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So last weekend Erin’s visa needed to be stamped outside of China, so we decided to take a little weekend trip to South Korea. Lots of foreigners live in China with tourist visas and need to leave the country every 90 days, a so called “visa run”, but it gives people a good excuse to travel. I got off of work a little bit early and we headed to the airport. Beijing’s main airport has 3 terminals, and the majority of international flights leave out of terminal 3, the biggest terminal. The terminals are a decent distance apart, and it is always confusing which terminal your flight leaves out of. In one of the more bizarre scenes of my life, I jumped off of the train at the last second because I saw a flight leaving for Seoul on the electronic board. Erin, however, did not jump off the train. We had plenty of time, so I exchanged money and then went to check in. I waited for a bit and was waiting for Erin to come back to terminal 3. When I got to the front of the line, they told me we needed to go to terminal 2. Erin was already on the bus back to terminal 3, and I frantically darted off in the direction she had just left. I told Erin we needed to go to terminal 2, and she tried to hail a cab back to terminal 2, in tears and feeling like the trip wasn’t going to happen. I checked in at terminal 2 and told them Erin was on her way, and she made it about 10 minutes after. We walked on the plane just in time, with phase one of our journey complete. It seems like a dream now that I am writing this, I almost didn’t remember because I guess I tried to forget it. I was flush with 600k Korean Won as the pictures can attest, and we were relieved to even be going.

We arrived in Seoul an hour and a half later and hopped on a bus towards our hostel. Within a few minutes on the bus, I noticed some things different about Korea. First, the bus driver came by to check everyone’s seatbelts! WHAT?! Bus drivers in China don’t care if you walk on the bus with chickens, and Chinese taxi drivers sometimes urge you to undo your seatbelt since they are a safe driver. Second, the bus driver bowed to us before we started. Chinese don’t bow to anyone (that I have seen). Third, baseball was playing on the bus TV. Baseball, you ask? I knew that Japan liked baseball, but we came to learn that Korea LOVES baseball. There are a few Koreans playing in the major leagues, but this was a Korean league game, between the SK Wyverns and the LG Twins. As you can see, the teams are named after companies like in Japan (the Nippon Ham Fighters is my favorite), and I was pretty impressed with the play overall. The game was very different though, and the strategy seemed to slant much less towards power and hitting home runs, and more towards trickery and speed. I watched about 15 batters on the bus, and EVERY SINGLE BATTER acted like they were going to bunt on every pitch. It was ridiculous, and I can only imagine how quickly you would have your head thrown at if this were MLB. 2 out of 3 pitchers I saw had a submarine delivery, which means they basically throw underhand, and there are maybe 2 submarine pitchers in the entire major leagues. I know this is boring for anyone that doesn’t like baseball, but it was still pretty surprising to me that Korea liked baseball so much.

We got to our little hostel run by Jun, a Korean guy who spoke about 20 words of English. We walked around the neighborhood to get some food and the lay of the land, and luckily Erin put us smack dab in the heart of the hippest area of Seoul, Hongik University (right where we belonged…). It was mobbed with people under the age of 25 and we could start to see big differences between Koreans and Chinese. Hygiene, fashion, size, face structure, and skin color were all pretty different, with the Koreans being more “modern” in regards to fashion and hygiene. The Koreans are known in Asia for being fashionable, but I guess I’m really not fashionable (not I guess, I am not fashionable (and proud of it)), because the Koreans clothes were pretty laughable in most cases. About 20% of girls looked like Amish people, wearing long, country America style dresses, 30% looked fairly normal, and the other 50% looked like total trash that you would find at clubs in Beijing. We were in a young area, so that skewed the results, but even still these girls were not trying to look wholesome (barring the Amish impersonators). A lot of people were wearing hats and shirts with American baseball team logos, even though many of them had no idea what they were. The vast majority of people were wearing Cleveland Indians apparel, because Shin Soo Choo, Korea’s baseball champion, plays for them (and is really, really good). A lot of Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and some Phillies were seen too. We ate some nasty food and slept for our early trip the next morning.

As you should know, Korea is divided into two parts, north and south. The North is a dump ruled by tyrants that seem to only want to hurt their own citizens, citizens of other countries, and remain in power. The South is awesome and has the misfortune of having only one border, the DMZ, or demilitarized zone. The Koreans actually are still at war with one another, but signed a cease fire that the North loosely adheres to, and the DMZ was created after the Korean war in order to maintain peace between the two nations. The 38th parallel is the center of the DMZ, with 2 kms on either side of it serving as a buffer between the countries. There are tons of landmines inside, and it is the most heavily militarized border in the world. We got to see some interesting things on the tour, such as guard posts, the only train station in South Korea that goes to Pyongyang (has only made two trips ever and hasn’t gone in years), an observatory where you can look over the DMZ into North Korea (and see NK’s 3rd biggest city, which was basically a few factories), and go into one of the many tunnels that NK dug in failed attempts to invade the South secretly. I should mention that all South Koreans have mandatory 21 month military service (not Shin Soo Choo), but the North Koreans…mandatory 10 years for men, and 7 for women! The tour guide, CK, was a jolly South Korean guy who spoke great English, and although the tour itself wasn’t super interesting, it was pretty incredible to be able to see such an important part of history. It is a bit cliche, but you could “feel” the tension, and it is amazing that these two countries need to be divided physically just to maintain peace. Because of the lack of humans (due to the abundance of landmines), the DMZ has turned into an environmental wonderland, where animals and plants have been able to thrive without any human intervention. That is the positive from the story. We ate some soy bean chocolate, went to a ginseng store, and then were dropped off downtown.

We were dropped in front of one of the many palaces in downtown Seoul, just in time to witness the changing of the guard ceremony. The guards were dressed in traditional military clothing which was pretty cool, and again we noticed some differences between Chinese and Koreans. The Koreans not only waited in lines to take their picture with the fake soldiers, they also let us go before our turn in some cases! Don’t get me wrong, the Chinese are hospitable people and I love them, but this would be basically unheard of in a touristy location. We walked towards a giant festival that had booths and food from basically every country in the world, and were really enjoying our time in Seoul. Festivals everywhere you went and international food from everywhere on Earth? Yes, please. We ate falafel, pretzels, ceviche, and other stuff, while walking around a bit more and seeing Gyeongbokgung Palace before heading back to the hostel.

I guess I am in a writing mood because this is already pretty long. Somehow I wrote 1400 words already, so I will finish the remainder of the trip tomorrow. Also, my brother and his wife are going to have a baby in just a few days! Can’t wait to meet it and have a new member of the fam. For now, to be continued…

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Greetings blogworld. I apologize for my extremely long delay in posting, I have been busy/tired/blog is now blocked on my computer, so that is the reason for my absence. I took a 2 week long business trip to the US of A, and it was nice to get a taste of the motherland. Unfortunately it is a 12 hour difference in time so I came back and was pretty tired for a few days. I am back now and am ready to give the people what they want, which of course is a new blog post. I will detail the portion of my parents journey that I was able to join them with to the beautiful city of Guilin.

It seems like ages ago, but the time of my parents trip was the most hectic that I have had in China. My visa was expiring the day I was supposed to fly to meet them, I had to get a new visa in order to get entry into China after the business trip, 2 of my companies biggest partners were visiting to discuss contracts and such, we were scheduled to visit a school the afternoon of my flight to Guilin, a school that we were donating to that was a free school for some children whose parents died in the earthquake of 2008, and we were being forceably removed from our apartment! Typical last-minute-I-have-no-idea-what-is-happening kind of thing. The day of my flight, I had to go to 2 different places to get a new residence permit and emergency visa extension, rush back to meet with the partners, go to the school to meet the earthquake children, rush back in a huge traffic jam to get my passport with new visa, give Erin keys to the apartment and finally get on the plane to Guilin. Somehow, all of these things worked, and I ended up getting on the plane. It was an incredible feeling, I really couldn’t believe that everything had worked out, but I walked into my parents hotel room at 2 am and that was that.

My parents were obviously asleep so we saved the real hellos until the following morning. We were staying at a nice hotel on the Li River, in a very good location in the city. My parents still looked the same and it sounded like they had a good time on the first portion of their Chinese journey. The breakfast at the hotel was incredible and it was amazing to have a decent, real breakfast for a change. We met up with our tour guide, Karen, who was very helpful throughout and took us to the Longji terrace, a village on the top of a mountain chain that was covered with terraced rice fields. It was a little hazy but still an amazing view. Hard to imagine that people make a living growing rice on top of this mountain that had no road going to it even a few years ago, but they did. I did some haggling with a lady to get a tablecloth for my mom, and it was a good introduction to haggling in China for my parents. No matter how upset they act, it is all for show. Stick to your original price and walk away, you will probably get it. We watched some rich people get carried up the mountain on a little throne, which also seemed like a pretty tough way to make money. It was my first terraced field experience in China though, so I was glad to see it.

After the terrace we went on the Guilin city night boat cruise, which I thought was pretty lame. All of the lakes in Guilin are man made, as are most of the old traditional looking buildings. Three ancient looking pagodas are actually 7 years old, so it wasn’t really my cup of tea. The Chinese eat it up though, the cornier the better. After that we wandered around downtown Guilin, ate some pizza that came with gloves so the grease doesn’t get on your hands, and went to bed.

The next day we took the famous Li River cruise to the nearby town of Yangshuo. The river was a little shallow so we couldn’t go very fast, but it was a very nice trip. The weather was incredible and the scenery really is amazing, plus there was a bad lunch buffet! What could be better?! It was nice to have a lot of time to just chat with the ‘rents though, and Yangshuo is one of my favorite places in China. A super touristy town with tons of amazing restaurants and shops, it can seem tasteless at first, but as our village tour showed us, there is a reason why foreigners love Yangshuo so much. We took a little truck with an engine that seemed ready to explode at any second and stopped at an old farmhouse. We were able to walk around and meet the people who lived there, 2 old ladies who were completely hilarious. My mom get a kiss from one of them and it was interesting to see how they live. My first thought was, what, no flatscreen TVs?! Don’t worry they did have a TV, pretty astounding if you saw how rustic the rest of the house was. The drive led us to more fields of rice which were orange and ready to be harvested, and then lastly to a little place where all the bamboo boats gather to give people tours. So beautiful, for anyone that wants to travel to China, you have to come to Yangshuo. The night concluded with a show on the Li River, with boats doing crazy choreography and girls singing and flashing outfits. Hard to explain but it was interesting. It was created by the guy that organized the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and again the scenery around the stage is ridiculous. My dad and I headed back to the town at night just to see it, and it is hard to explain just how many people are out and about in most places like this. The street is just packed with people, the town has transformed into a party zone, and my dad and I were offered our first prostitutes of the evening. As a foreigner, you get used to the offers pretty quickly, because it is everywhere you go. Wasn’t something that my dad and I are really accustomed to doing. The next morning we got up early and saw the major sites in Guilin, the Elephant Trunk hill and Reed Flute Hill, and then it was back to the airport.

All in all it was a great time, and considering all of the hoops that I had to jump through before I could even go, it was relaxing and fun just to be with my parents. It would have really left a dent on the China experience if my parents had come all this way to see me and China, and then I couldn’t see them at all. It was a big relief to me and a good time. So now the rest of you need to get your butts over to the Middle Kingdom to visit me! Hope all is well with everyone back home, hopefully I can post again soon. As before, I leave you with some wise words from some wise Chinese dudes. Peace.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” -Chairman Mao

and a more positive one from the good Chairman

“Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.” – Chairman Mao

Ummmmmmm…….yea……….

Hello, hello! I know you were promised a post from David a few days ago, but the poor boy has been running around senseless due to his visa and job, so you are stuck with me until I leave for Hong Kong tomorrow! I don’t really have the time to post tonight because I am supposed to be packing up ALL of my things to move into our new apartment across the street, but I promised change.org that I would blog about WATER today. The idea of this project is for all bloggers to raise awareness about a given issue on a particular day, to generate discussion and ultimately change about a pressing concern. I was also shocked myself to read that “Unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. So without further ado, here are some more devastating facts about this issue:

1. Unclean drinking water can incubate some pretty scary diseases, like E. coli, salmonella, cholera and hepatitis A. Given that bouquet of bacteria, it’s no surprise that water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week.

2. More people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets. This means that sewage spills into rivers and streams, contaminating drinking water and causing disease.

3. Every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water. They do this while carrying cisterns weighing around 40 pounds when filled in order to gather water that, in many cases, is still polluted. Aside from putting a great deal of strain on their bodies, walking such long distances keeps children out of school and women away from other endeavors that can help improve the quality of life in their communities.

4. It takes 6.3 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger. That 6.3 gallons covers everything from watering the wheat for the bun and providing water for the cow to cooking the patty and baking the bun. And that’s just one meal! It would take over 1.8 billion gallons of water to make just one hamburger for every person in the United States.

5. The average American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world. From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, Americans use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. Now imagine using just 10 gallons to bathe, wash your clothes, cook your meals and quench your thirst.

Also, I recently asked a guy on The Beijinger for some Visa advice, and asked his permission to share his comical response with you; comical only in that these stories of ridiculous hassle are becoming more common the more I ask:

Hey . . In the end I went through a friend of a friend of a friend who happened to be a visa agent within beijing . . But man I wouldn’t recommend the one I used. They took my passport to another province where visa restrictions were more lax, but didn’t manage to get it to the police station in time before my visa expired. So there was some trouble there, but it was ok because everyone’s corrupt. I got my visa back after nearly a month . . but not before they tried to scam me for between 0 – 70000 RMB (it changed depending on what day and who spoke to them, i.e. myself or my chinese friends). When i got it back, it wasn’t the 12 month L visa I had decided to settle for, but rather a 6 month F visa . . with two months already expired . . Absolute nightmare. My friend convinced the person to return it without charge but it certainly wasn’t easy. these numbers may or may not help as it was a while ago now; *numbers deleted for privacy!
Still another teacher friend of mine got his 12 month F visa through a different agent, They flew out to Qing Dao from beijing, where a group of other foreigners met up at some office and collected fake working documents, then had to take those to the qing dao local constabulary and lie in person. Perhaps its more risky, perhaps not but at least you keep your hands on your passport the whole time.

So folks, do I stand a chance getting my own visa? Only time, travel, forms, endless lines and money will tell…tear.

In other news, Bank of America and a Chinese Bank combined charged me $16.50 to take out $149.50, including a $5 charge to check my balance. I went on an 8K run with the Beijing Hash House Harriers that was a fun way to explore the Beijing Hutongs, and we have done a lot more things that I will elaborate on next time!

So I can’t hyper-link most of these links because the internet is going so darn slow…so just copy and paste, okie? thanks.

*Check out this great menu translation, I have seen many similar.

*Just heard about this amazing story about two guys’ bike ride from Paris to Beijing. The photos on here are absolutely incredible, and they are hoping to raise money for an orphanage in Western China.

*I have been looking into participating in the China Charity Challenge Bike Ride in the future, they just got back from a tea tasting trip to Yunnan province, and despite my aching tailbone whenever I attempt to ride, I am really interested in joining. If you want to make the trip over here for this, let me know!

*And on one final note, all I want for Christmas is a chance to see McSteamy.

-Pictures below are from french toast I made in a Chinese wok and Apple Strudel in a pot, as well as the Tienanmen Area for National Day.

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.”

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