Month: October 2009

‘Zouk, Basketball, Marriage Culture

My bouzouki had been missing a string since the day before I left to come to China, so I figured it was high time to fix it. Naturally, most shops in China have never seen a bouzouki before, so I was unsure about bringing it in. I had no idea how to restring it because there is a metal peice over where the strings begin. I brought it to a few stores and finally in one store, after a bit of yanking and tugging and pulling (and a lot ‘please don’t break it’ ‘s on my part), the metal peice just slid off and I was able to easily put another string on. This whole ordeal was right near the glass door of the store, so by the time I had a string, quite a crowd had gathered. After that was fixed up, the guy (a great salesman) got me to get a nice strap for it as well. Two new strings, help restringing and a nice new strap all came out to be 12 RMB (1.75USD)!!

This week’s lessons are all on Halloween, so it’s a fairly easy week for me. I’ve been doing the same lesson for all the grades, just making a little harder or easier depending. I found a video online of Donald Duck that I showed to all the classes, then I ask them what they saw in it (duck, pumpkin, ghost, bat, witch..). I’ve watched this video about 22 times this week… The lesson has worked out pretty well and now a lot of students have been yelling ‘CANDY, GIVE ME CANDY!’ whenever I pass by. Even my second graders were almost ok this week. I showed them a picture of dad, mom, me and erik before a haunted house we did a long time ago. I think the picture was taken in the doorway of Auntie Celeste’s and Uncle Mike’s house. They thought it was hilarious that people would dress up like that and didn’t believe that it was me in the picture. This weekend I’ll be going with Craig to Changsha to a Halloween party one of the World Teach teachers is having at her house. I’ll take pictures!

This Wednesday I had no classes in the afternoon so I went to watch the teachers play a basketball game. Craig usually plays with them, so he told me about it. I went down to the basketball courts to watch and was immediately surrounded by half of one of my 4th grade classes. I talked to them for a while, and it was nice to be able to chat with them outside of our classroom, I didn’t have to be so teachery! The basketball game was between the gym teachers at Xinwen and a bunch of dudes who came with some official looking people. I asked who they were and was told they are all ‘校长‘ which I thought meant ‘principal’, but there were so many of them, I figure there must be some other translation. Maybe it was the ‘school board’ or something. This type of game happens almost every week. There are all sorts of basketball teams from different companies and schools, that play against each other. One week it was against a group of doctors, once against a paper company or something. After each one of these games, they all go out and eat dinner together. The team that hosted the game pays for it, since the ‘guest’ team are treated as actual ‘guests’.
We went to a local restaurant and ate outside. I sat with a bunch of Xinwen’s gym teachers, Craig and the girl who was the referee for the game. I hadn’t ever actually had the chance to have a conversation with any of them, so it was nice.
One thing I’ve been coming to realize is a big cultural difference between people of my age in China and in the West, is the obsession with marriage here. I am always asked if I am married, when I plan to marry, if I have children, why I am not married yet, etc etc. When I say I’ll be spending at least 5 years in China, the response is always “so you must be looking for a Chinese husband, have you met anyone yet?” When I respond that I have no intention of getting married anytime soon and that I don’t even like thinking about it at this point in my life, I get looked at like I have two heads (two very foreign heads!). Unmarried Chinese girls in their 20’s that I meet seem to always have it on there mind, unless they are girls in ‘seedy’ places like nightclubs or bars (not really an acceptable place to spend time in small town China). All the teachers in my school who are close to my age or a little older are all married or are on the verge of being married. To me it seems old-fashioned, but I’ve been reading some articles online about it recently, and I’m kind of coming to understand that for a lot of people there isn’t really another option. If you aren’t married by the time you are 30 in China, you are doomed to a life alone. There are many more men in China than women, so women are starting to get very picky and demand someone who can support them as a housewife (even if this woman has gotten a university degree). To me it seems like something very old-fashioned in a country that is very quickly becoming modern, but that is just from my foreign perspective.
This is an article I was just reading:
Wife vs. House: Chinese Men Discuss What They Can Afford
I’m sure this isn’t true of everyone, there are definitely people my age who aren’t clamoring to get married. Maybe it’s because Liuyang is a small town, but it seems like it might be this way in big cities too.
Just a very different culture!

Hikes, Friends, Mao

NOTE: another picture test….let me know if you outside-of-china-ers can see these photos. if so, i’ll put a bunch of other pictures up from beijing and of my students, etc!!

On Thursday afternoon after dinner, I went to go down to the store down the road, but passed a little path that goes into the countryside and decided to go down it instead. I walked for a while past a bunch of rice fields, vegetable gardens and small houses, then the road turned into dirt and got about as narrow as a footpath. I kept walking down it and gradually it opened up into a construction site and what looked like an abandoned school with a weird obstacle course that was overgrown with weeds. There was a path behind a bunch of piles of dirt that led up a hill to a pagoda on the top. I had seen the pagoda from the roof of my school, so I decided to climb up and check it out. The path was strangely well-maintained considering everything around it, and so was the pagoda. When I got to the top I could see all the way down the big main road and my school and all the mountains around Liuyang. It was pretty cool and nice and quiet and deserted. I’ll have to go back there sometime and take a few pictures!
On Friday I had my 1st graders all morning, and so in between each class I go sit on the benches that are outside the classrooms to rest for a bit and some of my students will come and poke me and ask questions like ‘how come all foreigners have white eyes?’ and ‘are you from meiguo (america) or waiguo (foreign country)?’. On Friday’s all the kids get to go home, so I ask them ‘is your mom coming to get you or will you take the bus?’ and one little 6 year old girl said ‘I am from far away, so I only go home twice a year. I live with my teacher and she isn’t nice to me and she forgets about me a lot, but its ok, i find things to do.’ I couldn’t believe that a 6 year old would be sent away from home for so long! She was very matter of fact about it, and seemed very mature for a 6 year old, but I wished for her sake that she could see her parents more often!
Later that day after all the kids went home, Craig and I went to go climb the mountain on the edge of downtown, called ‘Xihu Shan’, or West Lake Mountain. We took a motorcycle taxi to the edge of it, and climbed up and up and up to a giant 9 story pagoda on top. There were a lot of people climbing that afternoon because it was friday and the weather has finally been getting cooler.

City of Liuyang from Xihu Mountain

City of Liuyang from Xihu Mountain

We decided to go down the other side, away from all the people. The path was only dirt and really steep and looked like it hadn’t been walked on for a while, but from some points on that trail I got some really good views of the country side and the Liuyang river and the mountain range that can’t be seen from the city-side. I also saw all of Liuyang and far far far away, my school!
Liuyang River

Liuyang River

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we found the old section of the city. There were apartment buildings with wooden framed windows, and separate concrete and brick houses with tiled rooves and stray dogs, and a hundred years of grime on kitchen window sills. There were lots of old people sitting on stools, and if you looked in doorways you could see street vendors at home putting all the street-food barbecues on skewers. It was really quiet and almost no traffic, and felt to me like a dose of real China!
In the old section of Liuyang

In the old section of Liuyang

On Friday night I went out with Craig to that only bar we have called ‘Party Bar’ to see our friend Li Dong. I made friends with some people and they were all going to eat some fish at a late-night sidewalk restaurant, and they invited me along. Craig went home, so I went alone and it was great! No one spoke English so I had to speak Chinese the whole time, and I finally believe that I just might be bilingual, because there wasn’t really anything I couldn’t understand or couldn’t communicate. Now when I move to Beijing and take some more Mandarin classes, practice a lot and learn to read and write, I’ll be like a native!! Maybe someday…..
Today I went out for a bit downtown and found an old man on the street selling big maps for 8 kuai each. He also had big red posters of Mao. I’ve been wanting a world map, a map of China and a big picture of mao, and since they were only 8 kuai each, I got all three! Now Mao is calmly but authoritatively staring down at me every time I sit in my living room, reminding me where I am!

8-Day Week, Changsha, not-Shaoshan

The week after the National Holiday week off lasted 8 days, working Friday to Friday. By the last day of the week my 1st graders were coming up to me and saying ‘Miss Lamb, is it time to go home yet? Is my mom coming today?’. I was happy I could tell them yes! The beginning of the week was pretty uneventful, except of course for Tuesday when I have all my beastly 2nd graders. They were just as crazy this week, and when I gave my ‘list of names’ to the head teacher, she just patted them on the cheek and sent them to sit down. Now the kids really won’t care about the name-list or anything! I’ve got to think of something else.
Katie, another Buckland teacher, contacted me earlier in the week and wanted to know if Craig and I wanted to go to Changsha and Shaoshan the coming weekend. Shaoshan is where Mao Zedong was born and grew up, and it is very close to Liuyang/Changsha. Katie had half the week off because of a ‘sports meeting’ they were having at her school, so she decided to come spend a few days in Liuyang with me and Craig, then we would all go to Changsha together.
On Wednesday I took a bus to Changsha to pick her up. When I got the Changsha bus station, I called Katie and we agreed to meet up outside the Carrefour in downtown. I asked some people which bus would bring me to the Carrefour (Jia le fu). In China if you want the correct directions somewhere, you need to ask at least a few people, because often times instead of just telling you they aren’t sure, they will tell you any old number or any which way. Three different people told me to get on bus 501, so I caught it, paid the fare, and sat down….for a very long time. Things weren’t looking familiar at all, but I just thought maybe the bus was one of those ‘indirect’ buses. After seeing a lot of my confused looks at the station list in the bus, a girl asked me where I was going. I said ‘Carrefour’ and she said, ‘Oh! It’s the next stop!’. I jumped off and realised I was almost outside of the city in the south end, when I wanted to be right in the middle of downtown. There happens to be three Carrefours in the city of Changsha, I just hadn’t specified which one.
There was a guy sitting on a falling-apart moped, looking like he might be a moto-taxi, so I asked him to bring me to the other one. He told me it would take 25 yuan and a half an hour to get there. I learned my lesson….make sure I really really specify where I’m trying to go, or just give in and take a moto-taxi straight away instead of trying to save 20 yuan and hop on a city bus in an unfamiliar place!! At least now I know where bus 501 goes!
I finally met up with Katie and we ate some tasty food at the Mao-tofu place in Changsha, for good luck in our later trip to Mao’s birthplace on the weekend. We went off to the bus station, got back to Liuyang and went to sleep.
I had classes the next day, so Katie just hung around my apartment, and later that night we decided to go out into Liuyang to walk around, and so I could show her the city! We went looking for a night market that Craig had mentioned had popped up on one of the streets the week before, but it was gone when we got there. Then we just walked on the walking street, the downtown park where local opera music is being played and sung in little clusters of old people, and then we decided to go to Party-Bar to have a beer and say hi to my friend Li Dong. We didn’t spend long there because I had to work the next morning, but we did see an imitation Michael Jackson do a dance to bad ‘techno-music’, and people do a coordinated hand-jive dance to that song ‘Sehnsucht’ by Rammstein. It was rather surreal…
The next day I just had my first graders, and we colored pictures of books and counted and learned color names. After my last class, I went back to my apartment to get ready to go to Changsha. We decided to take the day slow and went downtown to handle some banks stuff, and then after dinner me and Katie left for Shaoshan. Craig had decided not to go because he was feeling really tired and sick, so me and Katie trekked it alone. When we got to Changsha we did the public-bus thing to the hostel, and actually made it alright this time, except for a little mix-up with a bus transfer. One bus driver said get on bus 636, when that bus doesn’t exist, and a crowd of old men said oh you want another bus. Finally we called the hostel and asked them. We got there safe and sound, checked in and put our stuff away. We went to walk downtown a little then went back to the hostel to rest before the next morning when we were going to get up early to catch the bus to Shaoshan.
The next morning we had a ‘western-style breakfast’ (hmm…) and then went to catch a public bus to the south bus station. By this time I would have thought that I would have taken a taxi, but I was still gung-ho about taking public transit. We got on the first bus fine, and got off at the determined transfer stop. The next bus came right away and we got on and figured it wouldn’t take much longer. Well, when we counted the stops, there were more than thirty ahead of us and at that time the stops were about half a kilometer apart each, and traffic was heavy. The bus was jam packed too, it was so squished I think we were all balancing on each other to stand up in it, grabbing on to whatever was handy.
By the time we got to the bus station it was already 10h30am. It is about a 2 hour bus ride to Shaoshan and the last bus back to Changsha is at 5h30pm. We figured that four or five hours in Shaoshan might be enough to see all the sites, so we ran to get a ticket. We quickly bought them and then went to catch the bus. When we got there the bus driver wouldn’t let us on because our tickets said ‘for the 11h40 bus’. I tried to get us on this bus, and even volunteered to sit on the floor or stand up the whole way. The guy said he can’t do that because there are cops that check buses for overcrowding along the way. We waited around until the bus was about to leave, just in case he changed his mind or might accept something in return, but it was to no avail. We decided that 2 hours in Shaoshan wouldn’t be worth a 4 hour round trip, not including any other potential bus-mishaps on the way, so we went and returned our tickets. Using that money we caught a bus halfway then a motorcycle taxi the rest of the way back downtown. The road the whole way there was called ‘Shaoshan Rd’, as if to taunt us of our failed journey! For some reason I was kind of glad we never made it to Shaoshan. It was an adventure that resulted from a failed adventure, and it was almost more fun. Maybe I felt that way because it was really sunny, kind of chilly and there was a blue sky (a rarity in China…the sky is usually a cloudless white). We also went to try to get into the Hunan provincial museum so we wouldn’t feel like the day was a total waste, but when we got there they said all the tickets for the day were sold out and we should come back the next day at 8am.
Anyway, after that we just went downtown to a giant rip-off DVD store, walked around for a while, then went to a dog restaurant for lunch, though we didn’t eat any dog. Craig called and said he was feeling much better so he’s coming into Changsha and would meet us later on at our hostel. He got there and we all went out downtown to get some dinner and maybe have a drink at a local foreign-ish pub. There was a girl named Gloria in our dormitory who was from Texas, and she came out with us too. We went to get Chinese-Muslim food at this place we went to a while back, and it was so so so tasty. After that we went out and had a pretty good night. We met up with some of the World-Teach teachers we all met a while back too. They invited us to come back on Halloween for a party they will be having. I’m glad I live in Liuyang for the time being, but its good to have some buddies sort-of close by in Changsha!
The next day we tried to get in the museum since it was going to be free, but the line went around the block (a very huge block). We decided to go walk around Martyrs Park nearby.
Martyrs park is a big downhill park with an amusement park and a lake at the bottom of it. We walked around that for a while, and Craig and Gloria found some bumper cars and did that, then we all went back to check out of the hostel. We said goodbye to Gloria and headed home.
It’s the end of Wednesday now and not much has happened this week either. My 2nd Graders were a little better this week, I’m not sure why though. I had a bunch of Sesame Street videos I found on the internet, and we learned those songs together. I think having some other source of noise in the room makes them a little quieter. They might just have learned something this week…!
Also, Katie gave me a program that allows me to get on blocked sites, so I can now get on wordpress and facebook. I’m not sure how long this will last, so I’m not hoping for anything, but for now it’s alright!
I feel like I’m kind of forgetting my previous life back home, and I’m not sure if that means I am getting more comfortable here, or if time is just getting the better of me. It’s only been about three months and that doesn’t seem like long at all, but I feel like I’ve been here forever. Everything else is hazy.
It’s great hearing from anyone who reads this blog, though!! Feel free to e-mail me: aimeelamb (at) gmail (dot) com !!!

Theft, Beijing, Home Again

Right before I was going to leave for Beijing for the National Holiday week off, I went to go recheck all the things I needed for the trip. I had everything, except when I went to my desk cabinet to check my train tickets and cash, there was no cash to be found. I was confused because I knew I hadn’t taken it out of there, and definitely hadn’t let the money leave the room, so I went through everything in the room at least five times, then gave up and started to look in my entire apartment, then back to my office again. No money, anywhere. I started panicking because it was the last of what I had, and it was what I had put aside to travel to Beijing with. I called Craig and he came to help me look, then I tried to get a hold of my parents to see if they could give any input. The conclusion was that the money was stolen, after I remembered that a lot of random people have the key to my apartment. I figured this was the end of it, and I would have to spend the National Holiday alone at home, and forget about Beijing, but then mum said she could Western Union some money to me, and I could try to get it in the morning of Oct 2nd, which was the day after the official National Holiday. I was supposed to leave on my train at noon on the 2nd, so that morning I got a motorcycle taxi downtown to the Postal Bank, went in and was told that the ‘Western Union people’ where not going to be in the office until October 9th. I went to the other bank that has a W.U. in Liuyang, and sure enough, got told the same thing. The motorcycle taxi guy brought me to all those banks, and when I had no money to pay him, he insisted he bring me, and then he brought me home. The night before Craig had said he might be able to lend me some money, but then when I got home he checked and his money hadn’t gone through yet either. The motorcycle taxi guy wanted to wait in the school to see if I needed a ride back downtown, and so he started talking with the maintenance staff about what happened and one of the guys who works at the gate told me he would lend me whatever I needed, then he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So me and Craig hopped on the backs of the staff and moto guy’s bike, respectively, and went off downtown to the bank. The guy gave me much more that I needed, and said to pay him back when ever, then he brought me downtown to where Craig and the moto taxi guy were waiting. After we said good-bye to him, and were again refused when we tried to pay him, Craig and I went to get some noodles before getting on the bus to go to Changsha to catch our trains. Everything pretty much went smoothly from there. After all the frustrations I was feeling about the way things work in China, it was made all better by the overwhelmingly awesome bunch of help I got that morning, from complete strangers. Its things like that that make China really really worth living in, and like no other place in the world.

So after all that I was on my way to Changsha with Craig and when we got there, we jumped on a bus for the train station. The public bus got to the station with only 10 minutes to spare for me to get on my train, so Craig yelled ‘call me when you’re on’, and I ran off towards the platform. I got on the train about 3 minutes before it pulled out of the station, but I was aboard, safe and on my way to Beijing! I was in the bottom bunk in a hard sleeper car, which basically is three bunks on top of each other, with 6 beds per open compartment. They are called ‘hard-sleeper’ but its actually pretty comfortable. The train ride was about 21 hours overnight, so at about 11pm after a gross but filling train-food meal, and about half of the book ‘this side of paradise’, i ate some Tylenol pm’s and went to sleep until 6 the next morning. I don’t advise taking Tylenol when you don’t have any pain, because I was trying to go to sleep and I felt like i had no legs. It was a really really weird sensation, and kind of prevented sleep for a while.

The next morning, I ate an orange and talked to some of the people in my bunk area. There was an old man who had been on the train for about 40 hours, all the way from Kunming to Handan, which is near Beijing. The other people were from Yueyang or Changde, both in Hunan. I had a good conversation about all kinds of things with them, and it was all in Chinese which made me pretty happy!

When we arrived, the girl from Changde said she would help me get on a bus to the subway station because she had to go the same way. So I followed her, and eventually got the subway. The Beijing subway has tripled in size since I was there last in 2006, but it isn’t too hard to navigate. I headed towards Yonghegong Station where my hostel was, and on the way I met a lady from Boston on the subway with her kid and his friends. We started talking and she told me how her husband works in Beijing, and her son goes to a Chinese school in Beijing and so he speaks perfect Mandarin. She said sometimes she wasn’t sure if it was a good thing putting him in a Chinese school, but she figured that the language ability and his math abilities were a plus that beat any upside of putting him in the international school in Beijing. I thought it was pretty cool that they had done that, and the kid seemed pretty comfortable with it all. She also told me that if i wanted a job in Beijing, her son’s school was looking for a foreign teacher next year, and she gave me her e-mail.

When I got to Yonghegong雍和宫 station, I got incredibly lost trying to find my hostel. The hostel was in a ‘hutong’ which is basically a gated community made up of a zillion little alleyways that people live in. They are really cool places, but its so hard to find your way around in them! Finally after asking a bunch of people I found the hostel, checked in and went to go find some food. There were tons of little noodle and dumpling places all around the hutong, so it was pretty easy to find food. The noodles were also the best I’ve had in a long time!

While I was eating, I gave Carmen a call and we decided to meet up later at this place called ‘Houhai’后海, which is basically a big park that is full of touristy shops and spiffy cafes and bars, all around a big lake in the centre of Beijing. I met up with her, and we went to a place in there to have some coffee (first coffee in a long time, so so tasty…), and sat there for about three hours talking about stuff (haven’t seen her in about 6 years), then decided to go out later to a place I found online that was having a techno night, called ‘China Doll 3.3’中国妹妹3.3 in the Sanlitun三里屯 district. She lives far away so she went home first to do some stuff before going out, so I decided to walk around Houhai and see what there was around. There were all sorts of alleys of shops full of overpriced touristy chinese things, but it was fun to walk around and look at everyone. Plus, there were lots of dazed-looking foreigners everywhere, who were also fun to watch.

After walking around for a few hours, I went back home to get ready to go to ChinaDoll to meet Carmen, then got bored waiting to leave, so I decided just to go and walk around Sanlitun. That district is kind of the ‘hip bar’ district it seems, because that is what lines the road on either side, as well as a back alley. There were foreigners filling all the bars except for one, which was full of a lot of hardcore looking Chinese. I decided to go in that bar to have a beer, and it was fun because I could listen in because everyone spoke Mandarin, not ‘Liuyang hua’! After that I kept walking around and then found some South Africans who invited me to have a beer with them in a square on the street, so I hung out with them until Carmen called saying she was in front of ChinaDoll.

I went to meet Carmen, and we went in. The place was great and the music was really really great. I had missed this kind of music, and was glad to be back somewhere listening to it, and being able to dance. It was so fun that we ended up forgetting the time and stayed until 7am. When we saw that the sun was coming up we decided to go our ways, and talk later that night, maybe meet up again and come back.

I went back to my hostel to sleep and rest my legs, but since I lived in a dormitory in the hostel with 6 beds in a room, it was kind of hard to sleep. People had already woken up at that point and where coming in and out. I slept for a few hours then woke up and decided to get my day started. I went to explore all the markets I had put on my list of things to do in Beijing.

I decided to a market street called ‘Nanluoguxiang’南锣鼓巷 first, because there was supposed to be some interesting shops and a lot of young people hanging around there. It was right near Houhai where I had come with Carmen the night before, but it was a whole different street that went through a Hutong. Most of the shop fronts probably opened in the back into more alleys and people’s houses. At one point I sat down to have a coffee (I’ve really missed coffee), and to look at people passing by, and these people came running over to ask if they could take my picture. I’m not sure why they wanted to, but now two people have a picture of a random foreign girl on Nanluoguxiang street. The street was long, but the other end opened up onto a regular street, also full of interesting places like music shops and other things.

After that it was getting to be dusk so I decided to go to a night market I had on my list and have a street-food dinner. It was downtown near Tiananmen square, and off of Wangfujing王府井 which is kind of like Beijing’s times square. Very shiny and bright and lots of western stores and three Mcdonalds, and an Outback Steakhouse?…The night market street was tiny and extremely crowded. There was a funnel of people going in, and a funnel of people going out. I just shuffled along with the rest of the crowd, holding my bag tight, past vendors selling scorpions and starfish and larvae on sticks, ready to be barbecued. I had some good food, like candied somethings on a stick, some chicken and squid on a stick, a plum cake in a cup and some other tasty things. When I finally shuffled out, I walked along Wangfujing and found a place that sold jeans, so I went in and found some cheapish ones. (It is extremely difficult to find jeans that fit in Liuyang) After that I went and walked along the upper road and saw the hotel that me and mom and han had stayed in in 2006, and also found the night market that we ate at as well. After that I went to see Tiananmen and walk around the Forbidden City’s gate.
When I got there I saw that Tiananmen was complete jam-packed with people, and full of big lit up things and neon lights and big tv screens showing the National Day parade. I didn’t even try to go into Tiananmen, and settled for looking at it from a distance. I went into the Forbidden City which was much less crowded, and walked through the part that was open at that time of night, then walked all the way around the moat and back to the metro station. By that time I was exhausted, since I had only had about 4 hours of sleep and had just walked for about 9 hours straight.

When I got back to my hostel, I rested for a bit, then decided to go meet Carmen again to go out that night. We both figured we wouldn’t stay long, since Carmen had to work the next day and my legs were tired. We went back to China Doll and there was almost no one there since it was a Sunday, but there was good music nonetheless so we stayed for a bit. After an hour they said they were going to close because there was no one in there, but then a flood of foreigners came in and then a bunch of asian guys. We decided to stay a little longer and dance around with these people, and I made friends with one of the people that came in. It turns out the asian guys were from Mongolia (which was strongly declared to me after I started speaking in Chinese to them). Carmen decided to go home and rest before work the next day, but I had a whole new wave of energy so I stayed for a while and the group of Mongolians invited me to come with them back to their friend’s apartment and hang out for a while. I went back with them and I’m glad I did, because I think I’ve made some good friends that I will know for a long time. They were incredibly interesting to talk to, and told me a lot about Mongolia and Mongolian culture, which is very very different from China. Next summer I might go visit with my friend Byambaa, who was the main translator for me, since I dont speak Mongolian and he speaks English. I think it’ll be nice to see Mongolia with the aid of someone from there, instead of just winging it on my own!

So anyway, I went home later on and slept for a bit, then went to walk around again and then see the Mongolians. After I hung out with them again for a bit I went to meet Carmen near Tsinghua University for some dinner. She lives right in the university because she works and does research there. It’s a really cool area because there are so many universities concentrated in one place. There are impromptu night markets of people selling clothing and other things on blankets for extremely cheap. The police come through every so often and clear them out, but within an hour they are all back again. We went to a sushi restaurant that was really really good, then to a little cafe/bar place and had some coffee. Carmen had to work again the next day so I left around 11 or 12. The subway and buses end around 10 o’clock so I had to take a taxi back. It was so so so expensive, I had to go all the way across the city, and I had forgotten how enormous Beijing is. So instead of a 2 yuan subway ride, I had a 67 yuan taxi ride. The next day I went to walk around some more and inspect some other markets in Beijing. I went to one called ‘Hongqiao’红桥市场 which turned out to be the pearl market I had come to with mom and han in 2006, and in 1999 as well. It was much less crowded that day, since it wasn’t the weekend. It was relieving because last time I had been there I had been grabbed by ten different sales people at the same time and pulled in ten different directions, no exaggeration. It was scary, and I’m glad it didn’t happen this time!

I didn’t spend too long there, since I got hungry and I wanted to take a nap. I went back to the hostel, sent a few emails, ate a good dinner of really tasty noodles and had a rest. I had to change my train ticket, since I had bought a hard seat (basically a hard wooden bench that fits as many people as one can jam onto it), for a 20 hours train trip. I went to Beijing’s train station and easily changed my ticket to a hard sleeper for a 16 hour train ride. A much better deal!!

That night I went to meet Carmen to have some Bubble Tea珍珠奶茶, and to meet another one of our ‘taiwan exchange student group’, whom we both also hadn’t seen in 6 years. We went to that same place near Carmen’s house and hung out and talked about China and our times in Taiwan for a while over a few beers, then went our ways. It was really great to see some Taiwan exchangers again, in one place! And so great to catch up and talk about ‘old times’. After that I just went back to see the Mongolians since I was leaving the next day, and hung out with them for the rest of the night.

The next morning I got ready to leave and got to the train station extra early since I didn’t want to be running at fullspeed to catch my train. It’s a good thing I did because the train station was completely packed and I spent about an hour shuffling towards my platform in a giant mass of people.

The train ride was pretty good. I slept soundly the whole way, since I had had so little sleep during my trip. I was woken up at 4:30am to the conductor telling me that we had arrived in Changsha, and I needed to get off the train. When I got off, I caught a motorcycle taxi back to Changsha’s east bus station to wait for a bus to Liuyang. Since it was so early I had a gross bowl of train-station noodles, with weird pickled things in it. It was bad, but I was hungry so I didn’t care. A bus came along around 6am and I got back to Liuyang pretty quickly. I was exhausted so I just went into my apartment and went to sleep, waking up later to plan lessons, eat some dinner and then sleep until the next day when classes started. I’m working all weekend this week. An 8 day week to make up for the days lost during the holiday. It’s not so bad, it takes some of this free time off my hands!

That is pretty much it for my trip to Beijing. I’m probably forgetting some things, but I can’t put them all in I guess! It would get too long.

I’ve decided next year I’m going to move to Beijing. I’m not sure if it is conveyed in this blog post or not, but I really really came to love the city, and everyone I met in it. There is a lot more variety in the types of people that are there, so it is much more stimulating than Liuyang. Also, everyone speaks Mandarin, so I will be able to have a lot more opportunity to speak and listen, and maybe take some mandarin classes at one of the universities or language centres there. I’ve also been pretty lonely in Liuyang, since it is very difficult to make friends. I haven’t met anyone who I have much in common with, but in Beijing I met a ton of people in only 4 days that I had a lot in common with, and feel I could make friends with pretty quickly!

We’ll see how all that pans out, but for now I’m in Liuyang and I have to make the best of it!!

Also, one more thing. There is no possible way of getting on Facebook anymore, since China has blocked all proxies and programs that get around the ‘Great Firewall of China’. This also means there is no way to access my blog. I can only post because I set up a ‘post-by-email’ thing when I had access. If your comments don’t show up, don’t worry, I can see them, I just can’t ‘approve’ them to let them appear on the site!

Hope everyone is well!!!