stupid gnome rogue...

Some one stabbed me in the stumach. If I find out it was you, I'm gonna be pissed.

Creepy and now 20% more crawly

Many people think that we are safe here in our little valley, far away from anything that can hurt us. And to a point that’s true, we’re far away from the mummies of Egypt, but we have our own share of creepy crawlies that the rest of the world don’t have to worry about.

For obvious scientific reasons, I divide these into two categories: creepies and crawlies.

There are several things on USU that are flat out creepy. Any of the students who work one of the many “card-swiper” jobs on campus will tell you nothings quite as creepy as when people give them a card that has been in a back pocket so long that it’s taken the exact curvature of the owners butt cheek.

As far as crawlies go, I don’t think there’s anything more crawly in all of Logan than the Box Elder bugs. These little guys are everywhere and beyond the occasional satisfying pop sound, they are completely worthless.

Sometimes when I’m laying on my back trying to sleep, I wonder if anyone has ever filled a box with Box Elder bugs and given it to an LDS missionary.
I hope not.

That would be stupid in, like, six different ways.

The unspoken advantage of crotch rot

When you're always itchy "down there" you never have to worry about your fly being down. You already know.

Geek on.

Stuff I decided not to publish for obvious reasons

Always remember treat dating like a game.

I know a lot of people say they hate the games involved in dating. This is because they always lose.

I like games of any kind. Computer, video, board. If I can win, I will.

Dating is just a game and I won. I’m married. My wife is hot and one year later she still likes me.

That’s worth way more than any about of gold coins.

But if you want to win the dating games there are a few things you should know first. Consider this column your dating strategy guide, or teachers’ edition with the answers in the back.

The first thing you must do to ensure a flawless victory in dating is to understand the nature of the game.

Too many people are convinced that the teams are guys and against girls. No offense but this is about as retarded as the starting lineup of the special Olympics volleyball team.

Dating should never been seen as a contest between a man and a woman. Rather it is a desperate struggle against the demons of dieing alone.

When I hear "freakin'-A" I'm gonna switch to books

I heard the word "Shiz" on tv the other day. Not the word "shiz" stands for, the actually word "shiz."

Since when do they Uthans write for television?

Preemptive Review of 'Snakes on a Plane"

I ******* hate it when some ****** Hollywood producers think that their ****** doesn’t stink and they can make any ***** movie they ***** want.

It’s even ****** worse when they use snakes so ******* fake that it makes “Anaconda” look like ****** Lord of the ***** Rings.

And just a tip to the ****** who put the trailer together, don’t but the ******* ending of the **** movie in the ******* trailer. Where not dumb ******* here. We can ****** figure it out.

With the ****** rules in the ****** airport these days, it would be more like “Snakes in the ***** Security Line to get on the ******** Plane.”

For any *****s out there who don’t ******* know, the phrase snakes of a plane is ***** Internet lingo for something that doesn’t ****** make sense. Just like this ******* movie.

I preemptively ***** hate this ***** movie.

Preemptive Review of 'Pulse'

Continuing the fine American tradition of ripping off the Japanese in everything they do, “Pulse” is next horror movie, featuring an attractive young cast, weak plot exposition and a bunch of androgynous monsters.

In the film a lovable college student dies and begins his final journey into the cosmic beyond. Like a good boy he sends a note to all his friends to let them know that he made it safely.

His friends, who don’t understand what email spam is, open the message and release a plague of the living dead upon the world.

They probably open attachments from strangers too.


Apparently now zombies are using the Internet against us.

And you thought pop up ads were annoying.

Fortunately the endless swarms of demons or ghost or zombies or what ever these things are stand no chance against the deductive powers of Veronica Mars who’s on the case.

So let’s review the important security tips this movie provides. 1) Don’t give your password to anyone. 2) Don’t post your address on any Web site. 3) Don’t open emails from beyond the grave. 4) Never, ever, under any circumstances, punch the monkey.

I preemptively hate this movie.

A Preemptive Review of Accepted

Ah high school, the best four years that you can’t wait to end.

Does anyone else remember the movie “Camp Nowhere,” the one where the kids make up their own summer camp to avoid spending the summer bonding with their parents?

The makers of American Pie are sure hoping you don’t or else it would spoil the ending of “Accepted” and that would just be tragic.

Goofy looking star Justin Long finds out the hard way that life after high school is just as full of people just waiting to give you a wedgie as are on any high school football team.

But rather than sucking it up like a man and going to a trade school or BYU or something like that, Long decides to create a college so “awesome” that checking out babes is a class.

I mean what are you going to do with that degree? Besides teach of course.

Still not convinced that this movie will be a total waste of time? Just think of it this way. It’s an American Pie movie with a PG-13 rating which pretty much removes the only reasons to watch an American Pie movie.

Besides, you never forget your first made up college.

I preemptively hate this movie.

In China: Post 8

------------Monday, May 29, 2006---------------

Yesterday was a laid back Sunday. I wrote, everyone else played cards. We ate dinner. That was really about it.

Today was basically the same, except around three o clock we all went out for a walk through the People’s Sqaure and down Nanjing Road. We went to the bund too but the air wasn’t clear at all. You could hardly see across the river. Afterwards we went out for hot pot again. This one was a sort of backwards though. Instead of boiling food in spicy and then dipping it into flavor, we boiled it in flavor and then dipped it in spicy. It was good.

That’s really all I have to say about the last two days.

----------Wednesday June 1, 2006---------------

Yesterday was another day just spent hanging around the apartment. Around noon Gugu and Gufu took Sally’s parents to the train station and me and Sally watched movies. Ping Ping has a small collection of bootleg movies. This isn’t surprising. Bootlegging is pretty big business here. There are people on a lot of the bigger street corners with boxes set out full of DVDs and VCDs all for about 8 kaui. I haven’t bought any and I don’t plan too. You can get legal movies for only three times that which is still much cheaper than in the USA and sits a lot easier on my conscience. I’ll admit it’s tempting sometimes. The illegal ones are very new movies. I’ve seen Mission Impossible III, the 911 movie and even X-men III (the real temptation) available for purchase. The quality isn’t very good though. The ones we all watched were copies of preview versions and would go black and white from time to time while a warning against piracy would scroll across the screen. The Chinese subtitles were so bad, Sally didn’t even use them much. It seemed like it was done by someone without spending too much time on the project or having a great sense of the English language,

Today was our last day in Shanghai. It followed the pattern of the last few days with us not being too busy. We packed up out things and bummed around I watched Germany play Japan in a pre-World Cup friendly. Another one of Sally’s college roommates came to visit. She’s living in Shanghai but was too busy studying for the GMAT to come and see Sally until now. The two of them caught up until it was time for dinner.

Everything that we have eaten in Shanghai, that wasn’t from a restaurant, was made by Gufu and Gugu. They have taken over cooking responsibilities for Ping Ping and Jeff since they moved in a few months ago. From what I’ve seen and gathered, this is a fairly common arrangement in China. The food was all good, some of it (Gufu’s lamb) was super good, but it was all about the same everyday. Jeff said that he never tells Gugu and Gufu if something is good because they’d make it everyday and never says if something is bad because it would hurt their feelings. Sounds like good advice to me. One of the most frustrating things here is actually meals. Chinese have such a different way of eating; it’s really hard for me. There are no levels of preference towards food. You love it and want to eat it constantly, or you hate it and anyone who even thought of feeding it to you. I can’t say that “I don’t love seafood,” because if I did, they’d never give me any, but when I say “I love seafood,” I have to eat it all. As awesome as the food was I’ll be glad for something else. This is actually the way I’m starting to feel about Chinese food in general. I love it, but American life has spoiled me, I’m used to too much variety. Of course I’m still going to eat as much Chinese food as I can while I’m here because I may not come back for a few years and I want to enjoy what I can while I can.

Once Jeff got home we loaded up into the car to go. It was sad to say goodbye to our family in Shanghai, they’d been so good to us. We hope they can come to the US soon so we can repay the kindness (hopefully they don’t come before we have money though, or else they’re really going to be disappointed). It was also sad to say goodbye to Shanghai, a city that I still don’t really think I understand. It’s so big and growing so fast, I want to come back some day and try and figure out more about it. But not permanently, I get a real “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here” vibe from the city.

Jeff drove us through the busy Shanghai streets to the airport. Traffic was pretty bad. It may have been the worst I’ve seen in China but I think that I think that just because you pay more attention when you’re in a car than you do when you’re in a bus. China has started having more and more cars on the road recently. Because gas is such a concern (although it’s priced similarly to how it was back home when we left) most of the cars are either really new models with good mileage or have a manual transmission. Most of the cars are from Japan or Korea but American cars are starting to become more common. Jeff drove a Ford and I’ve seen a few Chevys too. According to Jeff Dodge is known for their bigger vehicles rather than cars.

We finally got to the airport and made our way to our terminal. In the parking lot we past a small crowd of people gathered around a disturbance of some kind. Like I’ve mentioned before, Chinese people love a free show off any kind and are ashamed to stand around it. If you see a group of people flocking together, you can bet there’s something to see. Of course, there’s rarely much indication as to what the commotion is about. What they consider a good show is could be anything from a grisly murder to a big fat white baby and the only way to know is to push your way to the front to get a look for yourself.

Finding our flight was not the easiest thing we’ve ever done. We waited for a while at one gate and were then sent to another. We were all gathered in this second gate, and rumors started floating through the masses that we had moved again. By now it was about an hour after we were supposed to board so people were pretty frustrated. Me and Sally stayed cool though and when it turned out we were at the right gate we were able to ride the flow of humanity right into our plane.

The flight from Shanghai to Beijing was about 2 hours long. Even though it was really short it had a lot of turbulence. Still it was pretty nice, we had headphones and they were showing highlights of the World Cup qualifiers so I was pretty entertained for the duration of the flight. We landed and had to find our tour group. In Shanghai the guy from the tour agency who was supposed to make sure everyone knew where to go put Sally in charge of an old couple who looked like they would probably get lost if left to their own devices however when we got off the plane we weren’t at a gate, we had to climb down the stairs-truck (which I’ve always wanted to do, just like all the spies and celebrities do in the movies) and take a bus to the terminal. Some how in the process we lost the old people. Our tour guide, Yang Dao, was waiting for us and eventually was able to round us all up. We went to another gate to wait for another group who were taking a different plane. While we were waiting Sally went to use the restroom. She was in there for a bit and the other group came so Yang Dao herded everyone to the bus. I didn’t say anything because Sally had been gone so long I figured she was right about to come out and we could run and catch up. I kept moving further from the restrooms to keep the group in sight and finally decided that this plan wasn’t going to work. I chased after Yang Dao and told him we still had someone in the restroom. In the meantime Sally came out and thought I had left her. Fortunately we met up and were able to meet up and get on the bus. By now it was well after midnight. As our bus went to our hotel, Yang Dao talked a bit about our tour and what we would do. I didn’t catch much up with it. It was all that I could do to stay awake. I did catch when we had to wake up, 5:45 a.m. By the time we got checked in and everything, it was 1:30 a.m. Not a good way to start a three-day tour, but when you consider what can happen on a three-hour tour, you take what you can get.

-------------------Thursday, June 01, 2006--------------

We woke up early, as requested, and had breakfast with the rest of our group. Breakfast was pretty much the same each day. We had eggs (hard boiled or course, always hard boiled), coconut cake, mantou (steamed biscuits) and some small salad type dishes. This early in the morning though, you don’t care what you eat, you just want to eat, so I did. Afterwards we all piled onto the bus and made our way toward the first stop in our tour.

Every other city I’ve been too, I’ve tried to take note of my first impressions as we drove through the city. This time however, I don’t have any though, I was unconscious the whole time. What I can say is that it’s hot. Shanghai was hot and humid but you would get a breezy coming off the water. No such luck in land-locked Beijing. It’s really hot and really stuffy. Today the temperature was up to 40 degrees Celsius, which is really hot. Stupid heat.

I woke up when we got to Gong Wang Fu, which is a palace that has been turned into a tourist stop. In China, the past is big business. People want to learn about their past. Unlike in America, where only some people choose to skip the amusement park to visit the historical site, here the important places in history are the big draw. I love history so that’s fine with me. It is a little different for me here though where I’m not very familiar with the events that made the spot worth noting, but it’s still interesting. I’m going to have to do some research when I get some to fill in a few of the gaps. Most of the places were still really beautiful without too much of an understanding so I was able to appreciate them on several levels. And I have plenty of photos to go with it.

Gong Wang Fu was a really neat place. It was a lot like Fuzi Miao in Nanjing but it was different style of architecture. Also Fuzi Miao dealt a lot with the old character for tiger and Gong Wang Fu was all about the character Fu, which means blessings or happiness. The character was all over the place as were carvings of bat. In Chinese, there are a lot of words that are pronounced the same and are only differentiated by context. This has led to many puns over China’s long history, and contributes heavily to their symbology. The character for bat is also pronounced fu and so bats are considered a sign of good fortune. There are a lot of other examples in Chinese but this is the one most applicable to our trip to Beijing.

One of the biggest attractions at Gong Wang Fu was a fu character carved by Cangxi (the emperor from the Qing Dynasty who lived the longest and was one of the residents of Gong Wang Fu) into a rock in a cave at the base of a small hill on the palace grounds. The character has become sort of a Chinese Blarney Stone. However, rather than traveling from around the world to kiss a rock to give themselves good luck, at Gong Wang Fu, people travel from around the country to rub the glass in front of a word carved into stone in order to ensure good luck and health for their family. This strikes me as a lot less selfish, not to mention infinitely more sanitary. Sally and I rubbed the face of the stone, so if anybody won the lottery or anything like that recently, now you know why and we want our cut. Supposedly, the character was blessed years ago by a Buddhist monk, making the character impossible to take a picture of. To me it sounds like a legend made up to explain why the flash bouncing off the glass ruined everyone’s photo, but I may just be too skeptical.

As part of our tour in the palace, we were taken into a pavilion for tea, snacks and a performance like the emperor would have watched. The snacks were good but the tea had tea leaf in it so we didn’t partake. The show considered of some dancers, a young boy who balanced a big heavy looking pot on his head and did tricks and a singer. It was interesting but I’m glad it was short. If I had remained sitting down in a darkened room for too long, I would have fallen asleep. After the show we finished our tour of the palace and took as many pictures as I could. I was concerned about our batteries for the rest of the day so I didn’t use the view finder or the zoom for most of the pictures, opting instead to just crop and edit when I get back to America, the home to my computer with Photoshop and a mouse. Still, a lot of them look all right as is. All this places are so packed with tourists that it’s impossible to get a lot of the shots I would have liked without a hundred people in them. Our tour concluded – as they most do, regardless of country – in a gift shop. The special item at this stop were hangable paintings of the character fu, supposedly all made from a rubbing of the original character under the hill. Chinese leaders are often known for their penmanship and their writing can be worth a lot of money. Cangxi’s characters are especially valuable because apparently he didn’t write very much. Based on the amount they seemed to sell each day, Sally says she doubts they’re real. I guess she’s a bit of a skeptic too. About half of our group wasn’t as untrusting. About half of the 30 people in our group bought one. We figured we were the poorest of our tour, everyone else seemed to be snagging up the pricey stuff while Sally haggled for a couple kuai off a T-shirt.

After Gong Wang Fu, we got back in the bus and headed to Tiananmen Square. The first thing we did once we got there was pile our bags at Yang Dao’s feet because we were going to Mao Zedong’s tomb and you can’t take anything in with you. There’s a granite building in the square that houses Mao’s body. When we went there was quite a line of people waiting in the hot sun to get in that wrapped a good way around the building. There were guards the whole way making sure no one had bags, cameras or bottles. I guess they’ve had some problems in the past and didn’t want any repeats. It was kinda strange to see armed security when you don’t even see cops with guns very often. Right before the door was a small stand selling flowers, an ironic bit of capitalism at the resting place of the father of Chinese communism. We filed in and around a statue of Mao sitting in a chair that some people would walk up to and bow down in a form of worship called baibai (Sally says many old people still revere him as a god). Behind the statue was a huge pile of flowers laid by that day’s visitors. After that we went into the room where Mao’s preserved body is kept in a glass coffin. It was dead silent in there, very different from Sun Zhongshan’s tomb which echoed with the sound of tour guides and tourists Of course, Mao was actually part of many people’s lives, while Sun is probably too far removed to be real.

It’s strange to see everyone paying such respect to Chairman Mao. Even though I’m trying to gather enough information about the man to have a real opinion of my own, I still have the inborn reaction that Mao was a monster from what they teach us in America. I’ve heard the whole gamut of opinions about the man. I’ve talked to those who see him as a deity and to some who think he was worse than Satan. Both sides spout off reasons, all of which sound more like repeated propaganda than facts. I’m fully aware that the Chinese government hasn’t always told the truth, but I’m not stupid enough to completely trust the American or especially the Taiwanese on a topic this sensitive. History is always tricky though. They say that history is written by the winners but really everyone, win lose or draw, all have their own version of past. Everyone is convinced their version is right too. It’s tough nut to crack but I’ve got a long time to go in front of me to figure out if he was a great man with some horrible ideas or a horrible man with some great ideas or somewhere in between.

After we went through the tomb, we picked up our stuff and looked around the rest of Tiananmen Square. Unlike every other square that I’ve been to in China, Tiananmen is all concrete with no grass, flowers or trees. There’s a big monolith dedicated to the heroes of the revolution and a few street lamps but that’s about it. It’s a pretty big square too. There were a lot of people there, many of them obviously tourists. There were of course lots of people selling Mao watches, book about him and Beijing Olympics memorabilia. Naturally they all came up to me but, with the exception of a hat for a few kuai, we held strong. We should have been stronger; it was a pretty crappy hat. We took some photos and bought some ice water. That’s how you can tell your in a Chinese tourist destination, they have ice water.

Tiananmen Square wasn’t what I expected. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t like it at all. I think we have such a powerful image in our collective mind when we hear the name Tiananmen Square that it’s hard to think of it as an actually place where people go everyday, not just an event in history. In truth, a lot more than that one infamous event happened there. A lot of it good a lot of it bad. Still, when you go there now, if you don’t know you’re history, you wouldn’t think anything had happened at all. There’s no plaque, no monument, no apology to the world. Nothing. Like I said, I don’t know what I was expecting. I’m sure if you go to Kent State back home, you won’t see too much of anything. Sometimes it’s best just to move on and leave history in books so that the rest of the world can get on with their lives.

Our last official stop of the day was Gu Gong, or as it’s most commonly known, the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the center of the Chinese government through most of the last two Dynasties (Ming and Qing). When the emperor moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing in order to be closer to the troubled northern border with the Mongolians, they built the Forbidden City for royal family at court. It’s by far the biggest palace that I’ve been to. Much much bigger than any of the other’s we’ve visited. It had several large buildings and many small ones, all surrounded by a thick, high wall and moat. In the middle was a large, open, stone courtyard that echoed as you walked through it. You could close you eyes and imagine thousands of imperial guards standing watch over the home of their king, just like in the movies. It was just like they showed it in “The Last Emperor,” which is a good movie, but really really long so I don’t recommend it unless you want to learn way more about the man than you ever wanted to. Just what “Shanghai Noon” they show the courtyard in that one too, and it’s a better film. It has punching. Anyway, when the Manchurians of Qing Dynasty rose to power, they kept the palace as their main center of power. Both dynasties had other palaces and residences but the Forbidden City was the big one. When the communist came to power, they set the site aside as a historical site and began restoring it as the museum it is today.

There were many exhibits throughout the palace. We didn’t have time to explore it all, but we did see a lot of the wealth of the emperors in the form of the jewelry that they wore and the decorations they had. Yang Dao lead us through the place and explained what everything was. There was English on most of the explanations but it was usually shorter and less detailed than the Chinese so it was nice to have him there to fill in the gaps. I feel bad about how little I know about Chinese history, but I feel pretty good about how much I’m learning. The Forbidden City was another one of those places in China that I’ve dreamed about seeing for a long time and it was really exciting to see it.

After the Forbidden City our group went to dinner. It wasn’t a very nice restaurant, but it was a bit nice than the one we had lunch at. This time at least we got chairs instead of stools. After dinner Yang Dao told us there was a street similar to Nanjing Rd not far from where we were. Those who wanted to could walk the block to go check it out; those who didn’t could sit in a small park and wait for an hour. Some of the older people were starting to get a bit cranky so Sally and I decided it would be more fun to go shopping. On our way over, we passed through a night market. Most of the stalls were selling snacks. We were tempted to get some lamb kabobs but they were more expensive than they are in Dalian so we figured we could hold out of a couple of days. We strolled though the night market just enjoying the sites and smells of the place. Well most of them. Everyone once in a while the fragrant aromas of roasting lamb, sugared fruit and boiling soup would be replaced by a smell very similar to poop. Sally said the smell came from intestines, which makes sense because that’s where most animals keep their poop.

After shopping we got back on the bus. Even though it was only 8:00 by the time we were back in our hotel we were pretty tired. I took a shower while Sally realized what a dump we were staying in. It was a pretty low class hotel and we just didn’t realize it the night before because we were so stinking tired. Still it was only for a few nights and we were having a Beijing adventure so it was going to have to be all right.

------------------Friday, June 02, 2006----------------------------

We woke up bright and early today and made our way to the bus. I was really excited because I knew that today was the day we’d go to the Great Wall. However, that was our last stop of the day, we still had a lot to get through first. Yesterdays stifling heat was gone, replaced with gray clouds that looked down menacingly. The first place we went to was a jade showcase. In China tourism is a big moneymaker but like most businesses, it’s based heavily on connections. Most of the tour companies make deals with shops like this one: If we bring you groups of out of towners with money to burn and you give us a cut of your sales. Because of this we were constantly being brought to places trying to temp us into purchasing luxury items. This place was easy to overcome the temptation, as most of what they had was large, intricately craved jaded statues. Most of these cost thousands or tens of thousands of kuai more we had. Still it was fun to look at them. They had some really neat stuff including a huge jade boat and a pair of tigers that were not too much smaller than real life. Jade is really big in Chinese culture, especially for the older generations. I can’t deny it’s a really pretty stone and it’s amazing what they can do with it.

So after we got out the jade store I was all psyched up to go to the Great Wall. We all piled into the bus and set off for a super market. I was really kicking myself at this point for sleeping when I first got on the bus instead of listening to Yang Dao. Each part of China has it’s own local dishes that are known across the country, Beijing’s is so good that it’s known around the world: Roast duck. This place sold vacuumed packed roast duck. Like Winco on a Saturday, there was a lady standing guard over a pan filled with shredded roast duck and a box of toothpicks. I’ve said how much I like duck. I’ve had Beijing roast duck in America and in Australia but people were always telling me how much better it is actually in Beijing. Based on as much information you can gather from a free sample, I have to agree with them. We bought a duck to eat with Sally’s family when we got back. We didn’t feel like we were spending too much money though, not when we saw other people piling as many as ten into their carts.

Beijing is also known for it’s dried and preserved fruits. We bought a couple of boxes to give as gifts. We also bought some packs of flower tea and vacuumed-packed bag of rabbit meat (really not that good, but it may have been the sauce it was packed with). Sally was really excited to see so many snacks that she grew up with and wanted to buy more but resisted for fear we wouldn’t have enough money to get through the rest of our trip. I can’t say that I blame her. If I lived here for four years and then went home, it’d be hard to resist a store full of Cheetos and Oreos.

Our next stop was actually really interesting to me. It was a house of wax that showed the rise and fall of the Ming Dynasty. Before I came here I had heard of the Ming Dynasty, knew it was the second to last one and had heard of a Ming vase. It was nice to know some the real history. The Ming Dynasty was an important time in Chinese history and was full of interesting characters with fascinating stories. There were some great leaders and some horrible ones. Our museum guide did a good job explaining things but she spoke into a speaker that was sometimes hard to understand. Fortunately there were English explanations that I was able to read (I’m really good at that)

Most of the explanations mentioned the people being buried at a place called the Ming Tombs. I was curious about what they were but before I could ask we were put back on the bus and whisked away to them. The Ming Tombs are 13 tombs that house many of the leaders of the Ming Dynasty. We only went to one, the final resting place of Zhu Di, the second emperor of the Dynasty, the one who moved the capitol to Beijing. He was a good leader, both at governing his people at home and conquering new land, and built a good foundation for the Dynasty. Along with a peaceful garden and big mausoleum, the tomb featured a museum about Zhu Di, filled with artifacts that have been recovered. As a side note, all the emperors of the Ming Dynasty had the family name Zhu. The same name as Sally.

Finally, after waiting all day (although I’ve technically been waiting my whole life) we headed up the mountains to the Great Wall. The part of the wall we visited sits on the top of a very steep series of mountains covered by a dense forest. These natural barriers combined with the mighty wall made it such an intimidating position that no battle was ever fought there. Still the impressive structure stretches out as far as the eye can see in both directions, winding its way along the peaks of the mountains. No sooner than we had started our accent up the mountain toward the historic site, then it started to rain. It didn’t rain so hard that we needed more than the ponchos that friendly people offered us for two kuai each, but it was enough to make taking pictures difficult and climbing the wall slippery. Before we could climb the way, we first had to get up it. There are several methods of going up the steep slope including gondolas on a wire, like the sky ride at Lagoon. We took these small one-person cars that are pulled up the incline on a chain, like a roller coaster. It wasn’t until we getting pulled up and me feet were higher up than my head that I realized just how steep it was here. Because of the rain, most people weren’t in the mood for much climbing, preferring instead to cower in those big towers that you see spread out intermittently along the wall. Once we were able to push our way through the crowd, we were able to climb with our too many people. There were still people though, and they tending to walk right in the way of our photos. We climb up the hero slope, which was by far the steepest section we could find. It lead up to a solid brick wall where people were talking photos to prove they had done it. It was quite a climb. Personally I don’t think anyone should be allowed to wear one of those “I climbed the Great Wall” shirts unless they get up the Hero Slope. There were three younger guys in our group that were surprised that we made it up there. I don’t think they realized I was their age. Actually they were surprised that Sally could make it.

We made our way down the slope after we got as many pictures as we could. In was so foggy you couldn’t see very far away so the didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped. On the way down Sally stopped to haggle for some T-shirts. I was a good little white boy and went on up ahead so no one would think we were together. While I was waiting another vendor tried to sell me something. Usually these people just say “Hello, _________” and fill in the blank with whatever they’re selling i.e. “Hello, DVD” of “Hello, watch.” I told her in Chinese that I was fine and I was just waiting for my friend and that we would soon be going. I guess that threw off her sales pitch because for a second she didn’t seem to know what to do. I missed this. In an English speaking country, it usually throws people for a bit of a loop when they find out I can speak Chinese. Here, people usually are pleasantly surprised but not shocked. Suddenly she asked how to say bracelet in English (she probably hadn’t been able to sell very many until now) I told here, showed her how to spell it and helped her with pronunciation. Other vendors came over from nearby stalls to learn and practice with us. They asked me how to say a few other items that they have for sell. I helped them with some of the harder sounds in English. It was a total flash back to my beginning English class back in Sydney. Before long, Sally finished her shopping and I had to leave my impromptu language school behind. People keep telling me I should open an English school here, maybe they’re right.

-------------------Saturday, June 3, 2006------------------------

Today we didn’t do as much as the rest of the group. We were supposed to go to a couple of places that cost extra money to get into and we were running low on cash. We only brought so much with us to Beijing and didn’t know how many of these events would cost extra money, it’s not like we’re starving. Plus we weren’t really in the mood to go to the first place. It is the ruins of another palace, one that was burned by French and British Forces during the Opium War. From what Yang Dao said, it sounds like this place has been turned into a site to show the horrors China has suffered at the hands of foreigners. I considered trying to explain that we have place in America that were burned by the British, like the White House, but figured it really didn’t matter. The rest of the group went in for two hours, leaving Sally and me to hang out with the driver.

The driver had a Gameboy so we decided to entertain ourselves. We were really close to the campuses of several of biggest universities in China. We went to Qinghua University and looked around. Sally said that Qinghua is a technical school and could be compared with MIT for it’s level of prestige. It was a really nice campus and fun to walk around. When we got there it was still really early in the morning so there wasn’t many people there. By the time we left though it was as bustling as an American University during the week, even though it was Saturday.

We got back on the bus and were taken to our next forced shopping experience. This time, rather than hawking jewelry or roasted ducky goodness, they were selling life. At least that’s what you would assume by listening to them. In truth they sold Tibetan medicine. They worked out of a small hospital (at least I assume it was a real hospital, there was a sign on the ground floor pointing to the OB/GYN) and had some specialists who would look at your palm and feel your pulse and tell what was wrong with you and them prescribe you some expensive pills from some Tibetan flowers. This may sound suspicious to the average Westerner but I take this stuff all in stride now. There was 1 time I thought that all Eastern medicine was bunk, but that was before my mission. In the last five years I’ve seen too much to back it up for me to just dismiss it. Plus I’m a big enough boy to admit that just because I don’t understand something doesn’t make it not true. And it’s not like I really understand how Western medicine works anyway. Anyway, these doctors looked at everyone’s hands. Most people were prescribed pills and some bought them. Both me and Sally let them take a look. The doctor was able to correctly tell us what kind of health problem we had (fatigue for Sally, mysterious stomach problems for me) so their method of diagnosis seemed to have some merit, but the business side of things was pretty darn shady. As soon as we told them we couldn’t buy anything they started to haggle with us on just how many pills we needed to get better. That falls in the dodgy category of my book. So the moral of the story: Trusting Chinese medicine is like eating a burrito; if it’s from a registered dealer, you’re fine but you’re just looking for trouble if you get it from so weirdo in a back alley.

The next stop was supposed to be at the Beijing Aquarium but that was an extra 75 kuai a person and Dalian has one as well that we were planning to visit and I don’t think an hour is enough time to really appreciate something like this so we took a nap on a bus instead.

The next stop was another shopping place (if I ever start a tour company, our business model will be no kick backs because this was getting a little annoying) this time selling cloisonné. This time it wasn’t so bad though because it was pretty interesting. Cloisonné is a beautiful Chinese art form, dating back over three hundred years. It’s the way they make all those really colorful vases. Before they tried to sell us anything, they took us for a tour of the plant where they make the cloisonné before they sell it. Even in today’s modern age, cloisonné has to be done entirely by hand. First they cut small pieces of copper plating and bend in into cookie cutter type shapes. These molds are then soldered to the copper vase. They then fill the various shapes with colorful enamel to make beautiful patterns and pictures. The vase is then baked in a kiln, polished and shipped to the sales floor. The final product is really quite beautiful and Sally and I have decided that when we’re old and have a big house we’ll buy a nice vase.

The next place we went (or the first place if you look at it the way I did) was the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was the warm weather residence of Cixi and other important figures in the royal family during the Qing Dynasty. Cixi was an empress who controlled the country behind the scenes and is generally considered to be the reason the Dynasty eventually failed. She built the palace and ordered that it resemble Xi Hu in Han Zhou. The two places really are very similar. The whole place was really beautiful and since a picture is worth a thousand words I’ll just show pictures later to anyone who cares.

After dinner we went to another jade store. They took us in back to have a lady explain how to tell real jade from fake jade. A few people in our group were a little sarcastic with her and she broke down. The boss was brought in because he was from Shanghai (as were most of our group). He talked to our group, got them laughing and offered them a 90% off discount because he only wants to make money off foreigners (I’m pretty sure I didn’t think I could understand him). Almost everyone bought something but as we drove away they were pretty sure that he had still sold them fakes.

Rather than having dinner with our group we ate with a girl that Sally knew in college and her husband. It was nice to talk to people who I was able to understand and the Sichuan style restaurant was really nice but not so expensive that I felt bad. The only problem was they lived on the other side of Beijing so by the time we got back to the hotel it was really late. We figured it was no big deal. There was only one more place to visit tomorrow and it cost more money and we really didn’t care. Plus we would have to leave early to make out plane that was going to Dalian so we decided to just sleep in, miss the tour and then head to the airport. It was the perfect plan.

-------------------Sunday, June 04, 2006------------------------

Except that it failed. Yang Dao was fine with us not going, but with the rest of our group gone our deposit went with them. The hotel wanted a 100 kuai deposit just to sleep for another hour. We decided it wasn’t worth the headache and packed up. Our group was gone by now so we took the subway to a place were you could buy tickets on an airport shuttle bus. The bus was really nice and I was left wondering how to take a tour on one of those instead. On the plan ride home, I made friends with a little boy who had technically stolen my seat. Sally and I figured it be better for us to be split by the aisle than him and his mom so we gave them our spot. The plane ride was only an hour long and before we know it we were back in Dalian. We threw our stuff on my back and caught a bus across town. We came home, had lunch and I just crashed, sleeping for the next three hours. We went out for hot pot for dinner.

In China: Post 7

---------------Friday, May 26, 2006--------------------

There was actually a reason for getting up so early. We had to hit the road to get to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is a famous tourist spot in China and is often described as paradise on earth. Also an old city, Hangzhou was described by Marco Polo as the finest place in China. There is a lot of history involved and even more beautiful scenery. Hangzhou is also known for it’s beautiful women, but since I took the best looking girl in all China there with me, I wasn’t too impressed. Ping Ping wasn’t able to go but Jeff was able to trade his car for a friend’s minivan and drive us around. He’d been to Hangzhou a couple times and knew basically where we were going.

As soon as we got there we were instant set apart as tourist because we had Shanghai license plate (Chinese plates are like Idaho plates, you can tell where a car is from by the number on it) and people were running through traffic to offer to be our tour guides for just 20 kuai an hour. You know how must people have one profession they just can’t stand, be it lawyers or salesmen or telemarketers? Well Jeff hates tour guides, so he would argue with them until traffic a head of him had cleared, told them OK and then drove away before they could get in the car.

Our first stop in Hangzhou was the famous and beautiful Xi Hu (West Lake). West Lake has been a popular tourist destination for centuries. Many a famous poet, statesman and general have stayed or lived there. We parked our car and started to walk around the lake. It’s not a big lake, much smaller than Bear Lake. You can drive around the circumference in a golf cart in about an hour. There are a lot of pretty parks and pavilions. They play relaxing music over some well-hidden speakers that adds to the atmosphere. There were several people taking advantage of the relaxing area by practicing Tai Chi. The first place we stopped was a restroom that I swear was the nicest one in all of China. I would have taken a picture but Sally had the camera with her at the time. We took a lot of other picture though, mostly of the pretty scenery. Hangzhou was another one of those places that I’ve really wanted to go for quite some time so it was really fun to see what all the fuss was about.

We walked about a quarter of the way around the lake before we came to its star attraction, Leifeng Ta (Thunder Peak Tower). Leifeng Tower is a tall Buddhist pagoda that was originally built about a thousand years ago to house a relic of a Buddha. The tower stood until the early 20th century when it collapsed. It was rebuilt a few years ago on the old (now steel reinforced) foundation as a place for tourist to go. The tower has been romanticized in legend, especially the Story of White Snake. The Story of White Snake has been around for a long time, being retold as a famous opera and television series. It’s about a pair of snakes who take the form of people. One of them falls in love with a man and marries him. A Buddhist monk decides that snakes turning into people must be demons and devotes his life to fighting them. To make a long story short White Snake is eventually imprisoned in the tower. The tower sits on top of a high mountain, which is now accessible by stone steps and an escalator. We were a bit behind Gugu and Gufu so we ran up the steps to catch them. I was about to turn around once I got to the top and yell “Adrian!” but I figured no one would get the joke. Inside the tower are a serious of detailed carvings showing the story of White Snake and some important Buddhist legends as well as paintings showing the original building of the tower. From the top you can look down and see all of West Lake, lying before you. At the bottom there is a small museum showing so artifacts that were found when the tower was excavated including the original container of the relics (in this case, a lock of hair).

After we went through the tower, we took a cart around the rest of the way. We didn’t get to stop and take picture very much, but it would have taken all day to walk around the whole thing. We found a small little street to eat dinner. I know this sounds weird but it was like a Chinatown in China. There were a lot of Chinese restaurants and small stalls selling snacks and tourist trinkets. By this point it had started raining pretty heavily so we ate our lunch in a noodle house. We pretty much all got the same thing, a big bowl of noodles in lamb broth with a big chunk of lamb meat. After wards we huddled under umbrellas and ate a skewer of what they said was venison. The meat was a fair bit lighter than I remember deer meat being but it’s been a while since I’ve had it and it could have been a different species of deer so I’ll with hold my judgment.

After lunch we went to the other place we planed to visit, Linchen Ci, which is a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Hangzhou. Its really cool, on minute your walking in a modern Chinese alley, the next your in this hidden jungle paradise with stone statues covered in moss and vines all the way us this tree covered mountain. The temple has been around for centuries. Across from it is a hill that looks like its right from out of a movie. Hidden amongst all the dense vegetation are many stone Buddhas craved right out of the rock. The mountain was really steep but stone steps lead up to many of the statues. That doesn’t mean climbing them was easy, the steps were really steep and slippery from the days rain. Only Gugu and Sally’s dad went into the actually temple, it cost money but they wanted to go in and worship. Neither are devote Buddhists but that’s not required. Meanwhile the rest of us waited outside. Sally and I climbed up and down the mountain taking pictures, which I think will convey what this place was like a lot better than I can here. It was really a beautiful place. I was thinking what it would be like to be a monk here. After climbing all those stairs all day, I understand why they’re in such great shape. As my mind wandered I found myself, with and the grace and agility monks aren’t known for, falling square on my butt. I was fine. My pants got real dirty and my hand hurt a little, but nothing was bruised but my pride. A small stone got stuck in my skin from the fall. At first I was hoping it would give me super Buddhists powers. But then I realized that any powers that I got by falling down, probably wouldn’t be that cool and it got itchy so I ripped it out.

After Gugu and Sally’s dad finished in the temple we got back in the van and Jeff started driving home. The freeways here are really quite nice. The traffic’s still pretty crazy but we had three lanes most of the way. Nice smooth road too. Although you do have to pay a toll and toll roads are never fun, I suppose they’re necessary when you’re first building a road system. We got home and Ping Ping joined us for dinner at a really nice restaurant. We had all kinds of Chinese food (or as they generally call it here: food) and it was at this meal that I realized just how long I’ve been in China, Sally told me that I had just eaten coagulated blood and it didn’t even faze me. I must have been here for a while.

----------Saturday, May 27, 2006---------------

Just a lazy Saturday in Shanghai. We didn’t do much today. Nobody was in a real hurry to go outside because it was super windy. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky though; figures that we get better weather when we’re not going anywhere. I took the opportunity to catch up on my writing (I wrote like eight pages, I’m getting sick of this so ya’ll better appreciate the work I put into this, I’m sure I will later as well) while everyone else, besides Jeff who had class all day, played cards. I might have joined them but I still don’t get the game too well, you need an even number of players and they’re were all speaking the Jiangsu dialect the whole time, so I’d be really left out of the conversation. Gufu doesn’t even speak much Mandarin. Shanghaiese and Jiangsuhau are close enough that he’s been able to get along here just fine.

Around five, we finally set off to go to downtown Shanghai. We walked are the Jin Mao building which is the tallest in Shanghai at 88 floors. Right next door was the construction for the World Finance Center which, when completed, usurp that title with a total of 101 floors.

We also went up the Oriental Pearl Tower (that one with the spheres I told everyone to look up, if you haven’t go do it now). The tower is located right on a bend in the Huangpu river and offers a great view of the Bund and the rest of Shanghai. We looked around and took a few pictures as the sun set off in the west. Afterwards we looked through a bit of the Shanghai museum. I was misinformed when I last wrote about Shanghai. It is a lot older than I thought, although it didn’t grow big in China until the Ming Dynasty. It was also of less importance on the world scale until Western people came in after the Opium War and started colonizing here. So yeah, sorry for the information, hope no one used it in a school report or anything.

Afterward we walked around on the other side of the river, took so night time photos and went out to dinner. We had what I’ve been wanting since I came to China: Hot pot. I don’t know if I’ve ever explained hot pot before. Hot pot is basically a pot with really hot food in it (hence the name). It’s traditional food from Sichuan, the spicy province. I’ve had it in Sydney and in Logan and have loved it every time. I love spicy food and this is about as spicy as it gets. I love it most when people haven’t eaten it with me before and think it’ll be too much for me. This has happened several times as Sichuan people tend to use hot pot as kind of a figurative trial by fire for their friends (although the next day it can sometimes turn into a literal trial of fire) and I always exceed their expectations. This time no one was trying to overwhelm me. In fact Gugu and Sally’s parents didn’t even eat anything from the spicy side. The way it works is they bring you a pot of water with two halves (you can get it not separated but everyone in your group has to be on one side of the spicy fence, which hardly ever happens) one side filled with water and onions, garlic and other seasonings. One side is usually also full of so much spicy that it’s a deep, dark red. There is a gas stove in the middle of the table that is used to boil the water. You are then provided with sliced meat and vegetables to boil in the water and some sauces to dip it in. The problem was this time the place was out of sauces. The rest of the family complained because they didn’t want to pay to eat food without flavor. I was OK with it though because I consider spicy to be a flavor and one of my favorites. It was a really good hot pot. You could tell because those of us eating were coughing and wiping our eyes and noses a lot. There are only three times that a real man is allow to cry in public: at the loss of a immediate family member, when his team loses in the playoffs and while eating really good hot pot. If my description has you salivating as much as I am now, I know a really good hot pot place in Salt Lake. Same rules are Korean Barbeque apply.

In China: Post 6

---------------Saturday, May 20, 2006------------------

Well today was the big day, our wedding feast. Sally’s parents had decided that since we’ve been married for so long already, there was no point having a ceremony. Instead we were just having a big dinner for all of their friends and family. Actually it was mostly Sally's parents’ friends. Sally had a few friends from school there, but not many. In total we had six tables filled with neighbors, friends from work, old army buddies and slew of people from where her parents grew up who had also moved to Dalian.

With a few simple words from Sally’s father the feast began. Each table was set with plate after plate of amazing looking food. There was so much that they were stacking plates on top of each other. We literally had to finish one dish, so that waiter would take it away, before we could eat what lay beneath. Fortunately most of the food was meant to be eaten cold, so speed wasn’t an issue. This was also good because Sally and I had precious little time to actually eat. Chinese wedding tradition dictated that we go around pouring drinks and lighting cigarettes for all the guests. By the time we were done the party was starting to wind down. Throughout the process, people naturally tried to get us to drink with them. Most understood when we would drink 7-up rather than beer (Sally’s dad actually over estimated how much alcohol would be needed, many guests wanted us to pour soda rather than liquor) but a few were more persistent that one such an occasion everyone should be drinking. We stuck to our guns though. Sally did a great job explaining that we didn’t drink out of principle, rather than for health reasons. Most people took that as reason enough and dropped the issue. This was truly a blessing because we didn’t want to be forced into a situation where we’d have to be too forceful and make someone lose face.

After we finished saying goodbye to and taking pictures with most of the guests, the staff started cleaning up the food. There were plenty of leftovers, which Sally’s mom tried to give to as many people as would take it. We still ended up with a whole lot to carry home ourselves, including about eight bottles of pop. While Sally’s parent’s handled the financial side of things, I did what I’ve come to do best in China, I sat in a chair. After a few minutes, one of the last remaining guest, a family friend who helped welcome guests and have them sign the Chinese equivalent of the wedding book, came down and started talking to me. He started by asking my opinion of the war in Iraq. Always hesitant to discuss politics in other countries, I tried to dodge the question, saying I’m not informed enough to have a fully formed opinion (which in many ways I’m not). He didn’t except this though and kept asking. I started telling him what many of the people that I knew who were actually over there that I knew or knew people that knew had told me. I told him what the people protesting on the streets of America thought of the whole thing. I told him that most Americans are somewhere between the two. He asked about Bush and what people thought of him. I explained that opinion about the president were as wide and varied as opinions on the war. The conversation continued from there, focusing mostly on American Chinese relations. We talked about culture, business and personal aspects. We even talked about the major theoretical differences between Chinese and Western medicine. And of course, because we’re guys, we talked sports. This uncle (I was never told his name) spoke with a sometimes difficult Shenyang accent, but after a few minutes I was OK. It was the first time I’ve had a one on one conversation with someone of the older generation that lasted more than five minutes. It was good to remind myself that I really do speak Chinese.

When we got home, I was tired. The whole time people kept telling me that I must be really tired on such a busy day and I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t be because I hadn’t really done anything. I spent the whole day just shaking peoples’ hands and doing what I was told, and yet I was exhausted. It was just like our wedding in America. While I went in the other room to recuperate (by which I mean write with out interruption) Sally and her folk counted our haul. In China, rather than buying the new couple a dozen sets of knives (I never figured out what I was supposed to cut with them all) or six toasters, wedding guests give a gift every young family really needs: Money. Everyone who came gave us a hongbao (red package), a traditional red envelop with a wad of cash inside. The amount they gave you was also recorded next to their name in the wedding book. It ensures that the couple’s family knows how much to return when they’re invited to that family’s wedding.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and eating leftovers. After dinner Sally, her mother and I all packed our things for the trip to Shanghai. I’m still excited about the trip.

----------Monday, May 22, 2006-------

We woke up a little late yesterday. In a hurry we ate as quickly as we could and made our final preparations to head out for Shanghai. Naturally we had to eat lunch once we were ready, because if I were ever to fully digest something before eating again, I would surely die. The train station wasn’t far but it was too far to walk and we had too much stuff to easily take the train so we took a cab. It worked well because the train station was within the initial range of the cab. As soon as you get into a cab in Dalian, you owe the driver 8 kaui. This fee will get you 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) from where you started, before you start being charged anymore.

We got to the train station and waited for the train. We didn’t stand in line; standing in line is a Western concept. In China, you usually just mill around and push forward as a huge mass of humanity, a form of organized chaos that has to really be experienced to be understood. That’s not even true because I’ve been through it many times already and I still can’t understand how I get from where I started to where I wanted to go. I’ve given up hope of sufficiently describing it. I’ll try though. We were all standing around by the gates to the train. The time came to start boarding, some music played over the loudspeaker and tree men in train uniforms march out and saluted us in unison. They opened the gates and I became part of a wall of humanity. I had a huge backpack on my back and a small suit case in my hand so I wasn’t well equipped to fight back. Somewhere in front of me an old lady dropped her bags, I thought she’d be crushed, I really did, but rather than becoming tossed like a leaf in the river, she became a stone, with the current flowing around her. I actually found myself being pushed away from her, instead of toward. I didn’t end up at the gate I expected, but I ended up at the gate the flow wanted me to reach, and that’s good enough for me.

And 24 hours later, we were in Shanghai.

It wasn’t that simple of course. We boarded the train and found our seats. Since we had sleeper (they were actually hard-sleeper, not soft-sleeper, but still so much better than hard seaters that I didn’t care) our seats were actually small, blue bunk beds. There were probably 30 stacks of three cots on the train. Since we had two bottom bunks we mostly sat on the beds but there were also small seats on the wall across from the beds that folded down for passengers higher up. Since we boarded at 11:00 it wasn’t long after we had started moving that people started taking out their lunches. We had plenty of fruit and left over cakes from the wedding feast to last us the whole journey. For anyone who didn’t think to bring food, they had food carts that sold snacks as well as full meals. It was just like in Harry Potter but with pig feet rather than jellybeans that taste like boogers. I’m not sure which I would prefer.

After everyone ate, most people took a nap. The whole car was eerily silent. Me and Sally passed the time by playing chess. As people started watching us, the car came alive. Soon people were talking, laughing and playing cards. Most of the passengers were older and most spoke with accents so I didn’t say too much. I’d had my fill of learning new Chinese card games so I retreated into science fiction.

I became instantly enthralled with “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card. Many of the quotes on the cover talked about how this book exceeded “Ender’s Game” which I enjoy a whole lot, so I was pretty excited to read the next of the series. I really enjoyed this one, and given my current circumstance, was touched more by it than “Ender’s Game.” The book deals with humans trying to learn from another alien culture and the struggles that come from this. There have been times when I’ve felt that China and America might as well be on different planets for as different as our cultures are. Of course, there are other times when we seem more the same than I ever imagined. Still the book is awesome and I recommend the first two books of the Ender Series to everyone. I’ll hold off on recommending the whole thing until I’ve read it because I’ve heard mixed reviews.

The whole journey Sally’s mom kept trying to feed me. I tried to fight her off as best I could because I really really didn’t want to have to use the toilet (and I use the term loosely, this thing was bad ever for a squatter) if I didn’t have to. I’ve managed to avoid using squatter thus far, and I didn’t want my first experience to be barreling down the countryside some where in between Dalian and Shanghai. For some reason the only place I really felt the movement of the train was in the bathroom. I guess it’s really easy to forget you’re in an enormous metal tube rocket through the Chinese countryside when you’re deep in the world of the greatest fiction writer the Church has every produced. It’s really hard to forget it when you’re trying to pee into a tiny metal hole in the floor.

At ten o’clock it was lights out. Everyone climbed into their bunks and went to sleep. I snuggled with Sally and we talked a lot about our trip so far and about our future together. We got tired quickly and I climb up into the middle bunk above her. I fell asleep pretty easily the first time but woke up as we jolted into each station. Falling back asleep wasn’t so easy. Everything you’ve heard about the rhythmic click-clack of the train rolling over the rack singing a lullaby, lulling passengers to sleep is true. The sound is there and it is quite soothing. What isn’t soothing is having the stack of beds being filled with three middle aged Chinese people who snore on different patterns. But I survived. I’m a survivor. That’s what I do.

In the morning I tried to finish my book, but often got distracted by the scenery outside. Now I feel like I’ve started to really see China. I saw the countryside. I saw rice paddies with farmers working them by hand or with the help of a water buffalo. I saw the oriental style architecture change as we made our way south. I saw the Yangtze River. It was awesome and humbling.

We got to the Shanghai station and bid our train farewell. We were met at the gate by Sally’s cousin, Ping Ping, who’s apartment we’ll be staying at for our stint in Shanghai. We took a cab (more expensive than the ones in Dalian) to her apartment in the Pudong region of Shanghai.

Shanghai is huge! It’s much bigger than Dalian, with taller building and more of them. It’s humid too. Really humid and hot too. It’s like Sydney in the summer. I’m really happy that I’ll be wearing shorts the whole time. It was raining when we got here, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t get the real Shanghai. The streets were empty compared to Dalian. Of course, they were pretty full compared to anywhere in Utah.

I don’t hear much Mandarin anymore. Sally, her mom, her cousin and her aunt (Gugu ) and uncle (Gufu) all speak the Jiangsu Dialect when we’re in the apartment and I mostly hear Shanghainese on the streets. Mostly I just sit and listen. And I think and try and learn about this alien culture I’ve found myself in.

--------------Tuesday, May 23, 2006--------------------

Well today was my first real day in Shanghai. I was right, this place isn’t definitely not like Dalian. Of course, I suppose that’s to be expected. You wouldn’t expect L.A. to be the same place as Chicago.

Shanghai is different from most cities in China in that it was founded by Westerners. Scattered throughout the city amongst all the modern buildings and Asian architecture are many stone European style buildings. There’s especially one section where the various powers of Europe built all their banks and offices etc. More on that later.

Sally’s mom decided she wanted to spend the day catching up with her in laws so Sally and I were on our own for the day. We’d been having some problems with the camera and since I figured I’d be more successful telling you guys that I’ve decided to stay in China than trying to come home without any picture we bought ourselves some new batteries. We had to try a couple packs before we found some that worked but once we had we were on our way.

Sally’s cousin recommended a couple places for us to go. The first was Shanghai Renmin Square (Shanghai Peoples Square), which is in downtown Shanghai. We took a bus there that Sally claimed was the most crowed she’s ever ridden but I thought the one her dad and I took in Shenyang was worse. The buses here are more expensive than those in Dalian, a pattern that we’ve seen repeated many times in Shanghai. On the way there, I noticed that traffic here is different. There are a lot more cars in Shanghai because of the larger population. Despite there being more cars Shanghai traffic is a little more subdued. That’s not to say it’s not chaotic. It’s just more of an organized chaos, with more traffic lights and other controls. There are also a lot of traffic assistants who help enforce the rules. A traffic assistant is basically a crossing guard with a yellow vest and an attitude. If someone tries to cross the street while the light is still a red hand, they blow their whistle and grab the offender and hold them back until the light switches.

We got to the square and looked around at some trees and fountains. We considered going through a museum housing some ancient Chinese paintings and bronze work but it was twenty kaui a person to get in and we only had 100 to get us through the day and a lot of other places to visit today so we decided to move on. We made the same decision about an exhibition of the Shanghai of the future. Sally had to use the restroom so we set off in search of a KFC. This is because we’ve heard that they have the nicest bathrooms in all of China (we hear a lot of things). We looked all around the area and couldn’t find one so Sally decided to use a pay toilet. Just as she let go of the coin I saw one across the street. Our investigation into the quality of restroom facilities of various overseas fast food chains would have to wait for another time.

After this adventure, we headed off to Nanjing Road. Nanjing Road is a strip of road that is famous for it’s shopping. In the dialogues that I’ve read in my Chinese classes, characters are always talking about how they planning on going to Nanjing Road of which of our vocabulary words they purchased there. It was the first specific place in China that I’ve heard a lot about and had been looking forward to seeing (more specific than say, Shanghai). The strip is several blocks long and closed off to traffic. The whole place is crawling with people buying and selling all sorts of things; everything from clothes to chopsticks. The sales people were helpful too, a little too helpful. They would see me and latch on to me, trying to convince me to buy their stuff which is an improvement from when I go into a nice store in America and the sales people follow me around to make sure I don’t steal anything. There were a lot of interesting things to look at though. There was this one shop that specialized in jade artwork and calligraphy supplies. They had these amazingly intricate statues carved from solid pieces of jade. The craftsmanship was very high. We considered buying Sally a brush and some ink for her to work on her writing, but decided it would be cheaper to get them some that wasn’t so over run with tourists.

After we ate a quick lunch of baozis (steamed bread with meat and/or vegetable filling) and soup in an underground restaurant, we headed over to one of the most famous parts of Shanghai, the Bund. To be honest I hadn’t heard of the Bund before and I still don’t know why it’s called that, but I have seen many pictures of it. The Bund is a bend in the Huangpu River (part of the Yangtze) and offers an excellent view of the Shanghai skyline. We could look across the river and see the skyscraper with the two large spheres in it (Google image search Shanghai and I’m sure you’ll see some pics of what I’m talking about). This part of town was also the center of all overseas presence in China. The entire street has the old, stone buildings that England, Russia and other western powers built. It was a major social center in the 1920-30s and the scene of many movies and TV series. The tradition of overseas visitors continues today with more white people in this one area that I’ve seen in the last three weeks. From the looks of them, most of these people were old retired couples who were finally crossing “Visit China” off their lists of things to do before they die. Now that I’ve been here, I figure Sally and I can always dream about visiting Turkey or someplace like that when we’ve quitted working.

In true Shanghai tourist fashion, we took plenty of photos from the platforms overlooking the pavilion. Most people seem content just to take a quick shot from anywhere of them standing in front of what ever the attraction for the area is, with no thought to angle or proper cropping. Sally and I have had a lot of fun going beyond that, trying different shots and using the rule of thirds for a more artistic approach to tourism. We bought a new card for her camera so we’ve had plenty of shots to work with. It’s been a learning experience for me, as I’ve never had too much experience with a digital camera. When I was in Australian I had to consider the fact that I had to pay to develop the film (on a very limited budget) and carry them with me for two years so I think I came home with only 350-400 shots. We’re looking to easily surpass that here in China; we’ve already go about 300 taken. Granted a lot of these are duplicates or not going to be used for anything more than a quick “this is supposed to be this but some one bumped me so the camera moved and made the picture all blurry and stupid” while we shot our photos to people in the two weeks after we get home that people are still interested. Through all this working together on getting photos, we’ve discovered that Sally and I have different philosophies and I have been physically struck during “discussions” about the benefits of vertical shots vs. the “inferior” horizontal variety.

As we went back through Nanjing Road we had to use the restroom again. I normally wouldn’t bring this up (you should all know me well enough to know I would never talk about such base human functions) but since we were passing a KFC we figured, “Science must go on.” So we went in to us the restroom. The sign said, “Restrooms this way,” so we went this way. Another sign said “Restrooms through this door,” so we went through the door. We continued to follow the signs into the next building up the stair and into this dark, musty corner. I don’t know what the ladies room was like but the men’s room was not “finger licking good” I’ll tell you that right now. Still, since it wasn’t actually a KFC restroom we’ll have to try again later.

Since by this point we were quite a bit further from where we wanted to walk to get back to The People’s Square, we took the subway to another bus station. The intra-city trains here are pretty different from the ones that made me love public transport in Sydney. First off, there’s not as many of them and they’re not a crucial. In Sydney everyone takes the train. Buses are for losers and people who only ride them to and from the train station. Here the buses are packed solid while the subway is nice and roomy (by Chinese standards of roomy). The trains in Sydney are all two leveled. Here only some of the larger trains that go from city to city are. In China the train is all one long tube while Australia are made up of individual cars. In China, the lady that announces the next stop is a recording with a nice, easily to understand Chinese accent. In Sydney the next stop is lost in a garbled mess of the names of the next five stations all read aloud by who ever is driving, usually a dude from Shri Lanka who no one understands. Here in China, the automatic ticket vendor gives you change in the form of nice, crisp bills. In Sydney you feel like you hit the jackpot in Vegas every time you use a twenty to buy a $2.20 ticket to the city. Shanghai trains seem to go faster but that might just be because thy crank up the air condition to give you a simulated sensation of speed.

--------------------Wednesday May 24, 2006---------------------------

Everyone was still too busy to do anything with us so they arranged for Sally and me to take a tour of Nanjing. We figured it was better to spend two days exploring the former capitol than hanging around the apartment watching Chinese dubbed episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” so we went along with it. Our travel agent got us train tickets to and from Nanjing, transport to and from the train station, a hotel room for the night and a tour bus of all the major attractions the city had to offer. All for less than $100 US. Not a bad deal in my book.

Nanjing is about three hours from Shanghai by train. We woke up really early (sometimes I think I get the worst culture shock not from the Chinese, but from the fact my whole family over here are morning people) and Sally’s cousin’s husband (who for the sake of simplicity I will refer to as Jeff) drove us to the subway station. We took the subway to the train station and wait for our train. Since our train started where we were and ended where we stopped (as opposed to us only riding for part of the train’s total journey) we felt no need to fight the crowds and waited a bit before boarding. We sat by a kid who played his DS (think really cool Gameboy) the whole way and a mother and daughter, the younger of which was full of questions and comments for the older. Our train was delayed a bit and we ended up needing four hours to get to Nanjing. Fortunately our ride was still waiting for us. As the driver honked his way through traffic (the worst I’ve seen in China, but also with the most controls, the lights all have timers to tell you how long they’ll be green, red, etc.) we were able to get a bit of an idea what Nanjing was like.

Unlike Shanghai, Nanjing is old. Very old. We’re talking over two thousand years of history in this place. For me, who’s never been anywhere over 300 years old, that’s a lot of time to be thinking back. For the most part, Nanjing doesn’t show her age though. It looked like a modern city. Just as new and almost as shiny as Shanghai. The name Nanjing means Southern Capitol, a title it earned by being the capitol of China for quite a while back in the day (Beijing, creatively enough, means Northern Capitol). It’s this history that brings so many tourists, most of them Chinese, to town and they’ve done a pretty good job preserving it.

One thing that really stood our in my mind about Nanjing was the number of bikes. I know that when people think of China they think of a billion people riding around on bicycles, but I’m always a little hesitant to believe the common perception. Especially after living in Dalian for two weeks where bikes are much less common. Shanghai and Shenyang have a lot of people peddling around, but Nanjing blows them all away. It has huge bike lanes, sometimes separated from the rest of traffic by a dividing wall or fence. Whole families will ride one bike together, with the father peddling and the mother sitting on the back holding their small child. People are always giving people rides on their bikes. When I was young I tried many ways to give my friends a lift but no matter what method we tried, be it with the rider sitting on the handlebars or standing on the pegs, it never worked well and certainly was never comfortable. Here people do it all these different ways and it doesn’t faze them a bit. I’ve seen people riding along on the back of someone’s bike with a plate of food in one hand, chopsticks in the other, having a conversation with the peddler, all as if it were nothing. It’s not just people too. People here are so good on their bikes the can transport anything, with one hand holding an umbrella if it’s raining. I saw this one older fellow, peddling down the street with a full sized fridge across his rear fender. I was impressed.

We go to our hotel and checked in. They told us that our tour would start tomorrow and the rest of the day was ours to do with as we pleased. We went up to our room. At first glance it didn’t seem so bad. It had a TV, air conditioning and two small beds. There was only one amenity that I was concerned about though and after putting our bag down (we travel light) I went into the bathroom to check. Much to my relief, it was fully prepared to accommodate a western traveler. I was about to shut the door behind me when I tried to turn on the light only to find it didn’t respond. We tried some other lights. Nothing. We tried the TV. Dead. Our room didn’t have electricity!

Or so we thought. We talked to someone and they explained that you have to put the key to your room (a card key) into a slot to complete the circuit that allows you power. I guess it’s a good way to prevent guests from wasting juice while they’re out, but it’s really scary when you think your facing a day alone in a hotel with nothing to do and no power.

Fortunately we didn’t have to spend the whole day in the hotel. Sally called on of her college roommates, Yang Ying, who was living and working in Nanjing. She came over to the hotel and they caught up for a little bit. Yang invited us to go with her back to here place to meet her husband and his parents and than go out for dinner. We couldn’t refuse. Actually we could refuse and Sally did for a bit but they convinced her that they’d help us find our hotel again. Yang is currently working as a lecturer and her husband Hou Ge, is a dentist for the military. They recently bought a new apartment and are in the process of getting it remodeled before they move it. Sometimes I feel bad for Sally seeing how all her friends are living the big life here in China and I have her stuck in a tiny one roomer in Logan, Utah. She’s a good sport though and says she’s OK with it.

We went out to dinner at a nice restaurant near their old place. It was a chance to eat some Nanjing special dishes. Each part of China has it’s own food style. I’ve tried to convince people that America is like that too – although to a lesser extent – but have so far not been too successful. We had a variety of food, including braised meat, stir fried broccoli and fish (I’ve eating so much fish this trip and yet I still struggle with the bones, Sally on the other hand, is like a cartoon cat sticky and whole fish in her month and pulling out a whole skeleton). The star of the meal was the duck. They explained that southern Chinese each duck like northern Chinese eat chicken (which is quite a bit). Nanjing’s yanshui duck is famous throughout the country and supposed to rival Beijing world famous roast duck in tastiness. For this meal we had the house special, a huge bowl of duck soup. They boil a whole duck in this large pot filled with green onion and bamboo shoots (tasty and crunchy, I can see why Panda’s like it so much). It was really good and the four of us could have just eaten the soup and been full (for a while, soup is filling but it doesn’t stick with you).

Having eaten nothing by Chinese food (with the exception of the ice cream in Dalian) for the last three weeks, I’ve decided a few things about American food. #1, we don’t eat enough soup. The Chinese meal almost always has soup with it. It usually comes at the end though rather than at the beginning when we eat it, and is used to wash down the meal in the absence of water. There have been many times I’ve forgotten that soup would be coming (or didn’t know) an ate myself too full to enjoy it. That’s always disappointing. #2, we don’t eat enough duck. Duck is awesome and I’ve enjoyed it ever since I started eating it in Sydney. The last few weeks have been duckalisous. I do feel a little bad eating the stars of my favorite childhood program “Ducktales” but it’s so good that you get over it quickly. #3, we really don’t eat enough lamb. Again, I developed the taste for this meat down under and really miss it while I’m state side. We have found some in Logan though so it’s not as hard to come by as duck. I like both meats for the same reason. They’re darker and richer in flavor than their more common counterparts with a nice bit of fat on there too. It’s good eating.

-----------------Thursday May 25, 2006------------------

We woke up really early this morning (can I just say that I am really sick of 6 a.m.) and ate a quick breakfast of Chinese pastries in the hotel restaurant. After gathering up our things we got on the tour bus. It was just starting to rain and would rain most of the day, making most of our pictures dark and gray. By now I’ve gotten used to being the youngest person around. With the exception of me and Sally everyone in our group was a generation or two a head of us. The came from all around China and most were in groups of three or for who would speak to each other in their own dialect. Our tour guides explained the day’s activities and asked us to pay the fee that went to cover the price admission tickets and lunch. Part of the group didn’t know about lunch costing extra and raised a bit of a fuss but there was this one old lady on her own who just couldn’t understand why she had to pay again (we paid half upfront to the travel agency for train and hotel, and then the tickets and stuff were paid at this point) and raised a big stink about it. I had to smile to myself as the poor tour guide argued with her. Some things are constant no matter where you are in the world; the struggle of customer service is one of those things. I’ve had many similar arguments when I told people they had to pay their phone bill.

Once everything got settled down we set off. Most of our time was spent in the bus as our driver tried to force his way through traffic. In the mean time the tour guides would explain some of the history, both ancient and modern, of Nanjing. Because they would speak into a loudspeaker, I couldn’t understand them very well (I did better when they didn’t use it) but Sally was a very informative and patient translator. One thing they mentioned was the pixiu, the official animal of Nanjing. The pixiu is a mythical creature, like the dragon or unicorn, that was supposed to bring you good luck because of its curious anatomy. The pixui has a big mouth – to suck in all the luck – a big butt – in which to store the luck – and, I’m not making this up, it’s Chinese legend, no butthole so that none of the luck leaks out. There are statues of this poor fellow all over Nanjing Most in the same style as Chinese dragons or lion statues.

The first stop was Meiyuan Xincun (Garden of mei flower in the new neighborhood) which is famous for being the site of a lot of the planning of the Communist Party before they rose to power in 1949. It was also where the second negotiations between the Communists and the Gouming Party took place. The American were involved too (as we often are) with the Marshal Treaty. The place is a lot like many of the historic sites you can visit in the States like the Beehive house with a lot of artifacts and rooms reconstructed as they originally were. There were also a lot of old photos and news clippings hung on the walls. In front of Meiyuan Xincun was a large statue of Zhou Enlai, the first prime minister under Communist power. While Mao Zedong is often a controversial character because of many of his decisions, Zhou Enlai is generally well liked by the Chinese people.

We didn’t have too much time to wonder around because we had to get back on the bus and head to Chaotian Gong (the palace that faces heaven) which housed the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang (the same Zhu as Sally’s). YuanZhang was a farmer before he rose to emperor and many of the people treated him as a brother or a friend so his court built him this palace to set him apart from his subjects. Now days it’s a museum of artifacts for the six dynasties that used Nanjing as their capitol. The first of these was the Dong Wu (Eastern Wu) dynasty from the time period of “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (one of the four most famous books in Chinese literature). The artifacts in the museum ranged from old copper tools to small burial statues to chamber pots to a replicas of Chinese weapons including a rapid fire crossbow that made China’s armies a force to be reckoned with. They walk ways into the chamber was made with small stones forming a zigzag pattern that looks like the Chinese character for “people” to remind the people inside the palace walls that they were above the people outside. On the way in there was also a big statue of Kongzi (Confucius’s real name).

Our next stop was Yuhua Tai (Rain Flower Park) which was the spot where 100 thousand communists were killed during the conflict between the Communists and Gouming Party (and you thought McCarthy was bad). The park is the location of a huge statue erected as a monument to those killed. It features 9 people, many in chains, standing defiantly against oppression. The number nine was chosen because it’s the biggest Arabic numeral. The statue it at the top of a long flight of stair, up against and jungle covered mountain. Besides being the site of so much death, Yuhai Tai is also known for its rainflower stone, which are these really pretty stones. We actually spend most of our time at the park in this jewelry shop that featured this stones. They’re not a gem stone or anything like that, they’re just really pretty rocks that shine up really nice. They made us stay here so long because the tour company has a deal with this store (and many others) where they get a percent of the purchases made by groups they bring in. We considered buying some rocks but opted instead for a small Jade pixiu for me to wear around my neck because I make it a point to buy anything that will increase both my luck and my chances to use the word butthole in polite conversation.

After the park we went to Fuzi Miao, which is another palace in Nanjing. They talked a lot about feng shui here which is the Chinese art of aligning a room or building to increase the flow of positive energy. Water is important in feng shui and this palace had a pond and some streams flowing through it. It was just like you’d imagine a peaceful mansion in ancient China to be like, with lots of trees, rocks and pavilions. I could just imagine myself in a kung fu movie, if it weren’t for all the tourists. As part of the tour we were able to watch a performance similar to what Chinese royalty would have seen complete with classical Chinese music. Throughout the tour they stressed importance of the ancient character for tiger, which they tried to get us to buy. This time, Sally was strong and didn’t buy it.

We had lunch in a restaurant by a famous lake in Nanjing. The food was pretty forgettable but there was an old man there who was signing and selling Chinese painting while we ate. They were really good but we figured we’d already bought enough stuff. After lunch we drove around the lake. There were some cool statues but we didn’t stop to really look at them or take photos. We did stop by a pretty waterfall though. That was nice. I’m sure we could have stopped a little more but some of the other in the group were pushing on to the next stop. The guides also tried to get us to stop buy a teashop for a free sample (so we’d buy tea) put the old folks wouldn’t hear of it. They said they’d rather just sit in the bus in the rain than go it. Sally and I had no intention of buying or even sampling tea, but figured we’d not be difficult for the poor guides. Right as we got off the bus however, they gave up and we moved on.

The last stop on the tour was Sun Zhongshan’s (same Sun as mine) mausoleum, the final resting place of the founder of the Gouming Party. My recent Chinese history is a little weak but I’m starting to piece things together. The Gouming Party was the party in charge while China was a democracy (from some time in the early 1900s until the Communist rise to power in 1949). By the time Mao and Zhou came to power, the Gouming Party of Zheng Kaichek was corrupt and evil in the eyes of many people, hence the famous uprising. When it first started, however, the party was led by good and noble people who are still held in high regard by the populous, especially Dr. Sun, the first president. The current government still shows them in a good light. It’s kind of like if some other political system were to rise in America, people would still think that George Washington and the others were heroes and the overthrown administration would be vilified. Makes good sense to me from a political standpoint. People tend to want to keep their heroes of old, but are often willing to turn their backs on people they can more easily see the flaws of.

The mausoleum itself was quite impressive. It sits atop another huge hill with stair leading up to it. The stairs also go through some stone gates with characters carved in Sun’s own hand written that declared, “The world is for the public.” The way up is also lined with stone lions, one of which was hit during the Japanese attack on Nanjing during World War II. At the top is the actually resting place of Sun Zhongshan, five meters underneath a marble sarcophagus, craved to scale in his image. No photos were allowed in this section and our tour guide spoke quietly in the building. Despite the vast numbers of people climbing up to see the former leader, it was a very somber place. Not depressing, just serious. In spite of the air of history, Sally and I had a good time taking pictures together. We were the only ones however as the rest of the group, concerned about getting to the train station early enough (old people are old people, no matter where you go) headed straight down to the bus and complained until the tour guy went to find us and bring us back early.

One of the most outspoken passengers was the old lady who didn’t want to pay (let’s call here Crazy Aunt Daisy). Crazy Aunt Daisy never did submit willingly to having to pay, she only gave to tour guide the money because she was afraid the group would leave her, stranded somewhere in Nanjing if she didn’t. We were a little concerned she’d get left behind too. Not on purpose but she tended to wonder off on her own all the time. The poor tour guides were constantly keeping an eye on her. By the time we were in Fuzi Miao, she realized both me and Sally were wearing blue, we were the only young people at most of these places and I was the only white guy period. With so much setting us apart she decided to follow us around. Crazy Aunt Daisy was a funny old lady. Constantly asking everyone questions, usually ones that people had already told her the answer too. One of the other old ladies even told her to stop talking after CAD asked where she was from for the fifth time or so. Since we were on the same train (but thankfully different cars) she decided to stick to us like glue once we got to the train station. We got her to the waiting room and I left to use the men’s room while Sally explained how she would know which train to get on. I guess while I was gone CAD warned Sally to be careful around me because guys are dangerous. She also gave her some birth control tips. By the time I came back Sally had had enough and told Crazy Aunt Daisy that we were going for a walk and she should stay where she was. It took a while but we finally convinced her that we’d be back right after we bought some snacks for the train ride. We bought some snacks but hid in another waiting room for a while. I felt kind of bad but I bought a Miranda (the Pepsi equivalent of Smart) from the store there and, you'll never believe this, it was cold. Really cold pop, straight from the fridge! Nothing here is cold but this was. One sip and the heat and humidity slipped from my mind. It was beautiful. Finally we figured we'd better head back before CAD decided to go looking for us and missed her train, by the time we got back someone else had taken our place, both on the bench and in the life of Crazy Aunt Daisy. I still miss her.

After a chess filled train ride home, we were picked up at the subway station and brought home. We had dinner (the leftovers from the other’s dinner including a lamb dish that’s Gufu’s speciality) and I took and much needed shower. We went to bed early because there is another 6 a.m. coming up tomorrow and we’d hate to miss that.

In China: Post 5

---------Thursday, May 18, 2006--------------

I woke up with stomach problems again and had to stay home (more for safety than because I didn’t feel well) while Sally and her mom went shopping. I figured no big deal, I’ll hang out, watch soccer, catch up on my writing, go to the bathroom every ten minutes, a laid back morning. And it was, for the most part. The only thing worth noting was that the postman came by to deliver a package and needed a signature. I didn’t feel qualified to provide it so I took a message. I have several Chinese names and am never sure which one is appropriate to use. Besides it was for her father so it might have been top-secret Chinese government stuff. So I just took a message and went pretty proud of myself for being able to do so.

After lunch me and Sally decided to go climb one of the nearby mountains. However first we decided to sit for a bit and digest (we were really full, we’re always really full, we’ve both gotten fat since we’ve gotten here) before we left. I fell asleep. When I woke up Sally fell asleep. She told me to wake her up in half an hour, so I did. She wanted another 15 minutes. I gave it to her. This continued until it was time to go for dinner. Sally’s parents and we went to Jiajia for dinner.

After dinner Sally’s dad went to a tenets’ meeting for their building. I guess the land that this building is one belongs to the military and they’ll be tearing it down soon to build a bigger complex. Everyone who lives here will still get an apartment in the new place but they don’t want to have to pay if the new rooms are bigger than the current ones. Sally and I took a set of keys and went out for a date. It was nice not to have to worry about getting back in time for her parents to let us in and still get enough sleep.

We went to the big mall where we waited for her friends a few days ago. We shopped a bit and went to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. The ice cream was good but the proportions were not so much. When I pay 16 kaui for a single scoop, I expect something softball sized. I’ll accept a baseball if it’s really good but no smaller. All we got was a racquetball. I guess they count on Americans being desperate for a taste of home.

Speaking of Americans being desperate for a taste of home, we also checked out the ice cream at KFC (we weren’t just two crazy people wondering the streets looking for frozen dairy deserts, we did other things too, I just don’t think you want to here about us looking at Chinese CDs). I know that when people talk about how American culture is taking over the world they always mention that McDonalds is everywhere. This is true, there’s a Mackers (Aussie slang) in every major shopping center in Dalian. But in the war to conquer the world’s taste buds, it’s better to follow the orders of a colonel than a clown. I’ve mentioned before that KFC is everywhere and I meant it. Every time we go out, I count the KFCs that I see. Four is the average. Like most international fast food franchises, KFC adapts to fit local tastes. In Sydney (we Kentucky Fried Chicken is even more popular than it is in China) one of the things that struck me with the most culture shock was the fact that they gave you French fries with everything (because you can’t have chicken without chips, it’s the law). Here it’s a little healthier with a seasonal vegetable side dish. The ice cream wasn’t very good, but at least you didn’t pay much for it and the size was what I expected.

-----------------Friday, May 19, 2006-----------------

Today we mostly finished getting ready for the party tomorrow. We went to the Carrefore (which Sally wanted me to explain is French, not Chinese) to buy some drinks for the dinner and some small luggage for our trip to Shanghai (which, it turns out, starts Sunday, more on that later, if I remember). We bought a pair of small, personal suitcases that will fit easily in the overhead compartment. We also bought a whole lot of Pepsi and 7-up. With the exception of Smart and Fanta, which enjoy a much smaller market share, most of the pop here is either cola or lemon/lime. No root beer, no Doctor Pepper, no cream soda, nothing. Coke and Sprite are the clear winning of the Chinese soda wars. Sally told me that until recently there wasn’t any 7-up here at all. It was all Coke products. I guess Pepsi has spent a lot of money advertising (I see it everywhere) and while the flagship drink has started to gain traction, 7-up has not. So much to the point Sally’s parents almost went with two cases of Pepsi rather than one of Pepsi and one of 7-up because they were afraid the guests wouldn’t drink it. Also, the cashier confirmed with us that we knew we were buying 7-up, not Sprite. We would have gotten Sprite, but they were out.

I like going to Carrefore. For one, I always see at least two other non-Chinese people there. I never talk to them, it’s just nice to be reminded that I’m not the only one. Also we usually get a zhenzhunaicha on the way out, because they’re cheap and are hands down the best drink this continent has ever produced.

This trip we also got me so clothes. We figured out my pants size in Chinese and bought me a pair of shorts. I didn’t get the color I wanted because for some reason all the ones in my size in the right color were lacking the hole that you put the button in the front through. I was relived to fine that it was just these few and not some new Chinese style so I decided that the ability to do my pants up was more important than fashion, so we went with a lighter shade. As a souvenir, I also found the T-shirt with the worse English on it I could find. Every since I’ve learned Chinese, I’ve been hyper critical of the Chinese characters that people put on T-shirts, hats or permanently on their body. Usually their choice is OK, but more often than not it’s not exactly what they were expecting or isn’t written quite right. Here in China, it’s the Latin alphabet that is mysterious and cool looking. English is written on a lot of clothing and advertising for no reason other than to look neat Other languages like French, Spanish and even Greek pop up from time to time, but usually it’s English and usually it’s really bad English. I’ve never claimed to be the best speller or to have the best grammar (which I’m sure these letters have proven) but sometimes it gets a little ridiculous. The funniest part is, they don’t even know. So I got a shirt so that I can always remember it. I won’t tell you what it says, I’ll just tell you that it beat out “Brave hovers in water like fish.”

Like I said, we’ve finally figured out our trip to Shanghai and we’re going on Sunday and we’ll be taking the train. At least, Sally, her mom and I will be. Her dad will be flying down a couple days later to join us. We ordered him a plane ticket over the phone and they delivered it to our door, just like a pizza! It came while Sally’s dad was at work, her mom was out running errands and Sally was in the bathroom. The money was on the table though so I was able to handle the transaction without concern and increase my usefulness in the family.

This train trip should be a lot less painful than the last one. Even though it’s a lot longer, 23 hours, we’ll be riding in what’s called a soft-sleeper. Soft-sleepers are supposed to be a whole lot nicer than the hard-seaters we took to and from Shenyang. I’m certainly hoping it is. I’ll be taking “Speaker for the Dead,” the next book after “Ender’s Game,” a copy of the “Dao de Jing” the Taoist book of scripture and the conference Ensign, so I should have plenty to keep myself busy. And we’ve got magnetic chess so Sally can pass the time beating me at that. She’s really gotten better and I still tell her when she makes a bad move so I’m pretty much doomed from the first move. It’s still a lot of fun though. So while I’m not busting with enthusiasm for the journey, I’m not dreading it. Plus I really want to see Shanghai so it’ll be worth it.

Once we got everything for the near future worked out we focused our attention on more current matters, dinner. Both Sally and her mother were suffering from upset stomachs so it was just her dad and I eating. We were looking for a wonton place but decided to eat what they called fast food instead. It was a lot like the Chinese restaurants that are popping up in supermarkets in America only a lot cheaper and whole lot dirtier. We just ordered a couple dishes from the guy behind the counter and sat down and ate. The food was like you would get at a Chinese place in America too, only a bit more authentic. I thought it was really good and at 14 kaui total for four dishes and two bowls of rice, the price can’t be beat. My favorite was the lazi jiding (spicy, cubed chicken), which is a fairly common Chinese dish. Think tiny spicy chicken, now make it without that crappy breading on the meat, real chilies and better sauce, then make taste a thousand times better. Now you have lazi jiding.

After dinner Sally’s parents went home and we went for a walk. We went back to the park we’ve visited several times. It was busier than ever, probably because of the weekend. It was still a little light out, so there were still a couple old guys playing Chinese chess on the ground. Most people were walking or jogging for exercise with a few doing Tai Chi or other, similar forms of exercise. We even saw one guy practicing kung fu. We also found a place were old couples were dancing together to music being played over any old stereo. There were many schools of dancing being practiced – from the waltz to country swing – so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an organized event by any means. It was still fun to watch and made a relaxing end to the day

Steve’s interesting bit of information about China for the day: Like America, China uses their athletes in a lot of their advertisements, especially those who succeed on the international level. There’s one athlete who appears in more adds than any other though, and no, it’s not Yao Ming (although he is everywhere here). Remember in the last Olympics when the Chinese dude got the gold in hurdles? Yeah, I didn’t either. This guy is an icon over here. I see him all the time of billboards and on TV. I guess it makes sense though. He won big time in an event that China hasn’t won before and did so in big way. Still, not what I was expecting when I got here.