Okay, No More Excuses, I Don’t Even Have a Job

bya Gabrielle at 12:26 PM

Blogging . . . it used to be a part of my daily routine and then I got lazy.  Well, now I don’t have any excuses.  I’m not bouncing around the globe, I’m not attending a funeral or mourning my loss anymore, I’m not standing at an alter saying, “I do”, and I am most certainly not working.  So, what else do I have time for?  Pretty much anything that I want. And for the most part that has included sleeping late, watching season and after season of whatever TV show I downloaded, and making sure that dinner is cooked for my hubby when he finally gets home after a long day behind the desk.  But those aren’t the only things going on in here in Shanghai.

Since I have moved to Shanghai, China, a lot has happened.

On my second day here, my flipping wallet was stolen.  All in all they didn’t get much, but they did get five crisp 100 yuan bills, my US and Chinese debit card, credit card, traveler check receipts, a whole section of business cards of people I don’t really know, the USC staff card I liked to use to get discounts at movie theaters and the like, my driver license(that had a good picture on it!) and random mementos that I’ve carried in my wallet for way too long.  Most of what was stolen can be replaced.  The major pain was having to call and get everything canceled and knowing that it was probably going to be a complete bitch getting access to 8000 yuan I still had left from Linyi.  Why, would that be difficult you ask?  Well, it’s simple really.  China wouldn’t be China if everything was easy.  As much as the lack of ease irks me here in China, I do suppose that it is part of the reason it keeps me here.  I know, I am completely retarded.

As soon as I realized that my wallet had been stolen, the first thought that popped into my head besides, “Oh, shit, oh, shit”, was the Ben Ross post I read several years ago.  His wallet wasn’t stolen, but it might have well have been.  He just forgot his pass code.  You can read all about it here, here, here, and here.  It’s a lot of reading, but worth it.  The memory of this post put the fear of God in me.  I was almost certain I was gonna be screwed eight ways to Sunday.

I did the proper thing after I realized my wallet was gone.  Teary-eyed(me, not Phil), Phil and I found a police officer and in broken Chinese told him what had happened.  He told us to follow him and so we did.  I don’t think he told us where he was taking us and if he did the Chinese was lost on us.   All I knew was that he was walking us away from the possible scene of the crime.  He guided us, silently, across several busy streets and eventually turned down a very dark and quite alley.  For one paranoid, horror-esque moment, I thought he was guiding us to our doom.  I’ve seen to many movies for my own good.  In my defense, I was tired, angry as a bee hive that has been poked with a stick, and worried sick about how I was going to survive in Shanghai until all this was resolved.  You need money to live after all.

The police officer finally parked his bicycle in front of building and pointed that we should go in.  Surprise, surprise, he had taken us to a police station.  He told us to wait while he went and talked to a few of the other officers.  In a small, windowless back room, I could see about 7 officers chain smoking.  A wall of smoke continuously wafted out.  When one officer put out his cigarette and left, another officer would replace him.  Not a single one of them stepped through the door frame holding a cigarette.  It was obviously the designated smoking area.  I didn’t know China had designated smoking areas.

Finally, a guy came over to me and asked in Chinese if I had a Chinese friend that he could call.  Apparently, of all the officers present, not a one of them spoke enough English for me to file a report.  If this had happened in Linyi or Fuyang, or any other small city I have lived in or visited, I would have expected as much.  I guess I thought Shanghai would have more officers that could communicate with foreigners on some level at least, and especially so soon after the Expo had finished.    I thought wrong.  I was very lucky that I did indeed have a local Chinese friend to call.  Amanda(Zhang Yun Jing) has been so very helpful to both me and Phil since we have arrived.  I hated to call her so late, but it was the only way the officers were going to be able to communicate with me.  I figured they would just use Amanda as a translator, so I waited patiently while they talked to one another.   When the guy hung up the phone without handing it back to me, I was confused.  I immediately called Amanda back and asked her what was going on.

“I am coming to you,” she said.

“But it is 11:00 p.m. and you live so far away.  You don’t need to come all the way here.  I just want them to know my wallet was stolen, so that if it is somehow found that they can give it back to me.”

“No, it is okay.  We are friends.”

At this point, I had only met with her three times.  We spent two days together looking for an apartment in December and then earlier that day, I had seen her at Phil’s work.  She was helping us get our paperwork in order.  I tried very hard to convince her that she really didn’t need to travel 30 minutes across town, but it was no use.  She was my friend, and friends help friends in times of need.

Phil and I sat and waited while our ice cream cones melted.  We had forgotten we had bought them with all the insanity.  I refused to let mine go to waste and slurped mine out of its wrapper.  It dripped all over me and I didn’t care.

When Amanda arrived about 45 minutes later, we found a police officer who sat down with us to write up a report.  He asked the normal questions – where did I think I was when my wallet was stolen, when did I realize it was missing, what was in my wallet, and how to contact me if my wallet was found or if they had any further questions.  This took about 30 minutes.  They told me if I was sure it was taken at Carrefour, a store a lot like Wal-Mart, they would review the tapes, but there was no way I could know for sure if it was or not.  It could have happened in several different places.  They took all of my information, typed it up and gave me a copy.  It was my first and hopefully, last Chinese police report.

As we walked back down the dark and now even quieter alley, I thanked Amanda repeatedly for all she had done.  I even got a little emotional when I told her how happy I was to have a friend like her because g0od friends, not just in China, are hard to come by.  She told me that I did not have to thank her because I was her friend and that she was very happy to be there for me.  I hugged her and off she went.

Phil and I went home and promptly crashed.  It had been a long day.  I probably should have looked for the number to my bank then, but I was just too tired to think about it.  It was the first thing I did when I woke up the next day, though.

After finding the English hot-line number to the China Construction Bank and telling them that my wallet was stolen(fairly easy), they froze my account so that the stupid pick pocket couldn’t attempt to withdraw my small chunk of change, after verifying who I was.  They wanted to know how much money I thought I had, when the last time I used it, and my name of course.  Since I did not know my card number, I had to provide my passport number.

I asked the guy on the phone how I would be able to get what money I had left out and he told me what I feared. He said that I would have to go back to the China Construction Bank branch where I opened my account to unfreeze my account and to have a new card issued.  I told him I didn’t care about the card, that I just wanted my money, but he said that was what I had to do.  This wouldn’t be much of a problem if I was still living in Linyi, but I wasn’t.  Linyi is about 10 hours away by bus and depending on when you buy a plane ticket, it can cost anywhere between 370 to 800 yuan to fly there – one way.  Of course, to fly I would need my passport, and Phil’s work was still in possession of it at the time, and without the ability to get to my money, it would be difficult to pay for the stupid ticket.  I could have used what money Phil had left on his Chinese debit card or had him take money out his US accounts, but I refused to go that route.

The next day, I decided to call the hot-line number again, to see if there was someone else I could talk to – maybe there was another way.  I talked to a woman and told her my situation.  She asked where I was living and gave me the address to a near by branch that should be able to able to help me.  This seemed promising and made me happy.

Almost a month later, I finally made my way to the branch the woman had told me to go to.  Why did it take me so long?  Well, Chinese New Year happened, it took almost three weeks to get my passport back, we were really busy getting settled, I kept forgetting about it, and perhaps it was that I didn’t want to have to deal with what was most likely to come.  But if I wanted my money, I would just have walk the walk and deal with it.

With my passport in hand, Phil and I jumped in a taxi and rode to the bank.   I think the taxi guy took us to the wrong branch because the numbers on the building didn’t match the ones I had written down.  We walked in anyway.  In a lot of banks here, they have a machine that gives you a number and you have to wait until your number is called.  There were 25 people in front of us.  Not too bad, really.

My main worry was that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone at the bank and that I would just be screwed.  I brought my police report hoping that would help.  I showed it to the guy who greeted me at the door and he gave me a paper to fill out.  Of course, it was all in Chinese, so I had a really difficult time filling in all the blanks.  Another guy tried to help a little, but most of the form was left blank.

We sat down and waited, watching the numbers tick away.  About 20 minutes later, a guard came over and tapped me on the shoulder.  He reached down and took the number I was holding in my hand.  I was confused why he was taking it because my number had not been called yet.  He pointed over to the side where some other consulting areas were located and I saw a woman getting her area ready.  I put two and two together and walked over and sat in the chair in front of the desk.

Since I hadn’t heard her talk yet, I wasn’t sure if I should speak  in English or my broken Chinese.  I went with the good ole’, “Ni hao”(hello in Chinese).

“Hello,” she said back to me in perfect English.  “How may I help you.”  This made me smile.  Maybe it wouldn’t be that hard after all.

I explained my situation to her and handed over my passport and my police report just in case.  It seemed that she had experience in this and started pulling out several forms that I would need to fill out.  I must have signed my name no less than ten times.  Just like on the phone, I had to answer questions about my account to prove that is was me.  She was just about down with all the paperwork when Phil suggested that I mentioned that the card I lost was issued to me in Linyi and ask if it was still possible.  So, I did.

As soon as I asked, her eyes seemed to get bigger or maybe it was just my imagination.

“Linyi?” She repeated.  “No, that is not possible.”

My heart sank.

“It has to be from Shanghai.”

“Well, it’s not,” I said.  “Can I at least get my money?”

She looked at me and you could tell she was thinking really hard by the way her eyes moved.  “I don’t know.  We have never done that before.  Please wait while I talk to my manager.”  I felt like I had been put on hold and that any minute a stupid ditty would start playing.

As she walked away, I crossed my fingers and prayed to every Chinese God there ever was, specifically, Guanyin, the goddess of mercy.

After she talked to her manager, they disappeared around a corner for a while.  The woman came back with what seemed to be more paperwork and handed it to another man sitting behind one of the main desks.  They talked for awhile and then he sat the paperwork aside.  He fiddled with something on his computer screen and then waved me over.  I looked over at all the other people waiting patiently and wondered if they were mad that I had skipped ahead a few places.  No one threw anything at me or yelled any insults my way, so I guess they didn’t mind all that much.

The man before me asked me a bunch of the same questions about my account, making sure once again that I was indeed who I said I was.  Hey, at least they are cautious.  His fingers danced across his key board for a long while before he spoke to me again.

“Okay,” he said.  “Forget about your account.  It does not exist anymore.”  My heart stopped.  “If you want you can open a new account later.”  Still no heart beat.  I was beginning to get  a little light headed.  “I can give you the money remaining in your account,” he said, and my heart fluttered back to life.  “But,” he continued, and my heart flat lined again, “I will need to charge you 25 yuan for losing your card.”

“Oh, that is fine!”  I probably sounded hysterical, but I was so happy.  My heart almost leapt out of my chest and hugged him.

He just looked at me and then said, “That will be 20 yuan, please.”

“Oh, yeah, sure.”  I opened up my purse to look for some money, but all I had was a few yuan and some lint.  I looked over my shoulder at Phil waiting patiently on a metal stool.  “Please tell me you have 20 yuan.”

Phil reached into his wallet and handed me the most beautiful 20 yuan note I have ever seen in my entire life.  I snatched hit out of his hand and quickly shoved it into the metal tray so the guy could get it.

“But just forget about your account,” he said, taking the 20 yuan bill into his possession.  “It doesn’t exist anymore.”

Ten minutes later, after counting and recounting, I had my money and I didn’t have to go all the way to Linyi to get it.  I danced out the bank’s doors.  Everyone thought I was nuts, but I really didn’t care.

Life may not always be easy in China, but man, when things go smoother than you expect, it makes you giggle like a school girl.  And now that I have written a short story and bored all of you to tears, I am going to jet.  And since the secret it is out and I don’t have any more excuses, I’ll be more of a regular here from now on.  Next time, I’ll try to post some pictures or something.

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And We’re Back . . .

bya Gabrielle at 2:08 PM

And we have been since Sunday, July 25th.  What?  Already?  What happened to going to  Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-la?  After bumming it out in Yangshuo for a week, we decided it was a good time to make our way back to Linyi.  Money was a little bit of an issue, as I thought it would be.  Plane tickets just cost too much.  And we spent too much here and there . . . I mean, it was our vacation!  Plane tickets are relatively cheap in China if you compare them to American standards, but when you are not making an American salary, it hurts to cough up so much of your hard(haha) earned cash.

Hrm . . . where to start with my 900 some pictures?  Since we are on the subject of money, how about we take a look at how much we had before we took off, and compare it to how much we have left over after bouncing around the country for 20 days?

What does a person do with 22,200 yuan in cash?  I’ll show you.  :)

Money Bed

Pretty amazing, isn’t?  Here is a few more shots.

Money Bed

And, well, I couldn’t just let it sit there and look pretty, now could I?  Nope.

Gabe on her Money Bed

I had to lay on it.  It is everyone’s dream, right?  And it couldn’t just end there.  Nope.  My dream wasn’t quite fulfilled.

Gabe rolling on the Money Bed.

Money may be the root of all evil, but damn if it doesn’t make you happy as hell.  And what became of our money, you ask?  How much of it still remains?  Can I still roll around in glee?  Hardly.  I’ve got a picture of that, too.

er jiao

Just enough to pay the ferry to cross the river of Styx.  :)  Actually, I doubt that is enough.  I don’t know how many jiaos equal a copper coin, so I may be short.  Drat.  And for those of you who don’t know, a jiao is one-tenth of a yuan, and approximately 6.8 yuan equals one US dollar.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I have something like 900 pictures from my trip, as well as many others that I have never posted.  I still have a month left of vacation, so I am bound to have time to post them.  However, every time I sat down to right this particular post, my phone, both Chinese and Skype, rang and I was summoned or distracted.  It took me two days to get it done.  I decided to stay up later than usual tonight so that I could at least have something for my undying fans to read and enjoy(haha).  I have some errands to run tomorrow.  Phil and I met some new teachers, and they need help in finding a decent, but cheap computer.  So, no promises about how soon the next entry will appear.

My next entry may not even be China related.  I really need to post about something else – something that will probably open up my emotional flood gates again, but it’s something I feel needs to be done.  My baby Countess and Quantum deserve it.

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Vacation Just Around the Corner

bya Gabrielle at 4:03 AM

There is no use in apologizing, so I’m not even going to try.  Let’s face it.  I suck at blogging.

I will however play the blame game.  The internet here just blows.  Some days it works and other days, well, it doesn’t.  What is a blogger to do?

Well, tomorrow is our last day and then it is VACATION TIME!!  A whole two months worth.  Why can’t we have awesome vacations like that in the States?  Oh, wait, we do, but you have to be teacher.  Hrm.  I suppose possibly being knifed or shot could almost be worth two months of vacation, but not quite.  :)

Our vacation is going to go something like this:

Linyi to Shanghai – Stay in Shanghai for 3 days, possibly see the Expo, get some good food.

Shanghai to Hangzhou – Spend a few days in Hangzhou, reminisce, eat some Dairy Queen.  Yum.

Hangzhou to Fuyang – Hang out with our good friend Jin for a few days and reminisce some more.  I am sure Fuyang has changed a lot since we left.

Fuyang back to Hangzhou – Catch a train or bus to Nanjing and see what Bo and Nashville have been talking about.

Nanjing to Guilin – We have to take a plane.  There is no way I am spending 24 hours on a train, even if it is a few hundred yuan cheaper.  Stay a night or hop on the first bus to Yangshuo.

Guilin to Yangshuo – Relax for a week and take in the sights.  Yanghshuo is mostly definitely the most beautiful place I have ever seen in China. Phil did say he would foot the bill if we stayed longer . . . so who knows how long we will stay.

Yangshuo back to Guilin – Catch a train, bus or plane to Kunming. I hear it is a pretty nice place.  It will be the first time Phil and I have been there.

Kunming to Dali – Once again, I have heard nice things and we have never been there before. It is always nice to adventure and see new places.

If at this point we aren’t completely broke, we may try to make our way to Qingdao, spend a few days there, experience Beer Street and then come back home to ever so wonderful Linyi.  If everything costs what we think it is going to cost, we are going to have to eat rice and noodles and nothing else for an entire month before we get paid again.  :)

Okay, moving on . . . Last weekend Phil decided it was time to have a new Chinese experience.  So, we went to the massage parlor down the street and while I got a standard oil massage, he got ba guan.  Ba guan is when the chinese take glass cups, light them on fire, and then stick them to your back – 16 of them to be exact.  They suck up your skin and break every blood vessel known to man.  After 5 or 10 minutes, they take them off.  It looks something like this . . .

Since I was getting a massage, I couldn’t take a picture of the glass cups on Phil’s back, but I took a picture of a friend who did it a week or so ago.  It was her first and last time.  I have no idea how she got the courage to do it.  There is no way in a happy hell that I would ever submit to it.

Song Hui and ba guan

And this is what it looked like after Phil had his little procedure.  It looks likes someone either sucker punched him over and over again or took a purple marker and went to town.

Phil and ba guan

A close up of the damage . . .

Phil - Ouch

And another . . .

Phil - Ouch - 2

I don’t think that Phil will be getting it done again any time soon.  And not because it hurt, at least he said it didn’t, but because he didn’t really feel he benefited from it.  It is supposed to suck out the toxins from your body.  They tell you not to take a shower for 24 hours afterward, but I am not totally sure of the reason.

Oh, and although this has nothing to do with vacation or self-induced pain, I thought I would post it any way.

There is an Australian in our building who has decided to turn the roof into his very own garden/farm.  He recently just added 4 baby chicks that he will either use for eggs or if they suck at that, he’s gonna eat them.  I really hope they are great egg layers.

Here they are . . .

Baby chicks

When he tends to the garden, he lets them out of their cage so they can run around.  They run so fast.  He says they are easy to catch and put back, but I don’t know if I believe him.

And the garden . . .

Roof garden

If I have internet connection during our travels, I will try my best to keep whoever it that reads this blog of mine up-to-date.  I can hardly wait.  This vacation is going to be a blast!

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Trapped in the Beijing Airport

bya Gabrielle at 11:29 AM

I don’t know how I ever forgot to post this particular video.  I mean, it isn’t a ground breaking video or anything, but it did make me laugh when I watched it for the first time in a long time.   As I mentioned in my last post, this was our third attempt trying to get to Shenyang. What was supposed to be an easy hour and a half flight, turned into 14 hours of hell.  It would have been one thing if we had waited in the lobby for 14 hours, but most of our time was spent on the tarmac, cramped in a small plane, filled to the brim with passangers.  I suppose the craziest thing was that we actually took off for Shenyang at one point, got half way there, and when they found out there was no room for the plane to land, we were forced to go back to Beijing.  It was at that point we decided to give up and go home and figure out another way to Shenyang,  but before we could go home, we first had to get our luggage back.  That was another nightmare all together.  Below is the video Phil took as we waited for Richard’s(Yuli Guo) luggage to be found.

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Driving in Snow in Beijing, China

bya Gabrielle at 10:30 PM

Flipping through my Chinese videos, I found a few that I had never shared before and decided to upload them for your viewing pleasure.  The first video is of the freak snow storm that hit us when we were in Beijing waiting to go to Shenyang.  You can read all about that special story here, here, and here if you have no idea what I am talking about.

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Globe Trotting Maple Extract

bya Gabrielle at 9:50 PM

When Phil and I lived in Fuyang, we really wanted some syrup to go with the pancakes we were trying to make.  Our attempts at making the syrup ourselves never produced Butterworth results.  So, we did the next best thing – we asked my mom to send us a bottle of maple extract to help give our concoction some maple flare.  We didn’t ask for a bottle of syrup because it would have made the box weigh too much and a heavy box sent to China isn’t cheap.  Sending just the syrup probably wouldn’t have cost that much, but our wish list always seemed to grow when we found out someone was going to be sending us some western goodies.  :)

The extract did help with the taste of the syrup, but we could never get the consistency we wanted.  Eventually, we gave up and decided we would just have to wait until we returned back home to get the good stuf.  When it came time to move to Shenyang, we packed it up with all of our other stuff.  We weren’t about to scarifice any of our western goods.

A week after we got to Shenyang, we were told we would be moving again.  Phil and I weren’t particularly pleased that we would be uprooting ourselves again, but we repacked all of our goods up anyway, including our maple extract, and headed to the beautiful city of Xiamen.

In Xiamen, we unpacked everything and refused to pack again unless we were traveling or moving back home.  And for the next three months our maple extract sat quietly on our shelf, unused.  When it came time for us to go back to the States, we offered up all of our western goods to our dear friends, Patty, Eddie, and their daughter Elisa.  We knew they could get some good use out it. Elisa swore it was Christmas when we brought all of our stuff over to them.  :)

Well, up until a few days ago, I would have thought that our maple extract had finally run out of gas and found a permanent home in a landfill in China or some other needy westerner’s cabinet.  Interestingly enough though, neither happened.

Instead, our maple extract jumped on a plane back to the States stashed away in a suitcase – destination Miami – when Patty and her family decided to leave China.  After a short stay there, it decided that it wanted to do some more traveling, and hopped on the next flight to Colombia – the country, not the city where I live.  For the next four weeks our maple extract took in the sights and then decided it wanted to settle down for a spell – somewhere else.  So, off it trotted to the airport and booked passage to Argentina, where for  at this moment in time, it still resides.  At least until Phil and I travel to Argentina next November, pick it up, and bring it back to the States with us.  :)

I don’t know how many miles our little maple extract has traveled, I just know it’s a lot.  Perhaps, there is a section in the Guinness World Records that it would qualify for.

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That’s A Wrap

bya Gabrielle at 12:31 PM

The news that I have been holding off telling is that I am going home. I’m leaving China, and I am not coming back – at least not for a good long while. I am currently working on a post that goes into the details on why I made this choice, and I will be done with that soon. Like most of my experiences in China, the story that made me make this decision is slightly complicated, long, a bit difficult, and even at times humorous, but I’ll let you be the judge when you read it.

We will be leaving Xiamen at 7:15 AM on August 28th and flying to the city I love to loathe, Beijing, for our connector flight back to the States. My last impression of China will come in Beijing’s international airport as I wait eight and a half hours for my plane to show up and take me home. I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole thing right now. A part of me is jumping for joy that I’m going; I’ve missed home, my family and my friends. The other part of me is in a quandary. I’ve had a difficult time seeing the good for all the bad lately. Not that I haven’t enjoyed my time, I have . . . It’s too complicated to explain right now. It will take time for me to shift through my emotions and figure out how I really feel about the whole ordeal. Perhaps you will understand better than I once you have read my side of the story. I’ll finish that soon – before I leave.

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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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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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The Road We’ve Traveled.

bya Gabrielle at 6:11 AM

Ah. No more planes, buses, trains or automobiles. I never thought I would despise traveling so much or enjoy the pleasures of home like I do now. It’s so nice to know that my home will be nice and stable for the next three months(at least) and that it won’t have wings, tires, shake, or have the possibility of crashing. We’ve only been here four days now and I’ve already dug my feet into the ground and started growing roots. It’s either going to take all of the men, women, and children of China ripping me up and dragging me out or a fierce typhoon to make me leave Xiamen.For those of you who have just arrived or missed some of the posts that talked about our crazy trip that bounced us all over China, let me bring you up to speed. For those who know all about it, take a look at the map above and get a good idea of just how far we’ve gone is such a little amount of time. I know think I can say that I have been to more places in China, than I can say I’ve been in my own country. There is something wrong about that, I think.

So, if you take a look at the map above, you will see a whole bunch of black lines going from one corner of China, one city at a time, to the other corner of China. Now you can understand my hatred for traveling. I think anyone would have a sour look upon their face if they had just gone through what we have. I’m just a little sad that I didn’t make it any further west. I mean, if you are going to bounce us around China, you could have at least bounced us in all of the cardinal directions! :)Alright, hopefully, this final explanation of everywhere we’ve been will not become any bigger than it has. Every time I’ve thought its come to an end, something else has happened. This time though, I think the insanity has finally settled to the bottom of the ocean and won’t be tempted to show it’s evil face again.

From the top:

Fuyang to Hangzhou – by bus – 1 hour
Hangzhou to Beijing – by train – 14 hours – soft seat
Beijing to Shenzhen – by plane – 4 hours
Shenzhen to Hong Kong – by “train” – 1 hour
Hong Kong to Shenzhen – by “train” – 1 hour
Shenzhen to Hangzhou – by plane – 2 hours
Hangzhou to Tunxi – by bus – 2.5 hours
Tunxi to Huang Shan – by bus – 1.5 hours
Huang Shan to Tunxi – by bus – 1.5 hours
Tunxi to Hangzhou – by bus – 2.5 hours
Hangzhou to Beijing – by plane – 2 hours
1st attempt Beijing to Shenyang – by plane – 2 hours of sitting – Freak snow storm
2nd attempt Beijing to Shenyang – by plane – Flight canceled
3rd attempt Beijing to Shenyang – by plane – 14 hours of sitting for a one hour flight
4th attempt Beijing to Shenyang – by train – soft sleeper – 8 hours
Shenyang to Beijing – by train – soft seat – 9.5 hours
Beijing to Shenyang – by plane – 1 hour
Shenyang to Xiamen – by plane – 5.5 hours (delay and stop-over)

That’s about 70 hours of traveling and is probably pretty accurate, but I wouldn’t doubt it if it was actually more. I’m probably missing a bus ride or something in there somewhere. The worst part about it is that the only places we had actually planned on going after our contract was up in January was Huang Shan, Beijing, and of course Shenyang. It is true that we got to see a lot of China, but almost everywhere we went, we were trying to get important things done so that we could stay in China for the following semester. Because of that, we missed a lot of cool things in the cities that we were able to go. Maybe I will win the lottery or something, and be able to go back and enjoy them all at a much more leisurely pace. Heh, that would be nice.

And after all of that, there isn’t much more to say on that subject. I guess that chapter of my life is over and it is time to move on to the next one. As crazy as this chapter was, I sure got some crazy stories out of it – that’s for sure. And even though the experience at the time frustrated the living hell out of me, I know that I will have a good laugh when I’m 60 and sipping sweet tea on my front porch. . . .”Hey, Phil, do you remember the time we got bounced all over China.”

I have a feeling that Xiamen is going to be good to us.

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