Coming Home

On my last day in China I woke up early to catch a flight back to Beijing so that I could get my luggage so that I could fly home.

After arriving in Beijing I went straight to a China Mobile office. A few days before my phone had stopped working and I wanted to find out why. I found out that if you make a call outside of the province that you bought the phone in, you pay a roaming charge so I ran out of money.  I was only in Beijing for a day and I didn’t think it was worth putting more money on my phone, so I passed on it and headed into the city.

I had no place I needed to be, the only thing I had to do was get my luggage from Brandon (the guy I left my luggage with) and that was it. Since my phone wasn’t working I went to a hostel and just chilled there for a bit. I had been talking to Brandon via e-mail and I had an address he gave me earlier. He told me that he would leave my bags with the doorman and that I could just pick them up from him. As it started to rain I had my final meal of dumplings, got in a cab, and headed out to the address I had.

I arrived at the address Brandon gave me. After running from building to building in the rain I finally found the right building and went to find the doorman. The doorman was this old Chinese man who clearly had no idea who I was. He also couldn’t understand Englsih and since my phone was broken/had no more minutes I couldn’t call anyone who actually spoke Chinese to talk to him and tell him what the deal was.

After struggling talking to the doorman we went up to the apartment and knocked on the door. After a few minutes of no one answering a girl opened the door and my heart sank because it clearly wasn’t Brandon’s apartment. Luckily it turned out to be the girlfriend of one of Brandon’s friends. Apparently we weren’t at Brandon’s apartment but at his friend’s apartment. I don’t know how I ended up there but I did. We called Brandon on her phone and we found out that my luggage was at his apartment on the other side of town.

So I hopped in a cab and had the driver race to the other side of town where Brandon lived. When we arrived at his complex it had stopped raining but it was very humid out. I was told that he lived in building 3. The problem was that it was like a freaking maze, I couldn’t find the building. I was running around trying to find the correct building, and sweating profusely because of the stress and the humidity. I ran back out to the cab and asked to use the cab driver’s phone to call Brandon.

After talking to Brandon again I finally figured out where he lived and got my luggage. I rushed back to my cab and had him floor it to the subway station. The last train to the airport left at 11:30 p.m. and I didn’t want to be stranded in Beijing. I arrived at the metro and was running through the halls while schlepping four bags. I got a ticket and made it onto the last train just as the doors were closing.

I arrived at the Beijing International Airport and found an area to settle down. Being caked in sweat from running around, I got ready to spend another night sleeping at the airport. Well, I didn’t really sleep. My flight was at 6:30 in the morning so I decided to just push through and crash on the plane. After a 13 hour flight and a layover in Chicago, I arrived safe and sound in Washington.  I called my Dad to tell him that I have arrived and to pick me up only to be told that there is too much traffic on the road (due to the US Open) and that I should take the metro home.  I could not have thought of a better ending to a long and exhausting trip home.

Looking back on my year in China, I can’t believe I had all the great experiences that I did. I had a great time, learned a lot, and made a lot of great friends. I had a blast writing this blog and I hope that you enjoyed reading it. So this is it, until I travel to another part of the world for a year, take care. Zai jien.

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Yangshuo: Day 2

For our second day in Yangshuo we weren’t in a rush to see or do that many things. We knew we wanted to go rock climbing at some point but that was it, so we took it easy throughout the day until we went rock climbing. After waking up late-ish, we wandered around town.

I wanted Jennifer to experience hogwar (fire cupping), so we walked around town and looked for a placed that does traditional Chinese medicine. We finally found a place. Her name was Dr. Lily Li. So once again, I had the hogwar done on my back. I thought it felt good and I’m sure Jennifer enjoyed it too. To tell you the truth I am not sure whether or not Dr. Li was a legit doctor. It’s not that hard to lie about who you are in China (I know from personal experience).

  

After getting the hogwar done, Jennifer and I went shopping. My brother, Danny wanted a traditional Chinese hat, so we bought him one.

After lunch, we met up with our rock climbing instructors. Yangshuo is known worldwide for its rock climbing scene. We had to bike out to the location. After biking for more than 20 minutes, I was beginning to lose faith, but we came out into a clearing and saw where we were going to climb.

We came up to the side of a mountain; the way it worked was that there were different courses up the mountain. And depending on where you climbed, the harder it was. We did the easy route first. Jennifer wanted to go first. She had done some rock climbing in Thailand and had more experience than me, so she was going to show me the ropes. She got up in no time and then it was my turn.

 

After putting on my harness and my rock climbing shoes, I attacked the mountain. They say to let your legs do most of the work, but I didn’t understand how not to use my arms. I felt that if I didn’t use my arms I would fall off the mountain. So my arms (especially my forearms) got tired quickly. I made it to the top and the view was spectacular.

      

I was only able to do 3½ climbs because my arms got so tired, but Jennifer was able to do 5 climbs. She was a rock star. (Ha ha get it, “rock” star. I know, bad joke.) She made fun of me and called me a wimp for not being able to do as many climbs as her. What a shot to my ego.

After rock climbing we made it back to our hostel, got some dinner, and just chilled on the roof of our hostel drinking beers and admiring the view. It was the last day of my trip with Jennifer and we reminisced about all the fun things we did together.

The next day I had to wake up early to catch a flight back to Beijing to get my bags and then catch my flight home. And of course, since it’s me, nothing went according to plan.

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Yangshuo: Day 1

Our first day in Yangshuo was very busy. We woke up extra early to watch game 6 of the NBA Finals. I hadn’t been able to watch any of it because we had been traveling. And because of the time difference I had to wake up at 6:30 am.  Thank God it was a good game and worth waking up for.

Many of you might know the Jewish children’s song Amsterdam, Disneyland, Tel Aviv. The song starts off “Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish…” Well the song couldn’t be any truer. Just as the game ended guess who comes in, two Israelis. And according to rule #5 of the Members of the Tribe Handbook, we introduced ourselves to our fellow Jews. It turned out that they were two brothers, Nimrod and Omer, doing some traveling before Omer had to go to the army.

Jennifer and I wanted to do a bike trip, so we decided to meet up with the Israelis later on and rented two bikes. We chose to bike out to the Yulong Bridge (Dragon’s Bridge), about 2 hours away. We were told that you can jump off the bridge into the water. So we thought that would be a cool idea and set out.

We were told to take the back roads to get there because it would be more scenic. This caused us to bike through these small villages along the way.

   

It was a hot day so when we arrived at the bridge I was ready to jump in. Before we left for Yulong Bridge I was told that it was 10 meters high. Not being a master of the metric system, I wasn’t quite sure how high that was. When I stood at the top of the bridge and looked down, I realized that it was actually pretty high. Because of my bungee jumping experience I was too scared to jump off. So I wussed out, and didn’t jump.

 

Although I didn’t jump off the Yulong Bridge the area around it was still very beautiful. It was in the middle of a rice field so Jennifer and I decided to walk through the fields and see what was going on. We ended up seeing these farmers and their water buffalo grazing. It was cool to see.

     

While we were wondering about in the rice fields we saw this guy fishing. What was interesting was that he was fishing with birds. We found out that it was called cormorant fishing. Cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method in which fishermen use trained cormorants to fish in rivers.  What they do is put rings around the birds’ necks so that when they catch a fish, they won’t swallow it.

    

We headed back to town and met up with the two Israelis once again. We biked out to another spot along the river and just chatted and enjoyed the scenery. When we arrived back at our hostel I realized that my camera had a big crack in it. I didn’t know how it happened but I really wasn’t that upset. I was happy to have had it for as long as I did and for it to have cracked on one of my last days in China, it couldn’t have worked out any better.

   

That night we went out drinking. We went to a hostel with a rooftop bar called Monkey Janes. They had a beer pong table set up. So of course Jennifer and I challenged Omer and Nimrod; USA vs. Israel. Thank God we won. It brought me back to my glory days at College Park.

The way it works at Monkey Janes is that winner stays and challenger buys the beers. So of course Jen and I stayed to play another game. These two Chinese challenged us. A middle aged man and a young girl (who was clearly out of his league but he was clearly drunk and you could tell he was trying to get some).The guy didn’t even shoot the ball, all he did was drink the beer and try to psych us out. The guy was psycho and freaked us out. I don’t know how it happened but we lost.

We spent the rest of the night drinking with the Israelis and a couple of local Chinese guys (who creeped Jen out). It was a fun day and a fun night.

  

Finally, Jennifer and I went back to our hostel to get ready for our final day in China together in which we were going to go rock climbing.

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Bamboo Boats

The day after our trip to the rice terraces we woke up early to go to Yangshuo. The way we decided to travel to Yangshuo (which is only a two hour bus ride away) was by taking bamboo boats down the Lijiang River.

We had to take a bus ride 20 minutes outside of Guilin to a place in the river where we were going to get on the rafts. As the rafts pulled up we saw that they weren’t made from bamboo but from PVC pipes. Jennifer and I got on first and took the best seat right in the front. After everyone got onto the boats we took off.

  

The views were absolutely breath taking. Along both sides of the river were these spectacular mountains that are so unique to this region. The closer we got to them, the more we realized how big they really were.

         

Half way down the river, it started to rain. And by rain I mean pour. Luckily we stopped for lunch. But being under a tent with no walls we still got wet. For the first time during our trip we were with other Westerners. So it was nice being able to talk to them and hear about their adventures.

On the back of the 20 yuan bill is a picture of the river and mountains we were rafting down. At one point during our ride down, the driver of the raft told us that this was the place where there photo on the bill was taken. So I pulled out a 20 yuan bill to compare. While I don’t think it was a direct match, it was close enough.

Towards the end of the boat trip we came to Nine Horses Mountain. Nine Horses Mountain is a face of a mountain that due to the discoloration of the rock looks like there are nine horses. In ancient times, Buddhist or Confucius or Daoist monks (I can’t remember which one) would come and stare at this mountain. If they were able to see nine horses then they would be considered masters.

The Chinese have a running joke that you only need to find three to be the President of the United States because when Bill Clinton came to China he was only able to find three. You have to use your imagination to see them. I was able to find six. See how many you can find.

It took most of the day to get down the river, but we finally arrived in Yangshuo which is a very small city located along the river and nestled in between these gorgeous mountains. This marked the beginning of the last leg of our trip.

   

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Onto the Rice Terraces

So after getting married in the Yao village we got back on the bus and headed up to see the Longji rice terraces. As we winded our way through the mountains the scenery became more and more beautiful.

The bus dropped us off at about ¾ of the way up the mountain, so we had to climb the rest by foot.

All along the path leading up the mountain to the rice terraces were different stalls with locals selling their goods. If you were lazy you could hire two men to carry you up the mountain while you lounged in a chair. I was thinking about it, but they charged by the pound so it would have gotten a little expensive.

  

Although we sweated all the way up to the top of the mountain, the view was worth it. It was breathtaking.

     

On the way to another peak we saw tourists get attacked by locals who dress up in traditional garb so that you could take a picture with them. They were vicious, pulling at you so that you would take a picture with them. The thing was that once you took a picture with them you had to pay them, another Chinese tourist trap.

The views from the other side of the mountain were just as gorgeous and spectacular.

   

The engineering of these terraces are pretty spectacular. They are built in concentric circles and created so that the water flows from the top to the bottom.

  

A famous dish in Longji is their bamboo rice. The way they do it is they cut a hole in the bamboo and stuff rice inside, they then fire roast it. Wanting to try this local dish, Jennifer and I sat down at a restaurant to try it. The problem was that it takes a long time to cook and we only had 20 minutes until our bus left and we still needed to make it down the mountain.

  

Finally the rice came, we scarfed down the food, which tasted average and hustled down the mountain. Luckily we made it right as everyone was getting onto the bus. Although we got stuck in all of these tourist traps and my fake marriage, it was worth it to see these majestic rice terraces.

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I’m Too Young to be Married

The next day we signed up with our hostel to visit the Longji rice terraces. We thought it was going to be an English tour since we signed up with the hostel but as we stepped onto the bus the next morning all we saw were a bunch of Asian faces looking back at us.

The way that these tourist tours get you is that they take you to a side location before you even get to the main place. For example in Beijing if you sign up to go to the Great Wall, they will drop you off at a jade factory for an hour or two before you get to the Wall itself. Well the same thing happened with us. They told us that before we go to the rice terraces we were going to stop at a village and see a show. But it was going to cost us and extra 50 RMB.

Jennifer and I asked if we could do something else while everyone was at the show, but the tour guide said that there was nothing else in the area, so we might as well go.

The village we went to was called the Yao village, because they are the Yao people. What makes the Yao people unique is that the women have really long hair. They cut it once when they get married but before then and after that they never cut their hair. What is also interesting about the Yao people is that it is a female dominated society. The women go out and work in the fields while the men cook, clean, and take care of the household. So for all you hardcore feminist out there, you might want to check this place out.

The Yao people were completely shut off from the rest of society until ’97 when a road was finally built connecting their village to the rest of the world. Now the Yao people cater towards tourism by selling artwork as well as putting on this show.

The moment we arrived in the village we were pestered by the local women to buy their goods. Since we were some of the only Westerners in the group they clung to us more. Jennifer got it worst. They followed Jen around the longest, trying to get her to buy their chachkalahs.

   

We were ushered into a large social hall, took a seat, and waited for the show to start. The Yao women came out and did a few dances and songs. It was semi-interesting/cool but definitely not worth the 50 RMB we paid. After about 3-4 songs, they asked for some volunteers to come up on stage. Not really thinking, I raised my hand to volunteer and since I was a westerner, I was picked right away.

  

Not knowing what I volunteered for, I stood up on stage with the rest of the male participants. They finally told us that we were going to participate in a Yao marriage ceremony. The MC told us that we needed to go backstage and change into appropriate Yao attire for the wedding.

  

After changing into our costumes, we were told that part of the wedding ceremony is an exchange of gifts between the couple. The gifts they wanted us to give them were these silver bracelets that the Yao people made. The problem was that they wanted us to pay for these bracelets.

I became a little pissed. Why would I pay for a bracelet that I was just going to give right back to the person I bought it from? It made no sense. And plus the Chinese people who volunteered, already took all of the cheapest bracelets, so the only ones they had left were the most expensive kind of bracelets. After arguing with the Yao women for a little bit they told me (as well as this Danish guy who also didn’t want to pay for the bracelet) to just go back out and that we could pay them later.

As we all know the first part of any wedding is finding someone to marry. They way you select your wife in the Yao culture is by stepping on her foot. So we all went over to the women who were waiting in the corner and selected our brides. I think (and Jennifer agrees) that I picked the prettiest one to be my wife.

  

The first part of the wedding ceremony is for the man to knead dough. I guess it is to show the women that we can be good stay at home dads. It wasn’t as easy as it seems.

Next we did a circle dance with our brides while the elder women stood around making an outer-circle. As we danced around the elder women would pinch our butts. The pinching of butts for the Yao people is a sign of love. But these weren’t soft love pinches, they really pinched hard.

After that we had to share a drink with our wives. They brought out shots of baijo and we each took two shots. The first was by encircling our arms, sort of the way they do in those cheesy romantic movies. The second one was by putting our arms around each other’s whole body sort of like drinking over their shoulder.

Then we had to sing love songs to our brides. Being put on the spot I wasn’t really sure what to sing. The first song that came to my mind was You Are So Beautiful by Joe Cocker. I learned while I was teaching that if you are going to get up in front of a group of people and make a fool of yourself; you might as well go all out. So that’s what I did with the song. I looked into my bride’s eyes and sang with all my heart, even adding some movements along the way.

Afterwards came the exchanging of gifts. I gave my bride the silver bracelet (that I hadn’t paid for yet) and she gave me a handbag. What an emasculating gift, but I guess that’s how all the men feel in the Yao village.

Finally to end the ceremony we had to carry our wives off the stage while giving them a piggy-back ride.

  

Once we were backstage my wife started to demand that I pay her. Now that I think back on it, it was our first fight as a married couple. I’ll remember it forever.

One minute after being married we got in a fight; I think that might be a new world record.

I finally told her that I had no money on me. She told me that she would look for me after the show and get the money I owed. So I went back to my seat and watched as the Yao women came back out on stage, did some more singing, and unwove their hair, to show us its true length.

   

It was pretty long. Some women had hair all the way down to their feet. When they were done showing us their hair they started to wrap it around their head so that they wouldn’t trip over it. As the show ended, Jennifer and I made a dash for the exit. (I didn’t want them calling in my debt). As we exited, the Yao women made two rows and as we walked through they pinched everyone’s butt.

To tell you the truth I’m not sure if my marriage will work out. From looks of it, it seemed like my wife was a slut. She must have been married 100 times already. Well, c’est la vie. At least I got my money’s worth at the Yao village tourist trap.

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Guilin

After a 17 hour overnight train ride we arrived in Guilin without incident. From the moment I stepped off the train and looked around I knew that I liked Guilin. Guilin is a very famous place in China. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in China. What makes Guilin so special are the mountains which surround the area. It’s really hard to explain what these mountains look like. They look like individual mini-mountains from far away, but when you get closer you realize they are pretty big. Think of a mix between Jurassic Park and the mountains in the movie Avatar, but not floating and more impressive. This was the view from our hostel’s balcony.

  

Guilin is a very small city, so after Jennifer and I checked into our hostel we bought a map and headed out to walk around. Guilin is sort of like Manhattan in the sense that it’s a little island surround by two rivers. We were able to walk around the whole city in a 2 hour time period.

        

A big attraction for many tourists to Guilin are the twin pagodas that they have. One is the sun pagoda and the other is the moon pagoda. I’m not really sure what they represent but they are just impressive to look at.

  

We followed the rivers around Guilin and saw some more interesting things. We even went to this tiny island that was only accessible by a rickety wire and plank bridge. With no railings and it shaking with each step we took it felt like we were going to fall off at any moment.

  

One thing that I realized about myself is that I have a serious disorder. I am a hoarder. Not one of them weirdoes who keep 10 years worth of newspapers in their house but a different kind. I hoard clothes. I just can’t bring myself to throw out clothes. I still have clothes like Robbie’s Bar Mitzvah Bash from ’95. So I decided to slowly get rid of clothes along the way.

At each place we stopped I would leave some of my clothes behind. I left socks, underwear, shirts, and even shorts. I must say it was a very cathartic process for me to do. It also helped me traveling wise because I had less to carry. Now some lucky traveler has his own March for the Cure ‘97 t-shirt or a new pair of boxers.

Next, we head to the famous rice terraces

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