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Our second day in Tianjin wasn’t as exciting at the first, but what could really top a Chinese bath house?! My experience there was similar to David’s, except that I had some guidance from Candy and her sister. I have also been in love with steam rooms since my co-worker Lisa first introduced me about a year ago, and I also visited the steam rooms at the bath house. They were definitely hot enough for my liking, but not as comfortable as home. The set-up included small marble stools to sit on, the ceiling was dripping water from small stalactites on the ceiling, and there were plants and a pond inside. It was dim so you couldn’t see if the area was clean or not…and I was mostly afraid to move. As David mentioned, the dinner was awesome, and I would give anything to have pictures of all of these adults eating dinner in silk robes!

Experiences like this make me realize how opposite Western and Eastern culture are in many ways. There are many social formalities in China, like denying tips to avoid being seen a begger, giving business cards with two hands, and standing up when answering a teacher’s question out of respect, that would be considered highly rude if not dealt with correctly. However, when it comes to nudity and friendly touching, the Chinese are much more liberal with their actions. I can’t imagine chatting nude with my new co-worker and her sister at a spa in America and thinking nothing of it. When mentioning this to my friend Jenny, she humorously commented, “So that’s why the Chinese women are always the ones walking around the locker room nude!” There is also a lot more hand-holding and general contact between members of the same sex here, and although I’m still getting used to this closeness, I like the bond and trust it automatically creates.

Anyway, on our second day in Tianjin we had lunch with Candy, her sister, and her sister’s finance at a restaurant with typical food from the city of Xi’an. Ling Ling/Claudia also bought a large watermelon from the street, which we all ate with spoons at the table. After saying our goodbyes, David, Candy and I headed to the Tianjin amusement park, where we fed fish (Candy chewed some of Tianjin’s famous Ma Hua bread and spit out pieces for the “little fish” which was hilarious) and rode on the ferris wheel. We stopped by Wal-Mart to pick up some peanut butter, cereal and granola bars, and headed back to Tangshan on the train. Sadly, we left the bag of goodies ON THE TRAIN (waaaah) but we did chat with some locals (via Candy’s translation) on the way back. The thing that most of the Chinese here cannot comprehend is why we left America to come to China if we aren’t making more money and don’t like China better than America. We try to explain that we would like to learn as much about all of the world as possible, but they are mostly confused by this answer or think we are lying about our salaries. After all Confucius did say, “He who will not economize will have to agonise.”…but we have to hope that following our hearts will lead to some type of economization in the future!

When we arrived back in Tangshan we ate dinner at our favorite Uighur restaurant, and received a call from David and Millie to join them for dumplings. So, we ate again…and headed to our first K-TV (karaoke bar). Although we always thought that K-TV would be similar to a karaoke bar in the US, it’s very different. You pay by the hour for a private room, where you and your friends can order drinks and light food. There isn’t a big stage with a group of people in front…it’s just like the small, windowless room like in the movie Lost in Translation. Overall it was enjoyable because it was our first time and with friends, but we can’t quite understand the rage, especially since they don’t play the actual music videos, but show poorly made, 80’s looking Chinese versions of the songs.

I am also proud to announce that we have hit some major landmarks:
*Our blog has received over 10,000 hits
*Tomorrow will be our 100th day in China

As requested, our next entry will detail more of our teaching and daily schedule…

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Been a while since we blogged, but not too much new to report. We did go on another trip recently though, hitting up the 6th biggest city in China; Tianjin. We were going to go a week ago, but it was raining so we pushed it back a week. One of the Chinese teachers at the school, Candy, went with us because her sister lives in Tianijn. We hopped on the train (somehow cheaper and faster than a bus) and the two girls got to sit together while I had to sit with my fellow Chinese laborers. It was good practice for my Chinese though, and all of the people on the train were completely fascinated by everything that Erin and I had to say. It is hilarious (and kind of sad) how little the people of China know/understand about America and the West, so this leads to some very interesting questions. For the most part though, they want to know how much money we make, and then why we don’t stay in America if we can make more money. They really do not understand this because they pretty much would do whatever pays them more. We arrived at Tianjin after 1.5 hours, and met with Candy’s sister, Ling Ling (we named her Claudia), who was nice enough to take 2 days off work to show us around.

We mainly heard negative things about Tianjin from other Chinese folks and the internet, mostly saying that it was dirty and not as nice as Beijing, but Erin and I were both very impressed. It seemed much cleaner than Beijing to me, and had a lot more history to it than I thought. I will say that it is not a very impressive historical city from a Chinese perspective, because it is relatively young, but it does have some pretty impressive Western buildings and obvious Western influences, which really made you feel like you weren’t in China in some places (if you ignore everything being in Chinese and all the people being Chinese, of course). We saw the big clock in front of the train station and then headed off to do some shopping. We went to the Ancient Culture Street which is famous for its shopping and looked at many of the stores. It felt very similar to some markets in Beijing, but with some pleasant differences: nobody physically grabbing you to look at their store or not letting you leave and a lack of people talking to you in English. It felt a little less like you had a bullseye on your back. Ling Ling (Candy’s sister) loves jade which happens to be one of Tianjin’s specialties, so we looked at lots of the jade stores. There are some really cool looking jade carvings, but all the ones I liked were REALLY expensive. We also got to haggle a little bit with some friendly guys, and it is pretty fun and funny if you have a nice shop owner. They act like every discount they give you hurts as bad as getting stabbed and generally exaggerate everything. Its a pretty good show!

After the Ancient Culture Street, we went to the modern shopping street. This was the most impressive part of the city in my opinion. It looked like any super chic shopping area in the USA or Europe, with lots of Western brands and of course their Eastern counterfeit counterparts. We stopped by one of the English cathedrals in the city, making you feel even less like you were in China, then hopped on a bus to see streets modeled with houses from various regions of the world. Most of the houses looked the same and we didn’t really think that they looked that much like the places they were supposed to, but it definitely didn’t look like the typical Chinese apartment blocks. We got on another bus which was PACKED and steaming hot, causing me to say “Tai han le!” I figured this wasn’t correct, but “han” means sweat and “Tai ___ le” is an expression to indicate that something is very good/cute/sweaty. This caused most of the front of the bus to chuckle, including the bus driver, who got up at a red light to open up the roof window for me. What a guy! Candy likes to laugh at me being stupid, so she found this very amusing. Things got much stranger once we got off the bus.

I had no idea where we were going, but I thought we were getting dinner somewhere. Ling Ling needed to go to the bathroom, so we stopped at a little hotel. The owner of the hotel came right up to me, squatted down in front of me, and put his arm out as if he wanted to arm wrestle. He was covered in tattoos, a bigtime rarity in China but somewhat prevalent in Tianjin, and was bigger than me, but I gave it my all for the stars and stripes. He beat me pretty easily but got cocky trying to beat me with two arms against one. He told Candy that he used to be in an acrobatic show so was very strong. It was bizarre but pretty hilarious and you could tell he was a funny guy. After that, Candy started talking about going someplace where we could relax and eat fruit, and I had no idea what she was talking about. Little did I know we were going to our first Chinese bathhouse! Of course the 3 girls could be together, but little (or big here I guess) David had to be by himself. We walked in, took off our shoes and then I was ushered into the men’s locker room. I had no idea what to do, but figured I needed to get naked like everyone else was. I stripped down and walked out of the locker room to the baths, which were basically one big pool of warm water and smaller pools of ice cold water. It is a very relaxed and nice looking atmosphere, with copious amounts of fruit to eat, as well as old, naked Chinese guys to look at. What could be better?! I went in the pool for a while, eating my fruit, and then took a shower. Back in the locker room I was given a silk robe, which I put on and was then ushered to the exit. I met up with Candy, Erin and Ling Ling out here, and Erin took a pic of me in my silk robe. She was immediately told that no pictures were allowed (obviously!). Erin and I laughed about the whole thing because it was pretty unexpected and funny. We got in the elevator in our silk robes, with Erin and I still befuddled by the whole experience.

After getting off the elevator, we saw a giant buffet. I was starving so this was a pleasant and still very strange surprise for me. Here we were, after walking around naked at a Chinese bathhouse, wearing silk robes and now eating at an all you can eat buffet. Erin kept saying she felt like she was on another planet, and it really did feel like something out of a movie. The two Westerners were just sort of giggling and amazed at this whole operation, while all the Chinese people didn’t think twice about eating at a buffet in a silk robe with strangers. The food was good though, and overall the experience was very fun. We got a hotel nearby, said good night to Candy and Ling Ling, and went to bed.

This is day 1 of our trip to Tianjin. This is also very long, so I will try to post the other portion of our trip and other ranom events soon. We are both doing well and hope that you all are too. I want to say congrats to my sister graduating from college (cum laude)!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hopefully talk/hear from some of you soon! Zaijian!

Back by popular demand, Confucius.

“The Master said, “To Prefer it is better than only to know it. To delight in it is better than merely to prefer it.” -6.18

“The Master said, “I for my part am not one of those who have innate knowledge. I am simply one who loves the past and who is diligent in investigating it.” -7.19

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.

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