks at the National Mall. It is basically Christmas, New Years Eve, and July 4th only for a week and every day is more intensely celebrated than all of those holidays. A holiday like this simply isn’t possible in the USA, because there is no way US society would be OK with the complete disregard for safety that was displayed. I am in the middle of one of the most densely populated places on the entire planet, and there are fireworks going off less than 15 feet from my window. I saw children no older than 6 lighting HUGE fireworks with their father’s cigarette. I saw people angling gigantic pyrotechnics over the biggest roads in the city so to create the most awesome explosions imaginable. I also saw fireworks tip over and blast through the windshield of a car, start a fire on the ground floor of a building, and idiots pointing fireworks at eachother in some weird Chinese game of chicken. Basically, there is no way this holiday can continue as it currently does. An estimated 6000-11000 injuries occurred this year from fireworks, in BEIJING ALONE!!!! 24 hours a day, for about a week. Its a terrifying and mesmerizing display, and I am glad I was here for it. Article written by a guy named Andrew Jacobs about the fireworks.

Besides the fireworks, there are also temple fairs, which are small carnivals at all the parks in Beijing. I was expecting these to be a great celebration of the storied traditions of this ancient culture. In reality it was a bunch of people eating hot dogs and pigeons and buying stupid hats and other dumb souvenirs. I was thoroughly disappointed but was glad to see a bunch of the temple fairs if for no other reason than there were about a billion people walking around. There was also some sort of game where you wrote a wish or your name or something on a sticker, and then had to jump and put it as high as you could. Everyone was amazed when I jumped and put it on a pole that was above where anyone else had put it, so you can all feel proud to be Americans (assuming you are Americans). Probably the coolest thing I stumbled upon at the temple fairs was a building filled with people playing games. Chess, checkers, mah jong, everything you could think of. It seemed that people could sign up to play a “master” who walked around playing many different games at the same time. Everyone wanted me to play but it looked pretty boring, because the expert was playing so many games that each game took at least an hour. I would have lost so fast it probably would have gone quickly, but I was too scared.

It is so nice being able to access the blog without having to switch computers and send pictures from one place to another, so hopefully more exciting things happen so we can kick the blog back into high gear. A friend of mine took video during the peak of the fireworks, so hopefully I can get him to send it to me. Much like Christmas in the USA, Spring Festival is the most wonderful time of the year. There was NOBODY in Beijing, so the streets were driveable. Cabbies were the happiest people in the city and all mentioned how much better Beijing was when no Chinese people were in the city. The streets were empty, which was great. It was the world’s largest ghost town for a week. Hope all is well with you, congrats to all the people born in the year of the rabbit, peace, I’m out.

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

A lot has happened since our last blog update. We finished our teaching this past weekend, and got ready for our first really big trip (not counting our initial trip to China). We packed up our stuff and headed out early for the most Western city “in” China, which is, of course, Hong Kong. Monday started with us taking a bus from Tangshan to Beijing at about 8 am, then a train to the Beijing airport, then a flight to Shenzhen, then a bus from the Shenzhen airport to the border with Hong Kong, then a bus from the border of Hong Kong to the actual city of Hong Kong. All told it was about a 12 hour excursion, but considering all of the different portions of the trip, we were very pleased with how well everything worked out. We flew to Shenzhen because it was much cheaper than flying directly into Hong Kong, and it is the Southernmost city in the mainland, so it is easy to get to Hong Kong. And it was! We arrived late on Monday night with 2 suitcases and a backpack, with absolutely no real plans at all. We walked around for a bit in Kowloon without finding a cheap enough hotel, but after a while wandering around Nathan Road we found one for about $35 dollars. Step one complete, so now we could explore.

We went back out on Nathan Road aka the “Golden Mile” and quickly discovered how different Hong Kong was from other places in China. The city is an incredibly dense mass of skyscrapers (7,650 to be exact, #1 in the world) on both sides of the Harbor. The currency is not the Chinese yuan we have grown accustomed to, but is the Hong Kong dollar, which is about 8 to 1 to the US dollar. It is perhaps the coolest and most futuristic looking currency I have seen. There are also lots of Western looking folks in Hong Kong and you will hear people of all types speaking English. It is a little surprising at first to hear a very Chinese looking person say “Alright dudes, let’s roll!” in a perfect British accent, but that is Hong Kong for you. One of the Western folks we saw happened to look like someone that we thought was a former teacher at our school in Tangshan. We approached him and, sure enough, it was him! Being here for 65 days has only made me feel like the world is even smaller than I initially thought, because random occurrences like that happen a good amount of the time. After chatting with him for a while, my stomach was telling me that I needed some good, cheap, Chinese food. We found a real divey looking place that was filled with locals and had visible cockroaches in the kitchen (this was disgusting for us, don’t worry, we didn’t see them at first) and were ready for our 3-5 yuan dinner. Unfortunately we learned that these prices simply don’t exist in Hong Kong, because the cheapest thing on the menu was fried noodles for 35 HKD. Not a good deal even by American standards. My opinion of Chinese food is very positively influenced by the additional savings factor (I swear you can taste how much money you are saving) but this factor does not exist in Hong Kong. Oh well, its still pretty darn cheap. We ate our dinner and headed to the Temple Market which was nearby.

As you have read in other blog posts about markets in Beijing, (if not, welcome to the blog, this will get you up to speed) prices at the markets tend to start at a completely ludicrous level, slowly dropping through aggressive but not impolite haggling. The prices at the Temple market were not as outrageous as in Beijing, but still required some haggling (at least for me, unfortunately Erin is so “generous” that she doesn’t even attempt to haggle (which is where I come in)). The market basically had the exact same stuff as the Silk Market in Beijing, but people weren’t attacking you in an attempt to get you to come to their store. It was much nicer overall. The only people that are aggressive are the legions of Indian guys who try to get you to buy tailored suits, handbags for the ladies, fake watches, or drugs. After the market, we hit the hay, to get ready for Day 2.

Alright kids, that only somewhat catches you up with every detail of our lives, but I will try to post again in the morning about our next days adventures. They include me getting my head shaved in Hong Kong (donate to me for St. Baldricks!) Alrighty, bed time, here are some pictures for your amusement. To be continued…….

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