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The train ride to Sapa was nine hours, but I didn’t sleep much. I was excited about visiting the area and worried that someone would steal my things. I was in a cabin with three other French passengers who first spoke, and then snored very loudly…so I arrived to Sapa in a daze. Upon arrival, transportation again turned in to a interesting experience. My hotel wasn’t there with a sign, so I wandered around for a while asking buses if they went to the Sapa Eden Hotel, and eventually noticed that my signed woman had arrived. I hopped in a shuttle bus, only to sit for another hour while we waited for the NEXT train to arrive and took on some additional cash paying customers who didn’t have a reservation, hm.

I entered my freezing cold Sapa Valley hotel around 7am and headed immediately to my room for a nap. There wasn’t any heat, even in the 4th nicest hotel in Sapa, so I blasted the heat fan, turned on the electric blanket and slept in everything I brought. I woke up, had a nice breakfast, and headed out into the rain for my first trek. The group consisted of a young French-Canadian couple, an Australian architect, and another Canadian girl who was teaching English in South Korea and also booked the tour from my hostel. Our tour guide was the incredibly lively Miao (or something similar) who was from an indigenous village a few miles outside of Sapa. She was only 17 and spoke very good English, which she had astoundingly learned from tourists on her treks! We first visited CatCat village, which was a small (and currently rainy) mountainside village. Similar to the buttery yellow buildings I saw in Hanoi, each village had a large structure made of this same color, which Miao told me housed the local school. And look, a Chinese tourist posed to make me feel at home.

After about half an hour the skies cleared up and I took some amazing photos of the landscape and village animals and people. Check out the photo where a water buffalo is in the middle of our path! I have to say, that baby pig trying to drink out of the same bucket as a water buffalo was quite a site. What seemingly gentle giants! I also noticed how awesome even the scraggliest of Vietnamese dogs looked. They resemble different types of Shiba Inus, and seem like the perfect combination of strength and size, because they are mostly under 40 lbs. and can definitely run!

The hike was a short one, and we stopped around lunchtime to have a Vietnamese lunch back at the hotel. Afterwards, Lisa (the Canadian English teacher) and I decided to check out the town of Sapa. It actually felt and looked similar to a Colorado ski town, complete with stores selling North Face jackets, hiking boots and other gear for the inappropriately dressed. As I saw all over Vietnam, there were also lots of French coffee shops and cafes. We first took some coffee (hot chocolate for me) at one shop, and then walked up the street to have some previously recommended cinnamon apple tea from a restaurant called Gecko. Along the way we were harassed by surprisingly good English speaking minority women, who actually waited outside the shops asking, “You buy? You buy from me? OK, maybe later?” Their outfits were awesome, but I had already bought a scarf in the village, so they had to settle for a photo and our change from the hot drinks.

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We are a little mixed up chronologically on the blog at this point, but it’s an accurate reflection of the chaos of our lives, so maybe it’s really just literary genius. Ha! If you want a really accurate, awesomely detailed account of the Jacobs trip, you should check out Mr’s blog here: http://mb2china.blogspot.com/ Before David’s miraculous meet-up with his parents in Guilin, I met them in Hong Kong on my visa run/family run and then again in Beijing after their journey to Xi’an. I blogged about my experiences in Hong Kong earlier, but not so much about my time with The Jacobs. So…without further ado:

After the Victoria Peak car ride adventure, I met up with the Jacobs in Aberdeen and were then whisked away to the Hong Kong Lifeguard’s Club, which also houses a great little somewhat Buddhist temple. I have to say, this was one of my favorite temples we have visited to date, as was set right in the middle of the beach and a portion of the ocean actually washed up into a ramp leading to the temple. It was pretty elaborately/garishly decorated with bright-colored mosaic tiles and statues, and was complete with a mini-bridge to walk over and extend your life. After Repulse Bay we were dropped off at Ocean Park amusement park…no comment except the Jellyfish exhibit was pretty cool.

The next morning we headed to the Wong Tai Sin temple in Kowloon. This temple looked similar to many we have experience, but exhibited a lot of unique cultural aspects such as Falun Gong demonstrators and various types of fortune telling stalls with readers who would tell you your future based on everything from wooden stick readings to your facial features. We also participated in surveys for a school group English-learning field trip, very cute. Next up, the Wan Chai district markets. We saw the bird market, which seemed to have more cages and grasshoppers than birds, and made me a little sad for all the caged birds and squished grasshoppers. We also visited the flower market and a street filled with all sorts of fish, in bags, bowls, tanks, etc! I think the highlight for all was just walking around these authentically Chinese districts and checking out the every day vegetable markets and incredible amount of signage in downtown Hong Kong. This night we went back up to the peak to do the Peak Circuit, view the city lit up and eat at the famous Peak Lookout restaurant. Although the views certainly disappoint, the restaurant was beautiful but expensive and over-rated in our opinion. We took the Peak Tram down, and I said goodbye to the Jacobs until Beijing!

Well, my experience in Beijing has certainly done a complete 180 over the past few weeks. For the first time since coming to China I really feel like I’m in the right place in my personal AND professional life. I have been doing a mix of marketing, events and teaching…and getting a kick out of it! I also booked my flights home for the holidays, so I will be visiting December 19-Jan 2nd and David is also likely coming home, but just working to figure out his work schedule.
If you are interested in seeing the details of the first two events I have helped organize, look below:

11.11 Get your singles Rum Truffle making on at The Fig Tree! http://www.thefigtree.cn/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=79

HAPPY HUTONG; The first charity event I have helped organize in Beijing: http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/events/77161/

This past weekend was the first I didn’t have to work Sat/Sun, and I got to attend Beijing’s Chi Fan for Charity fundraising event (http://chifanforcharity.org/event.aspx) which raised over RMB 200,000 for three different local charities. I invited Betsy and Jessica and we ate gourmet Chinese food at LAN, and I tried my first sea cucumber. This dish is quite a delicacy in China, and although I’m not sure I ever would’ve ordered it myself, I was happy to have had the chance. It looks like an over-sized, dark brown, spikey caterpiller, but has a gelatinous texture and actually tastes pretty bland. For the dish they smother the poor sucker in gravy, so it reminded me of a Chinese version of Thanksgiving turkey. If I had known I could’ve ordered the vegetarian version, I would’ve, it looked the same but was made out of flour!

Our table was mostly filled with very successful Chinese Americans who were all living in Beijing for one reason or another. Our table sponsor was Chen Daming, an up and coming Chinese writer/film director. He just directed Gong Li’s newest movie, which is a remake of Mel Gibson’s What Women Want for the Chinese audience. He was a friendly guy with some good stories about Hollywood, so I certainly ate that up! LAN also had a great atmosphere that looked like Alice in Wonderland, and of course the three of us hosted a mini photo shoot for the occasion. We also attended the after party for the event, where we had a good time eating a few free cupcakes and schmoosing with the local Expat community. People say the expat community here is small…and they aren’t kidding! It’s kinda nice though because after only being in Beijing for about 3 months I see some familiar faces. I chatted with the founder of the event, Michael Crain, who should be really proud of hosting such an excellent fundraiser!

On Sunday I volunteered to host a UVa table at Tsinghua University and answer questions for prospective students. Although it’s quite a trek to Tsinghua from my house, it was great to see so many nervously excited kids. I was really impressed with their knowledge of the admissions process and handle of the English language.

And now that I’m officially little miss Beijing Carrie Bradshaw (officially meaning…its been up for 9 months and we’re almost at 20,000 clicks) I have been introduced to a whole new world of high-class writers, also known as my friends. Anyway, my friends keep awesome blogs here if you are interested:

http://faruppereastside.blogspot.com/ First of all, how great is the name of this blog? Alison and Adam are from New York and have only been in China a few months. They just recently posted about an incredible trip to Xinjiang in Western China.

http://blog.sina.com.cn/laowaidianbao Caroline is an aspiring journalist and writes for an English magazine for expats interested in Chinese language and culture. Her entries have a really great voice, and I have her to thank for my marketing position.

http://betsybecky.wordpress.com/ For sure Betsy has the most off the wall blog, her references are hysterical and she’s very creative. She just started up again after a year in Shanghai, so get ready for more Betsalicious antics.
*The most interesting thing I have EVER seen in a vending machine…only in China:
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/149434.html

NEXT UP…Barbara and Mark Jacobs do CHINA

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.

Hello from the depths of my visa nightmare! Yes…I’m being a little dramatic, but it has taken about two weeks of living in worry and despair for me to be able to somewhat joke about our troubles so far in Beijing. I haven’t posted for nearly a month because we have been busy packing up in Tangshan, saying goodbyes, finding an apartment here and dealing with all sorts of visa issues. My position also didn’t work out, but David’s work has been nice enough to help both of us out. However, there have still been multiple set-backs in this process and I’m still not sure if I will be on an over-night train to Hong Kong in two days for a ‘visa run.’ However, please no worries, I still have some good options. I can teach full-time again, but I would much rather work in a field where I have greater interest and experience, like non-profit, travel, events/marketing, etc. So, that’s the long and the short of it right now, and I will update you shortly with any progress. Fortunately, between networking events, job applications and momentary break-downs when it takes me nearly two hours in the rain to drop off some photos at David’s job across town…we have still been able to dive into the sights and sounds of Beijing.

For this post, however, let me take a step back and detail our last few precious moments with Matthew Busa. On Busa’s last day David and he visited the Silk Market and David reported that Busa was an instant haggling pro. He managed to get two North Face jackets for $45 and some pearls for his girlfriend at an equally steller rate (although I can’t remember it.) Apparently Busa is a recent graduate of the David Jacobs School of Iron Roostery (“iron rooster” is the Chinese translation for penny-pincher or cheap skate) and managed to pack his suitcase full of a few more great deals. We said goodbye to Busa after a really nice visit, only to find out a few hours later that he wasn’t really ready to leave Beijing! His flight was postponed until the next day, and the airline put him up in a hotel outside of the city. Unfortunately he had zero RMB left after his shopcation and was put-up far away from downtown, so we didn’t meet back up. Overall though it was great to see a friend from home, and hopefully Busa didn’t get too sick of us.

Back in Tangshan, it was our mission to quickly do all of our favorite things, which mostly included having good food with our friends. *Pictures provided* First up, we went to Shirley’s lao shi’s (aka Lao ShiLey) favorite restaurant for the best gong pao ji ding (kung pao chicken) in China. Next, we took photos with our favorite neighborhood buddies who we often had a chat with before turning in for the night. The guy with the white tank top, blue dress shorts, and black dress shoes (sweet outfit he wore every night) was our building-neighbor who actually printed off these photos and delivered them to our door as a goodbye present. The other man in the blue polo, whom we called Pandagui because his name sounded something like that, hounded us every night to take a trip with him in his car. Unfortunately he had always been drinking a LOT, and we didn’t think that was the best idea. He also brought us to his personal storage space one night and presented us with a few English books. We were greatly appreciative, despite the fact the books were for learning college English.

OK, wrapping this up for our next visa meeting…more to come soon.

And, roughly quoting Don Draper from the last episode of Madmen, “Humans are flawed because we always want more, but then when we get it, we yearn for what we had.”

It was a trying three nights in Beijing this past week, and we got a good dose of some of the challenges to come in Beijing. Sunday night we took the bus from Tangshan to Beijing to meet back up with Matt, and checked in to a hotel. It was a pretty crap one, with huge dips in the center of the bed and pillows, and the room stank of beef. Anyway, we headed to Wanfujing for dinner, but unfortunately it was a Sunday night and most things were closing down. We attempted to take a taxi to Hou Hai, the western bar and restaurant area, but the taxis weren’t using meters and only charging “foreign” rates, so we ate at one of the only open restaurants.

On Monday I woke up sick and felt like I had the flu. I wasn’t too tempted to stay home from work though…as sleeping in the crud bed was a nightmare, so I headed to the subway. I tried a few times to take a cab to work, but for some reason I don’t understand Beijing cabs seem very lazy and they always told me it was “too far.” When I entered the subway, I knew it wasn’t going to be fun. There was some type of back up, and I was shuffled into a large crowd of people waiting for the trains. One came, didn’t stop…and went by us. The second came…picked up a small amount of people, and left. By the third train I felt like I was about to pass out from heat, but I was literally shoved off of the platform and made it on. It was definitely uncomfortable to have no control of where the crowd moved me, but at least I made it on.

David and Matt also had transportation problems that day. They found the local buses going to the Great Wall, but the driver and passengers wouldn’t let them on. Despite the fact that David was communicating in Chinese, the Beijingers seemed to be saying that these buses weren’t for foreigners. Instead of causing a scene, they left the buses and shared a taxi with two nice guys that were also going to the wall. My best guess on that one is that they want foreigners to pay more to do touristy things. Fortunately, the Wall and visit to the Silk Market proved to be much better experiences, and Matt bought some sweet gear to bring home. A North Face jacket for $35, anyone?

On Tuesday I had to take a cab to a visa office, and was very worried, since it really WAS far away. The first guy we asked didn’t know where I was going, but I really got lucky with the second driver. He talked on my cell phone to the office to find out the directions, we chatted on the way there, and he even agreed to stay and wait to take me back into the city after the meeting. He was really good at understanding my Chinese, and even pulled out a little chair to wait for my appointment to end without charging extra! Unfortunately this excursion and work caused me to miss Matt’s last day, but I did get to meet two US Embassy employees who worked in cultural outreach. Apparently Hillary Clinton has set up a new office dedicated to women’s issues at the Embassy, so there should be some growth in women’s initiatives in Beijing. Also, one of the women is married to a guy who grew up in Vienna, VA, ahhh! On Tuesday night David and I also had a fun conversation with some locals in a Hutong outside of our hotel.

By Wednesday I was feeling better, but David was sick. I headed off to work, made some progress in planning the women’s program and headed off to another meeting at restaurant (Alla Osteria) that would potentially be a host for some events. It was an incredible stroke of luck that I found the place (I almost started crying when I realized I had no idea how to find my way around, I wrote down the wrong metro but the cab driver miraculously took me to the general vicinity), and the owners were such characters. The husband is an extremely laid-back and generous Italian who speaks very little Chinese, while the wife is a Beijinger with sharp business skills and no-nonsense attitude. Well, the place was great and so were the owners, so I was so glad I managed to make the meeting. It even turned out that the wife’s family is from Tangshan! Of course…after the meeting my phone died and I had to go to starbucks for free internet to try and find where David was in the city. We tried exchanging emails but didn’t connect and ended up taking separate buses home. When I got back, I was greeted by the nice surprise of our neighbor who had printed out the two photos we took with him.

What a roller coaster, and I’m sure there’s more to come. My only thoughts are that I need an iPhone. Odd conclusion, you ask? Not really. An iPhone would allow me to translate and show directions to cab drivers more easily, help when I’m lost and allow me to contact David! But alas, I will have to continue to be resourceful.

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

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.

Sorry that our Hong Kong adventures have taken so long to write out on the blog…blogging becomes much less fun in mainland China when the site is behind the firewall and therefore operates at a snail’s pace. The show must go on though. We headed to Macau on a beautiful day, not really knowing what to expect at all. We got on the turbo ferry which was a confusing process and were dropped off on the other side of Macau, nowhere near the city center. We hopped in a cab and got dropped off in the Largo de Senado, the center of the town with a strong Portuguese feel to it. Like its nearby counterpart, Hong Kong, Macau was occupied by a European empire: the Brits in HK, the Portuguese in Macau. Lots of people in HK are still Brits and speak English, but there are very very few people of Portuguese descent in Macau, and less than 1% of the city can speak Portuguese. The signs are still all in Cantonese and Portuguese though, and the city looks and feels very European. Again like HK, Macau was separate from China until 1999, when it became a special administrative region of China, which means China still makes money off of it and will protect it with its military, but Macau still maintains its own government and currency, the Pataca. You also have to have a passport and go through customs (same with HK). The city center was JAMMED with Chinese folks, primarily because it was a holiday weekend in mainland China. There also wasn’t a casino in sight, which I was very surprised by. It was mostly beautiful European style buildings and sidewalks in the center, and then the normal, ugly Chinese buildings a couple blocks away. We walked around for a bit, admiring the Macau tourist specialties, mainly large sheets of beef jerkey which Erin said was the best she has ever had and cookies. We needed food though.

Macau is also famous for its blend of cuisines from Southern China and Portugal. We went to a pretty authentic looking place which turned out to be a very nice restaurant, but neither one of us was particularly impressed with the food. It was good but not noteworthy, and I of course still missed my mainland China prices. Erin did a little shopping and then we headed up to the old Portuguese fort, which offered amazing views of the whole city, and then down to the ruins of St. Paul’s cathedral. These ruins are probably the most famous landmark in Macau, even though all that remains is the facade of one end. The weather was great and the city was energetic and bustling, so it was fun to walk around the crowded streets (even though constantly having people walk right at you because they are not looking or are transfixed by your white skin is getting old). We did a little more shopping in a tea house that I read about beforehand, grabbed dinner at a great noodle place, and then it was time for me to get my gamble on! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Macau is the center for all Asian gambling. The Chinese are ingrained with notions about luck and horoscopes, so gambling is something that they really love and unfortunately read WAY too much into. I wanted to play a little poker, so we headed to one of the biggest casinos in the city, the Grand Lisboa, a really cool looking casino with the best poker room around. I don’t know why, I like casinos and it was fun just being inside the place, and when we got to the poker area, I saw that there was a tournament starting shortly. So I decided what the heck, you are only in Macau for one night, why not? 60 people were in the tournament, with a mix of people from all over the world, but primarily older Chinese guys. I have played a lot of poker, and after a few minutes I could tell that I was one of the best players in the tournament, and felt like I had a good chance of making the top 7, which were the people that made money. Nobody ever had any idea what cards I had, partially because I only had to show my cards twice and was playing a very aggressive style. After a few hours, there were 14 people left, and I had just won a very big hand and was doing very well. Unfortunately, the two times I had to show my cards at the end of a hand, both as a 3 to 1 favorite to win the hand, I lost. That is poker though, and although it was hard to get myself to stop thinking about having the most chips had I won even one of those hands, the dream was over. I finished in 13th place, but it was a good time overall, just a very painful ending. Wah wah, everyone loves reading about me losing in poker right?!

Erin and I felt impressed with Macau, and I can really see why it has become such a popular tourist destination. There is a lot to do other than gambling and it is only an hour away from HK. Good food, architecture, weather, and, oh yea, gambling! What could be better? I was glad we got to see it, and some Americans that Erin met while I was playing told her that if I came back around Chinese New Year, I could probably make many thousands of dollars raking in the dough from the innocent Chinese guys whose horoscopes told them they would have good luck and get rich this year (they said they were not very good and made between $5-10k each). Might have to come back someday…

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