May 20, 2012

Countdown to Coors Light and Home!!

Strawberry picking/pear flowers:

May 16, 2012

Spring Travel, because it would be "a great adventure!"... right?

One of the most common questions I get from my students and friends is:
"How do you get around? I mean, you don't speak or read the native language, and yet you still manage to travel."
Well let me introduce you all to My Little Black Book... of Chinese Travel

I bought this handy dandy little guy the first week I moved into my apartment. I was grocery shopping at the little convenience store across the street and in the back there was a bin of these for 5kuai. I grabbed one figuring it would be handy to write out a little cheat sheet for reading common Chinese characters. Little did I know at that time that the tiny book would be saving my ass left and right from miscommunication with taxi drivers and my horrible sense of direction.

When I travel I put everything in this little book. What train, what time it leaves, when it arrives, how much it costs, how to get from the train station to the hostel, the name of the hostel in Chinese with the phone number, and the major attractions of the area and what buses/subway lines will take me there. It's also been great for shopping. I get on and find what I need then copy the Chinese name and price then pop into Taihe (the electronics high rise building) and show the first person I meet. More often than not I end up with some sort of impromptu personal assistant at Taihe. Taxi drivers always get a kick out of the book when I hand it to them with directions in Chinese and English for where I want to go.

Preparation for departing Shijiazhuang Airport/Arriving Shanghai Hostel

April 8, 2012

The Adjustment Phase

As many people well know I have spent most of my time here in China complaining. Either about my Waiban, my apartment, teaching, city life, or the government control over my internet. In effect, for the last 7 months and 21 days in China I have compared every challenge I have encountered with the idea of how or if I would ever encounter something similar back in the states. At some point “Oh china”, and “this is my life…” became daily catch phrases (along with “such as” and “have a rest”). Last week I even squared out some time to calculate how many weeks I have left in China. I was probably one of the first to book my plane ticket back to AMURICA, and yesterday I thought I would be one of the happiest to leave.

However, today as I sat out on the park bench and sketched the clueless construction worker napping in the grass underneath a nearby tree I started to think about what I would do my last day in China… and something strange happened. Somewhere down deep in my heart there was a tiny pang. Of course there was immediate panic and a (probably) verbal “What the fuck was that!” It was in fact, sadness. You see, somewhere during all that complaining and crying and anger and drinking, China crept up like a ninja and worked its way into my heart. At some point, China became my new normal.

It is normal
  • …to be stared at
  • …for a child to cry (or pee himself) at the mere sight of you
  • …to hear “HELLO” from half a block behind you
  • …to travel everywhere with a tiny packet of toilet paper
  • …to have no clue what people are saying all around you
  • …to live with multiple “herds” of wild cats
  • …to not know what you are eating
  • …to communicate only though hand signals and grunts
  • …to haggle for almost everything you buy
  • …to go to the market in the morning and pick out potatoes while standing next to a cart of skinned pig/lamp carcasses
  • …to hear every sneeze, step, and conversation of your neighbors
  • …to hear fireworks before dark
  • …to live almost exclusively on noodles
  • …to hop across the street for a 9er of beer
  • …to play video games with friends and yell at 3am, but not get into trouble
  • …to wake up at 6am and get on a “school bus” (charter bus) with 40 other teachers
  • …to stand in front of a group of 40-50 people and instruct them on grammar, speech patterns, and debate
  • …to have your appearance be openly assessed by strangers with the “top-to-bottom glance” that I’ve watched my grandmother practice for years.
  • …to be called “Teacher”

I’m certain I have complained about every one of these things, but at some point I stopped even noticing them. So in fact this list could have once started with “It is annoying”. In this light I have come to the conclusion that I have in fact entered what you could define as “the adjustment phase” of culture shock.

Adjustment phase

Again, after some time (usually 6 to 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more "normal". One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture and begins to accept the culture's ways with a positive attitude. The culture begins to make sense, and negative reactions and responses to the culture are reduced.

Sure as hell took long enough! (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

February 10, 2012

Videos from Winter Break





Haerbin [more to come]

Haerbin - The Winter Wonderland of China

Things I did in Harbin:
  • Regained my faith that not all of China sucks
  • Conquered my fear of walking on ice by unknowingly wandering out onto a giant frozen river
  • Nearly got blown up with fireworks
  • Got minor frostbite
  • Saw a polar bear
  • Experienced a village made of ice
  • Ate the best Shāokǎo in China
  • Became a pro at navigating bus routes

Xi'an - Winter Break Stop 3


After roughly two weeks of traveling alone I was definitely excited to see Tyler, Emily, and Alan. They however didn't seem to fair quite as well as I had. In short, Tyler had almost all of his money stolen, and he and Emily had crashed an e-bike in Bangkok leaving Tyler with 8 stitches and a hole in his ankle. Also upon their arrival I learned that Tyler's friend had in fact not been able to acquire a return ticket for us back to Shijiazhuang, so thus began the hunt for transportation back home. But you'll hear more about that later.


Just as dangerous as mom always told me they were. Still just as fun.

Terracotta Warriors

I thought this was going to be over-rated and boring but it was so cool! The sheer size of the pits is incredible.

Huimin Jie (Moslem Street)

I could spend 2 whole days on this street. The food is cheap and super tasty and you can find any trinket you would want to buy in China. Oh, also lots of knives ^_^

Doctor For A Day

Though I've never had stitches I think I did pretty okay cutting out Tylers. I mean, he only bled a little...

Bell & Drum Towers

Neat, but not worth paying full price. Ask for the student ticket! Seeing Alan accidentally smack a Chinese child in the face: priceless.

Xi'an History Museum

Cool, but REALLY crowded.

The Quest To Return Home

Just thinking about recounting this adventure stresses me out. Pictures to come soon.
Xi'an Playing Doctor

Nanjing - Winter Break Stop 2

Jasmine International Youth Hostel

I'd give this place about a 3/5. It was definitely built with the hot summers in mind because the restaurant/reading room/front desk/internet area couldn't hold heat at all. The staff was pretty nice and they had the cutest golden retriever named Batto. The rooms were way to small though, and I couldn't find any showers for the dorm rooms. Also, the food was really limited, super expensive, and not as good as the other hostels I've stayed at around China.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Scenic Area

It was weird going straight from Shanghai to a scenic area but the peace and quiet was pretty awesome. Also, a good workout.

Ming Tomb Scenic Area

In the same area as the Sun Yat-Sen memorial. The tomb itself was boring but the sacred way was line with really big animals sculpted out of rock. It was pretty expensive to enter the area but definitely worth it if you go exploring up to the lake and hot springs at the top of the mountain.

Nanjing Massacre Museum

Interesting museum. Poorly lit but probably the best sculpture pieces I've seen in a long time.

The Overnight T train

The most expensive bed I've stayed in in China but not so bad as long as you don't get the middle bunk (like I did).


Shanghai - Winter Break Stop 1

So after some initial debacles I was finally able to acquire a plane ticket to Shanghai and my train tickets from a travel agent in Beijing. I decided to scale down my winter travel stops because of a cold I caught during the last week of school so I only went to Shanghai, Nanjing, Xi'an and Haerbin.

Chinese Air Travel

I began my trip on a quick 2hr plane to Shanghai, which should have been relaxing and easy... but in China nothing is ever relaxing, or easy. It turns out someone decided the best place for the Shijiazhuang Airport was an hour outside of the city, and seeing as my plane was leaving at 10 i had to be up bright and early enough to hail and cab, get out there, and figure out how to check in. It wasn't very different from American air travel except I may have been only one of about 4 people who had been on a plane before. Which was quite frustrating.

Mingtown Etour International Youth Hostel

I'd give this hostel about a 4/5 stars. The location was perfect, the hostel itself was beautiful, but the staff weren't very helpful. Not that they were mean they just didn't seem to care that you were a customer or if your experience was pleasant or not.

Peoples Avenue

I stumbled upon this gem my first night in Shanghai. Its underneath the people's park and it's a shoppers paradise. They had a whole bunch of nice clothes stores as well as some anime themed stores, electronics stores, and the general Chinese nic-nacs that you see being sold in Beijing a lot. They were also selling these ridiculous phone covers, which I actually saw a few girls with the next day on the subway.

Shanghai Museum

Easily one of the top 3 museums I've been to in China. The building itself is architecturally really unique (like most of Shanghai) and the exhibit's were well lit, organized, and labeled. I had read online the the bronze exhibit was really neat and it did not let down for sure. The collection of currency and the seal gallery were also pretty impressive. My single favorite collection had to be the tibetan masks on the top floor in the cultural minority arts gallery.

The Bund

My main priority on my second afternoon was to locate the Bund. Obviously I had missed the minor detail that my hostel was actually located right next to the Bund... but it was really awesome to wander around and check out the different types of shops on the streets and take in the unique environment.

Pudong District

This was by far one of my favorite areas to just hang out in. The Pearl TV Tower is kind of obnoxious to look at but I found the rest of the Pudong district to be pretty cool. My favorite building by far is the Shanghai World Financial Center Building (the bottle opener). Plus it was only 2 subway stops away from my hostel :P

Shanghai Ocean Aquarium

Because where else would I be after being landlocked for 6 months? Pricey, but worth it.

Shanghai Subway


Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center

I didn't really have high hopes for this one but after vising I would say it's a must visit for anyone going to Shanghai. The model of the city blew me away and the short 360degree video on the future skyline of Shanghai is the best I've seen so far in China.

Shanghai Art Museum

It took me forever to find the entrance to this place and it ended up being a complete disappointment. They were WAY overstaffed and the staff were all talking and overall being disruptive. The collections were only so-so.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower: Shanghai History Museum

Probably my favorite museum in China. It was very well organized and really took you into old Shanghai. It was relatively cheap and didn't have hardly any traffic. Its in the basement of the Pearl TV Tower.

The Quest for the new SD card

In my infinite wisdom to buy a tablet computer and not lug around my big laptop for my winter trip I failed to realize I would not be able to clear out my camera's SD card every night... I got about 3 days in before I had to start searching for a new card, and everyone I talked to had no clue where I would find one or how much I should pay. Luckily one of my Chinese roommates was a regular visitor to Shanghai and pointed me in the right direction. Thanks to her I now know where the Shanghai version of the Shiz's Taihe is, and it is AWESOME. I ended up paying 90kuai for a new 8GB SDHC card.

Jing'an Temple

The contrast between the temple and the surrounding skyscrapers is definitely worth the visit (even when it's pouring outside).

Overall I think if heaven was located in China, it would be somewhere in Shanghai.

January 13, 2012

"Remember that time..." - A post to share the Christmas, and post-Christmas, craziness in China

This post is basically an attempt to catch up blogging on the recent shenanigans in China. It will be long. You have been warned.

Remember that time Emily forgot her passport and utter craziness ensued to make the train to Beijing?!

AKA: The single most intense half hour of my life

As a frequent traveler in the states I have always prided myself on my organization, preparedness, and timeliness on trips. This however is a different story entirely. It began as a simple weekend trip to Beijing. In an effort to not arrive in Beijing at 11pm I had canceled my last class of the day and had about an hour to make it to the train station. In china this is plenty of time, as they don't often begin boarding the train until 15 minutes prior to departure and going through "security" is pretty much just forming some semblance of a line to shuffle through a metal detector (which is more than often turned off). The first thing I did not allot time for was the shuttle bus to my apartment to be 15 minutes late. I thought this would be a problem and promptly called Emily to see if she had already arrived. She was still on the bus but said traffic in our area wasn't to bad right then.

Now before I continue, let me explain Tyler's phone situation. He paid ¥120 for a phone he should've gotten for free. why? BECAUSE IT IS A P.O.S. THAT NEVER WORKS. okay.

I exited the bus outside of the middle campus and went directly to the street to begin trying to hail a cab. Flailing around in the street trying to get a cab to stop I heard my phone start ringing. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Hello?
Tyler: Hey, have you left yet?
Me: No, the bus from the new campus to the middle campus was late. I’m still at the middle campus looking for a cab
Tyler:I'm - t- bus - on - Jie.
*load noise*
Me: Oh hey your phone is working!
Tyler: I know, I hit it.
Me: Well hey, I'm trying to get a taxi I'll come pick up you. I'll call you when I'm headed your way.
Tyler: If I get one first I'll come to you.
Me: Okay bye.
After having two cabs pass me up after seeing I was a foreigner I all but jumped in front of the third cab. I hauled my backpack and messenger bag into the front seat with me and again my phone began ringing.
Me: Hello?
Emily: Where are you?
Me: I'm in a cab, I'm getting Tyler, we should still make it on time but it'll be close.
Emily:I need you to tell Tyler to call me it's really important.
Me: Okay gotta go bye.
Suddenly I remembered I still hadn't called Tyler to tell him I was coming. It would completely be our luck that we both got taxi's and were headed to get the other.
*ringing, then dead air*
Me: Hello?
Tyler: -a -t
So we got to the intersection and sure enough there's Tyler on the opposite corner looking as frantic as ever. The taxi driver was starting to get pissed cause I wasn't telling him where to go so, in my total mastery of the Chinese language I just started pointing at Tyler and shouting "PENGYOU JAR, PENGYOU JAR". So Tyler sprinted across the intersection, hopped in the car, and gave the Taxi driver directions to...Emily's school? Here's how that conversation went:
Me: Tyler the train station is the other way!
*tyler begins shouting "faster" in Chinese at the taxi driver*
Tyler: She's calling somebody to let me in so I can pick them up.
Me: Tyler we only have 20 minutes left.
Tyler: I know this.
So after a near death experience of our taxi driving crossing a 4 lane street on a red light, we arrived at Emily's school and Tyler took off running. After the longest 5 minutes ever he came running out of the gate. Passport in one hand, a giant wad of 100元 notes in the other. So we were headed across our district to the main train 5:30pm on a weekday. Waiting in the traffic was brutal but I've gotta give our driver some credit cause he sure knew how to weave in and out of the main traffic bundle. We pulled up to the station and Tyler began to pay him and I got my bags situated and took off running. It was at this point that I realized I did not pack well for China. I was one belt to short, and loosing my pants fast, but at this point it was every man for himself. Tyler, the marathon runner he is, sprinted off to find Emily as I jogged my way across the parking lot and outdoor waiting area to the security line. Huffing and puffing I pulled out my ticket and began throwing 'bows and shoving my way through the crowd. I could see Tyler's head above the rest about four in front of me but no Emily. It was not until later that I learned he had used her as a battering ram to quickly traverse the security crowd.

I made it inside and promptly called Emily to find out which waiting room we were departing from. I took off sprinting through waiting room one, looking like god knows what to the Chinese travelers. I got up to the ticket lady and all but threw my ticket at her to hole punch. I ripped it out of her hand and headed jogging to platform 4. I could still see a few people headed in the same direction and hoped the train hadn't left yet. I was almost certain I was going to arrive in time to watch the train pull away from the platform when out of no where in front of me a man turns around and asks frantically in English,"WHAT PLATFORM ARE WE ON". It's Byron! The train was scheduled to leave at 4:54 and I made it onto the train with one minute to spare. Easily the closest I've ever come to missing any trip.

I am certainly not the first to recount this experience on my blog. Both Tyler [click here for link] and Emily [click here for link] have copies I believe. All I can think now is:
I would've paid good money to have been one of those random Chinese people in the Waiting room witnessing 6 foreigners almost miss a train to Beijing (and more importantly OUT of Shijiazhuang).

Remember that Christmas Eve we spent in the hostel bar?

Remember that that time that Canadian came up in Tienanmen and asked if we spoke English?

On Christmas day we decided to go over to Tienanmen sqaure to see Mao's body and kill some time. Now, there are foreign tourists every time i go to Tienanmen but I've never actually had one come up and initiate contact. As someone who is living here, I have adopted the Chinese repose to foreigners:
  1. Immediately stop what your doing
  2. Stare intensely and for as long as possible
  3. Take a picture
You can always pick out the expats because they will stare back at you lol
So Emily, Tyler, Megan(Tyler's sister), our English friends (from the video above), and I were walking along when this shaggy looking guy, around our age, walked up and asked if we spoke English. Probably a little overexcited, we quickly said yes and the boy inquired as to where he would be able to find a hostel to stay at. Yes people, he had come to Beijing without even figuring out where he was going to stay. So we directed him to our hostel, gave him their business card and told him we should meet up later for drinks. Upon returning to our hostel we found him napping on the couch. Later that morning we took him with us to the silk market. He hung out with us all night and he was really an interesting guy. Turns out he graduated with a degree is molecular science and then somehow ended up in Mongolia as a surgical assistant. As he put it, "I pretty much just hold people open". He had to come to China to get his Mongolian VISA renewed and then would be headed back north. He had been in China for pretty much the same length of time as us but seemed to be adopting to Mongolian faster than we were with Mandarin. When we asked when he would be going home he proudly told us he would be taking a cargo ship home, which would take about a year. Apparently it usually costs a lot of money but he wrote the CEO of the shipping company and got a trip for free. It would be a really cool way to see some port cities around the world, but don't worry Mom I have no intention of taking anything other than a plane back to the states.

Remember that Christmas Day we saw that famous dead guy?

I would say I had an eventful Chinese Christmas. Complete with gift shopping at the Silk Market and viewing the (mostly wax and eerily lit) body of Mao Zedong. Also, what brilliant Chinese person thought it would be a good idea to light his head up like and orange Christmas light??
Oh, they must've put a decoration or something on the castket for... nope that's his head

Remember that time we closed out Christmas in the hostel bar, the American way?

Christmas night was a good one. We drank and played games in the hostel bar then saw Byron off back to America at 3am. I think I went to bed around 7am? I think...

Remember that time I ordered a new part for my Xbox and Tyler's sister brought it halfway across the world?

My new power brick finally made it to China! Thanks Megan ^_^

Remember that time my TV glowed and sparks shot out the back?

So last week my TV made a funny noise, shot sparks out the back and stank up my apartment like burned rubber and years of Chinese dust. I fully expected Li to brush this off, as it would still turn on but the screen was all rainbow colored craziness. So, I sent him a little more intense text message:
My TV shot sparks and something inside caught fire. This is an electrical fire hazard and needs to be fixed immediately.
Sure enough two days later the fixit man (as Li calls him) was knocking on my door. In 30 minutes he disassembled my TV, found out what was wrong, and fixed it.

Remember that time I planned out my winter travel a month early, but did't start trying to get tickets until 3 days before departure?

oh china.