Author: Aimee

Hospitals, China Island, Toy Nabbing

About two weeks ago I got really sick and had a 103 degree fever for about a week. I was feeling pretty feverish that Thursday night and when I woke up in the morning I could barely get out of bed to make a phone call to cancel my classes for that day. When I did, the first thing that the English teacher Cindy said to me was ‘you have to go to the hospital as soon as possible to get injections’. I was thinking…hmm..injections for a fever? I figured I’d wait it out to see if it was just a 24 hour thing, but the next morning I felt extra awful and decided to go get some medicine. The doctor at a little clinic said ‘Oh gosh, you’re gonna need an injection’, only after looking at my temperature, so I agreed, feeling all feverish and wanting to get better. I went down to the medicine shop with a long list of things I was supposed to get and bring back with me, and got a bunch of these bags of clear liquid and some little glass vials and a bunch of pills. The nurse sat me down in a big chair and strung up all the clear bags which she routed into a vein in my hand and told me to sit for about two hours while the stuff dripped into me. All the while there were some pretty crazy cases coming in and out of the injection room, like a guy that had both hands bandaged and his face was covered in a thick white cream. But then there were people that looked fine coming in and out too, getting quick injections or long injections of brown liquid or clear liquid. A guy even came in and just sat down at the nurses station and started saying who knows what to the nurses, which made them all giggle and smile coyly.

When my injection was all done, I was told that my fever should be completely down, but if it came back that night I should come back for more injections the next day. Well, when I left I still felt feverish, so I decided to go in the next day. I was supposed to eat the pills they gave me and drink some thick brown liquid too, in the meantime. That night my fever got way up to 104, so the next day I went back again to finish the injections. When I left, I still felt the same, so the doctor gave me more medicine and told me to take that until my fever went down. It went down a little that night, so I figured I could go to work the next day, Monday.

I woke up on Monday morning and I still had a high fever and opted to stay in bed and not get more injections, but the next day I still had a fever so the school told me that I must go back to the hospital. I went to another hospital in Liuyang, which is the ‘People’s Hospital of Liuyang’, and was told it was the best hospital around, which gave me some confidence. I walked in and it was all concrete and freezing inside, jam-packed full of sick-looking people. The injection room had one wall covered in a thick coat of black mold, with a fan right next to it blowing warm air (and mold particles, i presume) into the freezing room. The chairs were metal and lined up in rows, with metal hooks hanging from the ceiling to hang your injection bag on. I went to the hospital bathroom and I swear there must have been four inches of poo in every stall. Luckily there was a non-squat toilet that no one seemed to use, which was very nearly poo-free…

The doctor must have prescribed some other kind of medicine because it was brown stuff this time, though I was very doubtful any of this would work since I had been twice already with no success. I tried to get the English teacher that was with me to just let me go home and sleep off the fever, but she insisted I stay and come back three more times after this.

I got jammed with a needle to test if the medicine would work, and a little bump appeared on my hand, which I guess told the nurse it would work, so they set me up in one of the metal chairs and let the brown stuff drain into me. After that I came back five hours later to do it again, and I was actually starting to feel a lot better.

The next day I was told to come in two more times, and was given some really really really rancid brown liquid to drink that night as well. The next morning my temperature was below 100 but the school insisted I go back again, which was probably a good idea, even though it was freezing and moldy in the hospital. I went back twice that day and by the time I was done, I felt 100% better and that Thursday I got to go back to work.

This past week I have had a few funny experiences with motorcycle taxi and taxi drivers. One of the times I was riding in a cab and having the typical conversation of where I’m from and why I speak Chinese, and the cab driver said to me “There is a black man who teaches English at the number one school who can speak the local dialect” and I said, oh thats great, where is he from? The cab driver responded “he is a black man, so he must be from africa.” and I told him, well, there are black people everywhere, maybe he is American or England or somewhere, since he is teaching English!”  and he looked at me like I was crazy and said “Western people have blue eyes and golden hair”.  I told him that in America there are black americans and even asian americans. He gave me a skeptical look, saying “Hmmm…”, and changed the topic to “So how much do you make?”…

Another motorcycle taxi driver the other day asked me if I return home to America often. I told him I don’t because plane tickets can be almost 7000RMB from Shanghai to New York. He exclaimed, “So much money for only a two and a half hour flight!!!” We almost fell off the motorcycle when I told him that it was actually an 18 hour flight home….

I figure that this level of knowledge of the outside world is about the same as it would be in small town America, if everyone in America was blonde-haired and blue-eyed. China is huge and powerful, and like a lot of small town Americans, no one really finds the need to care at all about anything outside of their day-to-day surroundings, especially if there is no one around that looks radically different to remind you of the outside world.  I guess its kind of like before I moved to Canada, I think I had thought of it maybe two times in my whole life, and had no idea it was only 6 hours away…

Also, I have developed yet another strategy for getting kids to pay attention. I have a plastic bag that I call ‘The Toy Bag’, which I bring to every class, and by the time I leave, it is full of everything that was being played with in class, whatever it is. I currently have a complete arsenal of ping-pong balls and paddles, along with Slinky’s, Pokemon cards, erasers, cross-stitch, and a probably the entire collection of ‘Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf’ comic books….


The semester is pretty much over, I just have one more day of teaching this Saturday, then Sunday all the kids take exams and go home for Spring Festival for the entire month of February. I’m taking a train to Guangzhou on Sunday night where I’ll fly out of to Bangkok on Tuesday night. I’ll be meeting some friends from Changsha in Guangzhou, as well as the members of the ol’ 7-11 club on Shamian Island again. I’ll be in Bangkok for a few days alone, until my friend Bo from Montreal’s Dutch friend Peter will arrive, then Bo and another friend from Montreal, Shana, will arrive a few days after him! It’ll be so good to see familiar faces, and I’ll be updating my blog a few times during the month, so “see” you all next in Bangkok!!!

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Crazy Dinner

One has never feasted until one feasts with the Chinese. This weekend I stayed in Liuyang to have a quiet weekend, and go practice Taekwondo a little. I went on Friday, then went home early and had a good long sleep. Saturday I just sat around all day until after dinner, and ran out to Baisha road to see if I could catch a taxi downtown to the Taekwondo school. It’s always a hit or miss with catching a taxi out here, but I got one at the last minute and was a little late to class. I can usually understand only half of what is going on, and so when class ended a half hour early I wasn’t sure why. It was explained to me that there was a performance somewhere near there and that the black-belts would be participating in it, so I decided to follow everyone over there to watch. We walked down the road and under this archway with flashing neon lights, and then up five flights of stairs into this massive room full of people and a huge dance floor where couples were waltzing around to some strange electronic waltzing computer music. I went to stand on a bench with some of the people I was with, and watched a few performances. They were advertising a dance school, and the performance consisted of men in tight pants doing a line-dance rumba and then a bunch of little girls doing a choreographed dance to some song, then a bunch of professional waltzers waltzed around in suits and crazy dresses. After those performances, the people from my Taekwondo school did their demo, which went really well. There were a lot of people wide-eyed from the board-breaking they did.

After they finished we were all ushered to a private karaoke room where everyone sang songs till about 10h30. A girl convinced me to sing ‘my heart will go on’ with her. Needless to say, she did most of the singing (very well too, considering it was all in English). When everyone started leaving I kind of joined the crowd, and when we got downstairs I realized that a midnight feast was immanent. We piled into a few taxies and ended up on this side street at a big late-night hot-pot restaurant. We crowded 15 people around a tiny table with a giant pot in the middle and they proceeded to order two big boxes of beer and a ton of food (how much food, I couldn’t have known yet). A big pot of crabs was dumped into the boiling bowl in the middle of the table, and we all devoured those, then after three more bowls of delicious crabs, a bunch of steamed buns were brought out with sweet sauce and spicy peppers. After I thought maybe that was it, more crabs were dumped in, and after those were finished, a girl came over and scooped out part of the leftovers then came over and dumped a ton of broth into the bowl and stoked the fire underneath to get it to boil. While all this was happening, I swear two more big boxes of beer and a zillion toasts happened, and then the waitress poured a bunch of meatballs and seafood balls and garlic and onions and cilantro and lettuce into the broth. After this I was figuring that must be the last of the stuff, but then she brought out some fried steamed buns and some fried noodles and salty peanuts and oil-bread sticks and some kind of peanut sauce. While everyone was devouring that, I think every person had a toast with someone else between every bite.

After these four boxes of beer, and all that food, the waitress then brought out two big bowls of noodles that she dumped into the big middle bowl of broth (and everything else previous), as well as some plates of lotus roots and more lettuce and cilantro. I think they must have ordered more beer because someone whispered to me that there was now a challenge between two people on who could toast the most toasts. After a bit I went to the bathroom only to encounter the respected Mr. Li coming out of the bathroom looking a little bleary eyed saying ‘gosh, I sure drank a lot, would you like some full size fireworks for your Christmas celebrations?’. I went into the bathroom and sure enough, the respected Mr. Li had thrown up all over the place and was going out for more.
When I went back, I realized those lotus roots and cilantro plates had come from a metal shelf that was brought out that had about two more big bowls of noodles, meatballs and bean sprouts and Chinese sausage and a zillion other things. These were all devoured in due time, while a few more cases of beer were sucked down.
I also forgot to mention, while everyone was getting more and more intoxicated, and more and more toasts were happening, and more and more food was being devoured, all the crab shells, bones and used napkins and chopsticks and cigarettes were being tossed on the floor. Every time another toast would be poured, someone would drunkenly shove in and try to top off someone’s glass with more beer, and it would go all over the table. This table-beer started to drip off the table onto the mess on the floor, which ended up being a giant soupy mess both on the table and off.
One of my teachers explained to me some of the rules of Chinese alcohol culture. First, when you ‘ganbei’ (dry-glass, aka cheers) someone, your glass must be lower than those who are older than you. Second, you must always have a very full glass. Third, you must drink the entire glass on every cheers and show the empty cup to the table. He explained that this differs from Chinese tea culture, because tea culture calls for a half full glass and small sip.
This same teacher began a game with everyone at the table, where you go around and say a certain specified word or phrase in your home dialect. Everyone at the table had family from different places, so he would point to one person and say ‘Hunan!!! Go!’ and they would say it in Hunanese dialect, then ‘Liuyang Hua!!’ then ‘Hubei!!’ then ‘Jiangxi!’ then ‘Chongqing!’ then ‘Beijing!’ then ‘Cantonese!!’. It was actually really interesting for me, to hear people speaking the same phrase each after the other but in completely different, exaggerated accents in Chinese.
After a few more shelves of lotus roots and lettuce and cilantro and noodles and crabs, and a few more cases of beer, at about 3 in the morning, the big group (1/3rd of which had been sleeping on friend’s shoulders), decided it was time to go home. Two of my teachers brought me home in a taxi (unnecessary but they insisted), and I came home, and jumped into bed, incredibly full and incredibly exhausted, but very happy from the craziest dinner I’ve had in China!

This happened a few weeks ago, but I haven’t gotten around to posting it until now. I will post soon about recent things like Christmas and New Year, just as soon as I have some time to write something up!

Old Men, Cheaters, Random Tid-bits + TKD

I went out a few Saturday nights ago to Changsha, and the next morning I decided to take the first bus back, because I hadn’t found a place to sleep the night before, and the music show I went to lasted almost all night. Well, I went and stood near the bus stop around 5h30 in the morning, to catch the bus to the train station. There were about three other people there waiting, and all of a sudden they ran away from the bus stop. I stopped to look at them and wonder, but by the time I was about to turn back around I realized why. A street washing truck came whizzing by and sprayed me waist down with a ton of dirty road water. I almost went back to Freedom House to stand near a heater to get dry, but I was tired so I just decided to brave the wet. The bus came and brought me to the train station where there was a guy trying to get people to get on his bus to Liuyang. I almost did but then I thought better of it and went to the east bus station where the real Liuyang buses are. In China, always go where most of the people are going, or you will probably find yourself in a lot of trouble or getting severely ripped off!
There was one bus waiting at the real bus station, so I got on to wait for it to fill up and leave. I got on and realized I was the only girl out of about 30 old men. They all stopped talking and stared at me, then a rotund old Chinese man got on the bus and sat down next to me. They put an English Jet Li movie on the bus’s TV, and they were all asking me if I understood what they were saying in the film. When I told them yes they all laughed and clapped and asked if we Americans like China’s wonderful awesome Jet Li. I told them ‘Oh yes, very much. We think he is very awesome.’ After the bus filled up with more old men, and just me sitting near the back next to the stout old man, the movie got a little graphic. On of the opening scenes were two French prostitutes doing their thing with a Chinese business man (who got killed by the bad guys anyway). The bus was dead quiet during this scene, not surprisingly. I was thoroughly embarrassed to be the only girl on the bus, much less the only foreign girl, and stared out the window with my big hood on until Jet Li came in and ninja-ed everyone in the scene!

The past couple of weeks have been quiet except for that one strange Sunday morning. In my classes, everything has been as it always is, except I developed a good punishment for students who cheat when we are playing games.
There is one game that we play at the beginning of the class to get the kids thinking in English. A group of three girls and three boys come up to the board and have to write all the words they can think of that begin with a certain letter. Last week was ‘P’, and I always give them a minute or two to look in their books and try to remember how to spell the words. Well, some of the students like to take this minute to write all the ‘p’ words they can on their hand, or on tiny pieces of paper. At first I didn’t catch on, and I would just tell the students sitting down to close their books and not yell words at the kids who came up to the board, but then I realized that the kids at the board would be crowding around something and writing one letter at a time. I stopped the game and one of the kids craftily tossed a piece of paper into the trash bin behind him, thinking I didn’t notice. Well sure enough there was a tiny page of the dictionary in the English book ripped out with all the ‘p’ words on it. I told them all to sit down and gave the boy’s team a big 0 and erased all their words, and the girls got 6 points.
Then I went up to the kid that had ripped out the paper and opened his English book and wrote at the top of the first page ‘C-H-E-A-T’. I told him that next week he had better know the meaning of this word, and that before we did anything in class, he must come up to the front of the class and tell everyone what the meaning of the word is and why he has to tell them. He was horrified and was very quiet for the rest of the class.
It worked so well, that in all my classes, whenever a kid writes on their hands or has pieces of paper, I write the word on their books and have them look it up. Less and less students are trying to pull the wool over Miss Lamb’s eyes!

I think I haven’t mentioned this, but every day at about 5 o clock, Kenny G – Breathless starts blaring over the school’s loudspeakers, followed by a piano rendition of ‘sound of silence’. Now every time I think of the sun setting over Xinwen School, it’ll be haunted by that cheesy faux-emotional saxophone that I’ve grown to oddly appreciate…..

Also, I’ve realized that interrupting people is not frowned upon here, actually downright talking right over someone who is talking isn’t considered rude at all, it seems. At first I would get really annoyed, but now I just stop talking and wait till the person runs out of breath. Pushing, shoving and hocking up big chunks of mucus are also completely fine here, as well as openly staring at anything abnormal (yes, foreigners, but also anything else, like a one-legged man).

I have been on a missing-western-food kick lately, I don’t know why, since I am perfectly happy with the rice and pork and cabbage and puppy dog that I’ve been eating at school. I’ve been dreaming of chocolate cake and quiche and pumpkin pie and bagels with cream cheese and egg sandwiches and tasty camembert cheese and cheddar cheese…….I could go on 

Since it is winter time, I always where my heavy winter jacket. I quickly developed a great system. I don’t have to change my clothes every day, since they are always covered by my winter jacket, and I don’t have to shower every day since I’m not sweating from the heat. Anyway, it’s way to cold to shower! It’s really an excellent system!! (hehehe….)

One more thing I forgot to add: I’ve joined a Taekwondo school here. Well, rather I was told I could join for free by the Taekwondo teacher at Xinwen school. It is a place downtown that is mainly attended by really little kids. In fact, I’ve been to two classes already and one of my tiny first graders is in the class. She thought it was hilarious that I was there and couldnt stop looking at me and giggling and getting in trouble with the instructor. It’s great though because there are very few people in each class, maybe 4, and there is a group of guys who get paid to teach there I guess, and they are always hanging around. So its almost one teacher per student! My muscles are aching, but it feels so good to be doing a martial art again! (Especially on tuesdays…..i can get all that anger at those 2nd graders out…) 🙂

That’s all for now, this week is gonna be pretty regular. I might go to Changsha this weekend, or I’ll save my money for Christmas. The school is giving me Christmas Eve and Day off, so I will probably go have a western feast in a hotel somewhere in Changsha with the other foreign teachers! That’ll be my next entry I suppose!

Merry Almost Christmas!!!!

Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Thank You H1N1!

Hello everyone!! I haven’t made any posts in a while because time has been going so fast….November is already over! I had one half written on my computer, but as I was writing, the power shut off for the third time that day, and so I gave up for the time being. Anyway, this time around I’ve made two posts. So this is my most recent post, the older one is under this one.
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Last Monday I taught two of my third grade classes in the morning and then went to lunch. About half way through lunch there was an announcement and all the students started jumping up and down and screaming. I tried to ask them what it was all about, but they were too excited to talk slowly. It took me about an hour to find out what all the happiness was about: school had been canceled for 8 days due to some students potentially having swine flu. The week before there had already been about 3 quarantined classes, but they would eat first in the cafeteria, spreading their germs all over everything for the healthy kids to slurp up when they come eat afterward. As soon as I heard that we had a week off, I started thinking of places to go…
Anyway, by the time all the students had been sent home, I was ready to hop on the bus to Changsha to catch a train to Shenzhen, which borders on Hong Kong. My Mongolian friend (Byambaa) who I met in Beijing during the October holiday was down in Hong Kong with a friend of his (Gankhulug) from Ulaanbaatar. He was renewing his Chinese visa in Hong Kong, and said they would come meet me in Shenzhen when I got there. When I got to Changsha round 7pm I ran to the ticket office and bought the first train out of there, which would arrive in Shenzhen at 7 the next morning. It was a sleeper train, so I just slept the whole way, nothing too exciting.
The train was about an hour late coming into the station, and I was supposed to meet Byambaa around noon, so it was fine. I got out of the train and wandered around for a while, trying to figure out where exactly we were supposed to meet. My cell phone doesn’t work outside of Hunan, so I went to China Mobile to try to fix that, with no luck, so I bought a phone card and used the payphone to call and find out where I was supposed to be. I had a few hours to kill before I was going to meet them, so I went to find a bank, and ended up walking all around part of the downtown.
Around 1pm, Byambaa and Gankhulug arrived from Hong Kong and we met at a McDonald’s behind the giant ‘Shangri-La Hotel’ next to the train station. After that we went to find a place to stay, which isn’t to hard because there are high rises behind the Shangri-La Hotel that are full of independent hotels with about 15 rooms each, two hotels to a floor. They are all in competition with each other so they are pretty clean and cheap. We found a room with a few beds for about 120rmb a night, and put our stuff down and went to find some noodles for lunch.
People and had told me that Shenzhen was dangerous and dirty, but when I went there I found out it was clean and modern, with police around making sure nothing bad was going on. Actually later that evening when we were walking around, there were a group of police that came up to me and Byambaa and Gankhulug, asking them if they were Chinese, and where my passport was. Apparently we are supposed to carry our passport on us at all times. None of us had ours with us at the time, and the police were looking all menacing till I Chinesed our way out of the situation. Byambaa and Gankhulug speak a little Chinese, so I did most of the talking. I think the police were a little weirded out that the white girl was doing the talking, but it worked and they softened up and didn’t fine us for having no passports on us and we could barely remember the name of our hotel!
I was in Shenzhen from Tuesday until Thursday morning, and just spend it walking around a lot and eating food and sleeping. On Wednesday night we went to meet some of Byambaa’s Mongolian friends who live in Shenzhen (or HK, not sure..). We met them outside our hotel and I was scared of them at first because they seemed like some hardcore, big gruff Mongolian gangsters, but after hanging around with them for a bit, they turned out to be not that scary. We went down into a playground below the hotel and had some beers and chatted for a while. Well, I can’t speak Mongolian, so I did more listening than talking. The two gangster guys ended up not being so scary to me, mainly because they asked me with wide, eager eyes, what was my advice on how to get a foreign girlfriend. I said, be yourself, smile, learn some vital English words and don’t act scary.
The next morning Byambaa and Gankhulug had to go back to Hong Kong to arrange some business, so I decided to hang around the train station and decided where to go next. Eventually I decided I would go to Guangzhou which is right near-by. I could have taken the train, but I decided to take the bus so I could see more of the scenery at a slower pace and also to save some money. I caught the bus for 60RMB, passed tons and tons of banana farms and smoke stacks, finally arriving at Guangzhou’s train station bus terminal about two hours later. I had nowhere to stay, so I decided to go to Shamian island, where I had stayed during Em and Han’s adoption trips. I wasn’t going to stay at the White Swan hotel, obviously since it is 5 star, and way too fancy, but there is a small youth hostel right across the street that I heard had a few dorm beds for cheap. When I got there, they said they had plenty of beds to my relief, so I paid for two nights and went and put my stuff down. I was starving, so I went off the island to go see if I could find a noodle place, or the place where I had eaten with some friends in Guangzhou in 2006. The streets were all still the same looking, but they were all so twisty and turny and covered in grime and fish and medicine vendor’s, I got a little lost. Finally I just grabbed a taxi to get to the Shangxiajiu walking street to see what I could find. In a little alley I finally found a noodle place and devoured that, while being stared at and commented on by the staff. I quickly left there and went to find some jeans. (impossible to find ones that fit me in Liuyang). Since Guangzhou is a major wholesale clothing hub, and lots of clothing manufacturing plants are based in Guangdong province, everything is amazingly cheap. I found some jeans, and by then I was pretty tired from a day of traveling and walking, so I went back to the hostel.
I stopped by 7-11 and got a Pearl River Beer, which I went to drink it by the Pearl River, and had a conversation with an old man who was there promoting audio equipment for a company in Zhengzhou. I couldn’t really understand what the audio equipment was that he was talking about, some kind of box. He tried to get me to go back to where he was staying and take a look, but something told me I probably shouldn’t follow him into the dark streets. As soon as I finished my beer I went to walk back to the hostel and outside the 7-11 there were some foreigners and Chinese sitting around a table. One of them called out for me to come sit down and have a beer with them, so I figured I would since it was still a little early to go to sleep. I ended up talking with them for a while, found out the foreigners were Polish wholesalers who came and stayed in Guangzhou going to the big markets to find products to bring back to Poland. One was a clothing and shoe buyer and one was a jewelry and stone buyer. The other guy I’m not really sure what he did, just that he lives in Guangzhou and Beijing. One of the Chinese there was named ‘Tony Macaroni’ and works for a shipment company, and he often helps the Polish guys ship their stuff back to Poland. The other Chinese guy was hanging around to learn English, but I don’t know how good that was for him because they were all speaking Polish mostly, or English with an extremely strong accent.
The next day I went to the train station to buy a train ticket for Saturday morning to go back to Changsha, and hung around the train station for a while and went to check out the wholesale markets. They were jam packed with big buyers, and people just shopping for single items. There were hundreds and hundreds of tiny booths, some selling a lot of the exact same things. It was pretty overwhelming, but cool to see where a lot of the things in western stores come from, and how cheap they are here in comparison to the west!
After that I had heard there was a park down the street, so I walked for a while to go check it out. It was a nice park with lakes, koi fish and flowers and bamboo everywhere, and it was refreshing to be able to walk around somewhere nice and green in warm weather. When I got to the opposite gate of the park, I looked across the street and saw a huge crowd of Chinese Muslims and tons of vendors and steam rising from the booths all the way up a long street. I went to go walk around there, and had some really good kebab and sweet potato dumplings. I almost bought what I thought was a nice wall hanging, but then I realized it was a prayer mat, not a wall hanging. A super-white, bare-headed, blue-eyed girl in a low-cut shirt buying a prayer mat might not have been such a good idea.
After that I rode the subway back to Shamian island and took a short nap and went on the computer. The night before the Polish people had invited me to go to the fish market with them for dinner around 7pm that day, so I met them out front of the hostel to go get some food. We went to the fish market, which was a giant wet place with zillions of small booths full of every kind of sea-food you can imagine, as well as some sliced-up crocodiles and giant clams. The guy named Artur had done this many times before, so he bargained and got about four bags of live fish and prawns and shellfish. We took the bags into this tall building full of restaurants in the market where you can bring your freshly bought food and have them cook it for you. There was a wedding on the first floor so they brought us to the roof to sit at a table and eat.
The food was amazingly good and I had crab for the first time and all sorts of other strange dishes, and the biggest shrimp I’ve ever eaten. I was pretty full after that, and lucked out because the guy Artur said he would treat us all to the dinner. Free, amazing tasty food! Nothing beats that….
After that the old pot-bellied Polish guy went to get a giant bottle of vodka which they went outside of 7-11 to drink again, so I joined them, but stuck with beer since vodka is a little to strong for me…
In the hostel I met some more people in my dorm room at the hostel from France and Belgium, who I invited outside to the 7-11 table, and then after that we all decided to go to a ‘Chinese-Disco’. I had found one on the internet that I wanted to go look at, but it turned out to be very small and empty, so the big pot-bellied man said ‘Za big disco, we go!’, so we went. It turned out to be enormous and completely full of people from the middle east, Pakistan, India, and all over Africa. There were almost no Chinese in the entire crowd, and all the music was Arabic music, and everyone doing that shoulder shaking dance. There were belly dancers that came out and danced around as well. It was actually really fun, and the whole group of us left the place around 5am.
I guess I had been awfully tired when I got back to the hostel, because when I woke up the next morning and I saw my clock, it said 11am. My train had left two hours before! I jumped out of bed and grabbed my bags, and woke up Thomas, the Belgian guy across the room, who also had to go to the train station, and ran to catch a cab to the train station to see if I could catch the next train. When I got there, I could only get a ticket for 14h35pm, and I was not able to get a refund on my previous ticket. 116RMB down the drain!! Needless to say…next time I have to catch a train and I plan on going out at night, I will set my alarm before I leave…..
When I finally got back to Changsha, I went to Freedom House because my friend Gaofeng had told me there was some good music playing that night, and there was a cheap hotel across the street. I got in at 11pm and went over there. The place was empty, but the music was good and there is a girl named Little 7 who made us some hot milk tea, and some guys who were having a drawing jam, or basically taking turns drawing on the same piece of paper, adding a little each time and then trading off. I added a little too, and in the end it was a really neat drawing!
The next day I just went to eat lunch, then hopped on the bus home. I was exhausted by the time I got back and went to sleep really early.
School won’t open for classes until Wednesday, so I have one more day to relax and plan lessons. An unexpected vacation is a great thing!!! I am totally refreshed and ready to teach like crazy until Spring Festival in February!!

Halloween, Bike, Music in Changsha

The few days before Halloween were going to be exam days, which if I was teaching in a high school, I would get almost a whole week off. Since I teach primary, the kids only have exams in the morning, lucky for them but not for me! After my last class of first grade that Friday, I went downtown with Craig to translate for him while he bought a motorcycle. When that was done with, he rode back, and I rode home on the back of the salesman’s bike. That was pretty fun, sitting on a tiny stool on the street with some tobacco-chewing, grease covered old guys trying to figure out a deal, and get the motorcycle ready to go.
The next day was Halloween, and some friends in Changsha had invited me and Craig to go to a party at their apartment. I threw together a pirate costume with some stuff I somehow had laying around, then went downtown to go catch the bus to Changsha. Craig had to pick up some costume stuff so we walked around for a while. On the walking street this toothless guy came up to me, saying something really excitedly and laughing his head off. I kept saying ‘what, what? What are you talking about?’ because I thought he said someone had died. I looked to where he was pointing and realized that it was indeed true….there was someone laying on the side of the street under some dirty blankets and newspapers who was indeed stone cold dead. There were a lot of people just standing around, smoking, watching and pointing, and there was a stoic old guy with a paunch and a white t-shirt tucked into his dress pants guarding the body. I kind of stared in horror then got away as fast as I could. I’ve never really seen a dead person before, so it was a little unsettling.
After that, while walking to the bus station, there were three monkeys on a rope with a guy telling them to do things, like throw a ball in a hoop or do flips. The monkey’s weren’t having it, and I didn’t stick around to see if it was part of the act or not. I was a little worried about the monkeys since they looked pretty mangy, but the guy did too.
When we got to Changsha we went to find Michaela’s house, where the Halloween party was. We got a little lost and there was a Chinese Muslim guy selling bbq on the street cornere, so I asked him where to go. He said he wasn’t sure where the school was, but ‘there sure where a bunch of people that looked like you going that way’ he said, pointing across the street. I thought it was hilarious the way he said it, and usually I might be a little uncomfortable about the statement, but since he looks different too I thought it was pretty funny.
Michaela is part of the group of World Teach teachers in Changsha, so a lot of them were there. It was a fun time, and so strange at first to be in a house full of foreigners. I forgot I was in China for a bit and thought I was back in Montreal! After a while we all decided to go out to a bar in the city called 4698. ‘98’ in Chinese sounds like ‘jiu ba’ which is also the word for ‘bar’. While there I ran into my bosses, Patrick and Ping! It was a huge coincidence because Yangshuo is 10 hours away and the bar we were in was a tiny place in a back alley. They were just in town because Ping’s father was sick and they decided to go out for Halloween! I made some Chinese friends that night, and one of them named Jinbao invited me to come back in a few weekends to go to an electronic music show that was happening at another place called ‘Freedom House’.
When I got home on Sunday that weekend, I decided to finally go get the bike fixed that has been sitting in one of my empty rooms since I got here. It was missing a pedal, the tires were flat and the seat was way too high. There is a motorcycle repair shop down the road next to the little store I go to a lot. I decided I would bring the bike down there and the guy could do something to fix the it. The shop is completely covered floor to ceiling in black grease, as well as everything in the store and the guy who works there. When I brought it down, he pumped up the tires and lowered the seat successfully, while I held onto the bike. Then he took a look at the pedal and went to get a sledge hammer….I was a little nervous about that, since a sledge hammer didn’t really seem like appropriate tool. But he put the pedal where it was supposed to go, whacked it a few times, and sent me on my way. About 10 minutes later, after I decided to take a small countryside road back, the pedal loosened and fell completely off. I tried to use the same trick as the guy, with a big rock, and 10 minutes later it fell off again. After that I figured I just had to get back to the school and forget about a bike ride that day.. Since then I haven’t gotten the bike fixed, since its gotten really cold, but maybe there is a real bike repair shop in town!
The next weekend I didn’t do anything except go into town a few times, and those past two weeks went pretty smoothly and normally. The first week my bad classes were exceptionally good. The next week, however, the classes were just as crazy again. I think it was because that week from Sunday on, I started feeling feverish and sick, but I didn’t realize that having chills meant I had a fever, so I kept going to class and putting more layers on, and tiring myself out. By Wednesday I had a full blown fever, and luckily all my classes finished by lunch time, so I had the whole afternoon off. That night I went to the nurse’s office at the school and ask for some medicine. She gave me tons and tons, all of which I was supposed to take within the two days. Four pills and one vial of brown liquid, three times a day. I wasn’t sure what any of the medicine did, but it helped me feel a little better and made my headache go away so I was able to teach. By Friday night I was feeling a little better, and Craig had gone to Changsha. I had decided to stay home and rest a little more before the next day. On Saturday night was that show at Freedom house that Jinbao was telling me about. It was a Chinese ambient music artist from Beijing named Me:mo, who is apparently renowned in the Chinese music scene. I got there a little late because I was debating whether or not to go since I had no place to stay that night. I decided to just wing it and see if I could meet someone that had a couch, or maybe find Craig and the group of World Teach teachers. Their phones were off when I got there, so I went to this place called Folk Bar where they are a lot, and the bartender Jimmy knows a lot of them. He helped me out and gave them a call, and I went to meet them for dinner not too far away. Later I went to Freedom house and listened to the tail end of Me:mo’s show, then Jinbao invited me to go with him, his girlfriend, Me:mo and Gaofeng and the boss of Freedom house. We went to get really tasty noodles, and I learned some stuff about Beijing from Memo, which is exciting since I’m going to live there next year. After that I saw the group of world teach teachers again on the street and they were going somewhere else downtown, so I followed them. We went into a club and stayed for a while, then after about an hour, I turned around from talking to someone and they were all gone. I panicked a little since I had no where to stay that night, and the next bus back to Liuyang was at 6am, but I made a few phone calls and finally found a place to stay on a teacher’s couch. The next morning I met up with Craig and we went to eat some tasty, real pizza with real cheese and everything, then he went back to Liuyang and I went to have another lunch at my Turkish friend’s house, who I met on Halloween. He had made homemade bread and a homey-tasting soup that kind of had a Memere-soup flavor, and I had Turkish coffee and some olives. I almost forgot I was in China!!
Earlier in that day Gaofeng had called me to see what I was doing, and if I wanted to come eat dinner with the group of them again, so I said yes even though I was getting to be extremely full from my two lunches. We went to have some food at a restaurant that looks like a tiny door in the wall, but when you go in, the boss leads you through a maze of small rooms full of tables, to a free one. Our table was in the back of the restaurant and we must have gone around fifteen corners and passageways to get there, and this restaurant was jam packed! It was famous for its frog dishes, so we got some and it was wonderfully tasty. I ate some even though I had no room left.
I had to catch the last bus to Liuyang at 8pm, but then Gaofeng told me there was a Uyghur (western Chinese minority group from Xinjiang) folk music show at Freedom House that night, and he said I could stay in his family’s house if I had no where to stay, so I agreed. Also, there was no school that Monday because of a teacher’s meeting.
The music was great, and the instruments where really cool and not like anything I had ever seen. It turns out that a few people there could do throat-singing, including Gaofeng. He was trying to explain to me how to do it, but it seems pretty difficult! Throat singing is from Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia, and they are all slightly different.
Anyway, it was a great night and the next day I just went home to rest up and plan my week’s lessons.
That week was normal for teaching as well. I wish I could say more about teaching, but it’s really monotonous and doesn’t change much. I have to teach from the books, but the books aren’t so interesting. I try to include interesting pictures so I can talk about American culture a little bit, and some songs for the young grades. I guess I’m still learning but I’ve officially decided next year I will be teaching high school!!
That weekend I stayed at home then taught for one day on Monday. That pretty much brings everything up to the next entry!!

‘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!!!

Food, Mahjong, Corporal Punishment

I’ve just realised I haven’t written in a while!! This past week and a half has been very busy and a little hard. Time seems to be flying recently. I feel like I just got back from Changsha, but it’s actually been two weeks already!!

That week of teaching after Changsha went pretty well, except my Tuesdays with the 2nd graders as usual. It’s great because after Tuesday, the week is so easy. I’m glad it’s at the beginning of the week!!
That Friday Selina, the English teacher that I rode the bike around with on Teacher’s Day, invited me and Craig to her house for dinner. She lives with her husband in a really nice apartment about a 20 minute walk from the school. After all the kids went home for the weekend around 3pm, me and Craig and Monica went over to her house in the car of another teacher who was also coming. In China, when you go to someone’s house for dinner, you are the guest and often get told to ‘sit and rest’ while the host prepares food and gives you tea and things like that. And there is always some fruit or dried fruit and nuts on the table to eat before dinner. Since we were there so early, we all just sat and talked for a bit, then Selina asked if either of us knew how to play Liuyang style Mahjong. Neither of us did, so we went into Selina’s Mahjong room to learn. Mahjong is basically a gambling game with 136 tiles with three or four different suits on them, Bamboo, Circles and Numbers. It’s too much to describe here, but all I can say is its pretty fun. Selina has a special table that sorts and stacks the tiles for you, and has a crazy light in the middle with a dice roller. Pretty spiffy! The game is usually played with money, but since me and Craig were learning, we just used cards as money.
We played that for a while, then went to eat dinner when it was prepared. Selina is a really really good cook, so I ate a lot and got really full. After dinner we played Mahjong again until about 10pm, then went back to school.
The next day around 9am Monica called me, waking me up and said ‘Aimee! All the teachers in our department are going to a restaurant for lunch and more Mahjong. I will be there with the van in 20 minutes.’ I got up and showered and got dressed really quickly, then Monica called me again saying, ‘We will be there in 5 minutes, and I didnt get a hold of Craig, can you ask him to come as well?’ So I went downstairs and knocked, waking Craig up, telling him someone is picking us up in 5 minutes to go somewhere. (Good ol’ typical last minute news!) When Monica got there, we were just getting to the school gate, and got into the van. Monica said ‘The place is a little far from school’, but I think that meant ‘really close’ because we just went behind the big dirt hill behind the school and there is apparently a big restaurant and lake there! None of us had had breakfast, so we asked the restaurant if they had noodles, but they didn’t so everyone decided to ignore their stomachs by playing a little early-morning Mahjong. There were about 30 people all together from the department there, so we all split up into different Mahjong rooms to play a little. I sat down at a table, but then realised they were planning on playing for money, so I quickly got up and said I would just settle for drinking tea and watching. It was Monica, Selina, Craig and another teacher in our mahjong room, and I sat and watched for a while then got a little bored and decided to go for a walk and take some pictures.
It was really nice, and I actually didnt know it was right behind our school until I walked around the lake a bit and saw the top of my apartment building over the big dirt hill. It was pretty rural there and on the far side of the pond I could see an old man fishing in an umbrella hat. There was a bamboo raft tied to a dock and i sat there for a while, then walked around a little more. This restaurant has all private rooms that you can eat in, no communal eating areas. I think this style is pretty typical for restaurants in China, especially nicer ones in the countryside. The kitchen was way off to one side in a separate building, and there was even a pig barn next to the kitchen, where I heard a lot of squealing. At least I know the meat was fresh!! I went back to the Mahjong room and Craig was done playing so I went with him on another walk around the lake. When we got the other side of it, there were all these little paths going in different directions, so we followed a few of them and found little gardens in the middle of the woods of hot peppers. Hot peppers are the main ingredient in all food in Hunan, so I can see why there were so many gardens full of them and nothing else! One of the paths led to someones house, which might have been the people who own the restaurant’s house. There was a dirt road going from it in the opposite direction that looks like it might lead to a main road. There were also a lot of little sheds along the road and a lot of ducks running around and some baby’s clothes hanging on a tree to dry, next to the little rice field that was down below the house.
We walked back to the lake and saw people heading towards the dining room so we ran back and sure ’nuff it was time for lunch. Our group filled up about four lazy-susan tables in a big empty room. The staff brought the food out, one dish at a time. It was all really really good food, and some really good tofu that I wish I knew how to make. When we were done, everyone just cleared out and were going to go to another teacher’s house for more Mahjong, but I was tired and so was Craig, so some other people that were leaving brought us both back to our apartments.
Later on, Monica called me and asked if I wanted to go to Selina’s again for dinner that night, so I went and got Craig and we walked over to Selina’s house again. We played more Mahjong, ate more good food, and then went for a walk downtown. Me and Craig wanted to go to ‘Party Bar’ that evening, so we invited Selina and Monica to come along too. They went shopping for a bit, and me and Craig went walking around to find that little TsingTao place to sit for a bit. A huge rainstorm broke out, so we stayed under the plastic overhang there with a bunch of old ladies and old men who were hiding from the rainstorm. There were lots of stares and lots of giggling, and I’m still not used to it, but I tried to relax and ignore it. After the rain stopped and we had finished our beer, we went to walk around to find a bank and then go to ‘Party Bar’ to meet up with Monica and Selina. When we were at the ATM, I saw that there was a place accross the street called ‘M16 Bar’ (hmmm…M16 eh?), and so we went over to check it out, since we had been told that Liuyang only had one bar. It was smaller inside and had apparently just opened, and I liked it because no one ran over to us and tried to make us sit somewhere or make us buy a drink just because we are foreign. We left though, after just walking around because we were supposed to meet Selina and Monica. Anyway, it was a fun night, and we went back to Xinwen by taxi later on.
That Sunday I was supposed to go to Changsha to change the rest of my travellers checks so I could by my train ticket to Beijing for the National Holiday, but when I woke up and was about to leave, I figured I should check to see if the bank is open on Sunday. I checked and sure enough, it was open, but the foreign exchange counter isn’t, so I would have gone for nothing. I just hung around the rest of Sunday and did some lesson planning for my 3rd graders on Monday.
Monday went fine, as usually, but Tuesday was horrible. In class 20 I had four kids standing up facing the wall because they were causing so much trouble, and one kid standing outside. After that, the class ran rather smoothly (in comparison), but then a few hours later I got a text message from Cindy saying exactly this: ‘Hello Amy, there have a news the school want me to tell to you. If the students are very noise teacher can’t let them out of class, can’t ask them to stand in front of classroom. Because that’s a kind of corporal punishment, and it’s not permit in our school.’
So as you can see, I was kind of taken aback, since not a week before, I had seen a student get slapped across the face by a teacher, and multiple teachers do the whole ‘ear grab and drag’ down the hallways. After class I went to Cindy’s office and said ‘Cindy! I never hit a child! It was just standing!’ But apparently corporal punishment includes standing. In order to ‘save my face’, she made up a story about how it was a new policy and that the teachers had just had a meeting about it the day before and she was instructed to tell me. This is not the case. There was no such meeting. I think maybe I might have embarrassed some rich guy’s son, maybe the son of someone who gives a lot of money to the school or something, so they want to prevent anything from happening.
I asked Cindy if there were any alternative disciplinary methods, and she said well, you could just ask them to be quiet. And I told her, the only reason the kids are standing up is because I had to tell them that six times, and they were still hitting their classmates, making kids cry, running around the room or standing on their chair or dancing around behind my back. She looked aghast, ‘hitting classmates??’ "yes cindy, hitting classmates." I told her i suspect it is due to my foreignness and inability to always for grammatically correct sentences in Chinese that the kids just don’t care, and the kids know that oral English class is kind of joke, since you just play English games in the class, and are asked to talk all the time. She suggested that the head teacher be present in all my classes, which I am going to have to accept, because there is really no other alternative.
After Tuesday, I emailed my fellow Buckland teachers and asked them what they would do. There were some good ideas from the more seasoned teachers in the bunch. One idea that I’ve been using for the rest of the week was holding up a piece of paper at the beginning of class and telling the kids that anyone who i have to tell more than 3 times to behave, gets their name on that paper and the paper gets given to the head teacher at the end of class. The kids got a little wide-eyed as soon as they found out I was serious, when the first kid had to write his name down. This worked pretty well for the rest of the week, and this week I gave the kids a break. At the end of class I called the kids whose names were on the paper up to my desk and told them that this week they were lucky, because since it is the first time, i wont give the paper to their teacher, but next week I will, if the act up again. I’ll have to see how this method works on my second graders next week!! I wish I only had one or two classes, then I could really get into some good methods, but having 22 different classes every week makes it kind of impossible to do any sort of reward system or anything like that. We’ll see, we’ll see.
Anyway, on Wednesday afternoon I took the bus into Changsha to find the bank and change my travelers checks. I will never again bring any sort of check to China, because it is such a hassle to get them changed. I think a bank card will work just fine next time!! Anyway, when I got them changed, I went and got some noodles and walked around for a bit and went to Carrefour to get some floss (very hard to find in China), and then took a moto-taxi back to the bus station to go home. When I got there I saw a little ticket office for train tickets, so I decided to stand in line and get my train ticket to Beijing right then and there, since I had heard that tickets sell out very fast for the National holiday in China since it is one of China’s golden weeks where everyone goes on vacation since it is one of the few times the Chinese get off from work. I got the counter and bought a one way ticket to Bejing, since I can’t buy my return ticket until 10 days before. I told the lady I wanted to arrive in Bejing on the 2nd, but I think it said it wrong, because when I got my ticket it said I will leave Changsha on the 2nd. I figured that’s not so bad, I’ll just get to Bejing that night instead of the morning. So I bussed home and went online to check the train’s specifcations and things, and found out the lady had given me a ticket for the longest train ride to beijing, and I would be getting there at 11am on the 3rd. Most of the time the train takes about 14 hours, but my train is going to take 21.5 hours altogether. I guess I said it wrong. I should have said I wanted to leave on the 1st, and probably had a list of the trains I would be willing to take. I probably should have bought my ticket in Liuyang! On Friday afternoon I went to the ticket office in Liuyang to see if I could change it, and sure enough, the only place I can change it is at the station in Changsha. It’s gonna work out in the long run though, because I will have to pay for one less night at the hostel, and have to spread my money over 5 days 4 nights, instead of 6 days 5 nights! I’m travelling on the remainder of my money here, and we don’t get paid until after the holiday, so this is actually going to be good, except for 21 hours of boredom on a train. Maybe I’ll learn some Chinese card games, and play with the people next to me.
Last night I went to Selina’s again for dinner, and played a little more Mahjong, then just came home and had an 11 hour sleep. That pretty much brings everything up to right now.
Next week is going to be a short week, only three days. October 1st is the National Holiday and I don’t have to start teaching again till October 9th. I’ll be leaving for Beijing on the 3rd, coming back on the 7th. I’m also going to be seeing two old friends from Taiwan, who are currently living in Beijing! That is one of the main reasons I’m going. I’ve just booked my hostel today too, and it’s in the middle of a Hutong, and was apparently an old prison, and it’s only 5.50 U.S. a night! I can’t wait till I can leave, but since time is passing so quickly, I think that won’t be a problem!!
Oh, and I also wanted to mention, all my photos are up on Facebook since some good friends back in Montreal have been posting them for me! I can’t really upload photos on any website here since the connection is so weak, so just Facebook will have to do for now. Hope all is well back home!!! I miss everyone…