Monday, December 15, 2008

Home in the U.S.

As you may have guessed from my lack of updates, I am back at home in the U.S. I didn't realize how long I'd been gone until I arrived back. Still, I miss my classmates and coworkers in China and hope to return soon.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, August 9, 2008


I took off work and went to Yunnan from July 26 to August 3. The trip was amazing.

Some Highlights:
  1. Seeing my friend Ryan, who was living in Yunnan's capital Kunming and was in Nanjing in the spring. We had an excellent meal and an epic karaoke night.
  2. The best meal was in Dali on the second night. We had amazing mushrooms, veggies, a whole fish, and eel soup. Mmm.
  3. We had the good timing of being in Dali for the Torch Festival. A thousand Chinese people ran around the city's Old Town with torches and started bonfires. They threw fine saw dust on the torches causing them to flare up. They did this at people's feet a lot of the time to scare them. I only saw one person get lit on fire in a foreigner on foreigner attack. No injuries.
  4. Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge where the cliffs rise 3900 m (12,800 feet, that's 2.4 miles) above the Jinsha river. Took donkeys up the steepest part which was terrifying. The donkey handlers would just walk behind and make noise to make them go forward. I squealed plenty as they'd sometimes step half an inch from the edge of the cliffs.
  5. Songzanlin Lamasery in Shangri-la is the largest Buddhist temple complex I've ever seen and has 700-some monks. The frescoes, statues, and chanting monks were amazing. Also watched the swarms of crows that circle the monastery.
It's easier to upload pictures to facebook and I'd have difficulty picking out just a couple to put here. You can view them through the links below even if you aren't on facebook.

Yunnan I
Yunnan II
Yunnan III
Yunnan IV

I will follow up shortly with a post about the Olympics.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The Olympics are 23 days away. Here are some Olympic-related photos I've taken around Beijing.

Not directly related to the Olympics but slated to be finished then, the China Central Television Headquarters as seen when I get off the subway going to my tutoring job. It's much huger than that (you can see the cranes on top just barely), but it's far away.

The Beijing National Aquatics Center, next to the Bird's Nest changes colors every few seconds.

The Beijing National Stadium, nicknamed the Bird's Nest.

The wall across from the bus stop near my apartment has a banner with the Fuwa playing various Olympic sports. One of them seems a little odd though.

Every day I get off the bus and walk 15 minutes to work, passing this huge Olympic countdown clock. It is one of many all over China. No one knows what it will do when it hits 0. Maybe stop, maybe explode.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Qingdao on the 4th of July

On Thursday night at 10 p.m., I got on a train to Qingdao with my classmate Shanthi from fall semester. She's in Beijing as part of a University of Iowa student journalism volunteer corps, along with my classmate Marcus from the Spring.

I took the hard seats and got in a little before 7 a.m. which would prove to be the start to a very long day. By 9 a.m., we were at the apartment of three friends (Kelli, Beth, and Lynn) who are spending the first couple months of the summer in Qingdao. There were four additional people who had been traveling around since school ended. Marcus and Dan had just gotten in from Weihai, another city in Shandong Province, and Yayoi and Wes had gotten in from god knows where.

The nine of us set out planning the for a good Fourth of July Afternoon. For me and about half of them that meant a trip to, befitting traditional middle American celebrations, Wal-mart.

Yayoi and I, being happy for the camera while trying to hide from the rain under a backhoe.

By around 4 p.m., we went to the beach with all of our preparations in tow. These included over one hundred sticks of meat and veggie chuanr (Chinese kabobs), fixings for an impromptu grill a keg purchased for US$8.50, and various swim wear. We were being optimistic because, while the day started out hot and muggy, it had drizzled a little and got much cooler after 2 p.m. We got in the water and the rain picked up. It was fun, just very cold. Once back out of the water with no end to the rain in sight, it became less fun. No cabs were around the beach, so we had to send two people out on the streets to look for some. Seeing those cabs roll up to save us from wet, cold misery was ranks as one of my most relieving moments in recent memory.

Wes and Lynn seated by the grill as it flares up.

We went back, everybody piled into their cave like bathroom to rinse off in the shower. To give some idea of this bathroom, the only drain was the squatter on the other side. Nonetheless, I was thankful to be warm. I changed clothes and mostly watched as everybody huddled around our impromptu grill. We started the coals with Baijiu, of course, and with the assistance of a fan it actually got going pretty quick. We spent the next two hours gorging on chuanr, beer, and ending with s'mores. We then walked down to the nearby food street to pick up some fireworks this one shopkeeper was holding for us. We ended up talking to these two middle-age Chinese dudes for like two more hours and as is Chinese style, they tried to fill us with more beer and food. Talked a lot of politics. Then, we light of firecrackers in the street. That action had been made illegal for the month of July due to something probably Olympic related. But when we said it was America's national day, some the Chinese we met said, "Oh, no problem."

Four of us sleeping on the floor the next morning, as taken by Kelli from the table.

In true spring semester form, we then went out to a club and danced. This ended in us getting back around 3 a.m., running in through yet another downpour and getting wet. Seven of us piled into one room of the apartment, sleeping on one couch; a wooden table, which the actual resident does uses as a bed and is about as soft as a Chinese bet; and the floor covered in bamboo mats. That brought the end to my first Fourth outside of the U.S. and probably my longest and most interesting anywhere.

I rounded out Saturday sleeping in, going to the Tsingtao Beer Factory, and swimming in the rain once again. Came back Sunday morning on a 7:40 a.m. soft seat train that got in at 2 p.m.

Work tomorrow. It's going very well and I enjoy it. I'll try to update soon about that and the other conditions of my life in Beijing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Apartment

Three days ago, one of the three other guys who live at my apartment showed up. He had taken an extra week off for the Dragon Boat Festival. He explained to me how to work the air conditioner (it was unplugged) and the hot water. The hot water required I turn on a lever for the gas, three levers that led to the water heater, and another valve to make the water go through the heater. I took my first hot shower in the past 10 days, it was great.

The apartment has actually grown on me. I cleaned up and consolidated my stuff so I could fit my stuff in the half of a cupboard available to me. Now I have plenty of space. I have hot water. And, it's only 15 minute bus and 15 minute walk to work. I'll have to move out in like a week and a half and pay for the place I'm living in.

Work is going well. I'm doing research for the planned revamp of the lifestyle page. I also wrote the online headlines for today. Hopefully within a week or two I'll be writing actual stuff for the magazine.

I'm now looking at a four day weekend. By the end, I will hopefully have finished my final paper for spring semester, have written my first bar review, and have confirmed where I will live for the remainder of the summer.

Right now, I'm hanging out at my friend Kevin's apartment, who I know from fall semester in Nanjing. Might go out and watch the Euro Cup game late tonight.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


I will try to keep this brief.

As of tomorrow, I'll have been in Beijing for a week. I worked three days at my internship last week. It's a very casual environment, certainly nothing like what I'm used to from past summers. So far I've only worked on revising the magazine's source list which they monitor in their capacity as a news digest. I'll go in to work tomorrow to discuss what I'll be doing on a more regular basis.

I've looked at four apartments, two of which are good prospects. Hopefully will have something nailed down by the end of the week.

Went out Friday and Saturday night with a complex amalgamation of friends and friends of friends. Example: three students in CIEE were from Soka University in the OC. Their German friend from the same university visited them for the last couple days of our program in Nanjing. He happened to be on the same train going to Beijing as me and another girl from my program. I went out with him and met his Chinese friends. They're all very cool and I hope to hang out with them in the future, although he has already left China for Japan. Two friends passing through independently of each other also came along bringing their friends. Anyway, this is a good change of pace from the built-in friends of the program I just completed.

One other anecdote. I was on my way to check out this interesting apartment in a hutong (traditional maze like alleyways that used to be where most Beijingers lived), and it began to downpour. Some alleyways flooded to like a foot. In the end, I purchased sandles and waded through it all. The apartment has 6 rooms around a courtyard. Half belong to a Chinese family, one room belonging to a Chinese-Canadian dude, and the other one I could possibly rent. Could possibly be an interesting cultural experience.

Right now, this dude on the computer next to me in this huge internet cafe is watching a childrens fashion/talent show thing, and it's really creeping me out. Why couldn't I have sat next to one of the hundred other dudes playing World of Warcraft?

Lastly, I'm writing bar reviews for an english entertainment publication called City Weekend. Pays OK but will pay for my night life. First one's due friday, I already visited it in the same hutong in the apartment.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Last Week

My second to last weekend of the semester ended up completely wasted. Classes were done as was my culture class presenation on the Chinese media, so I just wanted to relax. I pretty much just hung out and didn't do any work until Sunday.

That Monday, I had my speaking class final which was moved up because my teacher was leaving town. With only the Sunday night preparation, I did well. I only screwed up once when I thought he was saying minorities (minzhu) in China when really he was saying democracy (minzu) in China. The format of that portion was pick one of two surprise topics and give your opinion. My other choice was Sharon Stone, which made me think of Fatal Attraction as I hadn't seen the inflammatory comments she made yet.

Tuesday, I went with my girlfriend, Chang Xiu, to Danyang, a.k.a. Glasses City, which is a huge center of Chinese glasses manufacturing. I bought two pairs (one of which has already broken) for like US$19. Chang Xiu bought these colored contacts for her and her roommate. I decided since I didn't have another final until Thursday that we mineaswell go from Danyang to Suzhou, spend the night and sight see in the morning.

We got to Suzhou by bus at about 4 p.m., checked into a hostel and went to the Master of Nets garden. After checking that out, we walked around the city for a bit and went to this place that had traditional Suzhou food.

Wednesday, I went to see the silk museum. It was pretty small and only 7 kuai, but in addition to various silk displays and weaving, there was this silk worm breeding room. I had silk worms in cocoon, worm stage, and nasty-looking full development stage. It was completely disgusting seeing hundreds of these things, but interesting and I took some pictures.

Next was this part of the historic city wall, with a garden next to several canals and bridges. The ticket included a kind of amateur Kunqu opera (I think that's what it was) and a ten minute bought ride. Nice scenery. I was about gardened out already. After that, tried to take a real boat ride, but timing didn't work out. We ended up eating bizarre Chinese fruit next to a river and then heading back on a 4 p.m. train. I got back and studied like crazy.

Thursday morning, my reading class test went OK. There were several questions from chapters he said wouldn't be on the test, which I ended up mostly guessing on. I had only half written my essay that was due with the test, and hurriedly finished it in 50 minutes before our 12 p.m. luncheon banquet. I doubt I got an A, but I think it was a good B performance.

I feasted on CIEE's dime at the luncheon at Swede & Kraut, a German restaurant that also serves other western food. I was so full after chicken parmesan, croquettes, salad, and a brownie with ice cream that I pretty much did nothing the rest of the day except go to the gym later that day.

Friday, I wrote five of eight pages of my culture class paper, which still is unfinished, despite yesterday's deadline. With the banquet that night and KTV after, plus goodbyes the rest of the weekend, there just wasn't time. Not too worried as the professor said, "Just make sure you hand it in before you leave China." I guess he didn't consider my staying the whole summer when he said that, but I think it still gives me a little time. The banquet included our teachers this time, and me and classmates toasted our teachers with baijiu and gave them gifts. Afterwards was a picture frenzy followed by several people singing Chinese songs (2 classmates, 2 Chinese roommates). KTV was the standard fair (sp?) but very fun nonetheless. I went home at 3 a.m., a group stayed out till 7 a.m. though since we had the room rented until 5:30 a.m.

Saturday, I got up around 11 a.m. to say goodbye to a classmate. I spent the vast majority of my day packing. Chang Xiu and I went to see a movie at night. We ended up seeing the Chronicles of Narnia dubbed into Chinese, as of the selection of 6 movies, it was the only one with tickets available at the time. Hung out with people until 5:30 in the morning after as many of them were leaving the next day.

Sunday, I went out with more people who leaving for lunch, finished packing, went to the gym one last time, went to dinner with my roommate this semester, my roommate from last semester and another roommate who's a good friend of mine. After that I puttered around on my paper adding a page. At 10:45, I left on a train with my classmate, who happened to be going to Beijing as well. We had hard seats, which I was kind of dreading, but were OK. It just meant I would wake up every 30 minutes to one hour to readjust myself.

I arrived at 9 a.m. and some of Jerry's (my roommate from fall semester) friends met me at the train station. They took me to the place I'm crashing (another friend of Jerry's apartment) for free until I find a more permanent place. I can live there up to a month until the guy comes back. As of now, it's empty until the other roommates get back in a couple days. It's pretty dirty and thread worn, but for free I can't complain. I went in to my internship at Asia Weekly for a quick meeting. I will be working from 9 to 5 Tuesday through Thursday, starting tomorrow. I got back to my place and walked around for about two hours. Beijing is so huge! It took forever to go such a tiny distance on my map, and I discovered almost nothing interesting, besides a grocery store which sells decent looking cheese.

Right now, I'm in an Internet cafe since where I'm staying doesn't have Internet access. It's one of the seedy World of Warcraft one's you read about in magazine stories about China. It's 11:15 p.m. and really crowded. I have all my pictures on a thumb drive, which doesn't work on the computer I got. Hopefully I'll post some pictures from Suzhou and the farewell banquet soon.