Photo by johnnyberg

28 Feb 2010




Sun Feb 28, 2010

Sorry to everyone for taking forever and not updating this like I should be. Over the weekend I realized we're almost 1/3 the way through our time in China already! It's been both incredible and hectic. I'll try to give at least minor updates from the last 6 weeks, and from here on out will work on being more regular at updating. The weeks from Feb. 14 to Feb. 28 is the spring festival to celebrate the lunar new year (which was Feb. 14th this year). Spring Festival is easily the biggest holiday in China, and one of the biggest across Asia. This year we welcomed in the year of the tiger. We had a 10 day break from school since the kids have a long vacation. To pass the time, we planned a trip up to Beijing and Xian. The group split into two on travel plans- Abby, Jillian, and Mikelle went together and Jaimie, Shaila, Sarah and I went together. We left Saturday evening, took a bus to Guangzhou, then caught a flight (everyone) to Beijing. Our flight got in around 11pm, and we met a shuttle driver to take us to the hostel: Candy Inn. We drove through the streets just as the new year was arriving; it was easily similar to being in a war zone. There are no regulations on fireworks, so people were setting them off out of windows, on sidewalks, in the middle of the streets, off of rooftops, etc. We drove down a tiny back alley (in Chinese, called a hutong) and were dropped off. We got our bags inside, signed in, and were handed sparklers to head back outside and bring in the new year. Over the next two weeks, the fireworks started around 5pm, ended around 6am, and then the incense burning started. Even after going to bed, we heard fireworks for hours. While in Beijing, we did a ton, so it's easier at this point to recap everything. Ask for details if you have questions. Sunday: We got up intending to go to Ditan Park, a park close to the hostel. However, as soon as we made it outside, we were herded, pushed, and shoved along various streets and sidewalks (the main street we wanted to take to get to the park was closed), until finally, an hour later, we arrived... where, we had no idea. It turns out we'd been pushed to the Lama Temple, a mere 100 meters away from the hostel, to spend our valentines new years Sunday paying homage to Buddha by throwing coins and burning incense as we bowed our way through multiple pavilions and pagodas. I have now seen a Buddha the size of a two-story building, with toes the size of pillows. It was bitterly cold in Beijing after spending the last three weeks in 70-degree weather, so we spent the rest of the day camped out in our hostel, trying to stay warm. fyi: the hostel was incredible and I recommend it to anyone staying in Beijing. You walk into the entrance, where there's a check in counter, water filter, couch, and 3 computers. Walk through the first set of doors into a mini-courtyard. Turn immediately right to head up the stairs to the restaurant/bar and movies area. Or go straight to walk down a hallway towards the living quarters. Most are set up similar to cabins: bunk beds, a simple bathroom, lockers to store your stuff. Oh, and they offer a free drink your first night (typically it's beer, but we all got sodas) Monday: Got up early and went to the Great Wall! I went alone, but met some awesome people on my tour. There were 8 of us: 2 guys, mid 30s, from Malaysia, 2 Canadian girls teaching English in South Korea, 2 American guys teaching English in northern China, and one of the guy's mom, who also happens to be an insulin-dependent diabetic and wearing a bright blue pump. Our guide, Carol, was funny, and wasn't completely fluent in English, but she tried. We spent a little over 2 hours hiking the wall, took a roller coaster back down the mountain. We stopped at a jade factory for lunch, then went to the Ming Tombs to see the burial sites of 13 of the 16 Chinese emperors (2 are in Nanling, and 1 was never buried). After saying the Chinese phrase to prevent the emperors' ghosts from following us home and walking through the ghost gate, we stopped at a silk factory. We were also supposed to go to a teahouse, but being the non-tea drinker, I was dropped off early. I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening in the hostel, talking to other people staying there. So many interesting people live in hostels! They're the best place I could recommend for people-watching, international style. :) Tuesday: We went to Tiananmen Square, Mao's Mausoleum, and the Forbidden City. Wow. Just wow. So many things, so much to see, so much to remember. It's really easy to get lost there, and I understand now how it was possible that the emperor's concubines never left the city walls. Jillian and I got separated from the group, so we walked around the forbidden city, had lunch, and went back to the hostel. We met up with the other girls, who had done some sidewalk shopping (of which I'm still jealous). That evening, the group of three took a train to Xian, so the other four of us went looking for the Silk Street Market (which closed at 6 for the new year), then took the metro down to the Olympic Park. I loved seeing the Birds Nest Stadium and Water Cube, as well as all the cool displays they had up. We walked along the highway (they spent ridiculous amounts of money on the Olympics, so there are huge freeways that are now empty space... Olympic Park was built in the middle of nowhere, so it's unused space now). We walked a few blocks to a McDonalds... easily the nastiest place I've ever eaten. There were no trash cans in the building, so the floor, tables, chairs, and counters were littered with trash. Yet we ate a full meal, and stuck around for ice cream and tarot pies, too. We got back to the hostel and chilled in front of a movie. Wednesday: We went to Ditan Park, finally! But we missed the dragon dances. We saw some other performances, and walked around for awhile- it was about like going to an amusement park, but sans games. All the food and prizes and stuff to buy was there. After an hour in the crowds, we went to Silk Street. It's essentially a mall set up as a tourist trap- everything can be bartered for, and everything's overpriced. It's so easy to spend money, and everyone there wants your money. I won't tell what I got, but I spent a little over $30 there when I hadn't planned to spend anything. Afterwards, we went to the Temple of Heaven in time to catch a performance (all in Chinese, so don't ask what it was about), the beginnings of the sunset, and more crowds. (Everyone in China has the new year off, so we got tons of Chinese tourists while we were in Beijing. Still, who else can say they've been IN Beijing for the Chinese New Year?) We took the metro back to the hostel, packed our things, got dinner from the noodle shop, and left with Rick, our Dutch friend, for the train station to catch an 11-hour overnight train to Xian. the train: was cramped! We got sleeper bunks on the top level (there are three bunk beds stacked... we got top bunks). Once up there, there's about 15 inches between the bed and the ceiling... so you can't sit up. Needless to say, we slept most of the trip. Thursday: we made it to Xian without problems, met up with someone from the hostel to take us back. We took a city bus and got a mini-tour of the city on our way. The hostel was really different from the one in Beijing- it was HUGE, with lots of courtyards, and dorm-style living/residences. The four of us were in one room just off the bar area and upstairs. We checked in, got things dropped off, had french toast for breakfast, stood in line for train tickets (travel in China is complicated), then spent the rest of the day around the city. We saw the bell tower and drum tower, and then spent hours in the Muslim Quarter trying to find the Great Mosque. Muslim Quarter is incredible- it's a whole different world in a few blocks of China. Again, a major bartering area, and again, spent money when I didn't plan on it. Friday: We went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors!! We also stopped at a terra cotta factory. We got back to Xian around 2, had lunch, and spent the afternoon getting things ready to go. We hung out at the hostel, found food for our trip back, and ran into the first of many angels on our trip. Three Muslim guys from Turkey invited me to play mafia with them, and then bought me a sandwich and coke. Within an hour, they were impressed with my religious opinions and way of life and wanted to take all four of the girls in my group out to dinner in the Muslim Quarter. We had an incredible discussion with them, had great food (ie: sweet and sour chicken with sprinkles on top and a funny rice flour dessert), and they walked us back to the hostel, asking us to be missionaries by example. It was incredible. Saturday/Sunday: we caught a 6am bus to the train station and spent 15 hours (9am to midnight) on a cramped, dirty, smelly train to Wuhan (halfway home). We got to Wuhan, finally, and tried to get tickets the rest of the way home... with no success. We spent the night camped out in the McDonalds in the train station, and met our next angel: Hans from Mauritius. He fluently spoke both Mandarin and English, and helped us find a train that would leave at 9am that same day. We had to transfer to another train station, so Jim, our next angel, walked us around the train station until we found our bus stop. We pushed through the mosh pit of crowds onto a bus with 200 other people crammed in, made it to the train station, took a taxi to a bank and back, and made the 9am train. It was a really nice, new bullet train! We were completely happy for the first hour... then had to pay extra to go all the way to Guangzhou, standing. It's ok, we made it! (And interestingly, the rest of the last train ride has been the only time in my 2 months here that I've been treated like trash). We got back to Guangzhou, took a bus to Zhongshan, a taxi to our bus stop, then the community bus home. We made it home around 5pm on Sunday, tired, (been awake for 39 hours), hungry, and dirty, but alive and well. I'll do another blog or two in the next few days on teaching and living in Zhongshan. Our next vacation is in two weeks, so I'm open to options: where should we go?





Sun Jan 17, 2010

Ok, one week down in Zhongshan. Wow! There are a few pictures up now from our few days in Hong Kong see Pictures section .This week... there's so much going on, I don't even know if I can remember it all.We got to Zhongshan on the ferry last Sunday evening and had to pile all of our luggage picture 7 girls, 14 suitcases, and 14 carry ons, plus two native coordinators and a bus driver onto the children's school bus. We finally squeezed all of us in and got to see our first impressions of Zhongshan. It's much cleaner than Hong Kong and really pretty! Things are more spread out, too. We found out that only one apartment was ready for us each apartment houses 4 people , so they were going to squeeze 5 girls in the apartment and send two to the dorms at the Kaiyin boarding school. Jaimie and I volunteered, and now a week later, we're still here. I'll try to post pictures of our living quarters later. The dorm's been fun, too. We're learning how to use a spicket shower where there is no separate area for the shower... the whole bathroom gets wet , getting used to spraying for bugs, and adapting to having no heat. We've spent the first few days going through various orientations. Monday we walked around the school and signed all sorts of "code of conduct" papers. Tuesday was more of a country orientation, where we learned about China's history, geography, population, and cultural activities. We learned about the money system, the bus routes, and some important key phrases to get around thank you, you're welcome, I don't know, I don't understand, sorry, I want, how much is it?, this one indication , 1-10, ice cream, open, etc . Wednesday we had teaching training, started setting up lesson plans, sorting out supplies, etc.Our teaching schedule is set up by ILP, and we're required to have weekends either Sat-Sun or Sun-Mon and a 4-day break once a month, with one long break over the semester. Our 4 day weekend for January was this weekend, so we've spent it just trying to get used to China. Our original plan had been to go to a spa this weekend we sleep on boards or box springs, so everyone's kinda sore , but never ended up going. Thursday we met up with Sarah's brother John and family Sonya, Vicki, and Christy , who live in Guangjuo, the capital of the Guangdong province. Sarah's nieces are adorable! We took the bus to the Fuhua hotel and met them at McDonalds, then went to a really good restaurant next door to the Hot Pot . It's probably the best food I've had here so far, and that's including the Hunan food from Monday night to celebrate us arriving and Shaila's birthday . We had a great afternoon playing with Sarah's nieces and learned a lot from John and Sonya. Took a bus back and spent the evening at the apartment oh, and had more birthday cake for Jaimie's birthday. We now have 2 21 year olds, 3 20 year olds, and 2 19 year olds .Friday... we slept in! School days will be early- we have to catch the bus at 7:15am, ride to the other side of town, eat breakfast at the school, prep, then teach til 11:30, have lunch, have Chinese classes, teaching meetings, etc. and will head home around 4:30 every day. Anyway... met up with the rest of the girls at their apartment around 10 and spent the morning getting internet worked out, finally checking email, blogs most of which are blocked, as are youtube, facebook, and a bunch of others , etc. We spent the day in the apartment complex, just chilling, then took a bus after dinner to downtown Zhongshan to meet Tina, our native coordinator, for karaoke. Apparently they do things a little differently here. We rent a karaoke room in a hotel for the night, then invite friends. She invited a few of her friends, and we had a handful of English songs to choose from anyone remember Britney, Spice Girls, and the boy bands from the 90s? . We rotated Chinese and English songs, had some snacks dried fish, fresh fruit, peanuts, spiced pumpkin seeds, chicken feet, coca cola, & sprite , and learned a Chinese dice game that's similar to Pirate Eyes. We had a blast, and the night went pretty quickly. Got home around 11.Saturday we met a little earlier it was soo hard to get up though! and took a bus after lunch to Walking Street, a famous street in China. It's set up as a huge market that spans three streets on both sides . Some are real shops, some are stands, some are just people selling their wares. As long as we stayed in sets of two, we were free to explore. Shaila and I took off down the street and made it maybe 1/3 of the way down when someone stopped to say hello. The man said hello all of them know "hello" , so we said hi back, and he launched into English! It turns out he's a director and they were filming a documentary about this street, and we'd just walked through the set. Ooops! Since we obviously didn't fit in, he told us they needed two to four foreigners to sample things on the street as part of the documentary, and wanted to know if we'd do it for him. Sure! We had to wait awhile, but he brought us to a specialty store and filmed while we walked around, tried the biscuits not my favorite, but not bad , looked at things, laughed at not knowing Chinese, etc. In return we got a box of the biscuits and get to be on Chinese TV! Woot! One week here and already famous. : We kept walking and looking, and it was the weirdest experience. It was our first time in a big area, and had so many people gawking, rubbernecking, staring, pointing, etc. Lots of people were eager to get us in their stores, and apparently if the foreigners go in, others will, too. We looked at shoes, coats it's 65 degrees and everyone's in sweaters and heavy coats , bags, etc. and people kept handing us their cards, offers, bonuses, etc. At one point we passed a nook in the wall that stretched back and was decked in hot pink. It looked a bit sketchy. We were trying to figure out what it was, and a man came out and handed us cards saying they were offering free facials for this hour. Being the dumb tourists, we came in. We actually did get free 45-minute facials, but also got gawked at by all the assistants, their family and friends, and anyone else that came in. They didn't understand any English, and we didn't understand any Chinese. They worked out literal translations of characters and had us teach them how to say things. It was entertaining, but I highly recommend Chinese facials : We met back at McDonalds, grabbed dinner, then went to the mall for another hour different area . There are a lot of really cool things, but it's the mall... so it's still pricey. I'm looking forward to Beijing later, and hoping the shopping's good.We got back relatively early and spent time talking to family/friends online it's a 13-hour difference from VA, 15 hours from UT before heading to bed. Jaimie and I stayed up for a bit talking, then headed to bed. Got up this morning, planned a lesson, then came to the apartment for mini-church. We streamed the BYU fireside and had relief society, since the nearest branch is 1 1/2 hours away, and it's kind of expensive to travel all the time. Once the other Zhongshan group gets here the middle of February, we should be able to have sacrament. We had lunch at Kaiyin, then a free afternoon.I still need to finish up my lesson plans for the week, and we start teaching tomorrow! Excited, but definitely nervous.Oh, and if anyone's interested, I do have a mailing address and would LOVE to hear from you if not get cold cereal, hot chocolate, oatmeal, granola bars, and trail mix . And if anyone wants to offer tips: we have no oven, so trying to find ways to cook things on the stove ie: brownies? . Any suggestions would be great!To all of you in the US, 古德儈 ‰¹ goodnight . And to everyone else, 再 §. goodbye


Wed Jan 13, 2010

Pig Skin and Eggplant Yesterday was our culture training. There's SOOO much to learn! We had Candi, Celina, and Tina spend all afternoon teaching us about the geography, history, money, and language. It's so sad that I don't remember as much as I'd like. I'm still getting used to the food here, too. Breakfast was sweet bread and a cross between an apple and a pear... a papple? Lunch was rice and a vegetable mix. We eat dinner at the Kaiyin school, and last night I had eggplant, tofu, and pig skin. Afterwards, we hung out at the apartment for a couple hours, then Jaimie and I went back to the dorm. It was soo cold when we got up this morning, but we had coconut rolls and half a papple, then gave in and had oatmeal, too, to warm up. We had ILP teacher training this morning and were assigned Synchronized Play Episodes SPEs . I'll be teaching games for the next 3 weeks, so if anyone has any little kid game ideas, let me know! Circle games, table games, or carnival games This afternoon we're hopefully going to the market to exchange money and pick up some things food, warm clothes, rain gear, towels, toilet paper, etc . We successfully figured out the bus system, and note to anyone that comes to visit: The Chinese are on time, if not 5 minutes early, so when the bus comes at 7:30, it really does come at 7:30. Just fyi. More later tomorrow I guess . We start actually teaching next Monday, but lesson plans are due tonight. I'll probably start updating once a week when things get busy. Word of the day: Wo lung! not totally sure on spelling : I'm cold!


Tue Jan 12, 2010

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Mon Jan 11, 2010

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