Onto Hangzhou

We arrived in Hangzhou and thankfully made it to our hostel without getting lost. The main attraction in Hangzhou is a lake called the West Lake. What is special about Hangzhou’s West Lake is that there is a park surrounding the whole lake. No one can bring in animals or bikes into this area. So people are able to come in, walk around, and enjoy the lake.

     

After we checked in we rented bikes and biked around the entire lake. Every so often we would stop to take pictures or to eat ice cream, which is probably the reason I’m so fat.

      

The next day we rented bikes again and biked out to the National Silk Museum. China is very proud that they developed the technique to cultivate silk. It was very interesting to learn about silk production.

After the silk museum we went to the National Tea Museum. The Chinese are also very proud of their tea. In fact they are a little nuts about it. At the tea museum they invited Jennifer and I to participate in a tea ceremony. For me it was my first tea ceremony but for Jennifer it was already her second.

In China a big scam that is played on tourist is that a Chinese person, who speaks pretty good English, would come up to you and start chatting to you. You (the tourist) get excited that you finally met someone who speaks English. The Chinese person will then ask you if you want to join them at a coffee shop or a tea ceremony and continue talking to them. So you go with them and chat with them but when you ask for the bill you see that you are not only paying an exorbitant amount for your drink but your also paying for the Chinese peoples’ drinks as well.

So on her first day inChina, my sister got caught in the scam and ended up paying over 170 RMB for a tea ceremony.

But the tea ceremony at the tea museum was free (we made sure we asked a number of times because we didn’t want to be scammed like Jen was). We tasted four different kinds of tea. For the last one, the tea leaves opens up into the shape of a flower. It was pretty cool. The problem was, was that I like sugar in my tea and the Chinese don’t put sugar in their tea. They believe it distorts the taste.

  

  

Hangzhou was a really hot and humid place. Think Maryland’s weather during the summer and multiply that by ten. Being Schwarz’s we were shvitzing up a storm. But that afternoon was when it started to pour. Good thing we bought umbrellas in Suzhou.

Earlier in the day my phone broke so once the rain stopped I headed towards China Mobil (China’s national phone company). I had only 15 minutes to sort out my phone before we needed to catch a bus to the train station and the problem was that walking to and from the China Mobil store would have taken me 15 minutes alone. I went anyways hoping to get my phone working. After spending 15 minutes in the store alone and still not getting my phone fixed (because I bought the phone in Hubei province and since I was in a different province they couldn’t help me) I hustled back to the hostel to try and catch the bus to the train station.

On the bus we found out that the train station we needed to go to was on the other side of town and that it would take over and hour to get there. We only had 45 minutes. Jennifer and I were getting really nervous that we would miss our train. (It was an overnight train and only left once a day so we really needed to get on that train). Halfway through the bus ride we had to get off the bus and hail a cab. The problem was that we were in the middle of nowhere. Once we did find a cab it turned out to be the slowest cab I had ever been in. In all my time in China I had never experienced a cab driver drive so slow.

We finally reached the train station with a minute to spare only to find out that the train was delayed. Go figure. After waiting 30 more minutes we got on our train and got ready for an overnight trip to Guilin.

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A Day in Nanjing

After taking the bullet train to Nanjing we got in a cab and headed to the hostel. Like I said before, getting lost was an on-going problem during our trip and Nanjing was no exception. In fact Nanjing would be characterized by constantly getting lost.

When looking up the hostel’s address we got two addresses (I guess they moved), so I wrote both down. First we went to the totally wrong address. After getting in a cab again I miss-read the address for the second time. I thought the Hostel’s address was 38 but it was really 83. So it took us longer than expected to reach the hostel.

After putting our bags down we headed out to Mount Zijin. Mount Zijin is where the Sun Yatsen Mausoleum is. Sun Yatsen was a former leader of China who helped overthrow the Qin Dynasty. But of course we got lost again because we got off the bus at the wrong spot. We were still at Mount Zijin but in a different part. So we checked out the area and took a chair lift to the top. (It took a half-an-hour just to make it to the top by chair lift).

  

At the top of the mountain we hiked around. There were some pretty great views from the top and some cool sculptures as well. There we saw the largest Buddha statue south of the Yangzi River. You would think that it would be really old but in fact if was only built in ’95.

      

After leaving Mount Zijin, we waited for the bus to take us back into the city. But, it wouldn’t be Nanjing if we didn’t get lost so… we got on a bus that we thought would take us back to the center of the city but in fact took us further out into the middle of nowhere. We had to get in a taxi to take us back. We went to the Confucius Temple. It was a really cool area to walk around.

  

I went into a Confucian temple while Jen chilled outside. It was really fascinating to walk around. They had a lot of pictures and sculptures of Confucius and other people I didn’t know. It was very interesting.

   

They even had this “wishing tree” (I’m not sure if it is actually called that, I just don’t know the real name of it). People would buy these medallions, write a prayer on them, throw them into the tree, and hope that their prayer would come true.

  

The next day we wanted to go to the Nanjing Massacre Museum. We asked the manager at the hostel what bus to take and where to take it to. We found the bus OK and rode it to the end, like we were told. But the last stop was some deserted open field. We were lost again. So we had to get in a taxi and have him take us to the museum.

Many of you might not have heard about the Rape of Nanjing. In 1937, the Japanese invaded China and the Chinese army fled Nanjing leaving the local civilians behind. In the span of 6 weeks 300,000 people were murdered and countless women were raped by the Japanese soldiers. The Chinese view this event as their holocaust. And this is one of the main reasons that the Chinese still have so much animosity towards the Japanese to this day.

To honor their dead, they have built a museum. It is called the The Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders (it’s interesting to see how there is a little dig at the Japanese). The museum was eerily familiar. It reminded me of the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. I’m sure the Chinese took ideas from both places. Some of you might remember that in Yad Vashem they have stacks of binders with people’s information. They had the same thing in Nanjing. They even had an open grave with skeletal remains within the museum which was kind of weird. It was very well done and I recommend that if you have the chance, you should go.

     

After the museum, we hustled to the train station and got on the train the Hangzhou.

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The Real Trip Begins – Suzhou

On our first full day in China together, we headed out to a small town close to Shanghai called Suzhou. Suzhou is a very small city with some canals running through it. When Marco Polo explored China, he described Suzhou as the “Veniceof the East.” Let me tell you now, Suzhou is noVenice.

We took the high speed train which got us out there in less than 30 min. First we had to take of where we were going to stay for the first night. I was hoping that we could just show up to the hostel and book 2 beds for the night. What I didn’t take into account was that it was also the last day of national Chinese festival called, Dragon Boat Festival (not really sure what they celebrate though) so there were no rooms available.

Thanks to Becca’s help we were able to find a hotel not too far away. After we checked in we started walking around the city and exploring. We were trying to head to these twin pagodas that were not too far away. The problem was that we got a little lost (getting lost becomes an on-going trend throughout our trip). I blame it on a faulty map while Jen and Becca blame it on a faulty leader (ie. me).

We ended walking for more than 2 hours trying to find these pagodas. But getting lost is part of the adventure and if we hadn’t gotten lost we would never have found a cool Buddhist temple with nun-monks and watch them perform a ceremony.

We finally made it back to the touristy strip, which is very pretty canal street, where we just chilled and had coffee. At that point Becca had to head back to Shanghai, so we said our goodbyes and it was just Jennifer and I.

At night Jen and I went out for dinner on the main commercial drag. After dinner we found this area that had these fairground games. Of course being the natural basketball athletes that Jen and I are, we headed straight for the basketball shoot-out game. I won the first game by 2 points and was feeling pretty good about the victory. But of course we do best of three, so we played again, and Jen won the second game by about 15 points. So it came down to a third game and it wasn’t even close. Jennifer beat me by more than 50+ points.

  

Suzhou is not only known for its canals but for its gardens as well. So the next morning we headed to Lion’sGroveGarden. Lion’s Grove Garden is a rock garden built in 1342 by Buddhist monks for their master. But right before we entered the garden it started to rain, and I mean pour. So we bought umbrellas and headed into the garden.

Lion’s Grove Garden is a tightly packed maze garden made out of oddly shaped rocks. So you go in and out, up and down of these caves which eventually open up onto a beautiful pond. What became a pain in the ass was having to open and close our umbrellas due to the rain.

The garden was absolutely beautiful and well worth going.

      

After the garden we hopped on a bus and headed out to Tiger Hill. From Tiger Hill you can walk along a canal all the way back to the city center. Walking through back allies and markets was really cool. Just getting a sense of how people live in Suzhou was a neat experience. And once again it was raining the whole way back.

      

The most annoying thing about Suzhou was that it is nearly impossible to get a taxi. They say that the only place to get a taxi is at the train and bus stations. So keep that in mind if you ever travel to Suzhou.

That night Jen and I met up with my friends James and Linda. James was a teacher and Linda a TA at EF and since they had a long weekend for Dragon Boat festival they came down toSuzhou. It was nice meeting up with them for dinner.

So that was it for Suzhou. We woke up early the next day and headed to the train station. Next stop Nanjing.

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Let the Adventures Begin: Beijing – Shanghai

After finishing my year contract with EF I knew that I wanted to travel the country a bit. We only get ten days off during the entire year and that really isn’t enough time to travel and experience the country. So with some money in my pocket and my sister (Jennifer) agreeing to join I planned a trip of southernChina.

Now a lot happened during our trip so I will be telling you the story in parts. Sorry if they are kind of long, I have a lot to tell. Here is part one of my travels; from Qinhuangdao-Beijing-Shanghai.

After saying my goodbyes and packing up I was ready to go. One of my RE students, Linda, offered to take me to the train station. It was really sweet, she acted like a protective mother saying goodbye to her child; sitting with me until my train came, making sure I had enough food with me, walking me to the train itself. I even saw one of my Small Stars students, Elie, at the train station and getting on the same train with his mother. He’s a really funny kid so it was a good send off.

Now this is where the first leg of my trip gets interesting. My big dilemma was what to do with my bags. I didn’t want to leave them in QHD because that would have meant that once I got back from my trip I would have to shlep all the way out to QHD and then shlep all the way back to Beijing for my flight home. I only have one friend in Beijing and his place was too small, so I couldn’t leave them there either.

Luckily my friend Becca (who I was about to meet in Shanghai) has a cousin named Brandon who lives in Beijing and he agreed to hold onto my backs. I talked to him a few times and he seemed like an ok guy and he told me to give him a call when I arrived inBeijing.

So my train arrived in Beijing a little late and I tried giving Brandon a call. No answer. I got that message that says “the person you are trying to reach is not available, please hang up and try again.” I was getting a little bit worried. So I tried giving Becca a call hoping that she might know an alternative way to get in touch with Brandon but I got the same message, “the person you are trying to reach is not available…” I started to freak out now. I thought my phone was seriously broken. I tried giving my friend a call and it went through. I even have him try calling Brandon to see if it is just my phone. At this time I was already in a taxi heading out to the address Brandon gave me.

Finally Brandon called me back. He was not at home but at a dinner, and he wouldn’t be at the address he gave me. He asked me if I could stay with friends and come back in the morning. I told him I couldn’t I was even hoping that he would offer to let me crash on his couch until my flight the next morning at 11 am. He then offered for me to come where he was and drop my bags off there with him. So we turned the cab around and heading in a new direction.

I finally arrived at his development, met up with Brandon and gave him my bags. I was still hoping that he would offer me a place to crash for the night, but the invite never came. He asked me if I was going anywhere to meet up with friends. My only friend in Beijing was out at a pool party and my hopes of a place to stay for the night had just been quickly dashed so I was kind of put on the spot. Not wanting to sound like a loser I said “of course I’m meeting up with some friends.” So Brandon put me in a cab and told the driver to take me to Sunlitown, which is a popular bar area in Beijing.

So I arrived in Sunlitown with no one to meet up with. It was a Friday night and people are out in their party/club clothes while I was walking around with a big backpack looking like a total idiot. After walking around for a little bit I decided I might as well crash at the airport for the night, so I headed for the nearest metro so I could take the airport express train out to the airport. The only problem was that there is no metro stop close to Sunlitown. I had to walk 3-4 miles in order to get to the metro (I was tired of paying for cabs). But by the time I made it to the metro it was late and the metro had closed for the night. So here I was in Beijing, hot, sweaty, and tired, not knowing what to do next.

Finally I though screw it, I might as well take a taxi to the airport and sleep there as opposed to sleeping on the streets until the metro opened (there were no hostels nearby either). The problem was that it was a little hard to hail a taxi at midnight, especially one who was willing to go all the way out to the airport. Finally I found one and dropped about 80 RMB on the cab fare.

The airport was fairly empty and I had no trouble finding a place to sleep. It was a hard metal bench near counter A in terminal 2.

It isn’t the easiest thing falling asleep in an airport. First of all they never turn off the lights and second of all at night are when the cleaning crews come in. I was also nervous that someone would steal my bag while I slept (because it had happened to me before in Israel) so I slept with one arm constantly in one of the arm loops.

I woke up at the crack of dawn (ie. 4 am) and since the Chinese are sooo accommodating (NOT!!!) I had to wait around till 11 am for my flight. So I had plenty of time to explore. I am now an expert on all three terminals at Beijing International Airport, so if you have any questions about the airport in Beijing please feel free to ask.

After what was a long day for me I finally made it to Shanghai and met up with Jennifer and Becca. We went out for dinner and some drinks and had a really nice time. The next day we were off to Suzhou. Shanghai was just a meeting point. Looking back at those last two days it was hard to believe that my trip hadn’t even really started yet.

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A Paradise for the Elderly

In America the typical nuclear family is a father, mother and two to three children (or some variation of that with parents and children). Parents are the main figures in their children’s lives while extended family plays more of a supporting role. In China it is a bit different.

Instead of grandparents playing a supportive role, they have a more dominant role in the child’s life. Grandparents spend more time with a child then the child’s actual parents do because the parents go off to earn money for the family. In China the way it works is that you are supposed to get married and have a child young so that your parents can help raise the child while you make the money and support them.

The credo of respect thy elders is followed by everyone here in China. I have never seen so much respect for/given to the elderly in my life. Total strangers will help the elderly cross the street, give them their seat on the bus or generally just be good/kind to them.

In America the parks are usually dominated by kids, but not in China. Whenever I walk through a park it is always packed with senior citizens playing cards, dancing, or just shooting the breeze. It seems that in China all the fun starts when you’re old. I half expect to see a senior citizen gang terrorizing the neighborhood there are so many of them just hanging about.

  

  

So I have officially decided that when I reach the age of retirement I am going to come back to China and hang out here. I’ll be treated like a king. It is just interesting to see family dynamics in different cultures.

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Probably Not My Brightest Decision

This weekend I probably did one of the more stupid things in my life. In the next town over from Qinhuangdao is a type of amusement park called Jiofa. And at this amusement park they have bungee jumping. My friends James and Ben had done it earlier in the year and had mentioned doing it and I thought it would be fun to do.

After taking the bus out to the Jiofa Amusement park we went straight to the bungee jump platform. Now I am not the biggest fan of highest but I am also not the biggest scaredy cat out there. But looking up at the platform I knew it was a little higher than my liking.

     

My friend Justin agreed to jump with me, but when we went to pay for it we were immediately denied. Apparently there was a 90 kilo weight limit. Being big guys, they thought that we were too big but we really wanted to jump so we asked if we could step on a scale. Justin was over the limit but I came in just under the 90 kilos at a whopping 89 kilos. Just enough to jump. (I know, I know. I’m getting fat, but I would like to think it is mostly muscle).

Ask I walked up the tower I got more and more nervous. It was so tall and it seemed like the stairs would never stop going up. It was about 9-10 stories high Once we did reach the top of the tower I had to walk out onto the platform which was maybe 50 feet away from the tower.

   

As I made it to the end of the platform they had me sit down so that they could get me ready to jump. First they made sure I had nothing in my pockets. Then they started to wrap cello tape around my body, first around my waist and then around my ankles and shoes. I guess they didn’t want anything falling off during the jump. After that they attached two ankle straps to my legs. I thought that they would attach this whole contraption on my body but they didn’t, just two simple ankle straps. (Like I wasn’t nervous already). Finally they attached the bungee cord to my ankle straps and brought me to the edge.

One the way to the amusement park and when my feet were still touching the ground I was pretty confident that I would be able to do it with problem, but when they brought me to the edge I froze with fear. Looking down at the river below I realized for the first time how high up I was and I also realized that the only thing holding me were two ankle straps. I also was thinking that I was pushing the limits with how fat I have become, plus I am doing this in China and what were the safety regulations like here, is it truly safe?

I stood on the edge for what felt like forever. They must have counted down for me twice but I didn’t/couldn’t jump. Finally the guy gave me a little push and that gave me the courage to jump.

   

It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. I don’t understand why people do this for fun. It felt like I was going to have a heart attack from all the adrenaline. Even when I got back on solid ground my legs were shaking. I now know that if I was ever to commit suicide I would not jump off a building.

After I bungee jumped we tried to find something that all of us could do so we found this mini motorcycles and rode around the park. Of course I had the slowest one but it was still enjoyable.

They also had a little zoo at the amusement park. Now I am by no means a hard core animal rights activist, as proven by the fact that I killed a pigeon, but the conditions at this zoo were absolutely horrendous. The animals were filthy and they were all tied to steaks in the ground with metal chains. But TIC (this is China) and I guess this is how it goes.

All in all it was an exciting day. As I was walking home I realized that I had horrible burns on my ankles from the ankle straps when I bungee jumped. Bungee jumping is one of those things I am glad I did but will never do again. It was just too nerve racking.

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Last Day of Classes

So today was my last day of classes. I was sad to say goodbye to all of my students, especially my Small Star classes.

Remember I mentioned that the Chinese aren’t really a touchy-feely people? So imagine what a goodbye must be like? A lot of awkward hugs (because they don’t really know how to give a good hug), handshakes, and waves goodbye.

I have had a great time teaching and it has been an overall great experience. Here are some pictures of my classes.

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