Monday, August 08, 2005

the end

well i figured when i got home that i'd have the time, energy, and desire to write a long, meaningful final post, sort of like clark's opening post. i was wrong. time i do have, but energy and desire, not a bit. the time change hit me pretty hard. i'm basically passing out around 10:00 pm, which is good for work i guess but cuts out the amount of time i have to write the only kind of post that would do this blog justice. one that would stand the test of time and make you laugh and cry.

so i'm not going to do that. instead, i'm just gonna say, this is it, the end, nothing more is coming, even from clark or durrell, neither of whom i'm sure still exist. anyway, i went to this cool little web site ( that turns url's into trees, and made one for this blog. a fitting last picture, i think.

tada! i hope you all enjoyed the blog as much as i enjoyed using it to forget that i was in china while writing. let me know if you want to see any pictures.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

always forgetting those titles

vietnam is a dangerous place. while i have survived the motorbike rides around hanoi, i have fallen victim to quite a number of lesser injuries. first of all, duc's dog bit me in the hand. then, i got a nice series of razor cuts down my forearm from a barnacle-covered rope while swimming. and finally today i realized after walking around for 20 minutes that the source of discomfort in my foot was a piece of glass that had punctured my sandal and was steadily slicing open the ball of my foot.

but all that has not put a damper on my time in vietnam. duc and i rolled out to halong bay on monday morning, and got there just in time for the rainy weather to clear, which is how it has stayed since then. halong city is a junky, expensive place, but we got to stay in the nicest hotel in town for free because duc's dad knows the owner. i think that maybe we were the only people staying there. i also had my first american breakfast since beijing.

the next day we took a boat tour of halong bay. the bay is quite spectacular. it looks like the scenery from guilin and yangshuo (see spring break update) but plopped in the middle of the sea. we rented out a boat with two people from france (waaay more tourists from france here than anywhere else), and tooled around with a stop at a semi-nice beach. we were planning to catch a high-speed boat to cat ba island, but ended up taking a whole other tour of the bay en route to cat ba because there are actually no passenger boats that run the route. anyway, cat ba was quite an amazing place, with the nicest beaches i've ever seen. the only glimpse of the interior of the island i got was on the back of a motorbike during a hair-raising high-speed flight from the southern tip to the northern tip (about 30 km). the interior is quite beatiful as well, and reminds me of a sort of smaller version of kauai.

the last two days in hanoi have been quite interesting as well. friday morning we attended the engagement party of one of duc's cousins (he has close to 7 million cousins i think). it is sort of hard to explain what went on, but was similar in a way to the chinese wedding i went to, just not quite as over the top (apparently vietnamese weddings are). there was a lot to do with the groom's family asking for permission to marry the bride and bringing gifts and stuff. i was also introduced by the bride's family as a guest of honor, which would have had more of an effect if i hadn't been the guest of honor for everything i ever attended in china. also, tonight (saturday) we went out to eat snake. it was at a restaurant in a small village outside of hanoi that specializes in raising and cooking snakes. the entire meal was made of snake, but the coolest part was when duc and i took shots of vodka that had been mixed with snake blood and contained a snake heart (about the size of a jellybean). then we also did shots made from the snake's gall bladder. most hardcore shot ever.

so my time in vietnam, and asia, is rapidly winding down. i fly out of vietnam on monday morning, stay overnight in shanghai, then fly home. so, unless something terribly interesting happens in the meantime, this will probably be my last post from asia. but never fear, dear readers, as i will be sure to do another picture post and maybe wrap things up. who knows, maybe clark will grace us with his deep post-writing skills for a final post. but i wouldn't count on it.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

for all you doubters out there, duc hasn't actually been pulling our leg this entire time. he does speak vietnamese.

maybe it's just because i've been in china for so long, but vietnam seems quite a bit different than its communist neighbor to the north. first of all, the government doesn't have the desire, the will, and/or the money to construct the sort of huge, ridiculous infrastructure projects that china has, nor is it in favor of tearing down large portions of the city to build bigger roads and buildings. the result? hanoi feels like a relatively small city. the streets are narrow and lined with trees and the buildings are generally only three or four stories at most. the effects of the french colonization period are overwhelming, from the european architecture to the cafe culture (both of which i appreciate).

duc's family lives in two stories of an apartment building on the edges of the diplomatic district in hanoi. the place is pretty nice, not as nice as the new chinese apartments, but it has a certain character of its own. duc and his parents live with his grandmother, some other guy who has some relation to them (uncle?), and a dog that barks at me all the time.

one unique characteristic of vietnam is the incredible amounts of motorbikes. there are barely any cars, but hordes of motorcyles. i have to admit, they are pretty fun to ride around on. duc and i took one out today to see the sites, which included several musuems, the old quarter, a dvd store, and some other places i'm too lazy to write about right now. i always read in articles in vietnam how frightening it is to cross the street. i have no idea what that's about. it's about the same as in china, except in china they have cars instead of motorbikes, which should be feared much more.

what else are we planning for my stay here? we're gonna head out to ha long bay and cat ba island, then come back to go to duc's cousin's engagement party (we'll see how that compares to the chinese wedding i went to). stay tuned for more updates.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

something clever to be changed later

so my stay in hong kong has just about wrapped up, and all i have to show for it is a new pair of sunglasses and a bad sunburn. but that's not quite fair. hong kong is easily my favorite city so far. besides the ridiculously hot and humid weather (i hear vietnam is worse), i think hong kong is perhaps the easiest city to be a tourist in. all the public transportation is easy to use, and they put up these signs all throughout the city with maps that tell clueless people like me how to find, say, the museum of art. also, everything is in english. i find you really learn to miss that in china. finally, you can get anything you want in hong kong, provided you're willing to pay for it, including indian fast-food, dental floss, and suncreen that doesn't unnaturally whiten your skin. i quite imagine that it is what shanghai will be like in another five or ten years.

oh, also, hong kong has style. china doesn't.

i'm not sure much interesting happened between kunming and hongkong. the train ride was actually quite nice, and included a brand new stretch with quite beautiful scenery. there was a whole group of women on the train going to some cosmetics conference in guangzhou. i couldn't quite figure out what their jobs were; it seemed like sort of an amco-type scam where they sign up to sell beauty products to their friends. anyway, they all ended up trying to sell stuff to each other and trying out eachother's make-up. the poor guy on the bottom bunk kept rolling his eyes at me the entire trip.

i didn't see any of guangzhou. i managed to get off the train and take the subway to the other train station where i got a local express train to shenzhen. shenzhen is china's most ridiculous city. (i might have previously given that award to lanzhou, which i now deem china's suckiest city). anyway, the train station is right next to the border, which is just overflowing with people from hong kong coming over to buy cheap crap and salesmen trying relentlessly to sell you cheap crap. the architecture is as bad as beijing's, but with even more sense of there being no rhyme or reason. beggars assault you at every turn, and everything is damn expensive as well. it's basically what happens when a bunch of rich people build a city with no rules. it sucks.

i'm up bright and early tomorrow to catch my flight to vietnam. hopefully all goes well on that front. i will update you all then.

p.s. i can actually read the blog here in hong kong, the first time since my very first post. i just want to say for the record that 1. even though i told you i couldn't read the comments i'm disapointed by the lack of them, and 2. durrell's scrolling picture thing looks horrible. good thing i couldn't see it in china or i would have kicked him off the blog.

Friday, July 15, 2005

gettin' it done

my brash decision making got the job the done. although it was pouring rain when i got out to the gorge, it stopped right away, and the entire hike the next day was dry, and even hot and sunny at parts. my only complaint were some clouds that perpetually sat on top of the mountains, making it hard to tell how tall they actually were. however, tiger leaping gorge easily has some of the most incredibly scenery in china. as the sign by the entrance says, it is "the most famous gorge in the world." i guess that's true, if you forget about the grand canyon and all three of the three gorges.

i met up with these three english guys about my age on the bus ride out there, and ended up doing the hike with one of them. the other two were hilarious, however. it was like half a day of a personal monty python performance. as with most conversations with foreigners in china, ours quickly turned how much we missed our food at home. i found out that, regardless of how much we like to make fun of english food in the states, they love it in england. below is one of my favorite quotes from the evening.

"scones have become a bit posh lately, haven't they? oh, but i still love a good scone!"

unfortunately, dave and ed became a bit enamored with the output of the six-foot high marijuana plants that were grewing behind the guesthouse, and didn't quite make our six a.m. departure the next morning.

it's been quite a long time since i've rapped at your all, and i sort of forget what has transpired in the meantime. i guess the last time i wrote a real post i was in kunming, to where i have just returned after a ten hour-long, quite horrible, sleeper bus ride. dali was a fun place, and i ended up actually spending five nights there, much more than i expected. i found this really cool guest house up in the hill behind the city and spent a few nights there reading all their issues of national geographic. i've found that since being in china i've really grown fond of that particular publication. i especially like their articles about a particular zip-code at the end of each issue.

but that is neither here nor there. my next stop before the gorge was lijiang, which was quite, well, crappy. the old city is a cute little place, but it feels like disneyland. in fact, lijiang had the weirdest collection of western tourists i've seen in china. there were, of course, a large number of young backpackers, but also a huge number of families with young children. i even saw an enormous group of rather obnoxious american middle-school kids.

actually the western backpackers in yunnan have been almost as interesting as yunnan itself. there are very few american backpackers at all, but hordes of israelis. apparently, they all go travel the world after their military service. also there are quite a few britians. but i am easily the youngest of any of the backpackers i've met. it seems that people don't really travel much while in college or university. they all just wait until they are terribly bored with their first job out of college, then quit and travel the world.

this post is a landmark: it is the last post that will be made in china proper. i have my ticket to guangzhou (damn expensive), from where i'll take a train to shenzhen, cross the border on foot, and then take the light rail into hong kong central. then i fly out on the 22nd to vietnam to meet the man-with-the-plan, duc. i'm damn excited to get out of here.

until then.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

the doldrums

nobody ever told me that it rains a lot in yunnan during the summer. and i mean a lot. it's been raining for the past six days. such a toerrent has really put a damper on my plans for hiking tiger leaping gorge, as the trail is extradinarily dangerous when it's raining, and they close the gates anyways. though it did just stop raining today. if the weather holds i'll be good to go for tomorrow. actually, screw it, i'm gonna run up there right now and stay at the trailhead if i have to.

wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


well, i figured out why kunming seemed like such an neat and nice and orderly city. it's because it is currently hosting the second annual GMS (greater mekong subregion) summit, an economic oriented meeting of the six countries through which the mekong river passes. in the true spirit of mayor giuliani in new york, the city of kunming swept up all the undesirable elements and flooded the streets with police officers. what's ironic is that all of the six countries in attendance are the home of totalitarian regimes (myanmar, laos, vietnam, thailand, and cambodia). so those attending the meeting are probably apraising china as an effictive police state as much as a developed economic power.

but that's enough chat for now, as i bring you what you have all been waiting for: pictures! in the interest of time, i've just captioned each with the location, so if you want to know more about a particular one, send me an e-mail and/or seek me out when i get home. i'll be happy to explain.

drum tower, xian
e'min ta, turpan
cross-desert highway, taklamakan desert
sunday market, hotan
id kah mosque, kashgar
karakoram highway
khyrgyz yurt, lake karakul
mogao caves, dunhuang
mingsha sand dunes, dunhuang
labrang monastery, xiahe
golden summit, emei shan
elephant bathing pool, emei shan
giant panda breeding research base, chengdu

Monday, July 04, 2005

oppressed on independence day

i don't really have any clever way to start this blog post so i'll just get down to it. i am now in kunming, the capital of yunnan pronvince, which is, in turn, the hotbed of backpacker travel in china. for whatever first impressions are worth, everything in this city is the best in china. the hostel is awesome, the streets are big and green and clean, even this internet bar totally kicks ass. my one complaint: there's no expat magazine, which is making finding a fourth of july party somewhat difficult. i may just end up setting off fireworks with some other americans i met and getting arrested, which, considering that my passport is currently at the vietnam embassy, might end up being a big problem.

the triumverate broke up in chengdu. tyler went off to shanghai to meet his family and clark split to head to yangshuo. neither are nearly as hardcore as me.

for our last week together, we went to emei shan and the grand buddha at leshan. emei shan was a pretty incredible place, though hot and humid as hell. it is a sacred buddhist mountain that was much larger than we thought. the lonely planet says you can hike from the bottom to the top in three days comfortably, which is total crap. we actually ran into durrell on the mountain, and he managed to do the above, but hiking 11 hour days.

anyway, there are a bunch of temples on the mountain, which aren't that interesting, but the scenary is quite cool, with a lot of tall peaks, sub-tropical vegetation, and a perpetual mist that makes everything seem mysteriously chinese. there are also a lot of monkeys, many of which are evil. there is one "monkey fun-zone" which employs about 100 people to protect the tourists from monkey attacks. i felt like i was in jurassic park at that point, except with monkeys instead of velociraptors.

afterwards we went to leshan to see the world's biggest buddha. it was big. there's nothing more to say about it.

back in chendu we ran into jeff, who you may remember from such earlier posts as "china grande" and "they may be very small, but there are a lot of them". we also went to see the pandas at their ultra-special research base in chengdu (which resembles a standard american zoo). it turns out that the panda habitat has (mostly naturally) declined in such a way that it seperates most groups of pandas, leading to inbreeding and the destruction of the panda's gene pool. most can't even procreate on their own. basically, without humans around, pandas would probably be extinct. also in chengdu i ate some full-strength chengdu hot pot (which made me cry) and saw a chinese punk band that was actually good.

that is all. the next post will have pictures, i promise.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

and now we play the waiting game

lanzhou is where dreams of great trips through china come to die. xiahe is where those dreams are reborn.

but first, an explanation of a small change in plans. we decided to cut out the fat of the xinjiang section of our trip, and so arrived in dunhuang about a week ahead of schedule. so that week has since been transferred down south to the land of very spicy food: sichuan. so all you out there tracking my trip on your wall-sized map of china please take note.

lanzhou might be the crappiest city in china. it's down in this valley along the yellow river, surrounded by these huge cliffs. but since the city has exploded in size much like everywhere else in china, it has stretched to about 20 miles long and only a mile wide. also, the drivers of the public buses seem to earn a commission or something, because all the conductors lean out the windows and try to convince people to ride the bus. it's also hot and polluted here.

but we managed to escape three days ago to xiahe, in gansu province, which is probably the best place in china (like anyone could ever know that). the small town is located in a river valley in the mountains that step up to the tibetan plateau (the tibetan plateau, and tibetan people, actually stretch far outside the boundaries of "tibet"). the monestary is the size of a small town, and is the second most important pilgramage point for tibetan buddhists outside of lhasa. the town is full of monks dressed in red robes talking on cell phones, eating out with friends, going to play basketball, etc. we took a tour of the monestary and got to see huge murals made out of yak butter, the monestary's medical school, and the grand hall, which was full of monks meditating (at least the older ones; the younger ones were more content to talk and point at the foreigners on the tour).

we also hiked up one of the mountains that rise up out of the river valley where we kept running into prayer flags tied up in trees and the remains of previous buddhist rites and ceremonies. after we got to the top, we had to run halfway down the mountain again because these five-minute thunderstorms kept rolling through. other highlights: seeing a bunch of monks having tibetan buddhist band practice down by the river, eating yak youghurt, rocking out to phil collins in the hotel restaurant last night, and meeting a monk who wanted to know how many pictures of the dalai lama we had (zero).

right now we're killing time waiting for our train to chengdu, where we might meet up with jeff of beijing and shanghai fame. we're not exactly sure what we're gonna do there, but seeing giant pandas is high on my priority list.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"look out! he's got a uyghur knife!"

dunhuang seems like a place that promotes blog posts. we rolled into town (and back into china proper) this morning into what must be a pretty substantial desert dust storm. there is no one out on the streets, the sky is brown, and my mouth tastes like dirt. so going out into the desert seems like a bad idea right now. the main draw of dunhuang is the ancient buddhist art in some nearby caves, and we're planning to go check those out tomorrow.

the karakoram highway was pretty amazing, and lake karakul itself was also nice, but nothing particularly special. we stayed with a family of khyrgiz people who make up most of the population up there and stayed in their yurt for two nights. i got pretty sick the first night up until we got back to kashgar, so unfortunately i wasn't able to go out hiking. but clark and tyler did, so they can tell you all about it. the lake itself is at about 3600 meters, which is almost 12,000 feet. so not the highest i've ever been, but enough to knock the wind out of you that's for sure.

on the road up there is this crazy place called sand mountain, which is right when the road levels off at the top of the mountains. at that point the river the road follows spreads out into this enormous wet plateau, and on the other side are these sand dunes that tower probably another few thousand feet up these icy mountains. it's like nothing i've ever seen. so i made sure to take some pictures.

back in kashgar we hit up the sunday market, which, i will have to agree with durrell, was a little overrated. it's a great place to do some tourist shopping, but doesn't even compare to hotan's market in terms of crazy central asian market fervor. funny story: we bought a few decorated uyghur (WEE-grrr) knives and then discovered while trying to get on the train that we weren't allowed to carry knives that big. but luckily we bothered the police enough that they let us stuff them in the bottom of our packs. luckily nobody on the train was attacked with a uyghur knife that trip, or we might have been in trouble.

not-so-funny story: we were split up in our hotel in kashgar, and i stayed with these two scottish guys. the first time i ran into them later that afternoon back in our room, i discovered that they had a substantial amount of money stolen from their packs. at first they understandbly suspected me, but i convinced them otherwise and we established that it was probably someone who worked there, etc. whatever. that's why i carry all my money on me, lock up my valuables, and don't leave more than a thousand english pounds in my backpack, even when i'm not staying in a dorm room.

so after two nights on the train we're in dunhuang, waiting for the weather to clear.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Summer Travels

Well it has been a while since my last post, and I am sorry that I have let you loyal fans down. But, after having a great semester in Hangzhou, I am no on my summer trip across western and southwestern China. Last week was the start of my trip and it included travels around xinjiang. I went to 4 cities. Urumqi, Turpan, Korla, and Kasgahar. Out of all the cities I must say I like Turpan the best and Kasghar was just ok. I have to say the Sunday market is way overrated. While, right now I am in Dunhuang getting ready to explore the Famous Buddha caves here and then I am off to the desert for some surfing on sand dunes. If I have time later I will tell you all about it. Well I am out, 100.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

i'm dreaming of a pastrami sandwich

muktar of turpan is the craftiest devil this side of baghdad. he immediately sized us up for what we were and then took us down. we went with him up the turpan grape valley, which was a pretty cool place, considering it was in the middle of that blazing desert basin. they dig these underground tunnel systems all through the mountains down to the ground water, then run them together down into the valley, where they grow a bunch of grapes.

anyway, muktar drops us off at the top, where we go in and find the suckiest part of the valley. we tell him that we want to walk to the bottom, which was beyond the scope of our original 100 yuan agreement. so tyler strikes this ridiculous deal with him: if we make it to the bottom in an hour and a half, we pay 130 total, if not, we pay 150. well needless to say, muktar was more clever than a barrell full of jackrabbits. as soon as that hour and a half pulled around he tore as up the valley to find us. once he found us, he tapped his watch and said, "i waited an hour and a half at the bottom for you." sullen and beaten, we rode in silence back into town. but we have to hand it to muktar, he's smarter than a bunch of foreign college students.

a lot has happened since i last wrote. we spent two nights in turpan, relaxing at these beer company sponsered fun squares at night. we were in urumqi for a day, then did a 22-hour bus ride across the taklamakan desert (second biggest in the world) to dusty hotan. in hotan we check out the large sunday market, which should pale in comparasion to kashgar's. then we headed over to yarkand, which sucks a lot, before arriving in kashgar today. much has happened, and more than i can/want to write here. highlights include: seeing every single part of a goat being sold on the street in hotan, climbing around the ruins of an ancient city called gaochang, and seeing a bunch of little chinese/uiygur kids doing coregraphed minority dances under a mao statue in people's square.

what lies ahead? first off, tomorrow we head up the karakoram highway, which enters pakistan, to check out the extreme mountain scenary (we stay on the chinese side, of course). then we get back in time to hit the kashgar sunday market, which is the biggest and best in all of asia. afterwards, it's off to the mountains in northern xinjiang. way far ahead includes tibetan monestary towns and possibly chengdu before heading down to yunnan.

thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


we made it as far as turpan at least. we just arrived at the second lowest place in the world early this morning, and have been walking around the town a bit since. it just got about too hot to handle, which isn't bad considering that it is now 10:45 (beijing time) in the morning, or 8:45 am by any standard notion of time. we arranged with a cab driver named "muktar" to take us to some places tomorrow, so we'll see how that goes.

according to tyler, a anthropology major and our resident expert on chinese minorities (he studied it for his one-on-one, though what he came away with was that all the minorities in china like to sing, dance, and love their chinese masters) xinjiang is made up mostly of hui and uigyers (that's almost definitely spelled wrong), both muslim minorities. we wandering into a market to get something to eat, and asked some guy what was in the pastry things he was making. he shouted "meat!" after we asked what kind of meat, he seemed to swell up and with a sweep of his arm shouted "lamb meat!" i guess it was more ridiculous if you were there, though the things tasted pretty damn good.

how has the trip been so far, you ask? just fine, i say. xian was actually a pretty efficient and cool city as far as i'm concerned. we saw the terra-cotta warriors, wandered around the muslim quarter and the city mosque, walked along the walls, and saw the forest of steles musuem, which is a collection of stone tablet-books. they also have a really well-developed sex industry, at least around our hotel.

our train ride from xian to turpan was pretty amazing, with a drastic change of scenary from cultivated planes, to what looked like northern nevada, to the biggest flat piece of earth i've ever seen. also, apparently none of the trains to xinjiang have air conditioning, which made for a lot of laying around being lazy. not like there's anything else to do on a train for 36 hours.

that's it. sorry no pictures this time around. maybe later.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


so this it folks. one part of my time in china ends and another begins. our graduation ceremony was this morning, and the language pledge ended, whereupon i discovered that our resident director has an incredible southern drawl. besides a speech by the representative of the university's international institute that included overt references to our studying in china helping develop china's economy, the ceremony was actually pretty nice, with an excellent dvd/video/picture slide show thing that documented our semester.

and what a semester it's been! as you can tell, clark, my co-author of this blog, was attacked and killed by a rare chinese land shark shortly after our arrival in china. this prevented him from ever making a blog post. a few weeks ago we also lost durrell during a trip to shanghai. last we saw of him, he was driving off in a cab with some french girl and a brick of opium the size of a mini-fridge. china weeds out the week, and only the strong can survive to sit in internet bars and post to some rarely-read blog. but on a more serious note, we all had an absolute blast this semester, and it's an experience that will affect us for the rest of our lives. i couldn't have been luckier than to be able to come to china this semester and make the friends i did. i'd just like to send out a big, official thank you to my mom and dad, whose seemingly bottomless pockets when it comes to my education and endless love and support made it all possible.

so what's up next for your fearless author? well i'll tell you. tyler and i are skipping town tomorrow and heading to xian for a night, then off to xinjiang, where the women flock like the salmon of capastrano, or so i've heard. in fact, if you mention any place in china, chinese people will tell you that the women there are very beatiful, except in hangzhou, where west lake eclipses all. after xinjiang, tyler and i are going to skit around the edges of tibet, down in sichuan where we split up and i venture into yunnan all by myself. afterwards, i'm off to hong kong for a few days, then i'm flying down to vietnam to meet everybody's favorite communist duc! then i'm back home on august 2nd. whew!

what does that mean for you, gentle readers? sporadic updates, no gaurentees about pictures until i get to kunming around the 4th of July, but some wild and crazy stories nevertheless. so stay tuned, and send me some e-mails to keep me entertained while waiting for buses and trains in dusty desert outposts. also, if you want anything from kashgar, the craziest market town in the world, let me know and i'll think about it.

yours, etc. BEN

p.s. here are some pictures of our last ping-pong class where we held a tournament. the first is me devestated after coming in dead last, and the second is our class (with our coach on the right) after clark directed us to look "really happy."

Sunday, May 29, 2005

totally bullshit

so the trip to shanghai on saturday was good for a number of reasons. first of all, i headed into one of the rich expat enclaves to drop of my luggage at a friend's house. the place is like american suburbia dropped right into china. kids biking down the streets, moms taking their dogs for a walk... very strange. next i headed to a propaganda poster museum, which is located in the basement of some random housing development. they had some wild stuff, with the one saying that the chinese people support the american blacks in their struggle for civil rights being my favorite. then i went to the shanghai museum, which is, by all accounts, a fine museum of ancient chinese history.

the best part however, was when i was sitting outside the museum waiting to meet up with clark and luke. after being accosted by some chinese students wanted to practice their english, a man with his wife sat down next to me and started talking to me in english as well. this was sort of strange, because he looked rather old, and people that old don't normally speak english, or are willing to use it to talk to people. but then i noticed that he wasn't really that old, he clearly just looked older than he was, and his english was perfect.

he apparently attended the shanghai foreign languages school in the early eighties, then in 1985, after something to do with connections to a japanese journalist and a chinese democratic activist (who is now penciled out of chinese history), he was arrested as a political dissident and held for 11 years. now, he can't get a job anywhere because he has effectively been blacklisted in chinese society.

for the rest of our conversation, he effectively railed on all aspects of chinese society, including the economic reforms, local elections, the press, and education, all of which he called "totally bullshit." i feel like i was really lucky to meet this guy. it's so easy to forget, sitting in the ultra-clean people's square in shanghai surrounded by foreign tourists and ultra-modern skyscrapers, how backwards and utterly screwed up the chinese political system still is. i feel like all of us have been lulled by how fun it is to live here in china, and we forget that the communist party's control has graver consequences than just hilariously stupid english-language newspapers.

clark and luke also ran into a guy in people's square who was drawing portraits. even though he was clearly very poor, his english was very good. he said he read the english newspaper everyday and clearly made up his own mind about what he learned everyday. it seems that the most free- and forward-thinking members of chinese society are either crushed by the government or are the poor and powerless. meanwhile, those getting an education are by and large brainwashed losers, wasting their time playing online games in this dump of an internet bar. i hope i'm just being overly pessimistic about my chinese counterparts.

in shanghai the eye of sauron is always watching:

Friday, May 27, 2005

sometimes i just want to know what time it is.

no more classes. yay.

this afternoon we took our final class trip out get our feet washed. as wierd as that sounds, there are feet washing places everywhere in hangzhou. basically, they wash your feet in some soapy mixture, then give you a foot/leg massage and a back massage. i sustained minor injuries during the back portion, which required the application of two band-aids in a cross like you see in the cartoons. the girl giving the massage said it was on account of my bad skin and the other employees in the room recommended that i exercise more, like tyler, so this sort of thing doesn't happen again. they sort of lost me on that last point.

another interesting point came when i looked at my watch and all the girls giving the massages thought i was extremely bored. we tried to explain to them that i just wanted to know what time it was, and they responded by saying, "oh, so what you mean is that you're bored."

i'm off to shanghai for the day tomorrow, maybe longer. studying for finals is for losers.

Monday, May 23, 2005

on your left...

i've written a lot since being here about the trips i've been on and some of the more unique things i've done, but i figured that with less than two weeks left in hangzhou, i should probably write a post about our campus, as it is where i spend the vast majority of my time here. so here we go.

the place is called Zhejian University of Technology, and it is the best state school in zhejiang province. it's located quite a bit away from the downtown tourist area, but is still within the city center. the campus is fully contained with two gates, north (back) and south (front). here is a picture of part of the campus from the top of the new classroom building. our dorm is one of the buildings to the left.

here is a picture of the classroom building where we have pretty much all of our classes.

below is one of the lanes on campus, with student's bikes lined up on the left. our dorm has a bike parking area on the first floor, but most have covered parking spaces across from the entrance to the dorm.

here are two pictures of the school's track. the second picture has the fairly new pool building on the left and the other athletic building on the right.

right across from the north gate is an area we generally refer to as "hou men" or back gate. it's basically a collection of really small restaurants, fruit stands, and internet bars that serve the student population. since we spend almost all of our time there at night, i took pictures of it at night. huzzah!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

when you write the title last, you always forget to write it

this weekend we had our last program organized outing to a mountain village area in western zhejiang province. the entire thing was somewhat dubious in purpose, and i think that lin laoshi, our program director, was just bored and wanted to take his daughter on a trip. needless to say, attendance was low.

so into the mountains we went. the first stop were two factories, one which made popular-but-very-difficult-to-eat nuts, and another which made a combination of brake pads and rubber powder from scrap shoe soles. here is a picture of discarded shoes waiting to be turned into a fine black powder.

both places only operate at night, because, in an effort to save scarce electricity in the mountain regions, the government lowers electricity prices at night. and before i thought that the textile factories operated all day! although these factories were privately owned, they are part of a government program to give people jobs or something. i'll be honest, i didn't quite understand that part.

afterwards we trucked off to one of our teacher's family's home, where we were treated to an awesome lunch. the regular food served at homes in china is not really all that different from what you get in restaurants, except that the flavors are a little more bland and they don't just use the choice cuts of meat in the meat dishes, but rather the entire chicken.

i'm gonna go off on a tangent here and talk about something i haven't discussed yet: MSG. chinese food is infamous in the u.s. for using the stuff, which purportedly makes the flavors much stronger, though people complain that it makes them sick and so many restaurants advertise not using it. not so in china! as i've learned in my cooking class, they put the stuff in everything. in jiaozi (dumpling) restaurants, they even put it out in the table to mix with your soy sauce and vinegar. i've come to agree with the chinese on this point. not only has there not been any proof that the stuff makes you sick, but MSG does actually make the food taste better.

anyway, we drove off to another village, where it seems like the entire town turned out for our arrival. we were then shown around by the town's mayor type person and the secretary of the local branch of the communist party. on sunday they were going to have local elections for something or other, which would have been really cool to see, but unfortunately we were not sticking around for that long. another interesting note: about 60 percent of the town had the same last name of xie, so i think we just found your family, ann! and also, the town was currently experimenting with ways to clean up the environment around them, and so they built trash cans and told people to stop dumping all their garbage in the river. what a good idea!

afterwards we went to a resevoir, where we had to fish for our own dinner. it was pretty boring, except when luke almost got killed my a fish hook and tyler and justin went for a huckleberry finn-type boat ride on the resevoir. the fish was good.

and that is all.

Jamie, Pauley Was Just Visiting. You Didn’t Have Do Him Like That.

So in the past three days, ZUT has been the stage for two tragic deaths, one that happened this last weekend and one that happened this morning. Today started like all my regular Tuesday mornings. I forced my self to get out of bed and threw on my head phones and slowly, real slowly, made my way to my Chinese Business Language class. Upon entry, I was greeted by my teacher and Clark, the only two in the class at the time and they were talking some nonsense about how today we were going to be having a visitor. It some inside joke between them that I didn’t quite understand, but soon with some tragedy would later find out. So as I sit down and prepare to get ready for class like a good student. Jamie enters the classroom and they start talking the same nonsense to them, about how we are having a visitor in class. So finally class starts, and I am like damn its hot today, and I ask to turn on the air-conditioner. Then, next something happens that I don’t quite understand. I turn on the air-conditioner for everyone, and like 6 seconds after I do this, Jamie turns on the overhead fan. Can someone please tell me why, someone would need to turn the overhead fan on full blast if I already turned on the air-conditioner. Because I just don’t get. But, anyway as soon as Jamie turns on the overhead fan, the guest that Clark and my teacher were talking about to come out. The guest they were talking about was this beautiful green and yellow bird, the looked like a parrot or something cool like that. But as soon as the Bird came flying out Jamie starts to freak out and instead of think rationally she starts running around the classroom screaming. What she should have been doing was turning off the fan that was now on full blast. I mean really who gets scared of a bird. But anyway the bird starts flying around the room scared with no place to land and keeps getting closer and closer to the fan. I run over to the fan switch to turn off the fan. Because Jamie was just to scared to do something simple like that or something. But because the fan switch was some tricky Chinese switch, I could not turn the fan off in time. By the time the fan finally got turned off it was too late. The bird had flown straight into the fan blade and was sent like a missile across the room. I am not sure if it killed but upon hitting the fan feathers were sent flying. And the bird bounced pretty hard off the wall and it hit the floor with a thud. I didn’t see the body but I heard there was also a little blood. But however, there was still a slight chance this bird could have still been alive. But the chance was pretty much thrown out the wind when Clark decided to pick up the bird’s limp body, wrap it in a plastic bag, and throw it out of the six-story window. So if the fan blade, the wall, the floor, and lack of oxygen didn’t kill it, I am pretty sure the fall from the six-story window killed it. Rewinding a little bit, after the bird hit the fan Jamie was a little upset, so I made sure that she knew that she might not have killed the bird, and that it was Clark throwing it out the window that actually killed it. But she didn’t seem to believe and was real gloomy all class. So to cheer her up we would give example sentences about how she killed the bird. The best part of class was when we had to do a short 表演 (Biao Yan, Skit). And the topic of our表演 was that I was trying to get a job at an insurance company for pet birds. We did the表演 in tribute to the bird and to cheer Jamie up. Lucky for Jamie, it was only Clark and I in class today, otherwise she would have really been made fun of. But to give this story some hope, at the break when we looked out the window to see if the bird was still there. We could not see the body, so maybe it was just playing dead and got up and flew away.

So remember if a bird is in your classroom don’t start the fan unless, you want some chicken nuggets.

On another note, Last night I taught my room to sing an Usher song, Simple Things. And today, I am going back to his English class to help him singing it. I will be sure not let you know how it goes when I get back.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Getting Jiggy With It

I don’t know if people still say that, I haven't been in The States in a while, but Friday night is the most fun I have had in Hangzhou in a long time. The started off with us going to a restaurant called, 外婆家 (Wai Po Jia, which means Grandma’s Kitchen). It reminded me of one of those posh upscale restaurants in downtown Seattle. They only difference between外婆家 and one of those posh upscale restaurants in downtown Seattle is that this restaurant happened to be in China and filled with what seemed to be millions of Chinese people. Apparently, it is one of the most popular restaurants in Hangzhou. It is probably the best restaurant that I have been to since I have been in China for about three reasons. One, it is by far the cleanest restaurant I have been to since I have been here, much cleaner than the restaurants behind the school (pictures of them coming soon). Two, the food was really good, maybe not the best food I have had but still good. And three it was cheap. How Cheap? Cheap as hell. I give very few recommendations in this blog, but if you are ever in Hangzhou you should definitely eat at this place.

After dinner, because our stomachs were full it was time to do the Kanye West workout plan. We all got right and hit up the club. The club we went to is called Casablanca, and it was crackin’. Since, I have been here I have not been able to find a bar that plays hip hop music. So a few months I gave up on the idea and stopped going to the bars. But last week this magazine was delivered to our rooms with all the hot things to do in Hangzhou. So, we all decided to go to Casablanca, to see what that be like. And this was one of the rare times that we actually got to get some of the Chinese roommates to go with us. So that made it a little more crackin. Because my roommate and his friend came out with us, I decided to treat them to some American drinks that taste much better than that rocket fuel they drink called Bai Jiu. I bought them some Long Island Ice Teas. They didn’t believe me when I said there was alcohol in it. When your used to drink Bai Jui, everything else taste like Cool Aid. I really lost my train of thought right now. So let’s go back to the beginning. The club was crackin’. And here is why, one, we got the Chinese roommates to go out with and teaching them to dance to hip hop music is hella fun. Especially, because they don’t have that much rhythm, it is kinda like trying to teach Clark to dance or something. Actually, no, no it isn’t they all had much more rhythm than Clark. Two, their was actually other people in the club that knew how to dance. I was like what, and there was actually a random Chinese girl in the club that knew how to dance, working her body like a snake. Another reason why it was cracking, was probably because I was getting right on shots of Bacardi. Bacardi always makes the party a little bit more fun. And the other reason why the club was crackin’, I forgot, probably because of the Bacardi shots, alcohol does that to you sometimes.

Saturday morning started off great because I was supposed to catch a bus at 8 am. But because on Friday night coming home late from bar, I set my alarm clock for 6pm instead of 6am, I ended up missing my bus and sleeping through Saturday morning. But it was still a great morning filled with drunken sleep. Even though, my Saturday morning was a good one, my Saturday afternoon didn’t start off so great. I woke up at about 1 pm to find one of my friends in my room bored, wanting to go out. So after taking a shower and getting dressed we were on our way to go out and have fun. On our way to the bus stop, saw a group of people standing in front of the cafeteria, around police tape. Because a group of people and police tap arouses one’s curiosity, we decided to get a closer look and find out what happened. Once we pushed our way to the front we come to see a big pool of blood in front of the stairs leading to the second floor cafeteria. So, I just thought that some one slipped on banana and fell down the stairs. But I was way off, I come to find out that an hour or two earlier some guy stabbed his girlfriend to death. I never thought that this kind of thing would happen here on this college campus. Seeing something like that brought me back to earth and made me realize that I need to be more cautious while I am here. But other than that, the day went well. That night my friend Ye Zhu took my roommate, me, and my roommate’s original roommates out to dinner, we all got to meet Ye Zhu’s girlfriend. And that was Saturday.

And today is Sunday, and the most that I have done today is write this blog. I need to go out and do something besides this, so I am out.

Oh, and can someone please tell Clark that eggplant flavored condoms isn’t as good of an idea as it sounds?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

home of the self-proclaimed king of trees

as promised, the huang shan post.

so this past week, tyler, clark and i rolled out early saturday morning heading west to huang shan. we got on the bus at the bus station at 7:30 am or so, only to discover that the actually station was only one of the places where people can board the bus. people were just randomly getting on the bus at different times, paying touts who had arranged the deal, and not the people at the bus station. it seems that, quite unlike the trains, the government is just another actor in the largely private sphere of bus transportation.

the bus trip sucked. they kept playing these horrible music videos on VCD, which included one collection of chinese pop songs set to what appeared to be american wet t-shirt contests and strippers dancing. the one bright spot on the entertainment aspect was thunder in paradise 3, starring terry "hulk" hogan, but tragically that was snuffed out for some reason. also, we discovered that even though there was a brand spanking new highway linking hangzhou to huang shan, the bus we were on elected not to take it. in short, what we expected to be a four and a half hour journey took about seven hours.

we finally arrived at huang shan, and were greeted with a spectactular weather and a view of the mountain, which is actually quite remarkable. here is a view that we took while climbing on that first day to the summit area.

we got to our hotel and were directed immediately to the cheap seats behind, where we met up with joy, who had come up earlier in the morning by the harder western steps route, which we later descended. After watching the sunset, we hit the sack early in order to get up at 4:30 am for the famous sunrise the next day. before going to sleep, this older korean guy who was staying in the same dorm room as us showed us all the places on the map we should see, which was every single place on the map.

after watching the sunrise, which was pretty good, but nothing spectacular, were started our trek down, and met up with the hordes of chinese tourists that had been pretty nonexistant the day before. but we managed to find our way through them to the highest peak. i thought the stairs up tai shan were killer (see post back in january), but the stairs at huang shan are just insane. they are carved out of the rock itself, and incredibly steep and hang out over nothing. here is a picture of tyler chilling among the chinese crowds at the top. see if you can find him.

we descended quickly after that, and caught the bus back to hangzhou. that bus was thankfully more comfortable, took the expressway, and had some decent movies, including johnny english, which was tragically cut short by a faulty disc. and that was that.

classes are dreadfully easy and boring. this week i embarked on an in-depth study of tic-tac-toe, and have reached a level of understanding of the game never before seen. but we have only two weeks left or so, then finals, and then it's off to shanghai, xinjiang, gansu, yunnan, hong kong, and vietnam!

that's it for now. as always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Head of The Class

Today, my friend Shan Ji sang the song I taught him. And I must say that he sang the song very well. When he was singing the song it sounded like he could believe that he could fly, but when the teacher asked him, what the title of the song was he said I believe I can fry. But whatever he did a good job singing the song. Before, I can to watch Shan Ji sing the song that I taught him, Shan Ji suddenly told me that the teacher of the class wanted me to make a presentation about American popular music. This was kind of hard because I have not been in the States for 5 months now, and I have no idea who is hot now. So I gave an introduction of some of my favorites; Usher, 50, R. Kelly, and of course 2pac. I told them all about why R. Kelly’s songs are popular. If you don’t know it’s because they are all about sex and they can get the mood right. I also told them that 50’s newest song, Candy Shop, was not actually about eating candy, this made them a little surprised. I think that with the introduction of R. Kelly and 50 the think that American’s only like to hear songs about sex. All the might think that because I said. Of, boy the way, even though this was an English class I was saying this all in Chinese. Yes, thank you, thank you, I will pop my only collar. But after the introducing 50, R. Kelly, and Usher and his recent songs about heart break, I ended with 2pac. You might not think this is true, but I let them know that 2pac has probably the biggest impact on music in the last twenty years. It was interesting talking with them, they told me why English is hard and what they thought was the biggest difference between American College and Chinese College. I let them know that the American College nightlife culture is little more fun than China’s. Basically, I told them all American College students do is drink. The seemed to already know that though. It was kind of fun sitting up in front of the class like was the teacher or even something more important than that, like a stripper or something. All eyes were on me.

After, the class was over I went to dinner with some of my Chinese friends and got drunk with them in celebration of My pimp Chinese friend Xiao Xiong. I never met a bigger pimp than Xiao Xiong. He had his girl and some work on the side sleeping in the same room and didn’t even get caught up. He is my hero. He also told his side work that he already had a girl, and she didn’t even care. His G is tight.

Well that’s all for today. Get at me.
I would like to congratulate my boy on his newfound mouthpiece and wish him good look on the biggest date of his life.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Why Is My Teacher Trying To Get Me Twisted?

I forgot, last Friday, my Class went to my teacher’s house for dinner. Before I get into the dinner, I have to explain why she wanted to get me drunk. A couple a weeks ago like normal, our teacher was asking us some random questions and the question of how much beer can you drink came up. When she asked me, how beers I said some really ridiculous number that I could never drink. I she would know that I was joking for sure, but for some reason she has never forgot what I have said. So on Thursday before I went to her house, she was bragging about how she was going to get me drunk and she challenged me. She said it was her goal to get me drunk. Because I don’t I don’t have come since, I thought she was playing and wouldn’t really try to do it, I was like yeah, I can drink hella beer, 10 to 15 bottles. I drink like water. So Friday rolls around and its time to go to her apartment, which to use an old school word, was dope. But anyway we chill out here for a minute. Some us make dinner, others watch TV (ME), and others go out to by ridiculous amounts of beer. There ended up being like 30 bottles of beer for like 10 people. That doesn’t sound like a lot but Chinese bottles of beer are little smaller than Forty bottles. So it was hella beer. We started eating dinner at about 8 o’ clock. We Chinese people drink, they don’t just pound bottles, they, for the most part drink with a meal. So the food came out and it was absolutely amazing. Everything on the table was delicious. I don’t think there was one thing that I didn’t like. But since, you drink with a meal, when your eating people make toast. And when you toast you are supposed to 干杯 (“Gan Bei”, which means dry your glass). And you can make toast with everyone or with just a one person. And since it was my teacher’s goal and later also Cahill’s goal, teacher and Cahill kept making toast with just me. They also toasted everyone else. But say the least I was getting drunk fast. I tried to counter and get my teacher drunk, but she can drink a lot. In the end because everyone was making toast, a lot people ended up drunk around the table. I never thought drink with a teacher could be so much fun.

Always remember, Ambition is like a frog sitting on a Venus Flytrap. The flytrap can bite and bite, but it won't bother the frog because it only has little tiny plant teeth. But some other stuff could happen and it could be like ambition.

It’s Been So Long, But The Kid Is Back

It has been a while since I last wrote, and in that time a lot of interesting stuff has happened, but to talk about that all I would have to write for hella long. So I will just talk about stuff I didn’t take pictures of.

But first and foremost I would like to say Happy Mother’s Day to all those mothers out there. Nuns’ keep taking care of all your kids out there.

So a couple of weeks ago, one of Chinese friends (Shan Ji) wanted me to teach him how to sing a Song in English. At first he wanted me to teach him how to sing a Linkin’ Park song, but that was too hard because all their songs are too fast or have two people sing at the same time. Next, I was going to teach him one of Usher’s songs but that was also to hard because Usher’s voice range is too high or his songs have too many words that don’t repeat themselves. So then, I decided hey, an R. Kelly song would be perfect. At first, I was going to suggest “Bump N’ Grind” or “Feelin On Your Booty”. But then I thought that would not be appropriate for his English class. But feeling I found the perfect song, “I Believe I can Fly.” Because I am not the best singer in the world teaching how to sing was hard at first but then I got the hang of it. And After a while he learned all the words and was singing almost as good as R. Kelly. He just had one problem though. I don’t know if you have seen Team America, the puppet movie by the South Park people. But anyway in the movie they have this part where the N. Korean Dictator sings “I feel so lonely,” except it sounds more like “I feer so ronery,” While my friend had the same problem, When he got to the “I Believe I Can Fly part, it sounded more like “I believe I Can Fry.” I tried to help and correct him but every time I corrected him, he kept saying fry so I was like close enough. He said his teacher was Chinese, and probably couldn’t tell the difference either.

The other thing that happened a couple weeks ago, was walking a long round Xi Hu with one of my friends and all of a sudden this flower lady came out of no where and tried to sell these roses. I was like I am cool, I don’t want none thanks, but she started to get real aggressive and grabbing me and throwing the roses in my face and stuff. I didn’t know what to do, but all of a sudden this under cover something. I don’t know if he was an undercover cop or something like an undercover cop but he came out of know where and saved me. He had some type badge that he flashed and I don’t know what he was doing there, I guess it was G-14 classified. But anyway the undercover and the flower lady started arguing about something in Chinese. While, they were arguing I slipped away just in class the flower lady started to try and sell me flowers again, because I had no clue what was really going on.

The last interesting, thing that has happened of some type of interest, happened like two weeks ago, for a class field trip, my class went to a middle school and got to listen to some of the classes and talk with the students. The first class that we went to was a first grade class. Those kids where intense, they all sat up straight with their hands together and really respected that teacher. And the stuff that they study was pretty hard, and they all spoke better Chinese them me. Half of the class I had no idea what was going on, expect apparently during different seasons the sun changes color. I am not sure why, I really could not understand the rest but in short those little kids where impressive. After talking with the first graders we got to talk with so sixth graders and ask them questions in English and Chinese. I would use Chinese when they could not understand my English. Apparently from what they said and what my roommate has said my English is hard to understand. So I guess, that I am really not good at any language. But anyway, talking with the kids was hard at first because they were all shy and didn’t really want to talk with me in English. But when I started to use Chinese they warmed up a little. And after so reporter finished interviewing me, they really warmed up to my and even started singing songs with me. It was a good time. Apparently, two other of class mates where interviewed by the report. I don’t know if we ever made it on TV. I have to look in to that.

So that is some semi-interesting stuff that has happened to me. The Gui Lin trip was filled with interesting stories. But I have to have something to talk about when I get back to the states so I will save that for when you see me.

Recently, My weekends have just been filled with going to Xi Hu and going to different parts that I have not gone to before and just exploring Hangzhou. Nothing too exciting.

Well I am out.

Shabooboo, what happened to you? Are you still alive, homie?

the life and death of the buildings behind our dorm

actually, mostly just the death of.

May 1
May 2
May 4
May 5
May 6
May 8
all this work was done without any sort of power tools, except for blowtorches for dismantling the metal supports for the roof. a small army of workers just rolled in, set up camp nearby, and went to work. it was pretty fun to watch.
i went to huang shan this weekend with tyler and clark. a post on the subject will come later in the week.
your friend in china,

Sunday, May 01, 2005

my garden has two, three grasses tops

another weekend, another wild trip to the chinese countryside to go hiking. this time the hiking was preceded by a morning in shaoxing, a sizable, pleasant, and largely boring city about an hour away from hangzhou that, as mentioned earlier, is the hometown of lu xun. we went to the "lu xun historic district" and walked around. this is a restored area that was where lu xun lived when he lived in shaoxing, and provided the inspiration for some of his stories. among the attractions are his former residence, a lu xun museum, his ancestral family home, the school where he taught, and the place where he used to go to drink huang jiu, or yellow wine. the stuff isn't bad, i didn't drink any while i was there, but my roommate had previously bought me a shaoxing huang jiu sampler set. the expensive stuff has a sweet taste, and is similar to an apertif, according to one of my friends. the weather was brutally hot and humid there.

below is a picture i took of the canal alongside the restored street. and below that is a picture of the hundred grasses garden, about which lu xun wrote something like "behind my house is a garden, and while in it is only grass, to me it is paradise." i don't know about that, but the garden is behind his house, and there is a lot of grass.

finally, a picture of me sharing a bowl of huang jiu and beer nuts with a statue of kong yiji, one of lu xun's more famous characters.

after lunch we hopped on the bus for the trip out to the mountains, during which i slept. when i awoke i found that all the humidity in the air was falling right on top of us, but after about ten minutes the rain let up and we started our incursion into the scenic area. the first step was a boat ride across a resevoir, which was great fun as the boats were piloted by guys who clearly got great pleasure driving little speed boats back and forth across the lake as fast as possible. at the other end we hopped into litle electric cars for a ride up the valley, after which we finally started hiking. here is a rather crappy view of the valley that we walked up.

the goal of the trip was to head to these small pools in the stream where we could go swimming. the weather was still so hot and humid that we practically soaking by the time we got there anyway. but the swimming was great fun. a few chinese tourists passed by and looked at us like we were crazy, which is pretty much the same look we get when we do anything. the ride back was fairly eneventful.

just about all of our roommates and students at school have gone home this week for the international labor day holiday, so it's gonna be pretty damn quite around here, though the tourists at west lake should be ridiculous. that's it for now.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

good times

hey, remember that time we went to the crappy dive bar in china, with all the really cheap warm beer, and ending up playing some "dare" type game with a group of chinese people, and clark had to spit beer in some random chinese guy's mouth? yeah, that was really weird.

update on today's shaoxing trip (with pictures) coming soon, i promise.

Friday, April 29, 2005

"i have nothing! absolutely nothing for sale!"

yo, sorry i haven't rapped at you in a while, but really nothing at all new has been going on around here. the weather has turned hot and humid, and so we're all just sort of lazing around the dorm or anywhere with air conditioning, which does not include this internet bar, so i'm gonna keep it short. most of the action has been on the home front anyway, but with room draw and course registration finally over, it looks like i'll have more time to focus on the neverending problem that is my summer plans.

tomorrow we're all heading out to shaoxing, a city about an hour from here that has some cool historical sites, and is also the birthplace of Lu Xun, who is china's most famous modern author (and whom i am willing to bet none of you have ever heard of). so hopefully i'll have some pictures and such for my next update.

in other news, if any of you have the opportunity to watch a movie called "taking lives" staring angelina jolie, run for your lives, because it is the biggest piece of crap i have ever seen. that is, aside from that b movie that durrell and i watched in our guesthouse in longsheng, that had something to do with christian warriors on huge trucks battling sick people that looked like those sand people from the first star wars, and there was some princess or something. man that movie sucked. but "taking lives" is also bad.

Monday, April 25, 2005

they may be very small, but there are a lot of them

this morning my conversational chinese class took a trip over to a nearby elementary school to watch a first grade class and then talk to some sixth graders. We each had about ten sixth graders bombard us with questions, most along the lines of "do you use chopsticks when you eat chinese food" and "who is your favorite chinese movie star," but the crafty little devils also slipped in questions about chinese relations with japan and taiwan, which i deflected with the classic "it's a complicated situation, and america definitely does not want to fight a war with china."

because the chinese are infinitely amused by all things having to do with foreigners, the local hangzhou television station sent over a reporter and cameraman to interview us. they interviewed me, among a few others, and asked fairly innocuous questions, such as "what do you think of hangzhou?" and "what do you think of chinese students?" but then they asked me what i thought of chinese music, to which i answered, "i actually don't like it, because i really like american rock music, and china doesn't have any rock music." (which they don't! they use the word for rock music, yaogun, to also describe the horrible pop music that they listen to. i actually don't know how they differentiate between "pop" and "rock" music in china. it all sounds the same to me.) the reporter quickly responded, "ha! ask one of your chinese friends to show you, and you'll discover that china has lots of very good rock music." so that is the story of how my attempt to criticize modern chinese music was whitewashed by the state controlled media.

this past weekend was pretty low key as everybody decompressed from their spring break trips. jeff from shanghai came down to visit us provincials on his way to huang shan, and we showed him what i hope was a good time, even though the weather kinda sucked. the west lake area was as crowded as i've ever seen it, and with the may 1st holiday (international labor day) coming up, it's going to be absolutely silly down there. i can't wait.

that's all the news for now. i'm off to figure out my classes for next year.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

spring break southern china 2005! wooo!

so it looks like i have the jump on durrell on this post. i'll leave all the messy details to him because he likes to write about that kind of stuff apparently, and i'm also very tired from sending just writing a family e-mail on the same subject. also these crap chinese computers are starting to piss me off.

in any event, durrell and i skipped down to guilin (limestone rock spires), yangshuo (more limestone rock spires and a whole freaking lot of westerners), and longsheng (dragon backbone rice terraces). we had two days of sunshine, both in longsheng, with just about corresponds with everybody else's pictures of guilin and yangshuo, where it always seems to be cloudy.

yangshuo is one of china's highlights, according to the lonely planet guide, which now rules over the city with an iron fist. all those hotels and restaurants and trips included in the guide are booming, and those that are not have signs saying that they damn well should be in the guide. i was very glad to get away from the place, and all the grungy foreign backpackers (like us) who couldn't speak a single word of chinese (unlike us).

longsheng, on the other hand, was awesome. the place is a collection of minority villages, enormous mountains, and 700 year old rice terraces that stretch from the valley floor to the tops of some of the peaks. we spent a day hiking from the village where we were staying to another and back, during which point we were the only tourists around. because we had no map, only our wits, we had to ask every person we met if we were going to right way. most of them told us we were crazy to try walking ourselves, then immediately offered their guiding services. however, after some gently prodding most gave in and pointed the way. that night durrell got sick. i think it was from dehydration, but perhaps it was from the bottle of water he bought in some random house
that was covered with animal excretement when we got lost. who knows.

i am now back in hangzhou, and madly scrambling to finish this post before it starts raining and i have to ride my bike back to the dorm in the rain. below are pictures.

durrell and the trip leader on the day we got to longsheng. we decided to ditch the group of slow people from hong kong and go off by ourselves, and she, inexplicably, decided to join us.

durrell on the boat near yangshuo.

me free-soloing a 5.13b in guilin, which i later dubbed "total b.s."

durrell being directed in taking pictures by an old couple in guilin. the city is in the background.

that, i believe, is all.

Friday, April 08, 2005

pictures added

so i slipped that picture back into my last post. it should be showing up by now. and, as an added bonus, i included a picture of your favorite person (me) walking down a path in this bamboo forest/buddhist shrine area type thing yesterday.

note to elise: i finally got the postcard, but apparently there was a whole stack of mail in the mailroom that somebody forget to give to us, so i'm not really sure how long it took to get here. thanks all the same.

Elise you are my favorite nun, and I love you, and want to marry you, and make lots of babies, and stuff.

Elise come on down, you have just one the special prize. I don’t know what that prize is yet, because I have not bought it. But I am sure it will be around five dollars when I do buy it. That is a whole 40-Yuan. You won the special prize because you are the only one to care enough to write me a letter of some sort while I am here. My own family won’t even write me. Elise, I love you. I framed the letter and it is hanging over my bed right now.

While this weekend, Golze and I will be taking a trip to the beautiful province of Guangxi. I don’t actually know if it is beautiful but I have heard good things, like, Guangxi is beautiful. Are plan is to stop in three cities Guilin, Yangshuo, and Longsheng. So if you don’t hear from us for a really long time, send the army to this area.

On another note, I was cracking at this girl. And we were taking having a good time. And she reached up to scratch her head, right then I discovered that she had more hair under her armpit than I have on my head. I almost got sick on myself. But being the composed and calm young man that I am, I just swallowed the little bit of vomit that came into my mouth. This gave me a new appreciation for American girls, or just girls that shave their armpits.

On that note, I’m out.

And don’t forget, if you don’t hear from us, send the army.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

When Monkeys Attack

This weekend I went to my roommate’s friend’s house. My roommate’s friend’s name is Shan Ji. Four of us went on the Journey, My roommate (Hao Nan), Shan Ji, Huo Ji, and me. Shan Ji is lives in a small Nong Cun an hour outside of Hangzhou. The place that he lives is known its plentiful bamboo forest and its…ah, well its known for its bamboo forest. Oh, the place is called An Ji. We got to on An Ji on Friday night, and his mom prepared a wonderful dinner, using the local bamboo in many of the dishes. I must admit that bamboo taste pretty good. After, dinner we didn’t really do much but goofy around, because it was really. But, we did make a small trip to Shan Ji’s grandpa’s house, where I got to try for the first time, Qing Yuanzi. Qing Yuanzi are this small green balls, that come in sweet and salty flavor. Personally, I prefer sweet. So, after chillin at his grandpa’s for a little while all went back to Shan Ji’s house and played cards for push-ups. I ended up doing a lot of push-ups. But that’s ok because I am hella buff now. After that we just went to bed.

The next day, we woke up early to go hiking. But first we went to Shanji’s mom’s store to get some supplies. This is what her store looks like:

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And here are some pictures of the town.

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After getting the supplies and seeing some of town we made our way to Long Wang Shan (Dragon King Mountain). When we got to the top of the mountain we saw this cute little monkey sitting in the middle of the road. But as the car we came in approached it, it ran up a tree. When the car finally stopped, I was like I got get a picture of a Chinese monkey. I have never seen a Chinese monkey before. Here is what the little monkey looked like:

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So we got out the car and took out some food to try to get the monkey to come to us. As soon as the monkey saw that we had some food to give him, it bolted right for us. But before he bolted right, I think he gave a signal to the rest of his buddies, because like 8 monkeys came out of nowhere, trying to get some food. As soon as we gave the first monkey some food the monkeys started to get aggressive on us. And demand more food. Here is one of the monkeys in his attack position:

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When, I was taking this picture I didn’t realize this was his attack position, I just thought that this is where he liked to hang out. If I had known that is where he started his attack formation, I would have run away like a little girl, which I did later. I never thought that Chinese monkeys all knew kung fu. So, when we gave the first monkey food, they saw that we were pulling the food out of these bright red bags. Once they realized where the food was coming from that is when they made their move. The first monkey attacked one of the red bags, doing so type of ninja back flip into a roundhouse kick sending our bag full of bottled water flying. And the rest of the monkeys began to attack us and tried to attack the other red bags we had. Here is a monkey attacking Huo Ji:

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The only monkeys that didn’t attack us were a mother and her child.

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These two were the only ones that I liked, just because they didn’t attack us. After learn that all these monkey’s ran away when you picked up a rock, we finally got them to get away from us or so we thought. As we naïvely began making our way up the mountain, we started to realize that we were not alone and that the monkeys were hot on our trail. Here the monkeys tracking us down like Navajo:

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I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but the monkey in the front is looking the other way to make it seem like he is not following us. I know what you are doing you stupid monkey. But after using some sticks and rocks, the monkeys stopped following us. When finally got to the top and saw that there were no monkeys around we decide to take a lunch break and enjoy the scenery. After enjoying a peaceful lunch break, we came out our hiding place to find this:

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A damn monkey waiting on a wall for us to come out. Lucky for us, this time there were only two monkeys. But because during the eating process some of the food that I was eating did not make it to my mouth, I had some left over food that hit the ground to give to the monkeys. With sticks and rocks prepared we began to try and feed the monkeys again.

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Here is Shan Ji, hella scared, trying to feed a monkey. After giving the monkeys all the food that hit the ground we went down to were the river was and looked at the cool scenery around there. The monkeys followed us all the way to the water and were like screw this, I can’s swim. And then they left to never be seen again. The area that we were in was full of waterfalls.

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The place was very beautiful. And because it was a hot day, my roommate and his friends all decided to go swimming.

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But because the water was flippin freezing, they only made it to as far as the waters edge. But to them it still counted as a nice refreshing swimming. I don’t know how that works out. But anyway, the scenery was cool and full of rocks, trees, and water. It was basically full of all the things that make scenery really nice. In honor of the monkeys, my roommate and I decide to take a monkey picture.

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After we finished climbing that part of the mountain, we decided to climb a different part of the mountain. This part of the mountain path was ridiculous. It seemed like when they were making the path for this part the mountain, they decided to just throw some rocks down and if the rocks made stair they were like cool good work, and if the rocks didn’t make stairs, they were just like fuck it, close enough. Walking on this path was scarier then the monkeys. Because the path was so bad we decide to make our own way up the mountain.

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It was fun going up our own way because; going up our own way was fun. I don’t know how to explain it, it was just fun. The path we chose was just walking on the huge boulders in the middle of the riverbed. Going up this was good because we got to see all the small waterfalls that the huge boulders formed.

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Going up the path was fun but going down was not so fun. That’s only because the rocks were slippery as hell and gravity ended up pushing me into the river. Fortunately only my feet got wet. After we finally getting down the mountain we were crazy hungry. We went to Shan Ji’s friend’s house for dinner. Her name is Zhang Xiao Yan. She lives in a more villagie part of An Ji.

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Her house was a small little Chinese nong cun type house. It was really cool. Right outside of her house she has a bamboo garden.

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And if you walk through her bamboo garden you can find a field of You Tai Hua (a yellow flower that they use to make oil for cooking). This is me hiding in the flowers, can you find me?

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If you have not been able to find me yet, I am in the middle. I know I blend in well. After exploring the fields around here house it was time to eat.

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The main dish in the middle used some of the bamboo from right outside of her house. The main dish was hella good. It actually was all good food. After dinner we just stayed and hung out for a little. And jumped over a wall in the middle over here courtyard. I mean what else would you do after dinner, but jump over a wall.

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After jump over the wall a couple of times, it was time to leave. We all went walked back to Shan Ji’s. And ate some more of those Qing Yuan Zi. This time I helped out in the kitchen. Here I am helping keeping the fire going so that the Qing Yuan Zi could get steamed.

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Actually I only did this for about ten minutes before I got fired. I guess I was not keeping the fire hot enough or something. After losing my job, I went to go play mahjong. I must say that since I have came to China my mahjong skills have increased.

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Because I was kicking their ass in mahjong. It was not until, the freshly made Qing Yuan Zi arrived did I start losing. That was only because I was distracted by the food. But after Mahjong was over we all went to bed for the night.

The next morning Huoji and I woke up late. Because we woke up late, my roommate and Shan Ji had already gone somewhere. So Huo Ji and I did some exploring on our own. We found a pretty cool tea field and a Chinese bamboo mill. Because in China trees are not so plentiful, they use bamboo instead of wood for a lot of things. And also the bamboo industry in China is big because, the giant panda’s love their bamboo. Here are some shots of the tea field and the bamboo mill.

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After doing a little exploring it was time to go. And we got a ride back to the city part of An Ji. We just hung out there until it was time to leave. And that is pretty much my weekend.

On a completely different note, Golze and I finally played shuttlecock. Let’s just say that it ended with me, as the Chinese say, trampling him.