Life in Zwickau

Well, I said I’d keep my blog going, but I sure didn’t keep my promise!

I left off the day before my first day of work, many moonths ago. Since then I’ve become a real 8-5 office worker, with my own little desk and giant computer screen. Things have been slow going, but I’ve had smatterings of work to do here and there. A lot of the time has been spent studying German on my own during down time in the office, and educating myself on business terminology and some basic concepts. Every morning I take the bus to work, and every evening I walk 2 kilometers home. My colleagues are nice, but I’m still trying to figure out this Germanness I can’t quite understand. Sometimes I think everyone is cold and distant, but then a second later it doesn’t seem like it at all. Confusing for an effervescent American, to say the least!

Snowy Zwickau

Snowy Zwickau

Some facts about Zwickau:

-It’s got about 90,000 people

-It has 64 registered brothels (as told to me by our cleaning lady, because there happens to be a brothel across the street from our office. I can see all kinds of people going in and out all day from my office window…)

-It is located in old East Germany, an hour from both Leipzig & Dresden and about 2 from Prague!

-People don’t really speak English here, like in western Germany, but I’ve been told a lot of people can still speak Russian from learning it at school when they were young.

-Everything is closed on Sundays, except few restaurants (a federal law in Germany, apparently)

-German food consists mainly of….meat, meat, potatoes and meat. The meat section in the grocery shop is probably 3x larger than the veggie section.

Living here has been interesting, and still quite a big change after living in Beijing, a city of 20 million. My first few weekends I forced myself to go out at least once and talk to as many people as possible, to try to make some friends (or should I say, acquaintances, as the Germans take the word ‘friend’ rather seriously). I came across a little bar on the main square (Hauptmarkt), which had a few people milling around drinking beers who turned out to be pretty friendly. They learned my name and over the first few weeks I’d go back there just to dampen the loneliness of being in a new place. It really is a nice thing to hear a big ol’, ‘Hallo Aimee!’ when you start feeling alone!

The first weekend after I started work, my colleague and his girlfriend brought me to the Leipzig Zoo and tried to teach me animal names in German, but I promptly forgot all of them, except the word for shark (Hai), which sounds like the Chinese word for ocean (海).

The next weekend I went back to Leipzig on my own to meet up with a Danish friend from China who arranged a tour in Europe for a Chinese punk band called Demerit. At first I couldn’t find my friend, and I spotted some Chinese guys (easy because it was a a room full of German punks), and just started speaking with them in Chinese. It turns out they were the Demerit guys, so we waited for my friend to come back together. It was good to have a chance to speak Chinese again, and I forgot how comfortable I had gotten in China, and how strange Germany really seemed to me at the time. The show was good and in the end I met a nice guy from Iran and he and I went around to some other places, until I decided to call it a night, because in the morning I was going to get up early to go to one of the big Leipzig flea markets.

IMG_3751small

The main indoor hall at the Leipzig Agra Flea Market

Over Halloween I went to see my good friend Sven in London. Hadn’t met up for about three years, so it was great to see him again. He’s probably the best tour guide anyone could ever have, because he knows everything about everything. We walked all over the place and saw some neat things. We also ate some British food that looked rather questionable, but tasted pretty good.

Looks questionable, tasted good. Mmm Meat Pies...

Looked questionable, tasted good. Mmm Meat Pies…

One of the following weekends I went out and met a new friend, who is pretty great and doesn’t live in Zwickau but comes there every weekend. So every weekend after that, without fail, we hung out until I went home for Christmas. He sells hot-dogs sometimes on Saturday nights so I went to sit in the booth, drink beer and badger the customers in broken German. We would take turns running into the nightclub and dancing for a bit then running out to sell hot dogs again.

My friend in the greatest hot dog stand known to mankind.

My friend in the greatest hot dog stand known to mankind.

After that, I went home for Christmas and stayed with my family for about 10 days. It was good to be home after a year and a half, and especially good to be there for Christmas, after 5 years! Went hiking with my little brothers, shooting with my dad, and lunch with Lulu and Erik, but mostly just hanging out at home with everyone. I went back to my high school to talk to some students because they have a Chinese language program and about 60 Chinese exchange students at the school. I wanted to sit in on a class and talk to the students about the things they can do with their life if they keep up learning the language. It was pretty fun and the students were great to chat with. Was nice to see my old school and teachers, too!

We had two of my old friend’s families come by one Saturday for dinner, and mom and I went wild with decorating things. I’m really proud of the mossy things I made, so I’ll post it here:

Mosssssss

Mosssssss

After the holiday, I was supposed to fly back to Berlin on Sunday, arrive Monday and fly to Copenhagen on Tuesday to see my old Danish roommate from China, however I stupidly bought the cheapest flight I could find. It was 20 hours including 2 layovers (Boston – NYC – Heathrow – Berlin). My first flight was cancelled and apparently although you book it through one carrier, they might stick you on another and claim no responsibility if it’s late. My first flight with American Airlines was 3 hours late into JFK, so I missed the flight to London. I was told that the next flight I could get on was British Airways  about 20 hours from then. I asked if they would supply a place to sleep and they pointed to my fellow passengers hunkering down for the night in the warmest corners of the airport terminal. I went back and forth between the AA and BA counters for a while, got my ticket re-booked twice but not really sufficient to help me catch my flight to Copenhagen.

I found a spot under a giant Christmas tree in the departure’s hall and curled up next to a hairy blonde Norwegian family. I didn’t get much sleep so I decided to stay awake until the ticket office opened, where I could go badger the ticketing lady into giving me a better deal.

Finally around 5:30am I stumbled down to the ticket office, and the lady there looked around for me and found a nice flight at 3pm direct to Berlin. I thanked her profusely and skipped (tiredly) back to my spot under the Christmas tree and had a decent 2 hour nap. I went into the city for lunch and a beer with a friend of one of my friends in China.

When I finally got to Berlin, I didn’t make my flight to Copenhagen, so I got a ticket at the train station and hopped on a train going north. When we reached the Baltic Sea, they drove the entire train onto a ferry (!!!) and ferried us across the sea to Denmark!

I got to Copenhagen and went to meet my old roommate Henrik at his friend’s house. They were cooking a tasty New Years dinner of bacon-wrapped asparagus, steak, potatoes and soup. We devoured that, a bunch of beer and wine and went to a room we had gotten high up in a hotel overlooking the city. We hung out there until New Years hit, and looked out the window at the fireworks. They were all over the place! It was almost like Spring Festival in Beijing, with people setting off fireworks wherever they wanted to on the city streets.

The rest of the week was spent in Holbæk, my old roommate’s hometown, hanging out with him, his girlfriend, his sister, her boyfriend and his mom and their two dogs. It was pretty fun, lots of chatting over beer and food. We made Korean BBQ one night, and had Greenlandic Coffee [check out how to make it here] after dinner. That Friday we went into Copenhagen again and got Chinese food, which was the most authentic I’ve ever had outside of China….I ate so fast that I was too full halfway through the meal and couldn’t barely take another bite.

Making Greenlandic Coffee - Yes, the table is on fire.

Making Greenlandic Coffee – Yes, the table is on fire.

Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ

They went back to Holbæk that night, and I got a bed in a hostel and went out that night to find a Finnish and a Canadian that I had known in my university days in Montreal. They were both in the city at the time so we made loose plans to meet up. I briefly ran into one of the guys randomly, which was pretty neat, I guess Copenhagen isn’t all that big! But moments later I lost him again, so took myself around to some different places that night. The next day I got up early and walked around all over the place, bought some boots, saw Nyhavn, ate smørrebrød and had a generally nice day.

That night I went to meet up with my Finnish friend from university and his girlfriend and we went around to all kinds of different places and had a disgusting beer that tasted like drinking a smoked ham. I went home around 5am and caught my flight back to Berlin at 10am. Finally got home to my own bed that afternoon around 4pm and promptly fell asleep for 12 hours straight! It was a good trip.

Oh! And just before I went home for the Christmas holidays, my boss told me that I’m to move to DUBLIN in January or February 2014! So, goodbye Germany, it was nice, but off to Ireland now! It’ll be nice to live in an English speaking place after 9 years!

I suppose after I make that move I’ll try to write another bit about life in Ireland!

Looks like a little bird, doesn't it?

Looks like a little bird, doesn’t it?

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Hello Germany!

I know I haven’t written a thing for almost three years, but you know, life in a big city is just too busy! Actually, I didn’t write anything because life in China had just become the norm and things didn’t seem so interesting and surprising enough to write about!

Anyway, I’ve left China for Germany, a place I never thought I’d end up. In January of this year, the month where the pollution meter was off the charts in dear old Beijing, I decided it was time to go after my second bout of pneumonia. I didn’t want to go back to North America, but I wanted to be back in the western world, so I started looking into going back to school for a Master’s degree in Europe. After finding a few schools, I sent a letter to an old boss of mine whom I worked for in Beijing, but whose company had moved to Germany, requesting a letter of recommendation. I got an answer back saying ‘If you want to leave China, why not come work for us in Germany!’ So since then I’ve been getting stuff together, wrapping up my life in China and now here I am in Zwickau, Sachsen, Germany!

Zwickau Street

Zwickau Street

I spent two weeks in Berlin before coming to my new town of Zwickau, and I won’t write about that because, well, it’s Berlin!

Here is a bit I wrote on my first night in Zwickau:

I just arrived in Zwickau and I need to write some stuff down so I don’t forget. Also because I’m super nervous and apprehensive about my first day of work which is tomorrow, and a memory dump is always a good calmer-downer!

Anyway, I got on the train to Dresden at about 2:46, after a confusing ‘where do I go, which car am I supposed to be in, blah blah’ and the conductor on the platform said gruffly, ‘No reservation, no seat!” and so I figured he meant what that would mean in China: ‘You didn’t buy a seat ticket, so you are going to stand the whole way.’ I hauled my massive bags barely successfully onto the train just before the door closed, and old ladies were jostling here and there, preparing to get on or off, but I couldn’t move my bags because there were old ladies on every side. They started sputtering in German at me and so I started crying (why I always burst into tears in these situations, I have no idea…), and so through my blubbering, I moved my bags one way and then the other, meanwhile trying to figure out if it was ok to take an unoccupied seat.

Finally, when all the old ladies had scattered, I put my bags in a pile and walked down the aisle to look in each compartment for an empty seat. The first compartment had one empty seat, but there was a family of five who all looked up at once, with big menacing eyes, so I skipped them. In the second compartment there was an enormous old Czech man and a tiny old lady. I pointed at the seat and I said ‘Ich will….Ich will…’ and the old Czech man laughed and ran through Czech, German and Polish until he finally asked, ‘Do you speak English?’ I sighed a massive sigh of relief and said, ‘Yes, yes I do! Can I sit here? Is it free?’ and that’s when the tiny old lady piped up and started pointing to a plastic board next to the compartment that had four slips of paper citing where each passenger will get off. Two of the six slots were empty and she pointed and said something that must have meant, ‘The seat numbers with empty slots are free.’ I got my bags and stuffed them wherever they would fit, bought a sandwich* and a coffee and settled in for the ride.

And thus I learned to ride German trains.

*This sandwich, by the way, was the tastiest prepackaged sandwich I’ve ever eaten. It was brown bread with arugula, Camembert and hard-boiled egg. Quite gourmet for my dulled American taste buds.

I’ll skip the next bit of transferring trains because by that point I was a pro and there is nothing interesting to talk about.

When I finally arrived at Zwickau’s Hauptbahnhof (main station, but there is only one here anyway), I hopped out of the train and lugged my bags out of the station. Right away two nice ladies asked me if I needed some help with my bags, but by then I had gotten a good system down to carry them all myself, so I declined. By the way, I had so much luggage because I’m moving my life from one country to another and thought it would be a good idea to carry things with me rather than send the bulk by ship.

I located the exit to the station, walked outside and threw my stuff down to wait to get picked up. For those back home in CT, it looked sort of like the Ocean State Job Lot parking lot on a rainy Monday afternoon. It was totally deserted, except for two guys hanging near a trash bin drinking beers and staring angrily at the lone bird hopping on the grey, cracked pavement. I looked around and suddenly thought to myself ‘Oh no, what’ve I gotten myself into…’

Just then the guy from the company burst out of the doors and said, ‘Aimee? Are you Aimee? Let me go get my car!’ So we packed my bags in and drove over to the hotel. I almost felt like I was cruising around Killingly or Putnam, except the buildings look totally different and instead of streets there are Strasse. He dropped me off at the hotel and told the boss that German won’t work with me (it ended up he just spoke to me in German at a higher volume…but I understood a little after all!), and then left, saying he’d pick me up at 8 in the morning for work.

After that I went to my room, then decided I should take a walk before it got dark, but it started raining so I went into the gaudy brass and pink restaurant at the hotel and ordered some Schnitzel, devoured it, and returned to my room to feel nervous about the coming first day of work…

Gaudy Pink Brassy Restaurant in my Hotel in Zwickau

Gaudy Pink Brassy Restaurant in my Hotel in Zwickau

First meal in Zwickau.....Schniztel.

First meal in Zwickau…..Schniztel.

Bye-Bye Hunan + Ireland, Montreal, Home

First Installment:

So its been a while since I’ve written anything. I’ve been more or less insanely busy since the beginning of July. School at Xinwen finished for me on the last day of June, and I decided to work two more weekends in Changsha to pack away some extra cash for my trip. The rest of the week I was packing and just hanging around waiting for the 11th, when me and my friend Ming-ming would take the train up to Beijing. After saying goodbye to Liuyang and having a few last hurrah’s in Changsha, we got on the train that would bring us North. Since all the university students had also just gotten out of school, all the tickets were bought up except for a few on the slowest train, which instead of being a nice quick 13 hours, it was going to take us 21, making at least 18 stops on the way. It was hot and sweaty that day and I had everything I own with me and I wasn’t in too good a mood trying to get through massive crowds, lug a big ol’ suitcase all the way up a ton of stairs down a few long hallways and finally onto an already packed train. By the time we got to our bunks, I was exhausted and on the verge of tears but then this little girl started saying words in English and laughing and poking her grandfather telling him not to sleep. I listened to her for a while then decided to talk to her. After that she didnt leave me or Ming-ming’s bunk for almost the whole train ride, to the joy of her tired grandparents. She played with Ming-ming’s cell phone and looked at my list of stops for the train ride and the  maps I had a whole lot.

Train Friend

When we finally got to Beijing the next morning, my mom’s friend Andao came to pick us up from the train station. We dropped Ming-ming where he needed to go since it was on the way, and Andao and I went back to her house where I took a shower and got ready for a job interview that I had that afternoon. The rest of the week basically consisted of a few job interviews and running around to all different parts of Beijing, as well as Andao and I trying out all the good food we could find. Andao help loads and loads, and came with me everywhere. I finally got a job with a school right downtown near the Drum Tower called Caijing Vocational High School. The school has a deal with Sheffield University’s TESOL program, where the students get intense English training, then when they are finished with the 4 year program, they can go to Sheffield University in England. That Sunday Andao took me to Tianjin to stay with her sister-in-law and family, since I was flying out of Tianjin to Malaysia on Monday. We took the high-speed train, which only takes 45 minutes. The high-speed trains are pretty darn fancy (Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger). Tianjin is the cleanest place I have ever seen in China. I felt like I was in a European city of the future. Everything was new, and the things that weren’t new didn’t have that black grime that covers most buildings in China. We went to eat at a place called ‘Gou-bu-li’, which means ‘the dog ignores you’. There is a history of this guy named Dog that sold steamed buns that were so tasty that he became so busy that he couldn’t even look at his customers, he just took the money, saw the amount and handed over a bag of baozi that matched it. The place actually does have really amazing steamed buns. After that we walked around the piers and then took a boat ride in the river mouth, which was pretty cool. The next morning Andao and the sister-in-law drove me to the airport and I said goodbye, checked in and then hung around in the terminal for a little while until the plane took off for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I should explain why I was going to Malaysia. Basically I had originally seen that Air Asia had a flight from Kuala Lumpur to London Stansted for about 250 USD. I figured I could go see my friend Sven in Ireland and still have the total cost of flights be less or equal to flying direct by booking all budget airlines. I was horribly wrong in the end, but it was worth it because I had an adventure and saw a buddy and a little bit of a few countries I might not have seen otherwise.

Hmm...So this is Malaysia?

So anyway, I got to Malaysia where I had booked a super-cheap hotel across from the airport. The plane landed, I went through customs, then I went right on over the hotel. After that I decided I wanted to acclimate myself to Ireland time so I tried to stay up really late. There was a 7-11 where I bought a beer and sat in front of the hotel and watched everyone coming in and out, then I went to this cafeteria near the airport and had some Malaysian (cafeteria) food, which was actually pretty good and curry-like. After that I was way too tired so I just went into my roasting hot and humid everything-slightly-damp room and went to sleep. The next morning I sat in the airport people watching again for a few hours after I checked out, then got on my 14 hour flight to London Stansted. Air Asia doesn’t provide food or anything, so I ended up spending a bit of money on the flight for some food when I got really hungry, and also a thing to watch movies on which was about 5 bucks I guess. I got to Stansted around 10pm, but it took forever to get through customs, so by the time I was in the airport I was really really tired. I went to find a bench somewhere, tied my bag to my leg and went to sleep. I’m not sure if I slept at all, but a couple hours later I realised why the arm-rest-less bench was free. I had decided to sleep right next to a door where an entire planefull of people where waiting to go through customs. This lasted from 3am until 6 or so. Stansted is one of those places where only budget airlines fly in and out of, so everyone is trying to be cheap and sleep in the airport. I didn’t want to get off my bench, just in case I couldn’t find another spot, but finally at 6am I decided it was time to get up and go find those public showers I had heard Stansted has. The showers weren’t open and there was no one at the info desk, so I went for a coffee (something I hadn’t had any of in a long long time). I took a few sips and realized I just wanted some nice Hunan green tea, so I went and asked a girl for a big cup of hot water (which she found rather strange when i took out a bag of green leaves and put them in the cup).

Very far from Hunan....

There were tons of signs everywhere stressing that a passenger’s bag who is flying on Ryan Air cannot be over 7 kilos. My bag was 13, as I was lugging my cousin’s wedding present packed tightly and safely in the center of the bag, padded by socks and underwear and some clothing. I went over to get into the security line to see if they would stop me with my bag, as I was trying very hard to carry it in a way that made it look very light. The lady who was working there was very nice and told me I needed to go back to the check in place for a mandatory document check, and if I just walked up to the VIP desk and told them security sent me, it could be done in seconds, and I should just come back after and she’ll let me right in. I did exactly that, and with the other stuff on everyone’s minds, no one cared about this heavy thing I was lugging around. The flight was not even 1 hour and when I landed in Dublin I looked all around for my friend Sven and was afraid he had forgotten I was coming, but sure enough he was there after a few minutes and we got into his car and drove off to Dundalk where his family lives. As you may or may not know, Sven was a roommate (housemate) back in Montreal a few years ago who had since moved back to Ireland. Sven’s family is great and we drank lots and lots of tea around the kitchen table that week. We also went a bit around Dundalk and we went up to Belfast and down to Dublin. Belfast was really cool and we went on a bus tour, which I was skeptical about but turned out to be really really interesting. It went though all the neighborhoods where the violence was happening back in the day, and past the peace wall, which I had not expected to be 50 feet high. We also went to an abandoned house on the top of a hill in the middle of a bunch of wheat fields (golden at the time) with a river running down below. The house was overgrown and the floors inside were falling in on themselves, but the house must have been really amazing back in the day. We had some cans there and looked at the house and the wheat field and the river, then met some historians in tweed jackets who wanted to restore the place but had no money. The land is actually currently owned by a Lamb family! I wish I had a picture of it. I think it was the nicest time of the whole time I was in Ireland.

Another night we went down to Dublin and hung around with a friend of Sven’s, whom I had met a while ago in Montreal. The whole time was pretty great, and I’d like to go back sometime. The next week I flew back to Boston and Mom and Lulu came to pick me up. We drove home and had a tasty dinner because it was Lulu’s birthday (and Han-Han’s too kind of). I was only home for a couple days before my friend Joy came and we went up to Montreal on a Greyhound. We spent the entire 7 hours writing stories (where one person writes a sentence and then the other person writes a one, and so on), and making up interpretive dances for all the music I had with me. The time passed quickly, needless to say. Jill met us at the bus station and I bowled her over with a hundred hugs, then we made our way back to her house in St Henri, which was decorated like an elegant Victorian Bohemian cave-house (very awesome).

That week I spent a lot of time walking around a lot and I found a bike on the side of the road in the bushes which was broken, but ride-able. At the end of the week it got stolen anyway. I had lunch with an old lady named Joan who I had made friends with at work in Montreal. At the end of the week I made a massive dinner of Chinese food for a bunch of people and we had a little party. That weekend I went to a party in the woods where I ended up wading in a swamp in the dark and jumping some barbed wire fences and getting covered with mud, but it was fun and I got to see a bunch of people I had known last year in Montreal. I could have used a few more days in Montreal, but hopefully I’ll be back next year. After that, Dad and Lulu came to pick me up and we ate a massive Greek lunch, then drove to New Hampshire where Mom, Han and Xin were hangin’ out at my uncle’s lake cabin. That week basically consisted of mountain climbing, rowing, canoeing and swimming and swimming and swimming.

Nice Lake and Uncle-Made Rowboat

It was a pretty nice change from being in very garbage filled ‘nature’ or human-filled cities for the past year. I had forgotten what fresh air was like! After that we got home and then were back on the road again (mom, lulu and I) to go to Amish country in Pennsylvania to get a dog. We went all the way down there, thinking that we were going to come back up that day because we couldn’t get a hold of our family friend Mrs. Piggott. When we finally got down there, it had taken 3 hours longer than we expected, and we got a hold of Mrs. Piggott after we got our dog. We went over to her house to visit spend the night. Elizabeth came home a little later and we had tasty burgers, talked for a while then went to sleep. The next morning we had an early start and drove all the way home. I drove a little on I-95, and swore never to do so again.

This is Charlie, by the way, who is beyond cute.

After that I just had a few days left in Connecticut, so I hung out with a few friends, went to a drag show in New London and a show of Erik’s that got canceled and then me and Lulu hung out with him and Rachel and their roommates at his house. Also, Lulu turned 18 and she wanted to go to a nightclub, so we went out with the plan of going, but then realized that you have to be 19 in providence to get in anywhere, so we went to our old friend Anthony’s house because he was having a party. That week I also went on a canoe adventure with my friend Taylor at Carbuncle pond and we ended in the middle of a thickly eutrified swamp.

A spider we saw in the swamp.

At the end of the week Mom, Lulu and I drove to New York to meet a girl who works for the Grace Children’s Foundation (the foundation that brought Lulu and Han over), who is around my age and has lived in China for a while. We had lunch/dinner (linner? dunch?), talked for a while, then we went to Chinatown to walk around, where we had more food. That night we were staying with some family friends from Twin Pines named Vicky and Jill in their empty house since they were moving the next day. After a night of hip-bones poking  into a hardwood floor (but happy for a place to sleep), we went to the airport the next morning and I hopped on the plane back to China. I kind of wish I had had more time at home, but I was happy to be getting back to ‘normal’ life, and a new city!

My new neighborhood! (photo credit: not me)

Videosssss

Since Youtube is blocked in China, I’ve uploaded a bunch of video’s I’ve taken over the year on the Chinese version of Youtube…….’Youku’

If you wanna check ’em out, HERE’S THE LINK.

I’ll be adding more video’s within the next couple weeks, before I come home!

Grade 2’s, Saving Face, King-Kong Basketball

Since I’ve gotten back from South Asia, it’s been pretty normal here. My class schedule is still the same, my classes are still the same. The one thing is different is that I was able to plunge into the first day of this semester without nerves and fear, with full confidence in my lesson plans and ability to keep the classroom under control. Second grade still gives me a lot of trouble, but I’ve found that counting backwards from 3 in Chinese and saying I’ll deduct points really seems to work. The points don’t actually get taken off since they aren’t graded in oral English, but they don’t know that!
There was a kite flying day a few weeks into this semester, where all the kids brought kites to school and had races seeing who could get them the highest. It was pretty cool to see hundreds of students out on the sports field assembling and flying colorful dragon and fish kites. I had gone to teach one of my third grade classes, but they were running out of the classroom with kites in hand, so I told them I would go with them and they got all excited, and told me that their kites would most definitely be the highest. I went out for a bit and got some pretty good pictures of some of the kids, but this is my favorite:

Kite Day at Xinwen School


The weather is getting a lot warmer, so the teacher’s basketball team has started playing again. They invited me to go along with them to a little town whose name translates to ‘King-Kong’. We took one of the small stinky local buses out across the Liuyang river and went though a tunnel I had never seen before. On the other side we went through some really nice countryside, where the rice paddies were full of yellow flowering plants, terraced on the mountainsides, with tile-roofed houses scattered in between. The city was barely 30 kilometers away, but it took us over an hour to get there because the road was so bad. It was concrete slabs that looked like the Sichuan Earthquake had hit all over again, but this time in the Hunan countryside. Some bumps were so huge that everyone in the bus went flying up and we hit our heads on the roof. By the time we got to the school they were ready to start the game, so I sat down and watched for a bit and decided basketball isn’t such a bad sport to watch. It was kind of exciting and there was a big crowd of students yelling and cheering. There were some girls that came up to me and introduced themselves, but were really shy to talk English. Their old teacher was a teacher at Xinwen School now, so she kept prodding them to talk to me, and their English actually wasn’t too bad.
Jingang (the real name of KingKong) was a really tiny city/town. The streets where jam packed full of bicycles, trucks, cars and people with soot everywhere and little old grandmas washing that night’s cabbage on the dirty sidewalk. Almost how I remember China being in 1999! Almost every place in town was doing something related to fireworks, most making the paper tubes that the fireworks are stuffed into. It was almost as if each area made a different sized tube. We drove past piles and piles of them drying in the sun all over the town. After the basketball game, the hosting team usually treats the visiting team to some tasty food, so we all went to their cafeteria and had a feast that the cooks had prepared especially for us. After that we piled back onto the bus and after a big fight between the bus driver and some lady who got on the bus, we drove back home. It had been another one of those dinners with a thousand ‘cheers’ and ‘gan-beis’ (dry glass), so after a bit I couldn’t stand it anymore and ran up and desperately asked the driver to pull over, saying ‘Look guy, I’m a country girl, I can piss anywhere, you just gotta stop the bus a second!’ The rest of the people in the bus had gotten really quiet a ways back, and it was as if they were all waiting for someone to make the first move, because as soon as the bus stopped everyone ran off in different directions into the woods. By the time we got back I was hungry again so I got some food downtown then went home.
A week or so later I got a call from Cindy, one of the English teachers. She told me that the school was very upset that I had been late for so many classes this semester and that I had missed a lot of classes. I was really confused, because I hadn’t been late for a single class since I had bought an alarm clock the second day of school that semester. There had been another time where the schedule was changed and the foreign teachers had not been informed (we don’t receive the staff emails, and anything important gets to us the second before or an hour after its begun), but I had cleared that up with the head teacher of the class (or so I had thought). Cindy told me that the school wanted to doc her pay and Monica’s pay as well as the foreign teacher’s salary due to all this apparent lateness. I decided to call up Jackie, the guy who used to manage all the things to do with the foreign teachers, and ask him what was going on. I told him the exact date that I had been late (March 3rd, in fact) and asked him to notify me after he spoke with the head teachers of all these other classes I was late for. Then he skirted the issue and told me I am not allowed to put children outside the classroom when they misbehave, which I hadn’t done since September. He then told me he would like to see all my lesson plans from September to March. By this point I was pretty confused, and thinking something was up. Luckily I had every lesson plan for every class all the way back to the first day of school on my computer, so I put them on a USB key and asked him if I could have a meeting with him that Wednesday at 2pm.
Wednesday arrived and I was on my way over to Jackie’s office, when I saw all the English teachers in the school walking in the same direction. I asked them what was going on and they said that Jackie had called a meeting for 2pm. By this point I was really, really confused and was thinking I had done something horrible without knowing it. I decided to skitter into Jackie’s office 15 minutes before 2pm and say, ‘Hi! I’m here to talk!’. So I went in and sat down and gave him my USB key with all my lessons. I also apologized and told him I was sorry and that maybe I had caused someone to lose face without knowing it (that someone probably being him). I told him that in America we don’t really have the concept of ‘mian zi’ or ‘face’ and that I don’t understand it. The whole thing about ‘face’ in China is incredibly complicated and most foreigners don’t even begin to understand it, which is why some people in China think foreigners are rather brash, forward and uncultured. I figured if I explained my ignorance really humbly with a solemn look on my face, it might help a bit, especially if I said it in a way that acknowledged his higher up position in the school. He looked at my zillions of lesson plans pretty briefly and seemed to brighten up a bit and then we went into the meeting room.
It really was a meaningless meeting and I could tell a lot of the English teachers didn’t want to be there because they have very busy schedules, but nonetheless Jackie kept on about all kinds of things to do with me and Craig, some of which I’m glad I didn’t understand very well because I couldn’t have helped myself but to butt in.
Following his long speech was a criticism session in which Craig and I were told everything wrong that we had been doing. Lucky for me, Jackie had addressed most of it in his office with me privately. Craig got that bad end of it, basically Jackie telling him he was doing things all wrong and badly and that he didn’t prepare for his classes. If I hadn’t gone in to his office beforehand, I would have gotten the same thing in front of all the other English teachers.
This is what confuses me so much. I would have though criticizing people in front of a large group would cause someone to lose face, but in fact no one seemed bothered or uncomfortable by it. Also, none of the criticism was constructive. It was just ‘you are doing badly, don’t do this’, not ‘this might need improvement, lets talk about how that might happen’ or something along those lines.
Anyway, the meeting was adjourned and I had to run to my next class. I’m still not sure what that whole thing was about, and none of the topics were ever addressed again. Maybe I had caused Jackie to lose face somehow and by giving it back to him he just decided to forget all these things? I guess I’ll never know, but I sure don’t mind!!
Anyway, recently I’ve discovered that 2nd graders really like grammar drills (Repeat after me: I am, You are, He is, She is, It is…etc..). I would have thought it would bore them to death, but I decided to try it one day and they sat incredibly still for a record amount of time and all chanted in unison. Maybe they just like things they are familiar with? I’ve done it in bits for the past three weeks when they get really rowdy, and 2nd grade has almost been tolerable.
Today in 4th grade they were learning ‘dollar’ ‘pound’ and ‘yuan’, and I brought money from different countries in for them to see. Then we played vocabulary Bingo and the winning prize was a quarter. It was the first time I had ever done a game with prizes and so the entire class participated because they really, really wanted that quarter!
Oh! And I finally made a friend in good friend around here Chen Ming who, as it turns out, is moving to Beijing as well. I’ve been raking zillions of websites for info about Beijing, and looking at all the stuff that’s going on in the city, and looking for apartments I can’t even think about renting yet. I want to be in that giant land of sandstorms, hutongs, crowds and foreign grocery stores so badly! But hey….I might actually miss this tiny, backwards mountain town of Liuyang someday! 🙂

Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and Back to Bangkok!

I haven’t written a blog in so long because I’ve found myself three extra jobs on the weekend and I’m now working 7 days a week! Also because I’m kinda lazy with the whole blogging thing 🙂 Anyway, I’ll just write a quick thing about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, then I’ll make another post about the things that have gone on in the past few months…

So I think I left off at me getting on the bus at 6 in the morning in Sihanoukville for the ride to Phnom Penh, where I switched busses around noon and had another 6 hour bus ride up to Siem Reap. Cambodia is fairly small, and if they had big super highways, I’m sure the journey would have taken about 6 hours altogether, but since Cambodia is tiny and poor, their main roads are about one and a half cars wide with cows and water buffalo and chickens mooing and squawking (respectively) all over the place. By the time we pulled into Siem Reap, it was dark and the town looked like a bunch of shanties with people hanging around outside eating dinner. We went down a dark road and the bus dropped everyone off in an even darker parking lot, where there were a bazillion taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers waiting for customers. As soon as everyone stepped off the bus, they were thronged, but luckily I waited to be the last one off, and was saved being pounced on. There was another foreign old man who asked me where I was going and that maybe we could share a tuk-tuk, but he was headed to some fancy hotel and I had no idea where I was. I jumped into a tuk-tuk and gave the guy the name of the hostel I was hoping to stay at, and drove off.

On the way I think the guy’s horn must have given out, or he just didn’t feel like using it, because he starting saying, quite clearly, ‘beep beep’ when someone was in his way. I’m not sure if he was trying to be funny, but he kept a very solemn face while mouth-beeping. When we got to the hostel he came in with me to make sure there was space, which there wasn’t, so he offered to drive me around to a few places to find somewhere to stay. We stopped by two more places that were full, and then he brought me to an Australian owned place where his friend worked. It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but it was still really cheap at about 6 bucks a night including bike-use during the day and free internet and there was a shower in my room with hot water (not that you need hot water in roasting-hot Cambodia…).

I just decided to settle there for the night since I was exhausted, but then the next day I figured I would stick around because the people were nice and it was kind of off the beaten path down a dirt road in the south side of town. I still had about a week and a half until I had to fly out of Bangkok so I didn’t really rush to go see the Angkor Wat temples and just kind of hung around town and took a lot of naps in my room, which was really really nice and had a breeze and a jungley looking tree outside the window.

After a couple days I figured I should get going and go see some stuff, so I found a guy on a motorbike and asked him if he could drive me to the temple entrance for 3 dollars and he said sure, so I hopped on. The road I had bussed in on was a lot nicer than I had originally thought. I could actually see the rest of the city, which seemed to be of a decent size (maybe only a little smaller than Sihanoukville).

The drive to Angkor Wat went through the countryside, to a ‘park entrance’ where you had to buy your ticket. I got a three day pass, which could be used any three days in a seven day period. I think it cost about 40 bucks for foreigners, and was free or dirt cheap for Cambodians. Makes sense I guess! So the guy drove me to the actually gate and dropped me off, telling me it would be impossible to find a way home if I didn’t pay him for the whole day. I thought he was just trying to get a bunch more cash out of me, so I declined and want on my way. At the entrance Angkor Wat there were a few ticket takers eating little tiny clam type things and they invited me over to have a few and sit with them for a bit. I went over and we had a pointing conversation, some laughing and a few ‘mmm tasty clams!’, then they told me I should find some water because I would get dehydrated, so I went and got some, waved goodbye and walked over the 900 year old bridge into the temple. It was really crazy to see what I had only seen in pictures. It was much bigger than I thought, and there were so many more passageways and smaller temples scattered around than I thought there would be. I walked around for a long time and tried to imagine the place thronging with Khmer people almost 1000 years ago. I had never actually been to a place that old before, and it was a really strange feeling.

After I had walked all around, I went out the back entrance down a path in the woods to see where it would lead. There was a little 12 year old girl selling pineapples on a stick, so I bought one and went to sit in the shade on this other ruin I saw in the middle of the woods. There were a few people coming and going, and then I decided I had better go too, and see what I could find. I saw these people with a guide, and asked the guide where I was, and they told me there was the temple where the movie ‘Tomb Raider’ was filmed a few kilometers away, called Ta Prohm. There was a Dutch couple at the back entrance who were holding a map looking confused, and I asked them where they were going. They wanted to go to Ta Prohm too, so we decided to find a ride together. All the guy’s sleeping in their tuk-tuks at the back entrance where waiting for other people, so they wouldn’t go for it. We figured a few kilometers wouldn’t be so bad, after all, they were tall sturdy Dutch, and I was a young American. After about 1 kilometer we were sweating like crazy and dragging our feet, turning our heads desperately every time we heard a vehicle approach. Car after car packed with Cambodians or foreigners would cruise by and the driver would laugh and wave his hand like crazy, then everyone else would wave. Finally a car stopped that had a Chinese couple in it. The two Dutch that I was with must have both been 6 feet tall, but the driver asked the couple if they would mind if we squeezed in, so the couple moved over in the back, then the Dutch lady got in, then I got in, and we crammed ourselves so the door could shut. The Dutch guy got in the front, and we drove off. The couple was from somewhere in south China, I forgot where, maybe Shanghai, and we chatted in Chinese. It was good to speak Chinese again after the last time being on that big cargo ship. They dropped us at the end of the road leading to Ta Prohm and they went off to their next destination. We walked to the temple and I said good-bye because I had to pee and wanted to see the temple on my own so I could get lost in thought and not have to keep up light conversation simultaneously. I went to the bathroom near the entrance and was followed by a little girl who wanted me to buy what she had. I remembered that in Sihanoukville, everyone kept trying to reinforce that you shouldn’t buy from children, only adults, to keep the kids in school. She was trying to chat me up so that I would think she was oh so cute and buy her bracelets, but I just ended up having a nice conversation with her and told her I was a teacher in China, which was nearby. When I came out of the bathroom she shouted ‘Teacher Aimee!! Come buy my bracelet for your students!’…smart girl, but no luck!

I cruised around there for a bit, met a few foreign teachers who were also teaching in China, and then went to find a motorbike at the other entrance. Everyone was sleeping in their tuk-tuks or chatting in the shade, but they all said they were waiting for someone. I just kind of stood there waiting for something to happen or someone to come out who I could give a few dollars to, but then this delivery boy came back to his motorcycle and was going to drive away, until I chased him down and someone helped me explain I had no ride back to town and I would pay him if he would take me. He took me a ways then said ‘ok here we are’, I had no idea where I was but it was next to the river, so I asked him if he could drive me a bit further till I saw the familiar bridge, and he agreed. After that I decided to hang out a bit, take a shower and a nap, then go get some mango and some ‘Bai cha sek mun’ (fried rice with chicken). I kept ordering that because it was the only thing I could say, and I felt all cool, whipping out some Khmer in a town full of foreigners.

That night I decided to go out to the famed ‘Angkor What’, a little bar that had been opened twelve years ago when Siem Reap was still a village that was just starting to see foreign visitors. I hung out there and sat at the bar drinking a bit of draft waiting around to see if I could make some friends and have people to talk to. There was a British girl who came up and ordered a whole ton of stuff, and I said ‘What is that’ (a good conversation starter apparently). She told me then said ‘are you here alone? Why not come over and hang out with us?’, so I went over and introduced myself and had a grand old chat with a Canadian. I played a game or two of pool, and actually did pretty well. Bo had taught me something vital about pool back in Sihanoukville…’Aimee,’, she said, ‘you actually have to think about what your doing and where you want the ball to go’. It turns out it was very good advice 🙂

I hung out there for a while then I met a few Spanish dudes who also lived in China. One of them was this great dude named Oscar who could speak really good Chinese, so we were blabbing away in Chinese and forgot we had another common language (English). We talked about the crazy food available around there and decided to meet up for some tasty food the next day.

The next day I decided to use another day on my pass, so while I was eating breakfast (around noon….ahhhh…), a guy in a tuk-tuk cruised by and asked if I wanted to go see anything. I asked him how much and he said 8 dollars, which I’m sure was pretty darn good for him, but it was cheaper than the average that foreigners are given so I agreed. He drove me back to my hotel so I could get some stuff and then we went for a drive up to the temples. That day I went to see the really big temple with all the carved faces. This temple was really cool and had a lot more passage ways and ruins, but I started feeling really sick halfway through. I made myself walk around a bit more to get a day’s worth out of my pass, and then went to find my tuk-tuk driver and just decided to go back. He suggest I go see a few more temples, so I agreed even though I felt a bit sick. He was a great guide and told me all sorts of stories about every place we went to. I told him he should be a history teacher, but he said tuk-tuk driving is more lucrative and free. During one of his stories I almost fainted and went and sucked down a bottle or two of water. I ended up seeing some pretty cool stuff, but I more enjoyed just riding around in the tuk-tuk all over the countryside around the Wats.

When I finally got back to my hotel I rested for a bit, then went to go meet Oscar for some tasty Khmer food. I wasn’t too hungry, due to feeling sick, but I scarfed down as much as I could anyway because it was so tasty. After that we went to find his friend, the other Spanish guy and a girl from somewhere in Europe, and there was some music on the street which we danced around to with a big crowd of foreign and Khmer people.

The next day I went to meet up with them again, since they were going to the temples again as well, and I had an extra day left on my pass. We shared a tuk-tuk, went around a bit and then went our separate ways because I had already been where they were going. We met again that night for some ostrich, kangaroo, crocodile and snake barbecue, which was really, really, really tasty. I felt a bit bad eating the kangaroo, but it was so good I didn’t mind too much.

For the next few days I just hung around and went on bike rides around the city and countryside, then decided one evening it was time to get back to Bangkok, so I bought a bus ticket for the next morning and went out walking around that night one last time. I met a bunch of Scandinavians who were fun to talk to, but then the one guy who must have been almost 7 feet tall got too intoxicated so they all dragged him home. I walked around a bit more along the river and then went home to get some sleep.

The next day I took another incredibly long bus ride to Bangkok, with a good long border wait in the hot sun. I was still feeling sick (I think it was from some western breakfast I had had a few times in Siem Reap), but there was tons of water around, so I kept buying bottles of it. The Thai border crossing was much spiffier than the Cambodian one; all indoors and air conditioned, though incredibly packed. There was one guy who was with a giant tour group from Shanghai who was getting really agitated, and doing the ol’ Chinese shove shove shove to nowhere, So I decided to see if he wanted to chat. It turns out he wasn’t the mean guy I thought he was, and he told me all about where they had been and why they were traveling, which I’ve forgotten now.

When I got to Bangkok I was walking around looking for a place to stay, so I could call my friend Dong and see what he was up to, but as I was walking down the road I saw a guy driving a tuk-tuk in an army hat that covered his face, but sure enough peeping out from under the brim was my ol’ buddy Dong. There were two foreigners jumping in the back of his tuk-tuk but I ran over and they let me put my stuff in with them. I balanced on the battery next to Dong in the front of the tuk-tuk while we brought the people in the back to their hotel. They were staying in the city centre, so it was a long ride in a lot of traffic, but there must have a been a cool breeze coming off the river, because it the evening air felt great. I was balancing half in half out of the side of the tuk-tuk, as Dong rather expertly whizzed around a few corners and thought I might die a few times, but didn’t probably because I was hanging on so tightly!

Anyhow, my flight out was two days away, so I hung out in Bangkok and Dong took a day off and we took the river boat up to Nonthaburi for a few baht, and sat on a bench watching people get on and off the river boats, and people coming and going from the market across the way, and a group of people playing with a feathered Thai hacky-sack. We went walking a bit into the town, but it was getting dark so decided to take the river boat back again and find some dinner in Bangkok.

I met up with Craig, who was also in Bangkok at the time and we took the airport shuttle to Suvarnbhumi Airport. While waiting for our flight, we ran into two other teachers that we new from Changsha, one of which was on our same flight to Guangzhou. We all ate a bit of overpriced airport fast food and went to wait for our flights.

When I got back to Guangzhou, Craig’s girlfriend Binka was waiting to meet him. We all got a hotel room near the train station so we could head home the following day. I took a separate train from them because they wanted to stay a little longer in Guangzhou, so I was back in Changsha by that night. I just went straight to the shuttle-car company and asked if there were any cars. There were, and I had no money except US dollars, so they let me pay with that. In no time I was back in my nice little apartment at Liuyang’s Xinwen School napping like crazy and making lesson plans for the following week!!!

Chinese New Year Cargo Ship Adventure

Oh! I forgot to tell a story about the actual Chinese New Year in Sihanoukville. I should tell that before I get to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

So anyway, in Sihanoukville on the beach I saw this group of Asian dudes who didn’t look Cambodian in the least, so I kind of edged over and listened to them speaking and lo and behold it was mandarin. I hadn’t heard or been able to speak Chinese in a few weeks so I ran over and said ‘HEY where are you from?’ in Chinese and they stared at me and then went ‘ohhh we are from Tianjin! Why do you speak Chinese?’, so we all got to talking and they gave me some mangos to eat. I asked them where they were staying and they kind of pointed over to the port in the distance. I figured there was some sort of hotel over there or something, but since the word ‘bed’ and ‘boat’ sound almost the same in Chinese; I couldn’t be sure since they looked like a bunch of young college students on vacation, not a bunch of sailors. The next day I saw them and they yelled at me to come over and said ‘Happy New Year!! Come to have dinner with us on our boat!’ and they pointed and said ‘That big black one over there!’, and sure enough there was a massive cargo ship in the harbor unloading giant bags of something. Bo and Peter were heading back to our guesthouse, so I decided I would go on an adventure with these sailors to see the cargo ship.

Chinese Cargo Ship

We walked all the way down the beach and down a small road to a side entrance to the pier where there was a security guard sitting in the shade. He looked at them and looked at me and said ‘no way josé,’ Or something along those lines, then we begged him and told him it was Chinese new year and that it was just for dinner, and then I said ‘please’ in Khmer to try to woo him with his native language. Finally he said I could go onto the pier but I had better be out before he is off his shift by 9 or he and the sailors and I would be in big trouble, so we skipped off to the ship. There was a really narrow wobbly gangplank to get onto the ship, and there were these big bags of limestone dust swinging around over my head, but a big jump got me onto the ship. I was getting a lot of stares, probably because my kind isn’t a very common sight on a Chinese boat in a Cambodian cargo port.

When we all got on the boat they gave me a quick tour of all their living quarters, which was bigger than I expected, but they told me there is only 20 of them on the ship. After we ate some watermelon we went to find bowls and chopsticks and went to the place where they eat. The cook had made a massive and insanely tasty meal, and as with any Chinese feast there were big bottles of beer and baijiu (rice wine) on the tables. Everyone sat down and started scarfing down the meal and forcing food on whoever was older than them, and me because I was a guest, but I didn’t mind because it was so good. Then the toasting began, and everyone kept going back and forth between the tables to make sure they toasted everyone and the old men on the ship the most. Some of them just finished their food and dumped some beer into their bowl because they didn’t have a cup. Shrimp beer..hmm…

Chinese New Year Feast

After everyone was a little red-faced and full, they ushered me off to show me the engine room. We went down a bunch of flights of stairs and into the ‘authorized personnel only’ zone (which was covered with red and gold New Year’s decorations). The engine room was really cool and there we all sorts of pistons and pipes and greasy things. In the engine control room there was a lever that said ‘Fast, Slow, Dead Slow’, I thought that was pretty funny. They took a zillion pictures with my camera, and then we went to eat more watermelon and download the pictures onto one of their computers. When that was done we went to wrap some dumplings for them to eat at midnight (a Chinese new year tradition, you aren’t supposed to sleep that night as well). We must have made three hundred dumplings and the chef still kept bringing out more ingredients. It was almost 9 so we had to get out of there soon. One of the sailors had a laptop, so they were going to go into town and find an internet cable so they could to talk to their families on the internet, and also so they could watch china’s spring festival celebrations in Beijing. (Speaking of that, check this out: http://chinageeks.org/2010/02/yakexi-the-new-years-hottest-internet-slang/ ).

There was another guard at the door by then and he was looking really grumpy, but we told him the same thing as the last guy and I yelled a few more Khmer words, and we were on our way.

There was a little street with tiny bars and internet cafes near the harbor so we went there. I wanted to go check on Bo and Peter and see what they were up to, so I went to get my moped to go back. Two of the sailors wanted to go for a ride, so the three of us packed onto the moped and drove downtown, with me squashed in the middle (I trusted a seasoned Chinese moped driver, rather than my wobbly skills + two extra people). We got there safe and sound after a lot of hooting and horn honking and yellings of ‘Happy new year!’ from the guy on the back of the moped all through town, which got a few Khmer people looking at us like we were nuts. Bo and Peter were at the guesthouse and Bo was just waking up from a nap so I told them where we were going to be and if they wanted to come later. They said sure, so we drove back to find the other guys, and Bo and Peter came a little later. I watched a bunch of games of pool, a few of which, Bo was winning fair and square against one of the more gruff sailors, and he was getting really competitive and horrified that he would lose against a girl.

A little later an old drunk Japanese man came in and we found out he was a retired aikido master, and there was another guy there who was trained in Israeli military martial arts, so me and Bo and peter talked to them for a while. The old Japanese guy showed us some techniques, to the horror of the bar owner who said that he gets a little careless when intoxicated, and we should watch out for broken arms. I still have some weird bruises on the inside of my arm that won’t go away, and it’s been about a month and a half.

There were some interesting people coming in and out of that bar all evening, and when I went down the road to get some rice to eat I was invited to sit with some people from Australia and England who turned out to be really interesting as well. One of the guys had a daughter in Cambodia somehow who has the same name as me.

After that Bo, Peter and I hung around a bit more then decided to go home and get some sleep.

That’s about it for that story, so the next entry will be Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. I’d also like to post the rest of my pictures on Facebook, since I’ve only gotten to about half-way with that as well since it takes about 20 minutes per 5 pictures with the proxy service that I’m using…. Maybe I will write and post pictures about Siem Reap simultaneously….

Khmer Khmer Khmer

So I think I left off at taking the bus to the border of Cambodia from Bangkok. We had bought tickets for a mini-bus ride that would transfer us to a long-distance taxi in Cambodia after we walked over the border. The bus ride from Bangkok to the border was about 4 or 5 hours, and when we got there we all piled out of the mini-bus at a little shack where we were supposed to get our visas. The visa people had set up a restaurant there, so while we were waiting for our Cambodian visas we ate some chicken and some rice with a big group of other travelers that had gotten off other minibuses. When we got our shiny new visas back, they put stickers on us according to our destination and we walked a half kilometer to the border crossing. We waited in the first line to get our stamps that say we exited Thailand, then walked a ways more to the actual Cambodia border station. The ones on the Thai said were air conditioned and clean, but the Cambodia one was open air with a little office where the sweating officers sat and stamped sweating tourist’s visas. An hour and a half later, after standing in all these lines, we got onto a bus that was going to take us to a bus station a ways away. We all flung the windows open to cool us off and dry up all our grimy sweat and cruised on down the road to the bus station.

From the border to there, it was flat, flat, flat and deserted. The station was a building in the middle of a big field at the side of the road, and looked to be pretty new and spiffy. We waited there for a bit until we were told that there was indeed no taxi and that they were all full, so we should pay 10 USD extra so we can get on another mini-bus. We had already paid extra to get in the taxi for that day, since we were told that it was the busses that were full, so I had a chat with the guy who was trying to pull the wool over our eyes. I told him that a taxi should be more expensive than the bus, and we already paid the fee for the taxi, so he could talk with the travel agent who we bought the tickets from and get his share of the money from her, but meanwhile we would just get on a minibus and go to Phnom Penh. He agreed pretty readily, so I think he was just trying to see if we would fork over some money before getting on the bus.

We piled into a bus with some other foreign people and went off down the long, one-lane ‘highway’ that goes from the border to Battambang and Phnom Penh. The sides of the road were scattered with little huts raised off the ground on poles. Underneath each house were hammocks slung from the poles, and people just hanging out in them. There was absolutely nothing else other than huts, fields and jungle and palm trees for about two hours. I had known that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a lot cleaner than I had thought it would be, but it was a lot more deserted as well. I guess I’m used to ultra-crowded China, and in Thailand I had only been in Bangkok which is also extremely crowded.

The ride from the border to Phnom Penh took about six hours. No one had good enough English to be able to tell us how much longer the ride was, so we tried to busy ourselves guessing which town we were going through by looking at the Khmer writing for town names in Peter’s Lonely Planet book and trying to find them on the road signs. Most of the signs were for some Cambodian political party or for the king, but it occupied some time peering out the window. About an hour or so after dark we got to Phnom Penh and spent some time driving around dropping people off at their hotels, since Bo, Peter and I weren’t sure where we were staying. We got out with the last bunch of people, but their guesthouse was full, so we talked to some tuk-tuk drivers outside for a while and learned some Khmer, and then one of them took us to a cheaper guesthouse down the road, so long as we promised not to mention that he took us since that first full guesthouse lets him hang out in front of it. We ended up staying at Happy Guesthouse #11, which was 8 bucks a night for a room with four beds. We threw all our stuff in their and went to find some food.

I forgot to mention, a really convenient thing about Cambodia is that they use both USD and Riel, so we didn’t have to adapt to a new currency. I was told that using a strong currency will help boost their economy. I’m not sure how that works, but it was great for me since Thai Baht had really thrown me off and I had spent way too much in Bangkok.

That night we were all really tired and didn’t look around too much, so just went to have some food and a beer and a few games of pool, then went back to the guesthouse. The guy who worked at the restaurant/bar was named ‘Barang’ which means foreigner in Khmer, because when he was born he looked like a ‘barang’ baby according to his mother, which got him a lot of crap in school because when he was really little his classmates thought he really was a ‘barang’, who by some strange circumstance was able to speak Khmer. He was a funny guy and we promised to come back the next night.

When we woke up in the morning, we found that our guesthouse was on a lake, and was actually really nice looking, with hammocks everywhere and some huts that were on a dock into the water. The people were really friendly who worked there and the food was cheap and really good. I tried a whole bunch of different kinds of Khmer curry, with pineapples and coconut, etc etc. Very tasty. I also started to drink a whole bunch of coffee because it was cheap and everywhere and made with sweetened condensed milk and ice.

For the next few days we hung out in Phnom Penh to figure out the rest of the trip in Cambodia, and I needed to wait for my salary to come. Phnom Penh is a pretty small city, maybe the size of Montreal, but for Cambodia it’s considered pretty big and busy.

Our guesthouse was a great place to hang around in, so apart from a few walks around the city we stayed in and around there. My Turkish friend Samet, from Changsha also came by and stayed there as well when he got to Phnom Penh. I also bought a really really small guitar for only 10 bucks, just a little bigger than a ukulele (which i dubbed a guitarlele). It’s easy to travel around with because its so small and I figured it would give me something constructive to do once I was in Sihanoukville on the beach, and learning the guitar will probably help with learning how to play my bouzouki too!

On the last night there we figured we should get out into the city and see what it was like at night, so we went walking around and got a little lost. We happened up on a table at an empty restaurant that had some Khmer guys and one foreign guy. We figured since there was a foreign guy, they could probably speak English or he could speak Khmer. We asked them where we were and where we should go, but they invited us to sit down and have a drink with them as they finished their dinner (of really tasty fish). The foreign man was from England and had come to Thailand on a visit and ended up making friends with people who owned a hut. They had asked him if he wanted to turn this hut into a bar or café of some kind, since they did have much business sense but wanted to do something with it. So he accepted and had just come to Cambodia to arrange some things and meet a friend of his, then he will go back and finish helping open the hut, which is on an island somewhere off Thailand.

We stayed a while, then they said they were going out but Bo and Peter were tired, so I decided to go with the people and come back home later. It was pretty late in the night by then so we drove around for a while (in this guy’s Lexus or Mercedes or whatever it was…I think we happened upon the richest few people in Cambodia..), and everything was closed so we ended up at a nightclub where Phnom Penh’s teenagers go to dance. They were playing western music and Khmer pop music, and the girls were dancing in clusters and the boys were dancing in clusters and they all kept glancing awkwardly at each other. It was really fun to watch and be there and see that teenagers are the same the world around. It felt weird to be thinking of people 5 years or so younger than me as so different to myself now.

After we left, they drove me around near the palace area and pointed things out to me, even though it was pretty dark. Then they dropped me off back at my guesthouse and I went to eat some food before going to sleep. I went and had some rice, pork and beer, and ended up staying at the restaurant (Barang’s place) and had a good long chat with a really interesting person who was sitting outside. I forgot what we talked about, but I remember thinking ‘man, I haven’t had a chat like that in a long time’. After that I went in to sleep, and slept a long time because the next day we were preparing to leave.

We bought a bus ticket for 3 dollars each from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville on the south coast of Cambodia. We got a mini-bus to the Phnom Penh bus station, then from there we got onto a local bus that would take about 6 hours to get down to Sihanoukville. The seats were assigned, so I was a few away from Bo and Peter, with an old man sitting next to me. I was really tired so I wasn’t too interested in talking to anyone, but the old man turned out to be pretty talkative. He lent me a newspaper but I didn’t get too much of a chance to read it. He told me that he is Cambodia, but spent the last bit of his life in Texas with his sons, and comes back to Cambodia to visit and relax. I asked him if he was visiting family down in Sihanoukville, and he told me that his entire family had been killed by the Khmer Rouge, and that he was only spared because he was working at the embassy in Thailand at the time. After that I didn’t mind talking to him, because I felt kind of bad that he had no one left in Cambodia. He had me guess his age and I guessed about 62, but he was actually 73 or so. He told me people in Cambodia never believe him when he tells them his age because in Cambodia if you are 73, you are shriveled and almost dead. He said he owed his health to living in the United States for a long time. He had opened a few schools in Cambodia to teach English and employed volunteers and things, and it seemed like he kept pretty busy even though he claimed he was bored sometimes now that he is retired.

The ride to Sihanoukville was pretty much the same scenery as from the border to Phnom Penh, flat everywhere and a long one-lane highway lined with huts and raised houses. Every so often we would have to stop so some water buffalo could cross, but sometimes the diver would just lay on the horn and swerve.

We got to Sihanoukville when it was still light outside, and we were swarmed by people trying to get us to take either a ‘luxury car’, taxi or motorcycle taxi. The moto-taxi was 1 dollar for them to take us around and find a guesthouse that wasn’t full, so we hopped on the back of three of those with our bags and went to a few guesthouses that were all full. We ended up at one that was way too expensive (18 dollars a night) but we were tired and figured we could spend the day tomorrow looking for a cheaper place. This place had air-conditioning and hot water and a bathtub, all things which don’t exist at any place cheaper. We all took a hot shower, and I accidentally broke the drain after I shaved my extremely hairy legs, so there was all kinds of little hairs floating around in a soapy tub that wouldn’t drain….after that none of us wanted to take a shower, so the next morning the ocean did just fine.

The next day we went to sit on the beach and have breakfast, and think about what we were going to do next (we did a lot of this the whole trip…sitting and half-planning). Me and peter decided to go look for a place, while Bo stayed and had some more coffee and guarded our stuff. There are a ton of kids on the beach selling all kinds of things, and trying to woo you into buying things by saying ‘the capital of the u.s. is Washington d.c., the president is Obama, the population is approximately 3 million’. There are signs everywhere telling you not to buy anything from kids because it makes them not go to school and stay on the beach to make money instead, which won’t help them in the long-run. We had a good chat with a few kids, but didn’t buy their stuff so they taught us some Khmer and then went to walk down the beach to tell more people who their president is.

We found a guesthouse called GST that was pretty cheap again for a room with two beds, so we brought our stuff there and had some lunch. The room was really moldy and stinky, but it did the job. We rented some motorbikes and went to a quiet road to practice riding them. Peter could ride one pretty well, and Bo too, but she hadn’t ridden one in a while. They taught me how to ride it, and let me practice a bit, then I hopped on the back of Peter’s bike and the three of us drove around the town for a bit to get our bearings.

The next day I took the moped out for a drive to practice more, and drove for about an hour all around the little back streets and alley ways and smooth roads and bumpy roads and got a whole lot of practice in. Riding a moped is pretty easy if you can ride a bike and drive a car. The traffic in Cambodia is very much Asian traffic (weaving, stop-light-running, shortcut-taking), but it isn’t too heavy so it’s easy to get used to. I ran out of gas on the main road, but luckily I ran out of gas right in front of a little stand that was selling two liter soda bottles full of gasoline. I bought one, and a little girl dumped it in for me as a big American family pulled up, all packed onto motorbikes. They asked me where a gas station was, and I said, “Here!” and pretended like I was a pro and said ‘two’ in Khmer to the little girl and she filled their gas tanks up too.

It was getting late, but I wanted to do some more driving, so I decided to go down to the pier and see what I could see. I found along narrow road that looked like it went along the coast, so I turned onto that and found myself driving through a squawking market, and then through a long row of the shanty-est shanty houses I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. Each house was raised off the ground a little (because of monsoon season I’m guessing), but all the shacks were about 8 feet square at the most. I went slowly so I could sneak peaks inside, and there was a bed in most of them, some had posters of monks on the walls, or you could see little dressers and things, and there were people cooking outside along the walls, or just hanging out in doorways, and little kids running around and mums getting angry when the kids ran into the road. The road was really narrow, so when I truck would come at me, I would have to stop all the way at the side of the road and wait for it to go by. I guess that’s why so many people drive mopeds…cheaper and much easier to drive on these tiny pot-holed roads.

After I got past the shanty-town, I went past a few completely empty beaches and the sun was setting so it was really picturesque. I decided to stop at one where there were no people, except a couple of guys sitting in a gazebo on the beach. They called me over and let me taste some of the food they had and one of the guys had really good English and said he was the manager of the beach and an accountant. The beach had nothing on it and was completely empty, so I wondered what he was managing. His friend was completely drunk off of some kind of wine made from a root and kept laughing hysterically and imitating his friend speaking English. I talked to them until it started to get dusky and figured I had better go back before it got completely dark. I was in a bit of a jungley area, so there would most definitely be no street lights, and who-knows-what hiding in the dark.

We stayed in Sihanoukville for about a week or so basically laying on the beach during the day, driving around in the late afternoon when it got cooler and then going along the beach at night to see what was happening in the little huts all the way down the beach. We met a lot of Khmer friends that showed us some good places to go, and taught us some Khmer (most of which I’ve forgotten by now).

After about a week I decided it was time to get moving and go see some other place before I had to get back to China. Bo and Peter were going to stay on in Sihanoukville since they are going to be traveling for three months more and have all kinds of time. I looked up some places in Peter’s Thailand and Cambodia books and since I was running low on money I decided to take the cheapest route, which would be to do Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), then a bus back to Bangkok four or five days later. The night before I left, we went out with some Khmer friends for one last hurrah, then the next morning I got on the bus at 7am to Siem Reap……

(more coming very soon…..i promise!!)

Bangkok, Tuk-Tuks and Bo!

I’m now in Sihanoukville, Cambodia but I haven’t written for so long, I’ll start with Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

The flight was only three hours from Guangzhou to Bangkok, but by the time I got off the plane, went though immigration, and got a taxi into the city it was about 3am. I had planned to stay in a hostel called Peachy Guesthouse, but then found out that it didnt have a 24 hr front desk, so when I got to Phra Ahtit Rd, right on the river, i was kind of wandering around trying to figure out where I was and where I could sleep that night. The area is kind of a haven for backpackers, all starting out in Bangkok and then spreading out all over south asia, so there are a ton of foreign people walking around and tons of guesthouses, hotels and hostels.

Someone yelled to me ‘hey, you look pretty lost!’ and I turned and said, I sure am, do you know where I can stay?, so he brought me over to a street with a bunch of stuff that was still open and helped me find an open guesthouse. I found one, deposited my stuff, and fell deeeep asleep, despite the 38 degree weather (90).

The next day I went to meet the friend that helped me out the night before for some lunch, then I decided to walk around a bit and get my bearings. I just went to find that famed ‘Khaosan Rd’ that was right near by. A lot of people have not so good things to say about it because its basically a lot of people selling stuff, and a lot of drunk foreigners making a ruckus. I thought it was alright, a lot of good people-watching and some tasty street food. I also wasn’t very used to seeing so many foreigners (Falang)  around, so I enjoyed it.

The day after I decided to get in contact with my friend Shay from Montreal, who was staying with her friend in the downtown. Neither of us had a telephone so we were using Facebook to send messages to figure out a meeting place. In the morning I sent a message suggesting we meet at the big democracy monument nearby at noon and then go eat some noodles. I went there without checking my Facebook again, figuring if she didnt get my message I could just go walk around that area anyway. I went to the democracy monument and sat there for about a half hour watching people and traffic go by, and then figured shay didnt get my message (she didnt), and so I went to this road called ‘mahachai blvd’ where I heard there was a really really good pad thai place. I got a little lost, and walked all around some little streets back there, which was behind a huge wat (temple). I tried to use some of the very very very minimal thai i had tried to learn in the past couple days, and finally I found out that the place opened at 1pm. I went to have some coffee and decided to take a tuk-tuk back to my guesthouse. I walked up to this guy lounging in his tuktuk on the corner and said ‘Phra Ahtit Rd 20 bhat?’ and he said no! 40! and i said no no, only 20! and he agreed so i hopped in. I chatted with him along the way and learned that he was about 30 years old and was from a town south of Bankok called Mahachai (same name as the road I had been on), and that he has no family in the world but now he has been driving his tuktuk for about a year. When we got to Phra Atit he said ‘why dont we go get a couple cans of beer and go to the park’. His English was really minimal, but he wanted to practice, so I agreed so long as he taught me some Thai too! We talked a while more and then Shay was coming to my area, so I went to go meet her. Dong (the tuk-tuk driver), said he had a day off the next day and so he said that he and his friend would bring me to the zoo if I wanted. He seemed pretty enthusiastic about it, I was up for an adventure, and Bo’s friend Peter wasn’t going to arrive until that night, so I agreed to meet the next day.

After that I went to meet Shay and we had dinner of some extremely spicy food, but extremely tasty, then went with her friends to a little bar near their hotel and talked to all kinds of people that were coming in and out. There was a dinner party happening for an indian guy and all his friends were speaking half thai half hindi, half i dont know, and they kept getting drunker and so became more liberal with their money. Needless to say, it was a fun time and we paid for very few beers. There were also some australians that came around and a mongolian and a british 14 year old who told me he was 26.

The next day I woke up a little late and then went to meet Dong at noon at the same park. He brought me over to his friend’s tuktuk and said we were going to take the tuktuk to the zoo. His friend was a 65 year old man who had been driving his tuktuk for 20 years in Bangkok. We zoomed out of the city, onto the freeway in the tiny little tuktuk, but the guy was an excellent driver and navigated the crazy Bangkok traffic really well. He and Dong were yelling and joking at each other in Thai over the sound of the motor, and I got to see all kinds of things on the side of the road.

An hour’s ride later we got to the zoo, which turned out to be the crocodile and elephant farm. We went to see some elephants play soccor, then some historical rendition of how elephants were used in wars. Then we went to see a crocodile show, where they guys in the enclosure would stick there arms in the crocodiles mouths and drag them around by there tails. Dong’s old friend bought a bucket of raw chicken to throw to the crocodiles. This must have happened a lot because none of the crocodiles were too interested in eating it. We walked around a bit more then got hungry and went to go find some food. I didn’t understand anything of what they were discussing, but just went along anyway. We left the zoo and got back into the tuktuk for another ride for about 20 minutes. Dong told me ‘We go to see Buddha, then we khin khao (eat food). We came to a wat and they said we were going to go in and pay respects to Buddha (or B’Dah as Dong says it), so he taught me what to do. We give some money to a monk, then get a bunch of flowers and three sticks of insence and a candle and go into the wat. You have to light your insence from a big flame and then light the candle and stick it to a ring that goes around the flame. Then you take your insence and flowers and clasp them between your hands and bow your head with your hands up near your head for a while. Dong was muttering something but I just kind of glanced around nervously and pretended. After that you put the flowers and insence in certain places. We also were given 4 little gold squares that you are supposed to stick to each buddha in the room, and then stick a little on your forehead. When that was all done we got back in the tuktuk and went off somewhere else. We ended up along a riverbank and I followed Dong and the old man through a bunch of wooden passage-ways that ended in a big covered market along the river. There was a restaurant in there and so we sat down and Dong ordered some amazing amazing amazing tasty red-brothed soup. We finished our food, and sat for a while since it was late afternoon and the river was really quiet and beautiful, then it was time to go back to Bangkok.

They dropped me off on my road and said good-bye since I had to go find peter. Since it was Dong’s few days off I invited him to come meet me and peter for some dinner later on.  I went to peachy guesthouse where i had gotten a room for him that morning, to see if he was there and he hadnt arrived yet, so I went to take a nap and go back later. I woke up and went back to Peachy and peter was there so we introduced ourselves and sat down for a bit in the courtyard. Dong came by and we all went to a local place to have some rice and chicken and vegetables. Then we asked Dong if he knew of any good thai places we could go out to, since neither of us felt like the craziness of Khaosan road that night. Dong brought us to this place that just looked like a regular shop front, but then you go past everything and through another small door and it was a little club that played Thai pop music. There were very few people in their so we all sat together and introduced ourselves and some of the girls spoke pretty good english. After we left we went to have more food on the street and then he brought us to an enourmous enourmous enourmous giant thai discotheque, that must have been the size of a football field and it was completely jam packed with people, but me and Peter were absolutely the only two foreigners in the whole place. There was 100% thai music being played and everyone was dancing around and having a good time. Definitely a crazy experience.

Dong had his last day off for the week the next day, so he invited us to come to his hometown with him to see his friend, this time in his own tuk-tuk, providing we pay the rental cost for the tuktuk for the day (he doesnt own his tuktuk, but rents it from someone every time he works).  We met him the next day and went on another (slightly scarier) tuktuk ride all the way to Mahachai which is just southwest of bangkok. It is a very small town, and we went to stop by his friend’s house to see if he wanted to come eat some fish with us. Mahachai is famous for its seafood because it is right on the water and is a big fishing town. Dong’s friend wasnt home, but we were invited in anyway and about ten minutes later there were some plates of steaming tasty homeade food in front of us. There were two girls there and they taught me some thai, how to say ‘hello’ and ‘beautiful’ and ‘dog’. There were about 7 dogs hanging around their house, and they kept barking at the zillions of dogs next door.

We left there and drove to a wat again where we saw some monks chanting inside. Some were wearing sunglasses and sure enough…buddha was too. The slickest pair of them all, of course. I got a picture…I’ll post it when i have the chance.

After that we had some tea on the river then went to get more food at a seafood place that was on the bay going into the ocean. The fish was covered in tons and tons of lemon and garlic and was super-tasty, and then Dong ordered some clam-type things, but they were smaller and a little bloody. Those weren’t so good, but I had a few anyway. Dong loved them and devoured half the plate. When we got the bill it was about 20 usd…which is extremely expensive in Thailand. Me and Peter covered the bill, and I figure Dong might have been thinking that day ‘Hey…I’m with some travelling foreigners..maybe I will bring them to this nice place and have a good opportunity to eat my favorite fish…’ I didnt mind too much, since he was so generous bringing us all around to places we would never have seen otherwise, and he is good company.

Bo was supposed to arrive that night, so me and Peter went back to Peachy where we were supposed to meet her and waited and waited, and she got there at about 1am. It was great to see her again and I gave her a huge hug and we had a Singha or two and then boxed a bit like old times and went to walk around the area and find some food. The next day we all slept a lot and then met up to go around to the markets and see what good things there were, and we met up with bo’s old friends that live in Bangkok. The next couple of days before leaving Bangkok were pretty relaxing and we didnt do much, since Bo was jetlagged and we were just getting ready to leave.

Two days later we shopped around for some cheap tickets to phnom penh, cambodia and got a 7am bus to the border, and another bus after that.  I’m racking up my internet time now and its gonna cost me a bit, so I’ll write another post soon!!

Bye-bye Hunan, Hair-Chop, Guangzhou

Hey everyone! I am in the Guangzhou Baiyun Airport right now, going on some very expensive airport-cafe internet.
Last Thursday I finally got my new resident’s permit, which I was a little afraid I wasn’t going to get in time for my flight, but Owen, the Buckland guy, fanagled my resident’s permit in half the time its supposed to take. I taught my last three classes on Saturday, did a bunch of laundry, cleaned my house and got ready to leave the next day. On Sunday I called a car to bring me to Changsha, kind of early because I was getting anxious just sitting at home trying to find things to do to pass the time.
When I got to Changsha I walked around for a bit but it was super-cold and i didnt bring my heavy winter jacket because I dont want to carry it the whole time i’m in toasty warm thailand. I called my friend Little Seven and went to visit her at the little cafe bar where she works. It was also freezing in there and my feet were wet, but Little Seven gave me some hot water and a candle. I randomly found the book ‘The Wind in the Willows’ on the bookshelf, completely in English, and read that for a while. Then a big group of people came in because it was someones birthday and I met a girl who could speak perfect English. She said she had been learning English for 16 years, but her English was better than most people I’ve met in China who have been learning just as long as her.
After a few hours I went to catch my train, which was at 11pm. As I was walking into the station I ran into some World Teach teachers who were also on their way to Guangzhou, but it turns out we were on different trains that left around the same time. By that time i was a little late to catch my train so i ran to the platform and hopped onto sleeper-car 6 and found my bunk, which happened to be right next to the bathroom. That is never a good spot on the sleeper trains because the light is left on all night, and there is a continuous stream of traffic. As soon as the lights went out, however, I conked out, only waking up when the train stopped at a station.
We arrived in Guangzhou around 8h30 in the morning and I hopped on the now-familiar subway and went back to Shamian island to the youth hostel where I stayed the last time i was in guangzhou.
Everyone was awake in the dorm room, so we all introduced ourselves and there were three other teachers who teach in the same town as a lot of the buckland teachers, Yongzhou in Hunan. There was also a swiss guy who was travelling and an old christian guy who has lived in china for 16 years and was just waiting for his visa.
As soon as i set myself up, i went to the 7-11 and got some breakfast and walked around. It turns out there was a big adoption group all with girl babies from Hunan, around Changsha. The whole group had been in Changsha a week ago. I talked to a little 7 year old girl who was there with her family adopting her little sister, and i told her that my first time in china i was only 11, and that was when i decided to move to china when i grew up. She could speak a little chinese and was wide-eyed in a 7-year-old way, correcting her dad when he said a Chinese word wrong. I like to think i might have influenced her just a little bit by telling her about living in China. Maybe she will move to china when she is older, too!
After that i just went back to the hostel and slept the rest of the morning away because i didnt sleep very soundly on the train. When I woke up everyone had gone their seperate ways, so I decided to go walk around. The week before I had decided to chop off all my hair before I went to Thailand (haircuts are good to get before going on adventures), so I made an appointment with a fancy hair salon in Guangzhou. Little did I know how fancy it was…
When I got there they took my bag and jacket and wrapped me up in a brown jacket-thing and brought me over to the ‘consulting chair’, where i sat and the hairdresser touched my hair and decided what could be done with it. I showed him a picture of what I wanted, and he nodded and sent me to get my hair washed. I think the lady must have washed it four times with all kinds of different stuff, and massaged my head a bit and then dried it off and did a fancy towel wrap. When that was all done they sent me to one of the hair-cutting chairs, which were all positioned so the mirrors they faced reflected each other, allowing the person getting their hair cut to see all sides of their head. The guy came over and started cutting my hair and it must have taken an hour or so, and he was doing all these fancy scissor cuts and chatting away, and then decided he wanted to use a bunch of goo things just for fun, and when he was done i decided the guy was an artist and it was the best haircut I ever got. Maybe its worth paying a little money and not just hacking away at my hair with some scissors in the shower….!
That night I gave some friends a call who I met when they were visiting changsha a few weeks ago. They invited me out for the best hot-pot i’ve ever had. There was endless plates of tripe and beef slices and wierd animal parts and sliced vegetables and little fish and who knows what else, but it was all incredible good and incredibly spicy.
One of them is a hip-hop artist in China and so we went to see one of his friends in their studio in guangzhou and we hung around there and listened to music and drank milk tea. The guy there had a snake that he let me hold, and an orange frog in a box that didnt move for three hours. After a while I was falling asleep and we decided to go. My friend Zhou said he would drive everyone back to their homes, and on the way we stopped for more food. I had some coconut jello stuff that is made out of shaved turtle shell. It sounds weird but its actually really tasty.
The next day (today), I took a .5 yuan ferry accross the river, which i had never known existed. There were a bunch of noodle places and a bakery, and I went with one of the other teachers to get some sweet bread. Their train was at 3pm so we all decided to go get some extremely tasty and cheesy pizza at ‘papa johns’ on one of Guangzhou’s walking streets.
When they had to leave, I decided to stay downtown and walk around for a while to pass time. I took the subway to the train station where there are zillions of enourmous buildings full of shops for wholesalers and regular shoppers. I’m not big on shopping, but there is so much good stuff it is actually kind of fun to poke around and imagine being rich!
After that I went back to the hostel to pick up my bag and hopped on the bus to the airport, where I am now waiting for my check-in time and charging batteries of things that need to be charged.
I’ll be in 86 degree Thailand in exactly 5 hours!!!