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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……….

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I have a few additional things to add regarding our trip. First off, we almost didn’t make our initial bus from Beijing to Tangshan, because the last bus out of Tangshan apparently leaves at 7:30 and we were a few minutes late to arrive. It’s difficult to figure these things out because there isn’t a posted schedule, you just have to know by word of mouth. Luckily the bus guys were interested in making an extra buck, and we say on our suitcases in the middle of the aisle for the 2-hour trip to Beijing. Upon arriving in Guangzhou, we could immediately tell that the cuisine was different. Lots of restaurants displayed all of their live seafood in aquariums near the entrance of the restaurant, where patrons could literally choose which items they wanted for dinner. Most of the seafood looked alright, but there were large containers of eels and half-dead turtles that made me grossed out and sad. The thing I really don’t like, which I have seen in a few cities, are the large glass jars of dead snakes in some type of liquid…which really make me lose my appetite. I have tried chicken heart, pig tendon and picked chickens foot since being here, but the slimy things are the ones that really get me. (I hope you didn’t just eat breakfast, sorry!) After visiting Southern China, I definitely believe that saying that “the Chinese will eat anything with legs except a table, and anything that flies except a plane.”

As David mentioned, our room/mini apartment in Guangzhou was awesome. In fact, I just created a review on Trip Advisor to let others in on the secret! The weather was so sticky in Guangzhou that I found it hard to leave the comfort of the A/C, my new book and the cute apartment…and I definitely took a few relaxing naps. Despite the fact that it was overall difficult to find enticing food in Guangzhou, there was lots of cheap, fresh fruit being sold on every corner. I ate a good amount of melon and sweet lychees, and had some fresh watermelon juice.

One aspect about the trip that was rewarding was that we could actual tell some difference between local dialects! Yes, we’re still tone deaf, but we actually picked up on many sound changes in the northern vs. southern language. For example, many words up here (north) add an “r” sound to the end that is lacking in the southern accent. To play is “wan” in the South instead of “war.” Additionally, the southern accent even deletes the “r” sound on some words, like the number ten. This made things a little confusing for us, because usually ten had been “shier” and four was “si”, but in the south the both sounded very similar. Anyway, this gets confusing, but we managed to make some accent jokes with the locals about the changing language and felt a little proud for noticing this difference. Now, we are back in Tangshan instead of Tangsan!

Overall, Shamien Island was my favorite part of Guangzhou because it was like a quaint oasis in the middle of the city. David looked up some to top rated Western restaurants (Danny’s Italian and Wilber’s) which we found after some wild goose hunts, but even there the food just wasn’t great. In Guillin we stayed at another nice hotel for around $20/night, and found out the beauty of Ctrip, because we booked our hotel through this site, and found the posted prices at the accommodation to be about 4 times what we paid! I think this case was unique to more touristy places like Guilin and Yangshuo, but we were glad we booked ahead. Meeting up with Robbie and his girlfriend and hearing about his entrepreneurial ventures with cli.org was a cool aspect to the trip, and visiting Yangshuo was incredible. I had an incredible time biking through the Karst peaks on the tandem bike with David. The scenery was so incredible with tall and slim mountains on both sides of the road, and many rice patties strewn all about. The photo of the Li River with the bamboo boats and the peaks is one of my favorite from our time in China. I would be happy to go back to Yangshuo for more biking, boating, good western food and hospitality from the locals.

One reoccurring theme that I am beginning to recognize through our travels is how people not only reasonably adapt to their circumstances, but thrive in a variety of conditions. When I see a migrant worker taking his or her long commute home on the train or watch a trash collector ride around on their bike all day in the hot sun, I often think that I could never endure a life like that, and I truly appreciate the options I have in my life. However, the more I see here, the more I believe that I have come to value my lifestyle because it’s free, but also because it’s comfortable and normal for me. Maybe I am naive, but if I had grown up as a migrant worker, I think I would find a lot to like about this way of life. This is not to say that I haven’t experienced whining in the school regarding wanting a new job, but when it really comes down to it, when I discuss alternatives with my friends here, most of them seem to value living in China and being connected to all things Chinese. Opportunities are certainly more limited in this country than ours, but not so much so that a person can’t change their life if they really desire a new one. Maybe this is just overall ignorance of condition or opportunity, but I prefer to see this mindset as a positive ability for human’s to thrive emotionally in their surroundings, no matter what those may be. In response to these thoughts David says I’m a true anthropologist at heart, and I take that as a huge compliment. I like knowing that the human condition is different for many, yet we are all linked in our ability to develop a fondness for “home.”

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

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