A Week in Yangshuo – Part 2

bya Gabrielle at 2:38 PM

After my super long post about my week in Yangshuo, I have decided that this time around I’m just going to post a hell of a lot of pictures. I find that I get carried away when I write and never know when to shut up. It is almost as bad as when I talk. So, here you go, more pictures and a lot less words to go with them. Enjoy.

Phil and I walked out into the country side and what a pretty country side it was.

Phil looks so little amongst the mountains.
Looks like someone could step on him.

This reminded me of my friend’s band, Black Bottom Biscuits.
They have a song called Fish Beer.

Standing on the riverside in Yangshuo. Such a pretty view. So surreal.

I am putting this picture here to show off the awesomeness of my new camera. I was standing on a bridge when I took this. And he wasn’t below me. He was further up river.

A wee little village outside of Yangshuo. I think it was called Mu Shan.

I look happy in this picture, but don’t let that smile fool you. I was so hot and miserable, it wasn’t even funny. I didn’t think I was going to make it back to the hotel.

Mu Shan transportation.

A picture of a pretty flower.

I thanked this little guy for sitting still long enough for me to get a good picture of him. I have never seen a dragonfly with a red tail before. There are some many interesting animals and insects in China. You just have to search for them.

Categories: China,Travel,Yangshuo
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Work and Potter

bya Gabrielle at 11:50 PM

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but between school, students, and the new Harry Potter book, I just haven’t had any time to post. I would say I would post something later today, but tonight is our scavenger hunt and after that I know I will be too tired to write anything. And I would say I would write something tomorrow, but we have classes as a make up for not having classes on Wednesday because the whole area of Qiao Fu Cheng lost power yet again. So the earliest day for me to sit down are write something meaningful would be on Sunday, my only day of rest before I got back to teaching for the week. No promises, but I will see what I can do. I am just so freaking tired.

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Student Life

bya Gabrielle at 3:19 PM

School has started back and that means no more vacation.

My first day of school went fairly well. I was really surprised how many students they were able to collect for the summer session. Patty counted 49 heads during our opening ceremony, but that number may grow or fall as the summer progresses. Everyday things change around here. It’s a Chinese way, and I have come to accept it.

This session, I am teaching Advance Let’s Talk(that is the name of the book) and Beginners Interchange(ditto). There are about 15 or so in each class, which is a hell of a lot more than I had last semester. In my beginners class last semester, I had four, and in my advance class I only had 3. I thought last semester was nice, but this so far is even better. I feel even more like a teacher than before. The fact that the students are nice and have come prepared to learn is just a bonus. A teacher can’t really ask for anything more. Well, I wish they would talk more, but that will come in time as they get used to me, their classmates and speaking English on a daily basis.

On the first day of classes, I spent the entire class(50 minutes) introducing myself. That is what I always do when I meet a new bunch of students. It gives them a chance to know who I am and what I am all about instead of just my name and where I am from. Well, after introducing myself to them, I told them that in our next meeting that they would be responsible for introducing themselves to me as well as to their fellow classmates.

I was a little apprehensive. I didn’t think that they would actually go home and plan something to say or that my beginners would be able to string two sentences together, but both of my classes exceeded my expectations.

I was specifically surprised my beginners. Many of them came with little speeches written down and the rest had memorized what they were going to say. For beginners, they did remarkably well. Their English wasn’t perfect, but for their level, they did an awesome job. I had only expected a simple, “Hello, my name is blah blah blah and I am from blah blah blah.” Nearly every student had something interesting to say about themselves – their favorite color, favorite sport, and hobby.

My Advance class did very well, too. Some of them shouldn’t even be there because their English is already that good, but they think they need more practice. I guess practice can’t hurt. They were all very well spoken and told me a lot of their lives and their dreams. I found out that one of the boys in the class is a stamp collector. The only other stamp collector I have met is my mother. A lot of them want to travel the world, one girl wanted to be a romance writer, one boy wants to be a financial advisor, and another girl wants to own her own bar. They all want to be rich, but don’t we all? They are an interesting bunch, that is for sure.

The one thing that I noticed that nearly every student, both from my beginner and advance level, said was this –

“There are three people in my family – my father, my mother and I.”

I know why China brought the One Child Policy into being. I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with it, but I can understand it. Even though I understand it, it still makes me sad that nearly all of my students grew up siblingless. In America, it is quite different. The majority of families have more than one child because they can. The minority of families have only one child because they want to. Here in China, the majority of families only have one child because that is all that they are allowed. Only a few are able to have more – for reasons that are set down in the rules somewhere.

It especially made me sad when one of my students asked me today:

“When you were little, did you fight with your brothers and sisters?”

Oh, yes, did I.

It is a sad that so many people here in China will never get the joy of breaking the heads of their brother’s GI Joe’s . It may not be a critical part of childhood, but it sure is a fun one.

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A Week in Yangshuo – Part 1

bya Gabrielle at 7:27 PM

Ah, vacation.

I’ve had plenty of vacation time here in China, more weeks than I can shake a stick at, but none of them have really been spent relaxing or enjoying myself. Almost every time the two of us get a little break from teaching, one of us usually comes down with a week long bug or something(or someone) evil intervenes forcing us to abandon our elaborate plans. The prime example of this was when we planned a trip around China with one of Phil’s students, Holy, during the Chinese New Year, but then our school held some of documents hostage. This in turn forced us to leave the country in order to get new visas and then the real craziness of being bounced all over China began. There are a lot of posts about it in January, February, March and even a few entries in April 2007.

Thankfully, nothing crazy went down during the first week of our summer vacation. I am glad to report that everything went pretty much as planned, except for the time that Phil almost got ran over by a semi or when we both almost got eaten by a really pissed off dog. Other than that and a few persistent mosquitoes, I think it was one of the best vacations that I have been on, in China or back home in America. So, I guess if I am going to tell it straight, I should probably start at the very beginning. I hope you like to read because I can write as much as I can talk- hence my nickname Gabby Girl. However, if you get bored by my rambling, you can just scroll down the page and look at some of the pictures that I took. These pictures are mainly from the first and second days in Guilin and Yangshuo but there are a few from the third.

We took the late flight out of Xiamen International Airport(11:10 pm) because it was 130 RMB cheaper(each) even though it would put us in Guilin early in the morning(12:30 am). Living on a teacher’s salary, Phil and I will do anything to save money. Since we are still young chickens, staying up till one or so isn’t a hard thing to accomplish. Ask me to do the same thing in about 40 years or so and I might not be so eager to save. :) The tickets were one way and cost us each 730 RMB($96.00). It doesn’t sound like a lot if you are making American dollars, but it can seem like a a lot when it is nearly 1/5 of your monthly salary. Plus, it only covers getting there. Phil and I had saved up enough so it wasn’t that much of a big deal. The sad part is that the train from Xiamen to Nanning to Guilin was just as expensive even though it took three freaking days longer. That still doesn’t make a lot of since.

Like most of our experiences with planes in China(save that particular journey from Beijing to Shenyang that took 4 tries), our plane took off right on schedule. Some people weren’t even seated yet, but they closed the hatch and started backing up anyway. It’s like they are on some timetable and they have to follow it to a T regardless if someone had time to check the plane over or not. I swear, I’ll probably die on a Chinese plane. On this particular plane, the left engine sounded rather flaky. There were several moments where I had to close my eyes and say a prayer, but then the flight attendant came and gave me a bag of peanuts and a glass of Coke to help ease my anxiety. Soon I forgot all about the rumbling coming from over my left shoulder. Other than that, our flight was fine. And as you can tell, since you are reading this now, I didn’t die. :)

Once we disembarked we headed for the CAAC bus. I don’t know what CAAC stands for, but it’s an airport bus that costs each person 20 RMB to be taken into the city of Guilin. The airport is about 20 KM outside of Guilin. It has several stops, the first being just down the street from where the bus and train station are located. Taking the CAAC bus was by far the cheaper option. If we had wanted to get to our hostel fast for any reason, we could have gotten in any of the taxis waiting by the front door. We didn’t because it would have cost 90 RMB(as long as the taxi driver didn’t take the long route) to get to our hostel. Since I had heard so many negative things about Guilin and how everyone tries to rip you off, I wanted to avoid the possibility all together. The cool thing about the bus is that the woman who took our money spoke English and knew exactly where we needed to get off. When it was our stop, she even stepped off and pointed us in the direction of our hostel as about a dozen Chinese taxi drivers bombarded us with one of the few English words besides hello that they knew.

“Taxi?!” They all screamed at once. I think one even grabbed my arm and tried to nudge me in the direction of his waiting taxi. I really felt like I was being attacked by hungry vultures.

“Bu yao, xie xie,” Phil and I said several times very politely as we pushed our way through them. I thought they would have listened and tried to pester some other poor soul, but no, there was no one else to pester. They started following us down the street still screaming TAXI at us as though we were deaf or something. There was even this one particular guy who had gotten in his taxi and started shadowing us up the street hoping that we would give into his calls. This annoyed me, so I turned around to tell him to go bug off in the only language I knew how. As soon as I turned around he thought this was me accepting his invitation, but he was wrong. For some reason he even jumped out of his taxi. Why? I don’t know, unless he thought we needed help with our backpacks – which we didn’t. “No,” I said. “We don’t need a taxi. We are going to walk.” I put two fingers on the palm of my hand, made them “walk”, and the pointed in the direction that we were going. He found this hysterical and started laughing at me. Maybe he thought I was insane to want to walk at night in Guilin to a place I wasn’t exactly sure where it was. Whatever his reason, he turned around and got back his taxi. He stared at us a second longer and laughed at us again as he drove into the darkness.

As we tried to find our way to Flowers Youth Hostel all sorts of taxi drivers bled out of the darkness. It was rather creepy, really. For the most part the streets were empty. The only signs of life were the legit taxis trying very hard to convince us that we needed to be driven to our destination(1 KM away) and the non-legit taxis(motor bikes) tapping their seats with gruesome smiles on their faces. We also saw this woman sitting in a old, rickety booth on the corner of alley way. The booth had bars and was illuminated in red. I have no idea what she was selling, but I know for sure it wasn’t lemonade.

Finally, after much confusion of which way to go and who to believe when we asked which way our hostel was, we found it across the street from the train station, down an alley way hidden completely from view. If it hadn’t been a guy sitting in an empty fruit cart(which I thought was trying to get us to go to a different hotel at first), we would have never have seen the sign obstructed by the buildings in front of it. When we turned the corner in the dimly lit building this is what greeted us on the wall.

Doesn’t it look like we should be entering a horror movie with the way it is written on the wall. It almost looks as though it was written in blood. Eek! Low budget hostels call for low budget signs, I guess.

Beside the hostel’s “sign” on the wall, we saw this. It looked equally inviting.

What kind of tourism reception is this exactly? I don’t know if it is the light, the letters, the dirt on the wall or some combination of the three, but the L in bicycle looks like it is floating off the wall. You can almost see what looks to be like it its shadow. Beware of the letter L!

We climbed the stairs to the second floor, but when we got there we didn’t see any more creepy signs or arrows to follow. Sometimes hostels really know how to hide. Luckily, I heard some voices drifting down a partially lit corridor that could possibly show me the way, so I decided to investigate. Through the window I could see a Chinese woman lounging on a couch and another woman mopping the floor. The two of them were too engrossed in their conversation to notice the two laowais standing in the doorway.”Ni hao,” I said, hoping to catch their attention but not scare the bejesus out of them at the same time. During my year of teaching I’ve noticed that Chinese people scare particularly easy. Sometimes a simple BOO will send them reeling. Because I am super evil, I try to find all sorts of ways to scare my students. It keeps them on their toes. But anyway, I digress.

The woman holding the mop nearly fainted. She threw her hand over her heart. I’m sure she said something along the lines of, “You scared me to death, woman!” I apologized and gave her several minutes to collect herself. After she caught her breath and her heart rate had gone down, she realized that the two foreigners standing in front of her were not selling tooth brushes, but needed a room. She asked if we had a reservation and we said yeah, but she couldn’t find any of our paper work. Thankfully, they still had a few rooms available. Hostelworld , the internet service we use to book hostels in China, works most of them time, but occasionally gives us hiccups.

“You want to see the rooms first?” She asked?

“Sure.” She handed us two keys. One was for a room on the first floor, and the other was for a room on the fourth. We decided to go to the fourth floor first and see what the room had to offer. After stumbling through the dark and the maze of stairs we finally got to room 421.

There was no handle. Well, there was, but not the kind you see on normal doors. I don’t even know how to describe it to you really. It was like a nob, but much smaller. You could barely get your fingers around it to turn it and it seemed as though it was about to fall off/out.

“Well, this looks promising,” I chuckled, as Phil finally got the key in and opened the door. He found the light switch beside the door and flipped it.

In unison we gasped, “Oh. My. God.”

The walls were yellow, brown, white, and even black. No, this was not some creative painter at work. The walls were covered in mold. We didn’t stay long enough to inspect further. I was too shocked to even take a picture of it, which I now wish I had. Words do not do it justice. It was truly scary. We quickly killed the lights and locked the door.

“And that is why there were no pictures of the room,” Phil said in reference to hostelworld as we walked down the stairs to the first floor. “Now I can totally understand why.” The only pictures of the hostel on hostelworld were of the lobby, which in comparison to the room we had just seen, was freaking awesome!

We stood before room 117 with the key dangling from the lock. This door actually had a handle, so that was a step in the right direction. Perhaps what was on the other side of the door would prove better too. When Phil opened the door and hit the light switch nothing happened. The room stayed dark. I was just about to utter some obscenities when WALLAH, the light above our head came to life. I guess it had to warm up or something.What we saw wasn’t perfect, but it was doable. The walls were a little moldy, but only in a few places – sorta like our apartment was before we cleaned it. The room, the walls, and the furniture all screamed mental institution, but then I reminded myself it was just for one night and that I could deal with that. Without any argument, we decided to take room 117 instead. I was a bit apprehensive in putting my head on the pillow and pulling my the covers up to my chin, but within 10 minutes or so – because that is about how quickly I fell asleep.

We woke up early the next morning to the smell of bacon. For half a second I thought I was back home and that my mom was making me breakfast, but then I remembered that I was in China and that my mother was some 7000 miles away. Even though we had only slept for a few hours, we somehow convinced ourselves to roll out of bed. It was now time to go and find the bus to Yangshuo.

It was actually incredibly easy and for the record, it was the bus that found us. We were walking toward the bus station when one of those big touristy buses pulled down the road we were walking on. We almost didn’t pay it any notice, but then a woman jumped out and started screaming YANGSHUO in our faces. We weren’t sure if it was legit or not, but she seemed insistent that the bus we take us to intended destination. I looked at Phil and he looked at me. We both shrugged our shoulders and said, “Why the hell not?”

From this point on, our vacation was reasonably easy. The bus we got on did indeed go to Yangshuo, but before we could even really start going there, the woman in charge of the money had to ask everyone we passed if they wanted to go to Yangshuo. The woman was very good at convincing people who probably really had no need or want to go to Yangshuo to get on the bus and go anyway. Many people who seemed to be doing nothing in particular hoped on for shits and giggles. It was rather interesting to watch. Although, listening to her scream YANGSHUO from the bus door every three and a half minutes got old rather quick. :)

The ride to Yangshuo was very beautiful and it gave us a peek of what we would be seeing once we got there. Most of the bus ride was through the countryside of Guangxi. We got to see a lot rural farm areas and a whore of water buffalo. I think the trip from Guilin to Yangshuo took just a little more than an hour, but it was enjoyable.

And finally, after all those months of waiting, saving and planning – we were there. Now we just need to find our hotel.

Here is Phil looking out the window at the mountains.

I had been told that it should cost 5 RMB to get to the hotel, but when I started showing the local transportation the address to the hotel in Chinese, I knew that was not going to be the case. More than one person quoted us 30 RMB, and I was not about to shell that out when I knew it could be had cheaper. Phil insisted that we walk, but that was kinda hard considering we didn’t exactly know how to get there. We walked quite a ways and had many people say they would take us for thirty before we found a guy that would take us for a total of 10 RMB. That seemed more than fair, so we took his offer.The local transportation in Yangshuo consists mainly of these three.

1. Tourist Shuttle Buses
2. Motor bikes with carts built onto the back
3. Motor bikes

The tourist shuttle buses are the legal ones, but they don’t take you directly where you want to go. They have set routes. So, if you want to go off the beaten path – these will not help you in the slightest. I don’t know how much they are because I never rode in one while I was in Yangshuo. If I had to guess I would say between 10 – 30 RMB.

The motor bikes with the carts built onto the back remind me of horse carriages. This type of transportation maybe more convenient, but they are illegal as well. If you don’t see these at particular times it is because the cops came and scared them off for a while. Most of these people wanted to charge us 30 RMB to take us about a mile and a half to our hotel, but on many occasions we got them down to 10. Although illegal, for the driver – not you, this is the most convenient and safest way to travel unless you have a bicycle or you love to walk.

The motor bikes are illegal too. Locals just aren’t allowed to transport foreigners. They want the money to go to the city instead of the hands of the locals. Every time that we took one from the hotel to any destination within the city it cost us 10 RMB total. I wouldn’t recommend this mode of transportation unless you have a helmet and you know for a fact that your driver knows what he or she is doing.

To get to the hotel we took the horse carriage like thing. He didn’t actually take us all the way to our hotel, but he at least took us to the dirt road that led to it. Thankfully there were more than enough signs to point us in the right direction. The owners of the place really didn’t want you getting lost. About every 10 feet or so there was another sign with arrows directing the way.

The place that we stayed, Riverside Retreat, was absolutely amazing. It is a little bit out of town, maybe a brisk 15 minute walk, but the views and the staff are worth it. The rates are very reasonable too. For a room with a queen size bed, a spectacular view and a balcony, we paid 180 RMB a night. I would definitely stay there again if I went to Yangshuo again. It was clean, quiet and comfortable. We really couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Here is a picture of the room we stayed in. The bed was extra comfy.

This picture was taken from our balcony. I wish I could have gotten the sky to look better, but at the time I hadn’t yet figured my new camera out – and truthfully, I am still working on that. Heh. That in Yangshuo in the distance.

We had the western breakfast that the hotel offered after we got settled into our room. For a plate full of eggs, bacon, and two pieces of toast with jelly, it cost us 15 RMB each. They cooked the eggs and the bacon particularly well. It was very tasty.After taking an afternoon nap, we awoke to explore the city. The city of Yangshuo is nice. It’s relatively small, but has an overwhelming western feel to it. That is mostly felt near and on West Street. It is yet another pedestrian street full of trinkets and goodies as well as bars and restaurants. The people are nice here, if not a little pushy. Like most westernized parts of China things can be a little on the pricey side. If you don’t want to get ripped off, you have to bargain really hard.

I didn’t come to Yangshuo because of the western feel it radiates though. I came for the views that I couldn’t see else where in China or the world – so they say. I came for the beauty that it offers. One thing is for sure though,Yangshuo did not disappoint. It met my expectations and more. I’ll stop my jibber jabbering though so that you can enjoy some of the pictures I took of the surrounding area. I’ll continue with the story of our vacation in Yangshuo in a day or two.

This was taken standing on Yangshuo Bridge. The mountains are incredible.

This was also taken on Yangshuo Bridge, but on the other side.

I have a thing about bridges I guess. This too was taken on a bridge.
A different one though.

I found these two women washing their clothes and chatting the afternoon away.

I’m not sure if he is a fisherman or a trash collector.

This dragonfly let me get really close with my camera. Thank you Mr. Dragonfly. Thank you super macro shot.

There are about a million water buffalo in Yangshuo. It was almost hot enough for me join this guy in Li River, but I didn’t know what he would thought about the idea.

Sorry if this post suddenly seemed to fall flat. It’s now 3:25 am, and I’m horribly exhausted. I just wanted to make sure I finished it. School starts back in a day and I wasn’t sure when I would have enough time to really go into detail.

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Vote for the Maniac

bya Gabrielle at 7:13 PM

For those of you who haven’t heard of the 2007 China Blog Awards, let me give you the low down.Over at Chinalyst, there is a competition of sorts taking place. It’s basically a venue created for people to vote for their favorite China blogs. Well, as you can imagine, being a China blogger, I am one of the many in the running for the pretty award you see to your left.

I’m not going to beg or anything(oh, please, please, vote for me) but I thought I would at least bring it to your attention so as to give you the opportunity to voice your opinion. :)

Voting is fairly simple. All you need to do is click on any of the blue links you see in this post or the picture with the pretty award, scroll down until you see my blog’s long title strewn across your screen and click on the little plus sign below it. And wallah, your done!

After you give my blog some love, you can peruse the many other China blogs that perhaps you haven’t stumbled upon yet. There are a lot of good ones out there. Maybe you will find some more blogs that you feel like voting for – there are several different categories. Mine is under personal blogs, if you didn’t know.

Thanks a bunch.

Categories: China
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Fourth of July?

bya Gabrielle at 3:59 PM

I’m such a bad American.

Somehow or another, I completely forgot about the Fourth of July. I probably would have forgotten about it all together had I not hopped on the computer at out hotel/hostel in Yangshuo to email my folks back home. After quickly composing the “I’m fine and it’s beautiful here” email to them, I scanned through the ones that I had received since leaving Xiamen on the first of July. Strangely, this was the first and only time in the span of six days that I surfed the world wide web. I think it’s a personal best, really, considering my awful addiction to the the great WWW. I guess Yangshuo kept me pretty busy because I didn’t really think much of it until I got back to Xiamen this afternoon. I’ve more or less been on my computer ever since. Heh. :)

So yeah, the whole idea that the Fourth of the July had actually come and gone a whole day earlier didn’t even register until I read these words at the bottom of my Dad’s email. “Hoping you have a safe and patriotic Independence Day!” I had to stop and think about what it said for a second.

“Independence Day?” I thought to myself. “The Fourth of July?” I looked down at the date on my watch. A little 5 stared back at me. “Is it really the fifth of July?” I then looked at the date on the right hand corner of the computer. “Holy crap, it is the fifth!”

I guess the lack of American flags, firework stands and constant TV ads to remind me made me completely forget that it was that time of year. That is how it is for most holidays here in China. Unless it’s Christmas, all the other holidays you grew up celebrating sort of fade into the background. To keep the traditions going in this home so far away from home, I have to try my best to remember when the holidays are even if I am not surrounded by all the decorations and other hoopla related to them. Lucky for me, I’m in China, the land that invented fireworks. If I really want to, I can go down and buy a warehouse full of fireworks and celebrate with all the hoopla I want until I am blue in the face. And since I can do that, I think I just might.

Who cares if it is a few days late. It’s the thought that counts.
I’ll start posting my 4.2 GB of pictures tomorrow that I collected on my trip to Yangshuo, but for now I am going to bed.

Categories: America,China
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Leaving on a Jet Plane . . .

bya Gabrielle at 9:24 AM

Well, as of 11:20 am this afternoon, my summer vacation has begun. Tonight, at 11:10 pm, I’m boarding a plane at the Xiamen International Airport, and getting the hell out of here! :) Yippy Skippy, as Miss Piggy would say.

Phil and I are going first to Guilin and staying at the Guilin Flowers International Hostel for a night. I have no idea if it is a good or bad hostel, but it is near the first stop of the CAAC – the bus that goes from the airport toward the actual city of Guilin. I just need a place to put my head, so I don’t really care.

When we wake up, we aren’t going to try and deal with the city. We are going straight to the bus station and going to Yangshuo, the supposed Backpacker’s mecca. We’ve been wanting to go for quite some time, but we’ve been either poor or entirely too busy with other China related stuff.

Speaking of poor – I am officially poor again. Well, not poor like we were after being bounced all around China a few months before, but poorer none the less. We are poor because we just went out and bought a super freaking awesome camera, so that I can take super freaking awesome pictures from now on.

We bought the Canon Powershot S5 IS at the Suning across town for about $490.00 – or 3760 RMB, but the camera came with a bag, 2G card, and a rather large tripod. And for what the camera does, it was a pretty good deal. Although, after playing with it for a few hours last night, I was ready to toss it out the window because it has one too many settings and I have no idea what any of them do yet. Today though, I feel I have a better understanding. Finding the manual in English on the internet helped too. Everything in print in the box was in freaking Chinese. I know, I know. I’m in China, but couldn’t they have included a section or something in English for the possible Laowai that might buy the camera?! Oh, well, it doesn’t really matter much anymore. Everything is all good. I mean, I still have to read the manual and play around with it, but I think I will be very happy. Having really nice pictures and videos will be a super plus too. My 5 year old Kodak was on her last leg – it was time for her to be replaced. I’ll put some sample shots later. They are super awesome.

Well, I guess that I should jet. I’ve still got to pack and what not. We’ll be gone until the 11th, so don’t be expecting any regular posts during that time – not that I have been regular lately anyway, but that is beside the point.

Oh, and Yahoo is unblocked again. I guess someone flipped that switch again.

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