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.

In China Post 5

------------Tuesday, May 16, 2006--------------

Today we took a few minutes to get ready for the wedding party. A friend of Sally’s mom came to help us. In Chinese, you generally refer to people much older than you as aunt or uncle. We were preparing some gifts to give the guests. We wrapped little packages of candy and cigarettes. This may seem a little strange but is quite traditional in China. It’s just there way of saying “Thank you for coming to our party. Here, have some tooth decay and a tumor.”

In the evening Sally and I headed over to Anne’s house for dinner. Liu Yang wasn’t there because he is out of town on business. We bought some dumplings at a mall near her place. Like most people in China, Anne lives in an apartment complex. Hers is part of a collection of large complexes in a rather nice community on top of one of the hills here in Dalian. China is different from American in that the rich prefer to live in the valleys, making hill top property some of the cheapest available. Anne and Yang both work and don’t have any kids yet so they live in a very nice place. Our apartment back in the US would probably fit in their living and dining rooms. It was probably a little bigger than Sally’s parent’s place. They had a lot of nice things too. I have to reassure Sally that someday, we’ll have jobs and not live in the tiny little place we live in now.

Not a very busy day on the whole, but still fun.

--------------Wednesday, May 17, 2006------------------------------

Today was a busy day. We slept in a bit, which gave us a late start. Once we got going we ate breakfast and then Sally and I went to the office where she used to work. Before she left China to come to American and get her doctorate, Sally worked at a company as an office assistant. Most of the people she worked with were still there. We didn’t have a lot of time to stay and talk because we told her mom we’d be back by 1 p.m. so we just dropped off some gifts and left.

On the way back we saw a bit of a disturbance on the street though the bus windows. All I saw was a guy running down the street and a lady and a guy on a scooter chasing after him yelling all the way. Once they caught up with him a loud and vocal argument ensued. Even more so than that time at the train station, people gathered around for the show. Some of them even took part in the shouting. Sally explained to me that in all likelihood, the guy was a bag snatcher or a pickpocket of some kind. He ripped off the lady and took off counting on his ability to out run her. However she was able to enlist someone with a scooter to help her chase him down. Now in front of everyone, he would have to deny any wrongdoing. It was good to see that many people concerned for a fellow citizen, but I was glad to see a cop walking over to restore order as we turned the corner.

Back when I was just a country bumpkin who had never lived in a big city, I used to be terrified that as soon as I got to any town bigger that Ogden (and yes, this included Salt Lake City) I would get mugged, pickpocketed and murdered, all at the same time. It took me a month or so do not be paranoid all the time in Sydney. I’ve gotten used to Dalian faster, but I’ve had practice. I actually feel a lot safer here than I did there, but that’s probably because I don’t have drunk Australians coming up to me to explain the purpose of life all the time.

We had to be back so early because we had to eat lunch and get ready to go sightseeing with Uncle Wu and Monica, the father and daughter from Friday night. We drove along the road that went on Friday. It turns out there are parks and scenic overlooks the whole way. And here I was thinking it was just a long and windy road. We started at a beach park that is popular for tourists here. Proving they really know their market, the builders of the park provided plenty of statues for people to take pictures with. Actually, most public places around here are just full of statues and people standing in front of them, flashing the peace sign, getting their picture taken. The statues where we started were of a “western” nature and included everything from a Dutch windmill to African folk art to a Pacific coast Native American totem pole.

It was also at this part of the park where I learned that I am the true Lord of the Pigeons. There was a flock of pigeons there (pigeons are not all that common around here, you hardly see them just flying around) and a couple guys selling packets of corn to feed them (they mopped off the area to help you forget the normal side effects that come from playing with pigeons). Monica asked her dad for some money and she bought us all some seeds. At the mere sight of a folded up newspaper the white pigeons went into a feeding frenzy. Some would fly up to attack the bag, hoping to get first picking of the food inside. Others wait below counting on the person holding the bag to freak out and drop the goods. This is what Monica and Sally did. I on the other hand, was the lighthouse in the storm of feathers. I truly ruled over the Pigeon Kingdom. I divided the seeds equally among my subjects and there was peace and harmony in the land. Once we ran out of seeds, using my years of teasing dogs with an empty hand as a template, I learned that if I held my hand out like it had seeds in it, a pigeon or two would jump up and sit in my hand for a bit. Outsmarting a lower life form is always a good feeling. After we were done with the pigeons I noticed a slight residue on my shoulder. Not enough to make me need to change shirts or anything, but enough to remind me that pigeons aren’t the cleanest thing to be the lord of.

One major difference between this place and Sydney can be found in the pigeons. Sydney is like most large city, absolutely covered in pigeons. I have many humorous anecdotes from that time in my life involving pigeons. The few pigeons that they have here are healthy and attractive birds. Usually white or at least mostly so. In Sydney, the pigeons are all kinds of colors and every flock usually has several sickly looking birds in it (Australia doesn’t have any birds of prey to pick them off, as far as I know). For reasons I never understood, at least half of the fowl were missing at least one two; many even hopped around on toeless stubs. I can also assume that the lack of competition here makes the pigeons more docile, I haven’t seen any picking on each other and they don’t fly away when you get close enough to kick them.

We continued along the road, stopping from time to time to take in the scenery. There were a lot of rocky cliffs descending into the raging sea and tree covered mountains. We’d occasionally hear the call of a bird from deep in the woods, which Sally’s dad said was a pheasant. I didn’t see any so I don’t know for sure if they were ringnecks like we have back home, an import from China. There was also a so called, “Magic Road” that will propel your car forward in neutral, in either direction.

There was more on the road than just trees and rocks. There was a stretch of road covered with statues of every sea creature imaginable. There was also a compound with some deer in it surrounded by statues of deer. If deer in the wild could somehow summon the power of the plastic deer, they would live forever while wolves and cougars chew on the dummies.

At the other end of the road was Tiger Beach, so called because the coastline curves like a tiger’s tail. We watched a Mongolian performance troupe perform dances, singing and playing traditional string instruments. There were also people flying strings of at least 30 small kites and men bull whipping wooden tops. It was the first public performance that I’ve seen here in Dalian, another difference between here and Sydney, which was crawling with musicians, martial artists and modern “artists.”

After we finished touring, we picked up Auntie Wu and went to dinner. Again it was Korean Barbeque. Uncle Wu is a very nice but stubborn man (as are many people here in Dalian), and despite our protests, ordered way too much food. Even though I ate myself sick, I still like Korean food, especially kimchi, a traditional side dish consisting of preserved rotten cabbage. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste at best, but I like it. We also had marinated beef and lamb, shrimp, fish, cornmeal and some tendon, which was really chewy and tasted like a dirty diaper smells (they like it though, so it’s perfectly legitimate, it’s just different from what I’m used to) all with the texture of wood. Still, with the spicy food and the hot coals in the table made me sweat. It’s not often you need to take a shower after dinner but I sure did.

In China:Post 4


Today we just hung out around the apartment until evening. Then my and Sally went to meet with the local branch. Since it was just dinner rather than a church meeting, I was allowed to attend. Because of schedules, only a few members were able to come. It was the older members who aren’t busy with school and classes. They were awesome. There was the Yang Family. Brother Yang is the branch president and has been a member since 1998. He joined the church while visiting family in Hong Kong. His wife, mother and children have since joined the church. There was Max Huang, from Taiwan. He is also a convert who came over to China for his work for Ferrari. Until last year he wasn’t able to meet with Chinese members either but since then the Chinese government has decided that since Taiwan is part of China, so are Taiwanese people. His wife is a recent covert from Kunming in South China who wasn’t able to join us. There was also Sister Teng, a sister in probably her late 50s early 60s. She’s the one who got her mission call to Toronto. We all met in the apartment of the Zhou Family. Brother Zhou was baptized ten years ago in Singapore. His wife spend most of the time in the kitchen so I didn’t get to hear her story but their daughter Zhou Lin was adorable. Brother Yang bragged of how she would be the first child baptized at eight here in Dalian.

The Zhous lived on the other side of town close to where Sally went to college. We met the Yangs at the soccer complex where I was yesterday. From there we took a taxi to the Zhous’. Since a cab can only hold four people and there were five of us, I got to live out one of my lifetime fantasies. We got into a cab, pointed at the one in front of us and said “Follow that car.” The driver did a good job at this, despite the fact that the other driver was a fair bit more aggressive than he was. This led to many “movie car chase moments” when we would try to catch up, weaving in and out of traffic. It was scary, but awesome at the same time. At one point we ended up in front of the ca we were following. I don’t know how it happened but it was pretty funny.

Once we got out of the cars we walked to the Zhous, who lived in a huge complex of modern apartment complexes. All I could think was how glad I was that I didn’t have to tract them. As soon as we walked in the door, I could feel a real difference in the Zhous’ home. Maybe it was the Chinese proclamation to the world on the wall.

We sat and talked. They asked me questions about my mission and Sally about here conversion. They told us about the history of the church in Dalian. I was stunned and in awe of their faith and testimony. They haven’t had the easiest time here, but they have thrived. Together we ate potstickers and laughed. They seemed to like to play a game the members in Sydney would play “Wait until the white kid puts food in his mouth to ask him a question.” They were awesome people and I really have a feeling like this won’t be the only time that we see them. It’s good to know that when this country opens it’s doors, there will already be such a strong base to build one.

After dinner we walked to Sally’s college and took the bus that she would ride every week to get home. It was a long bus ride through a couple different parts of town. The size of this city continues to catch me by surprise.

In China: Post 3

----------------Saturday May 13, 2006---------------------------------------

I woke up this morning with a stomachache. Rather than get up and force food into a pained belly, I decided to stay in bed instead. This turned out to be a good idea because when I woke up a couple hours I felt a lot better. I had some fangao [a kind of steamed bread that I really like] for breakfast. The stomachache came back with a vengeance a hour or so later but after I went to the bathroom I’ve felt good for the rest of the day. Sally’s dad thinks it was because I ate the raw fish without dipping it in wasabi sauce first. Wasabi is a Japanese sauce that uses mostly horseradish. Because of my infamous horseradish experience in Vegas, there’s only one thing on earth I hate more than Bob Sagat, and that’s horseradish, so I think it was worth it.

After getting rid of the pain the only way I know how to deal with nagging stomach discomfort we slugged around the apartment for a while. We had plans to meet with a couple of Sally’s roommates from college who are still living in Dalian. We took a bus down one of the bigger streets called ZhongShan Street to a big mall. This same street is the one I’ve gone down many times. It has the train station, XingHai Square and many other important places on it. The buses hear are different from the ones I’m used to from Logan and Sydney. First off you have to pay and they have a lot of people riding them, which makes them totally from anything LTD has to offer. Here the buses stop at each stop to pick up and let off passengers, which with as many people riding as they have, is a pretty safe bet. In Sydney the buses will blow right by every stop unless on one there flags them down or someone on board presses the button to get off. In Australia you have to know where your going and they charge you accordingly, the further your stop, the more your ticket is. If you don’t have exact change, the driver will break a 10 or a 20 for you. You get a receipt and need to carry it with you for the duration of the trip incase the transit authority gets on to check for fare bludgers. Here you drop one kuai in the bucket and your good to go. For as long as your on the bus, you’re fine. In Australia people, with the exception of young punks who don’t count because they’re not people, are generally civil and will offer they’re seat to an elderly person or a mom with kids. Here, with so many people, you can’t always afford to be nice.

We went to a big mall by the train station. Like most big malls around the world on Saturdays with one was packed, mostly with young trendy people. It also had the most American places that I’ve seen in Dalian, including a McDonalds, a Pizza Hut and a Baskin Robbins. Sally and I were weighed down with three bags of soy vitamins that Sally’s friend wanted us to buy for her so we couldn’t walk around too much until they found us.

Sally’s two friends soon met up with us. They were Anne and Judy. Anne brought her husband, Liu Yang, and Judy brought her boyfriend Bryan. These, with the exception of Yang, are obviously their English names used for the sake of simplicity. Our original plan was to go to a big nice buffet of the fifth floor of the mall. We slowly forced our way through the crowd and up the escalators to the restaurant. The mall was like a bigger version of a mall in, you guessed it, Sydney. It was the confusing layout (it took forever to find the next set of escalators) and the awesomely Asianness of the food court that reminded me so much of the mall in Chinatown. Once we made it all the way to the top, the hostess informed us that the buffet was only open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from to 10 p.m. Since it was 3 we decided to find another place to eat. Someone suggested YiXin (one heart or love) Barbeque, a Korean barbeque that wasn’t far from the mall. So we hoped in a couple of cabs and headed over.

I don’t think I’ve ever really explained what a Korean barbeque is. If you’ve never eaten ate one, I highly recommended it. So much so that I’ll take you to one in Salt Lake sometime if your willing to pay. It’s kind of a do it yourself joint. The waitress brings you plates of sliced, raw, marinated meat. In the middle of the table is a hole, the waitress then brings a bucket of hot coal and places it in the hole. She caps it with a grill and you’re good to go. This means everyone can have their meat as done as they like it, and it slows the meal down allowing for better conversation with family and friends. However, it’s the marinated that really shines in this show. The meat is usually dripping with sauce and therefore dripping with flavor. I can’t really describe the flavor and usually just say it’s loaded with Koreany goodness. My friend Ryan Robbins once said it’s so good that he’d throw it up just so he eat it again.

We got a room and sat and ate and talked. It was different than the other people I’ve met since I’ve been here. These were Sally’s friends, not her parents so she was excited and the conversation was lively. Also because we were all of the same generation there was more to talk about. I understood pretty everything that was said because they spoke with good clear accents. I enjoyed it. After we finished eating, Sally gave the girls some of the vitamins that she had brought for gift and the guys some Pringles that we were originally supposed to ship to a friend’s family but the post office wouldn’t let us. I’ve never seen anyone so excited to get a tube of Pringles.

Afterwards we made our way home. We took the 11 bus which is a route that goes through the neighborhoods rather than down the main street. The bus was smaller, only had one seat on each side and seemed to be a slightly older model. Ironically, it was also equipped with TV. The driver grinded the gears a lot and even sent some kids flying from their seats. It was good for me though because it help me get my “bus legs” back.

We got off the bus at the park where we walked off dinner a few nights ago. As we walked home Sally called her parents to let them know we were heading back (we didn’t have a set of keys so we needed them to buzz us in). They weren’t home so Sally wanted to go to the nearby Carrefour store (think Chinese Wal-Mart) to buy some bread that she has been craving for a long time. It’s this really thin Indian Style bread called paobing (thrown bread). While we were there we also picked up a couple of drinks, a zhunzhunaicha (pearl milk tea, not really tea, and quite tasty, next time you’re in Logan I’ll take you to get some, my treat this time) and a suanmeitang (sour plum soup, to my knowledge you can’t find it in America because it doesn’t make it through customs because of the no disgusting drink law). When we got home Sally’s parents were back as well. Apparently they had a similar idea and had bought a bunch of snacks too. They had lychees, cherries and dried hawthorn (my favorite, it tastes like fruit leather). We snacked and then played cards. They tried to teach me this ridiculously complicated but equally popular card game. I’m still trying to learn and not doing terribly well yet.

-----------Sunday, May 14, 2006-------------------------

Sally called Elder Jia, the go to guy in China for members to find a local congregation to attend. To our surprise and delight, Dalian had one. We really weren’t expecting to be able to go to church here. There was only one problem: Non-Chinese citizens couldn’t go. We still wanted Sally to go to church so we headed out. The plan was for me to hang out at Olympic Electronics City while she went to church. Not my ideal Sunday but it was better than hanging out at home. Electronic City is a two-floor electronics free for all underneath a soccer complex. It was a lot like the clothing expo but with computers rather than skirts.

It was pretty cool. I don’t know how much any of the stuff cost because it wasn’t labeled. I didn’t have any money so I didn’t ask. They had a wide variety of stuff though, everything from TV’s to computers to light bulbs. I spent most of my time looking through the movies. Everyone seemed to want to sell me DVDs (I blame the white guy factor). China is known for it’s movie piracy and I was smack-dab in the middle of it. If I wanted to I could have bought Mission Impossible Three or the new 9/11 movie that just came out. Trying not to look like too much of a foreigner, I spend most of the time thumbing through the TV series. Chinese TV aren’t open ended like ours are. They usually feature one major story arc and several small ones over the course of 20 to 50 episodes. These are very popular and I really like them. I’ve watched a couple of them back home and really like the way the stories can be more drawn out and how there’s usually a whole lot of kung fu. Fortunately there are other places where you can buy not pirated versions of these and I intend to stock up.

We were originally thinking they would only have sacrament meeting but they had a full block so I had even more time to kill. Exhausting my desire to have people say to me “Hello, DVD” making a circle with their hands (the universal sign of the DVD) I wend back top side to watch soccer for a while. While soccer is popular here, they’re not one the same level of play as Europeans or South Americans. Still, it was fun to watch for a while until it got too hot. I wandered around Olympic Square for a while watching little kids roller skate and then went across the street to hide in an air condition Internet cafĂ©. Finally, Sally called me and we were able to go back.

She said she really liked the branch here. It was small, with only 12 members, but bigger than we were expecting. One of the members even just received a mission call to Canada. which is really exciting. I guess Chinese members can go to serve in five countries. We’re not sure of all of them but the US, Canada and Australia are all on the list. Sally also said the members were very friendly and happy to welcome her into their group. She said she had the same feelings at this branch as she did at an American ward and I explained that was because the truth is the same everywhere.

We went home and had lunch. I took a quick nap while the rest of the family watched the Korean soap opera. I guess Sally’s dad slept through it too. Sally’s mom sure didn’t, she cried. She really gets into this show. Sally says this is a pretty common occurrence.

After the mandatory viewing of the Korean soap opera, we went to the Labor Park here in Dalian. This time we were prepared and finally took a camera. Unfortunately the light wasn’t too good so the photos aren’t the best. We’ll be sure to take a lot more. The park was really pretty. We were there for the end of the annual peony festival so there were a whole lot of fragrant flowers in bloom. They also had a lot of statues including one for each sign of the Chinese zodiac. They had some birds in cages and ponds of gold fish where people could fish for pets. I wanted to take a picture of it but Sally wouldn’t let me. I’ll show the pictures I was able to take when I get home to a fast Internet connection. The park was a really pretty place though, and I liked it.

On our way out, we bought so lamb kabobs from a street vendors for a kaui each. This place lives and dies by its street vendors. They’re everywhere selling everything. It’s an extra bit of fun that we just don’t have back home.

I conclusion, I like China.

I'm in China post 2

Yesterday was very laid back. After our quest to Shenyang we weren’t really in the mood to do too much. We lounged around the apartment, watched TV and, of course, ate. After dinner we went for a walk. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable walking around. I can cross the street all by myself now and everything. I even know am starting to know my around a bit. Not enough that I would want to wander around on my own, but it’s still nice to not feel lost all the time.

Our walk led us to a park not far from Sally’s home. I was a nice place with a small lake in the middle of it. There were some blossoms on the trees which added a nice fragrance to the air and bats flying around which added awesomeness. Even though it was getting dark, the place was full of people enjoying the evening. Some were fishing in the lake. Many of them were walking their dogs. There are a lot more dogs in China than I would have imagined, I’ve even seen the running free on their own, but all of them are small. I’m probably only seen two or three bigger than a sheltie. The kids around my age were mostly in small groups playing a game similar to hacky sack but with metal disks tied together and feathers coming out of one side. I think it’s a new fad because no one seems to be very good yet.

Today we went shopping again. This time it wasn’t to a shopping center like we’ve been to before, it was more of a crowded warehouse full of small wall-to-wall shops selling all kinds of clothes and other things. With so many vendors in such a small area there is a feeling of high competition in the air. The people running these stands are literally willing to sell you the shirts off their backs. Most of them wear this merchandise so that you can see it on some one. With everyone competing for your money, smart consumers can really take advantage. Sally’s mom is an expert haggler. She was able to get one vendor all the way down from 190 kaui to 100. I would say it was amazing to watch her in action but I actually wasn’t able to see it. My job was to disappear as soon as she and Sally started asking some one about the price or quality of a piece of clothing. This is because they were afraid that people would try to rip them off if they had a “rich” foreigner with them. But hey, I’m a ninja, I’m used disappearing on commanded.

While they would haggle I’d walk around the expo and explore. It was weird to see the different levels of excitement of the part of the vendors. Some would shout at you, trying to convince you to buy from them. Other just sit back and wait, reading, cross-stitching or even napping to pass the time. There were no dressing rooms like in a real mall, but who needs a dressing room when the merchant can just hold up a sheet for you while you change behind it? Like I said the people running the shop would often wear want the sold, tag still attached, so you could tell what they sold, even if they weren’t at their stand. If they had a nice shirt, they were from a shirt stand. Nice pants were from the pants shop. I can only assume what the underwear vendors were wearing. I figure it didn’t affect me. Actually underwear was probably the most commonly sold item there, which kind of limited what I could do while I waited for Sally and her mom. If I’m looking at pants, feeling the different materials and comparing them, I’m a discerning shopper. Do the same thing at the bra shop and I’m a pervert.

After we bought a bunch of stuff for various people back home, we went to eat at a restaurant called Jiajia (rough translation: Good good). At the entrance they have plates with all the meat and vegetables for each dish with a price tag set out so you can see exactly what you are getting. What you actually eat is still in back unless you order something that requires they pick a fresh fish or lobster from the many tanks on one wall. The whole place was booming. It was one of the loudest, most exciting places I’ve ever eaten. The food was really good too. We had Chinese style ribs, a Sichuan style fish and some egg and vegetable soup. The ribs were actually a cut of meat from the top of the rib, right up against the spine, not as far down as Western ribs. It’s funny, while we were staying at my Grandma’s right before we went to the airport I watched a show on the Food Network about an annual rib cook off in Reno. While I was watching it and drooling at the different ribs, I thought to myself that ribs were a truly great, truly American invention. I had forgotten that once again, the Chinese beat us by 4000 years, give or take. Sichuan cooking is one of the five traditional styles of cooking here and is one of my favorites. Basically it means cooking with a couple handfuls of dried red chili peppers and everything dripping in oil. It was delicious and just what I needed to clean the pipes.

After lunch we went to a world even more foreign to me that the streets of Dalian. A world I’ve never gone before and about which I know nothing about, a beauty salon. Sally has decided that while she’s here she wants to get her hair cut so we shopped around a little. I tried to avoid Chinese barbers in Sydney. My hair is so different from Chinese hair that the few times I strayed from my rule I suffered for it. They should do OK with Sally’s though.

Sally didn’t feel to well so she napped for the rest of the afternoon, giving me a chance to type up the day so far while watching soup operas imported from Korea with Sally’s mom. She’s kind of addicted to them. She was more fun to watch her than the TV.

Once Sally’s dad came home we all went out to eat with a friend of her father’s family. They took us to a buffet at a nice hotel here in town. In exchange me and Sally were supposed to speak a little English with their daughter. This sounded like a fair trade to me. The hotel obvious caters to foreigners and seemed like a really nice place. They decorated the place with Italians flags and boasted Italian cuisine but all I could find form Italy was pizza and a couple pasta dishes. Still that’s better than I normally get. They did have a lot of Western dishes, including roast beef, pork chops and even venison. All this was along side many traditional Chinese dishes. I tried to eat a wide variety of dishes but our hosts kept giving me meat so I had to keep eating it, you know how it is. They also got a bunch of sashimi, raw fish, for everyone to eat, but it turned out I was the only one who would eat it. I was so full I could hardly walk.

In China there is not nonsmoking section in restaurants. While more and more parts of the country are prohibiting smoking, restaurants aren’t any of these parts. Our host and many of the nearby tables’ guests smoked continually throughout the meal. While I’m still not about to take up smoking it doesn’t bother me as much as it used too. If I come home smelling like smoke, don’t go rifling through my stuff looking for the rest of the pack to make me eat it. It just means I’ve been to China. Fortunately for health reasons, neither of Sally’s parents smoke – or drink for that matter – so we haven’t had to had those orders at home. This is doubly good since Sally has been sick lately and smoke has been sending her into coughing fits.

One funny thing that happened during dinner, I was waiting for the server to cut me a slice of roast beef. The meat looked just how I life it, brown all around but a nice shade of pink inside. This two Chinese gets were staring at it wondering what on earth it was. “It’s raw meat,” one said. “No way, that’s not possible,” he friend explained. “Now that’s how the foreigners eat it,” the first boy added. “Yep,” I explained” and it’s delicious.”

After dinner we went for a drive to see Dalian at night. Since we’ve been usually been going to bed by 10:00 p.m., this was my first real experience with Dalian nightlife. Despite being as long fro east to west as the US, China doesn’t use time zones. This means an extremely eastern city like Dalian gets dark early, like around 7:30 these days. We drove along a windy mountain road that from what everyone told me is very pretty during the day. To me, it just looked dark. Then we went to XingHai park to walk around. It was really pretty at night, with good lighting on all the statues and the nearby buildings.

This is when I learned that you have to pay to use the public restrooms here. This is a whole new experience for me. The only other time I’ve paid to do my business was in Australia and that was just once to use the “Toilet of the Future.” This was not the toilet of the future. It was more like the bathroom of 50 years ago. I’ll spare everyone the gory details of the revolution I’m planning on starting if they every start charging to use the restroom in Logon. Let’s just say it’s disgusting.

The whole bathroom experience is very different here than it is in America. Here it’s not as relaxing. All the have are squatters and the walls are lowered to match. Also, with the exception of the Shanghai airport, you have to take your own toilet paper.

I'm in China, post 1

I’m in freaking China!

After the worst chunk of long, boring and painful travel in my life I’m finally in that mysterious land to the East. It’s kind of weird for me. For the last five years I’ve dreamed of coming to the land of great food and Great Walls and now I’m really here. It’s kinda like being able to sneeze after your nose tickles all day.

I’ve only been here for three days now but it seems a lot longer than that. I’ll blame the jetlag and the language barrier for that. Now that I’m over that, I think time should resume its allotted course. And by that I mean the jet lag, I don’t think I’ll ever overcome the language barrier. It’s hard for me to imagine that I ever got by in Sydney like I did. I think the people there spoke a different kind of Chinese. Of course I think a lot of things.

Before we left, I would make fun of Sally because every time I would ask her what we would do here she would talk about how much good food we’d eat while we were here. That was really all I could get her to talk about was food, occasionally she would saying something about going shopping but then she’d talk about all the treats we’d be buying from street vendors while we’re out. Now that I’ve been here a few days I realized why she talked like this. All we do is eat. Occasionally we go shopping, but mostly, we eat.

We start at the traditional first stop of breakfast. I’ve never been much a breakfast eater. A pop tart or toast is more than I normally eat and more than I need. That theory doesn’t fly in this family though. Breakfast is usually a couple hardboiled eggs (usually one from a goose and at least one from chickens) a plate of Chinese cucumbers (thinner and crispier than the English variety), a plate of huge shrimp or a shrimp like animal I’ve never seen before and a huge chunk of this chewy sweet bread that we bought from a street vendor for 5 kuai. One the whole breakfast is okay. A little bland, but okay. The problem is the amount of food involved. By the time I forced it all it, I’m good for the rest of the day. They don’t seem to think it’s enough to get me through the rest of the morning. I’m usually handed a huge bowl of strawberries and told to go watch TV while they clean up and figure out what we’re gonna do the rest of the day.

The rest of the day usually includes lunch. Lunch is usually really, really good, although yesterday Sally made me eat a pig’s foot even though she knew I didn’t like them. Sally loves seafood more than she loves me so we have seafood a lot. We’ve had clams and scallops so far and I’ve sure there’s a lot more in store for me. Sally told her mom that I like meat so we have a pork dish and usually some meatballs for lunch each day. We have Chinese salad (raw radish slices and sauce) and soup too. Add a bowl of rice to this and it’s hard to eat it all. It’s delicious, but I’m only one man, my stomach has limits.

Dinner is usually what we couldn’t each for lunch with a couple other dishes made especially for the occasion. It’s a whole lot more food and my crappy schedule of work and school has left me ill prepared. It’s getting easier though. Largely because I think I’m gaining weight. I was actually hoping to lose a little of that here but maybe (warning: I’m about to give way too much information, you may want to skip ahead to the next paragraph) once I start pooping like normal, I may actually be able to do that. As of right now I’m still carrying most of the food I’ve eaten since we landed.

Fortunately, there’s one thing in this country of tea and beer to help me wash all this food down, Smart. Smart is a Coke product that Sally introduced me to while we were in “Coke World” in Las Vegas. It’s an apple flavored pop that they have here and it is delicious. It’s like I can finally get that flavor I’ve enjoyed all my life without the hassle from all that unnecessary chewing. My life is now complete.

Okay in truth we do do a little more than just each. We have gone shopping a few times already and I’m sure we’ll go again. Shopping is popular activity in China, you have endless opportunities. Everywhere you look there are make shift street markets with people selling everything from produce to electronics. You can get all your shopping done before you even get to the store. Of course these merchants often try to get my attention because I’m foreign but so far I’ve resisted their every business skill.

Things are really cheap here too, when I remember that the prices are in kuai, not dollars. Since one US dollar is worth about 8 kuai, this is a pretty important conversion to make. So far we’ve gotten me a nice pair of shoes and Chinese national soccer jersey. We bought Sally all kinds of stuff, none of which I’m able to remember right now. I may be okay with shopping in China, but I’m still a guy.

Dalian is a very amazing city. Often in travel guides they will talk about the rhythm or the pace of a city. Dalian doesn’t have a pace and rhythm indicates some sort of order. Here in Dalian, they are a chaos, and yet it’s a chaos that works. Everyone and everything is happening completely independent from everything else. There are so many people that everyone has stopped caring. The other people on the street aren’t people, they’re just an obstacle on the way home. Everyone just pushes their own directions and because there’s five million people all going in a different direction, there not enough in any particular direction for anything bad to happen. It’s a beautiful thing to just sit back and watch because even though you don’t know how, it works.

I used to feel the same way about Sydney, but then I became a part of the chaos, rather than an observer, so it lost some of the mystery. Dalian still has it. Now that I’ve had more experience, I’m willing to bet that all big cities do.

There are many other similarities between Dalian and my home down under. Both have brick sidewalks, which are beautiful, but are hard on the feet and harder on the knees. At least I’m not wearing church shoes this time. It’s also really, really humid. If you’ve never lived right by the sea, it’s an experience. Your clothes are never really dry, your sweat just stays on you and you pee a lot more because of it. Both Sydney and Dalian have a growing city feel to them. Dalian has a higher percentage of Asians, but not by much. Both have a lot of restaurants, none of which have tacos and a lot of adult bookstores. I don’t know if the adult bookstores sell tacos and I don’t care enough to ask.

There are differences as well. In Sydney, if you were in a crosswalk, you were the king of Australia. You could step out in front of anyone and they would stop. It was quite the empowering experience to have. Here, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. You just run out and try to squeeze in between cars because nobody is gonna wait for you, even if you were the king of Australia. It’s scary trying to cross the street, it’s like very high stakes Frogger. So far I haven’t seen anyone lose though. That’s heartening.

I’m sure there are more differences worth mentioning. I’ll have to write them down as they come to me.

I do spend a lot of time here watching TV. This is just to fill the time. We’re not here to travel all the time. First and foremost, we’re visiting family and that leaves some spare time. While I’m still not sure of everything I can usually find something worth watching. There’s usually a movie or a kung-fu series on. In fact the first thing I saw on Chinese TV was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Mostly though I watch sports. Sports are easy because I don’t have to understand everything they say. There big into the NBA here so I’ve watched some of the finals. Best of all, the Chinese ESPN has been gearing up for the World Cup so they’ve been showing classic games from previous tournaments along with plenty of Chinese league soccer. It’s good to have one while I type or draw or do whatever.

The bed that we sleep on is far from comfortable. It’s just a layer of foam on a wooden slab. While it takes longer for me to fall asleep and I have roll around I like, my back hasn’t been hurting me lately which is good. I’ll let you know how it goes.

We’ll that me so far, any questions send them by email. That’s the best way to communicate with me. See ya’ll later.
-----------------------Tuesday and Wednesday, May 10, 2006--------------------------------------

Well it’s been a bad day, but the worst days make the best blog posts.

It’s actually not been that bad, it’s just been long and hard. But like most things that are long and hard, it’s been worth it. Let me explain.

Part of our plans here were for Sally to renew her visa. For students like her that’s just part of coming home. She and her mom were going to leave on Tuesday for Shenyang, the capitol of the Liaoning province (that’s where Dalian is by the way) and would come back really late on Wednesday. The cheapest way to get from city to city in China is by train. They left around noon to catch the train for the capitol.

While they were gone, Sally’s father was going to stay home from work to look after me. I told him that I was fine to stay alone and just watch TV, read, draw and write but he insisted. After our wives left the two of us went to XingHai (Star of the Sea) Park, the largest public square in Asia. It was a really impressive place. There were a lot of fountains going down the center of the square, statutes of various sports around the perimeter (Dalian is a very sports oriented town) and some low budget carnival style rides. XingHai Park is right by the ocean. Surprisingly, there weren’t very many seagulls and only a few pigeons. On the walls of the pier, we could see people scraping off some kind of shell fish (small clams I think). There was also a huge monument dedicated to the 100th year anniversary of the founding of the city back in 1999. It had a thousand footprints leading up to a couple kids playing in the sand. It was one of the many things that I wish I had brought my camera for, but without my wife, I tend to forget pretty much everything. I understand it only gets worse from here.

The square earns its rank of biggest in Asia. It’s pretty darn big. Sally’s dad was impressed with my being able to handle walking the whole thing. Apparently when they take Sally, she has trouble keeping up.

We got to the park via bus. We took a double decker bus and at Sally’s dad’s recommendation sat in the front seat on the top level. It was an exciting and terrifying view of the city. I was actually seated a little bit further forward than the driver so there were several times that I thought we were surely going to crash into a cab or a scooter or an old lady with a cart. However the bus driver seemed to really know his trade. We weaved in and out and no one got hurt. After a few minutes I was able to relax and take in more of the city. There are statues, huge modern shopping centers and KFCs everywhere you go. Even among all the hustle and bustle of modern Dalian, I was able to see glimpses of a more traditional China. These ranged from old people doing Tai Chi in a small grove of trees to playing mahjong on a cardboard box. It’s an interesting dynamic.

We came home from the park and started dinner. We made dumpling. The filling wasn’t made from shrimp or sausage like Sally normally makes, but rather some kind of sea worms. They tasted alright but after a couple their chewy texture got hard to swallow. Her dad taught me a better way to wrap dumplings that is quicker and looks pretty. With practice I will become the best in the world for sure.

While we were eating, Sally called to tell us that she had forgotten an important piece of paper in her backpack and that she needed to have it brought to her if she were to get her visa. So at 10:30 at night we headed to the train station and caught a train for Shenyang. I’ve read in people of travel books about the charm of the Chinese rail system. Well as we took the all night train, I didn’t see any charm. All I saw was a crowded train car with butt-numbingly hard seats, smoke coming in from the area between cars and people constantly jostling for seats. They sell seats by number but they also sell plenty of “no seat” tickets incase some one misses the train because they’re waiting at a bus station instead of the train station or something like that. If you have a “no seat” ticket you have to pounce on what you can as soon as you can so you never have an empty seat next to you. It’s hot, I’m sweating like a Mexican monkey and the train keeps shaking me awake just as soon as I fell asleep.

The train clattered through the darkness from 11:00 p.m.until 4:00 a.m. We got off at Shenyang South station but after an hour we learned we really wanted Shenyang North. While we were sorting this out I saw my first argument in China. Some lady was fighting with the ticket seller about the price of something. I’ve seem such confrontations many times before but what I thought was funny was how here, people weren’t at all trying to hide the fact that they were watching and enjoying the show. It wasn’t like in America of Australia when once a situation turn tense everyone pretends they’re not there.

We took a cab to the northern station where we met up with Sally and her mom. We went back to the place they were staying, a room in some one else’s apartment they’ve turned into a bed and breakfast, minus a breakfast. No sooner than I got through the door than I collapsed on one. This ended my hope that the bed we sleep on at Sally’s parents’ was the exception not the rule for beds in China. At this point I didn’t care, I was asleep within moments. When I woke up, the wives had just come back from something. We all went to get breakfast, breads and milk from a little store around the corner. I’ve had a lot of Chinese friends in America complain to me about the quality of milk and bread we have in the states. For milk, I can see their point. I wouldn’t say it’s any better than our milk, but it’s not any worse either. It’s just different. I guess it’s just a matter of what you’re used to. In the bread department, we win though. These weren’t the steamed breads that China is really good at, these were Western style packaged breads. The first one I ate was OK, but the other one was a sweetbread with pieces of dried ham, lines of cheese and a chewy mayonnaise center. Not a good mix.

After breakfast Sally and her mom went to the American Embassy to take care of everything. I slept more. My sleep here is hardly ever without dreams. When I woke up, Sally came back with good news, all was well and she would be able to come home when this trip was all over. We were actually a little worried that there may be problems because of our marriage. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t even an issue. Prayer works, just in case you were wondering.

Once that was behind us, we were able to go out for lunch. We went to a Korean Barbeque, of which there are many here in Liaoning, which was pretty good. This let me see a little more of Shenyang. It’s a lot more of what I expected a Chinese city to look like, although the only specific thing I can put my finger on is the presence of bikes. Sally explained that Dalian is too hilly for most people to ride bikes.

After lunch me and Sally’s dad went to catch our train, leaving the women to shop and pick up Sally’s visa. On the bus to the station, I met I guy from Nigeria named Miked. The bus was just packed with wall-to-wall Chinese people and there we were this one white guy and one black guy. He was really friendly and spoke good English. It was nice to know I not the only foreign person here.

We missed the train though so we had to switch our tickets for “no seaters” on the same train Sally and her mom were on. Since the train didn't leave until 11, we had a lot of time to kill. I read a bit from “Ender's Game,” the only thing I brought with me to Shenyang, but mostly we just waited. Since there was no guarantee that we'd be able to sleep on the train, we went to a place were you were able to rent a bed for a few hours. They had “rooms” fenced off with particle board with a TV and eight beds in a room. Travelers often pay a few kuai to get out of the waiting room and lay down for a little bit. These beds were also the hard kind but by this point I'm used to them. What I wasn't used to was the TV blaring the Chinese equivalent of the Lawrence Welk Show (I assume it was basically the same thing because there were people singing and bubble, that was Lawrence Welk right?). I still managed to grab a short nap, which made all the difference.

That train left at 11:00 at night and we didn't get back to Dalian until 6 a.m. Even though it was a lot longer than the first right, it was a lot easier to deal with. It's always better when the person sleeping on your shoulder is you wife, not some old man. We made small talk with some to the other passengers. Most were impressed that I spoke Chinese but still preferred to ask them questions about me than ask me directly. This bothered me at first but then I remembered I was too tired to care. I finished Ender's Game and tried to sleep with varying degrees of success. Finally, after blaring the Dalian theme song over the PA system, we rolled into the final station.

From this point it was a quick trolley ride back home. The Zhus all wanted to eat breakfast but I was too tired. I excused myself politely and crashed in bed. I didn't wake up until about 10 a.m. I finally got to shower after 50 plus hours. I finally busted my Gillette Quatro out of it’s packaging. I'll admit, I used to make fun about how the razor company is getting out of control with the race towards infinite blades, but I enjoyed the shave. I could hear my stubble crying in vain for mercy against the power of the fourth blade.

So that's my adventure so far. It's one heck of a ride. I may not be having fun all the time, but I'm enjoying every minute of it. Yeah China