Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sometimes there are just too many things to do

So I havent updated this in a while, largely because updating a blog is something one does when bored and life has been far too busy for that recently. right now i should be getting ready for work, so this will be a list update. complete sentences don't belong in the 21st century:

1. school is awesome, my chinese is a lot better and improves daily, i practice characters for about 1-1.5 hrs per day and write and recognize better than anyone in my class (sorry, gotta floss sometimes)

2. work is good, sometimes stressful

3. bikeriding in china is amazing and annoying at the same time. i bike about 1 hr per day, maybe 10 miles or something

4. chinese food is great and without even trying ive lost 20 pounds. probably the smaller servings, lack of dairy and exercise and sweating all the time.

5. its still summer in chengdu. there have been 2 great storms the last two nights and this morning i had to ride my bike thru rain and flooded streets (about 1-1.5 ft of standin water).

6. i love china and plan on being here for a long time. at least that is the thought for the present.

7. im off to visit a friend in guangzhou friday, then shenzhen sunday, usa tues for my brother's wedding for a week, then back thru guangdong (the province shenzhen and guagnzhou are in) before coming back to chengdu, then back to the grind until sometime in january. itll be intense but day to day life is great and itll allow me to save some money.

8. stay in touch. email me at

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Studying and Teaching...the Beginning

Tuesday Sept. 9 2008

Well its been a while. Let me think what I did last week.

Wednesday I don't remember doing a whole lot, other than playing poker and again making some money. My white, soon to be pollution-colored, Red Sox hat has proven itself a totemic luck charm. Nate, Rick and I got xao kao (BBQ) after the game and then went home.

Thursday I think I was also pretty lazy, I think I watched a couple movies and went to bed pretty early.

Friday I met Ken (the translation guy) at a job and we did about three and a half hours of work on the Tibetan horse racing video. He then took me out for lunch, we had some really good Sichuan food, and talked about his business, Chinese generational differences and a little bit of politics. He has become a good contact and I look forward to doing work for him in the future.

Friday afternoon I came back home and relaxed, hung out with Alex and Rick a bit. We went out for dinner with Eli, who has lived in Chengdu for a while and will be working in Kunming for 3 months as Captain Morgan. We went out to Dave's Oasis for a drink and then went to Cafe Paname, where I tried to meet up with a Chinese girl I met a couple weeks ago. She was busy so I hung out at Paname until way too late, it was the most crowded it's been that I've been there.

Saturday I slept really late, was wait-listed for soccer and it was really hot and gross, so I ate at Pete's Tex-Mex, which was better than I expected, about the same quality as an airport burrito. I went home and watched some Trailer Park Boys and took a shower. I basically wasted the afternoon waiting to go to Kevin's party at his place. I went over to Alex's and chilled with Eli, Callum and Alex for a while, then met Rick and Kari to grab a cab to Kevin's.

The party was on the roof of an apartment building that houses the foreign English teachers. There were quite a few people there and the breeze was nice on the 7th floor. There were some pulled pork sandwiches, a large bowl of punch and we all brought beers. After socializing for a couple hours, Rick, Kari and her friend and I went to meet Eli and Callum at Zoo, a club that Eli's girlfriend works at. We hung out there for a while and everyone else was going to go home so I called Dwayne and had him meet me out for another drink. Another late night, in large part because I knew it was the last weekend I had before school started.

Sunday I woke up tired and laid around pretty much all day. I had some Western food delivered, watched some more Trailer Park Boys and did some laundry. I met up with Alex and Eli and we got Rick on the way to the bowling alley. Alex and Eli have a deep-seated rivalry in bowling and it was pretty fun to watch. Rick and I played a few games (on our own lane) and bowled pretty average. I broke 100 one game. There will be more bowling in the future. We went back to Alex's house and chilled after that and I noticed it was 1 so I went home.

Monday was my first day of school and work. My class has six students, including me, 3 Americans, 1 German, 1 Philippino and my friend Andy from Scotland. Monday I had class from 10 to 12 and then from 2 to 4, so I walked to school (about 25-30 minutes), had reading and writing class, walked to Alex's, ate lunch, walked back to school, had listening class, walked to work (about an hour). I work in downtown, on the 25th floor of a huge building. I taught three classes, one of them was a one-on-one, the other two were 3 and 5 students. The kids speak English well, and are between the ages of 16 and 40. After work, I took a cab home and talked to my parents for a little while before falling asleep.

Tuesday I walked to school, class from 8 to 12, reading and writing then pronunciation class (very difficult, a real task-master of a teacher), then Andy and I walked back to his apartment (just down the street from me). We ate some jiaozi, played winning eleven for a while, then I talked with Dwayne about his bike and tried to unlock it. It appeared rusted shut, so I had the bike repair guy add some oil (ja yo! Ja yo! - same as the cheer for Chinese teams), which also didn't work, so he offered to cut it off, borrowed an electric saw for cutting metal from next door and had the lock off in about 3 minutes, then he sold me a new lock (35RMB), pumped up my tires and off I went. I went home for a bit, Rick came by and we chatted for a while, then I rode my bike to work. Riding to work takes 20 minutes, riding in a cab takes about 15. The bike riding was really fun, tons of two-wheeled traffic in the bike lanes, it also helps to get to know the streets. Classes are good, I really enjoy the teaching, getting better at it already, etc. I biked home then met up with Eli at Middle Bar for a drink. We had some beers and chatted about music, listening to my ipod on the bar stereo, then went to Zoo. Rick came as well and we had a couple beers and then ate some shao kao (Rick corrected my spelling on this one) then slept.

It's good to be busy, I really love my life in China right now, a good balance of learning and teaching. The old adage about living abroad (you learn something every DAY) is proving true. Chinese is improving, social life is great, etc.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The mountains and cold weather!

September 3 2008
I grabbed a cab around 720 and met Rick, drove to the bus station up north and bought our tickets. The bus was nice and uncrowded so I swiftly drifted off to sleep, aided by my ipod. I woke up as the road became rough, about two and a half hours outside Chengdu. We had hit the earthquake zone. We were traveling northeast and took the eastern way around the epicenter of the earthquake. The roads were torn up, hit by rock slides, bridges knocked out and temporary ones caused severe bottlenecks. We made it to Pingwu in five and a half hours, passing tons of blue-roofed temporary housing. Pingwu lies in a valley in the Minshan mountains, on the way to Wanglang and Juizhaigou. The Minshan mountains form a bridge between the Tibetan plateau and the Sichuan basin.

Once we arrived, we made contact with the local office for the reserve and then ate some lunch. We eventually found a hotel and dropped off our bags and it was too late to visit the temple so we decided to scout out a hike. We climbed up a ramp through the forest on the hill behind our hotel and made our way to a small temple, surrounded by refugee housing. We found another trail from there, a staircase climbing the ridge. Five pagodas stood along the way and after about an hour of climbing up the hill we reached an electricity tower. An old man came up with us, who lived on the hill among his fields. I'll post a picture of the terraces in the hill. Also, a guy selling magazines marched up with us, talking with Rick a lot. He also thought I looked like an immigrant because I'm tan.

At the top, the old man left us and we talked with another old guy leading his bull. We walked down the mountain road and asked the magazine-seller to come have dinner with us but he refused. We got dinner at a Hui/Sichuan place and then went back to the hotel room to sleep. Pingwu is a city of 20,000 people and tons of refugee housing. They're the buildings with the blue roofs. The air was cleaner and cooler (slightly) but not too much higher than Chengdu.

Saturday we woke early and ate baozi (dumplings) and walked around to the temple (pictures posted). We caught a bread car (a van) to a Baima village on the way to Wanglang. The Baima are a minority subgroup of Tibetans. They are known for bright dress and have recently tried to develop tourism in the region but the earthquake has been terrible for them. We waited in the village for twenty minutes trying to hitch a ride, then decided to start walking. We walked along the road for 45 minutes before hitting a dam and climbing up the hillside. We saw a car and hailed it, got a ride all the way to the reserve compound, a little under two hours more in the car. We rode along an artificial lake in the mountains, created by the dam in 2003. It had beautiful green water, lying in the lee of the green, forest-clad hills. Rick and I were very glad we caught a ride.

On arriving, we found the park empty and the employees largely unhelpful: no nature guide, no advance notice we were coming, etc. So it seemed there was a disconnect in communication between the office in Pingwu and the park employees. Oh well. We hiked a short eco-trail and came back to our room.

Wanglang is interesting in that it was created in 1965 as a nature reserve, making it one of the oldest in China. Wanglang sits between Juizhaigou and Huanglong, both National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage sites. They are far more popular tourist destinations than Wanglang and the three parks sit on the spine of the Minshan mountains in a unique eco-system in the world.

WWF helps provide some of the funding and surely had an influence in the eco-trails. Unlike most nature trails in China, an eco-trail is made of wood, not concrete, and when trees fall over the path, they are left to lie there and decompose. This is pretty cool for the ecosystem but a bit of a pain when having to crawl under fallen trunks. The park was wet from days of rain but a lot cooler, about 65 in the forest during the day. The trees are mixed-conifer forest in the valley, as it was partially logged earlier this century. The forest felt a lot like the Pacific Northwest.

We ate a quiet dinner with the employees, no other guests, played some cards and went to bed early, reading and then sleeping for a long time in the quiet, cold mountain air. Our room was awesome, 60RMB per night, with a great bathroom (better than in our apartments in Chengdu), tasteful wood furniture, separate bedrooms and electric blankets on the beds. The beds were also super comfortable.

On Sunday we ate lunch, then got a ride to the end of the valley, where we saw the craggy mountains, hiked a couple trails and then walked about 10 km along the road back to the compound. It was a tiring afternoon and we were glad to eat a good hot meal. We saw a vole, horses (the Baima have grazing rights in the park), a lot of birds and a field-mouse. The forest at the end of the valley is virgin forest. Most of the tall conifers are over four hundred years old. We had dinner back at the lodge, played some cards and saw the stars, then slept like the dead.

Monday we ate lunch then paid a guy to drive us past the Baima villages and to a main road. We hitched a ride in a cabbage truck back to Pingwu. It took about 2 hours and I read the whole way, following the same river that ran as a stream through Wanglang. In Pingwu we walked around a while, ate some corn with some local farmers and chatted with them, mainly about boxing, then at dinner and got a massage. After that, to bed in an awful hotel room (but only 30 RMB for the night).

We grabbed the bus yesterday, overcrowded and lots of Chinese puking both on and off the bus. We got back to Chengdu around 2, then cabbed home and played soccer at 530. My electricity was off in the building, so I went over to Alex's before soccer. We beat the Chinese pretty well and had a couple French guys play for the first time. We grabbed a beer at the Leg and Whistle afterward and had pasta from next door (not bad), then I went over to Alex's after a shower and watched True Romance.

This morning I got up and took the bus to the university to get my books and schedule. It went well, I met another American who will be in my class and then walked back towards home. It'll take about 20-25 minutes on the bus and 30 if I walk so I'll be looking into buying a bike soon. I grabbed a coffee and chatted with Terry at the Coffee Beanery, then came home. I watched Hot Rod, which was pretty funny, then got my work schedule: 6 to 9 pm, Monday thru Friday at Web. So it'll be rough but I'll make enough money and stay on a serious schedule during the week. Unfortunately, no more Tuesday soccer for me but I'll still have Saturdays. I guess you've gotta work sometimes. More updates as things progress, but I'm excited for a week with structure. Maturity.