Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Shanghai Stuff

For about the last week, my showers have been excruciating. So, so, so, sososo hot! My shower has always had basically two settings: hot and cold. There's no such thing as warm. This hasn't been a problem before, because the hot temperature has been perfect. So, I've chalked up the past week's pain to the sudden turn of cold weather and being too weak (like going straight from playing in the snow to a hot tub and it kinda burns).

Then, today, I looked at the water heater. After some serious translation and lots of button pushing (my water heater, like my washing machine, closely resembles an MP3 player), I pulled out the units converter. Somehow, my water heater had reset itself to 47 degrees - in American that's about 117 degrees. Pain. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that it can go up to 99 degrees - over 200 in American.

It's been fixed.

Also, my trials with baking in a toaster continue. Again, with the Celsius! 120 degrees sounds so low. I was baking a chocolate cake today and actually burnt the top! I didn't even know that was possible, and I'm dying of shame.
All ended up just fine, though:

Anyways it's so crazy that the semester is going to be over so soon! And then I'm off to an unplanned 2 month plus couchsurf of unemployment. Any ideas what I should do from mid-December to mid-February?


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Front Row Center

at Armin Van Buuren.

No big deal.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I love puppy posses.

On Thursday morning we had a lecture at NCCU by Professor Chung-li Wu of the Institute of Political Science Academia Sinica on Taiwan Politics and Government. Professor Wu explained Taiwan’s Democratic Electoral System; it’s political parties, constitution, and the five branches of government. Professor Wu went into each branch (or Yuan) in depth: the Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Examination and Control. Professor Wu also discussed the major world organizations of which Taiwan is a member (including the WTO) and those that it is not recognized by (including the WHO) and the effect this has on government practice. Professor Wu finished his lecture by discussing the most recent major elections held.

Following this lecture, we went to the Taipei Municipal Muzha Vocational High School, headed by principal Chen-Huei Hsu. The school of 2000 students is one of only seven public vocational, and 30 senior high schools in Taipei. It has 162 teachers and 47 staff. The majority of students continue on to science and technology universities in Taiwan. Though traditionally vocational enrollment has been declining, with the economic recession Muzha Vocational High School has found its enrollment numbers rising, possibly because of the demand of vocational jobs. Tuition at the school is $10,000 TND per semester. After this brief information session and a campus tour, we were paired up with Muzha students for lunch and discussion.

This lunch was fairly awkward. Actually really awkward. But really, I guess no matter the language barriers, luncheons with 16 year olds surrounded by curious pre-teen onlookers is going to be awkward. Lunch was followed by a MASSIVE photo session, when conversation simply dissolved into a seeming competition between the students to see who could get the most photos taken with the foreigners. Our bus was actually stormed on the way out by people eager to get their photo taken with Barack Obama.

Thursday afternoon we visited two companies: Taiwan Mobile and Saab. Taiwan Mobile deals in phones, wireless communications and cable television and internet. The company boasts 6.25 million customers, a 30% cell phone market share, and $2.06 billion in revenue. Taiwan Mobile is now starting to enter the wireless repeater market in a push to replace landline phones. Taiwan Mobile’s parent company is the Fuban Group.

Saab is a car company based in Sweden and owned by General Motors. We visited Saab’s Taiwan headquarters for a look at how a foreign owned company operates in Taiwan. The facility we visited mainly did repair service. We had a chance to tour the facility and to ask questions. The manager talked with us about the current economic market and about the hiring and training process of employees – which are often directly sourced from vocational high schools in Taipei.

Thursday night I went with Anna and Isabelle to a vegetarian restaurant called Om Ah Hum. According to my guide, the "red toy poodle" claims all the attention at the restaurant. Little did we know, this meant a literal POSSE of TEN miniature poodles ALL in DIFFERENT OUTFITS. Usually clothed animals make me sad, but this was just too much cuteness. Too much. The one dressed as a piggy may have peed on Isabelle. I am possibly in love with the one dressed in plaid. They were often found sleeping in piles of cuteness, or riding around in the POCKETS of the owner's APRON.

After dinner (which was insanely delicious) we went night-marketing (oh my God, again) and got fun clothes. The night market near Taida is much more bohemian and cutesy than the others. I wish we had had more time to spend there. We eventually ended up at a coffee shop till 2am. I love, love, love that coffee shop culture exists in Taiwan. It's one of the main things I miss in Shanghai, and a huge impetus for considering moving here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Of Milkshakes and Tea Meals (a side of Government)

Tuesday morning we went back to NCCU for lectures etc. In the morning we had a lecture on environment and community development. I had been hoping for a look at Taiwan's environmental policy, but instead it turned out to be a case study on some village where the fish were threatened and what they did about it. It was interesting, but not necessarily what I was hoping to learn about.

Tuesday afternoon we were able to attend a session of the Legislative Yuan where we witnessed some of a debate on legalizing U.S. beef imports. Following this audit, we met with a representative from the KMT and the DPP, Taiwan’s two major political parties. First we met with Yun-Kuang Kuo, Director of the KMT Department of Overseas Affairs. Mr. Kuo gave an overview of the KMT party and answered questions students posed on politics in Taiwan. These questions included both KMT-specific questions (such as the party’s official stance on various issues) and general Taiwan questions (such as with whom Taiwan maintains formal diplomatic relations). Students also inquired, and received answers to, Mr. Kuo’s personal opinions on what is needed in government reform, the presence of lobbies in the legislative debate, the current economic situation, and the path towards normalizing relations with Mainland China.

Next we met with Representative Wong of the DPP. Representative Wong is a second term legislator and a former women’s rights activist. Our session with Representative Wong was also run in a question and answer format, and because of her background, much of the initial discussion centered around women’s issues in Taiwan. Representative Wong also discussed political and inter-party corruption, major accomplishments of the DPP during their years of majority rule, the DPP stance on Taiwan-China relations and the future goals of the party.

Tuesday night I went with some NCCU students, Anna, Isabelle, Shaun and Jose out for a life-changing meal and some more night-marketing. We went to Kiwi Burger, a New Zealand burger place that makes amazing veggie burgers. It was arguably my first real Western meal since August, and it was amazing. There was goat cheese. And fries. And cranberries. And I got a MASSIVE milkshake. So fat and heavenly.

On Wednesday morning we had the opportunity to visit the National Palace Museum. At the museum we saw various works of Chinese history, dating from prehistoric times to the Qing dynasty. These included works (mostly statue, vessel and tool) made of bronze, jade, porcelain and ivory.

The museum was so, so so crowded though. No one was really able to enjoy anything because you were constantly being shuffled about by bajillions of people. It was hard to hear our tour guide and difficult to stay at any one exhibit longer than about five seconds. I wish we had a longer amount of time, and less crowding to contend with.

For lunch Crystal took us to a restaurant where everything was made out of tea. Cool concept. I had bubble tea (of course), green tea dumplings, and Stephen, Isabelle and I split waffles made from tea for dessert.

After lunch, Amanda, Stephen, Ann, Shaun and I went to the hot springs at Beitou. It was an awkward experience. I was, of course, the only person in a two piece. We were collectively the only white people and the only people under 60. There were 6 pools. One freezing, one kind of freezing, one lukewarm, one warm, one hot, and one scalding. You were supposed to start cold and work your way up. Success, although I couldn't stay at either extreme for longer than 15 seconds. I'm pretty sure I may have experienced actual burns in the top pool, and my lungs were cold 5 hours later from the cold one. My lungs.

Then we went to Danshui, a port town just north of Taipei. We checked out the night market, and sampled a bunch of snacks. Some delicious (kale filled dough thingies), some foul (wind dried, unknown bird eggs). The meat eaters had the danshui specialty: tofu wrapped around noodles and clams. We took a water taxi up to the Lover's Bridge, and I later met up with Anna and Isabelle for some more shopping and Sassy delights.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mondays in Taipei

On Monday morning we had a lecture at NCCU by professor Chen-shen Yen entitled Taiwan Religion and Culture. It turned out to be really interesting, but I do wish it had more to do with religion. Professor Yen’s lecture was an excellent introduction to our trip as he gave a good overview of he ethnic, linguistic and religious makeup of the island before delving further into his topic. Professor Yen also covered identity issues faced by Taiwanese populations: Zhangzhou versus Quanzhou, Minnan versus Hakka, Han versus Indigenous, Ming (Han) versus Qing (Manchu), Chinese versus Japanese, Taiwanese versus Mainland, Taiwanese versus Chinese, and Taiwanese Chinese versus Chinese Taiwanese. Next, the professor discussed the various theories of Taiwan’s origin. These theories fall into three camps: Southern (Taiwan), Northern (China) and Austronesian (Australia and Indonesia).

Aside from the ethnic population divides discussed earlier, Professor Yen also went over cultural and religious cleavages including: ethnic versus sub-ethnic, linguistic cleavages, regional cleavages (East versus West), religious identity, and vertical versus horizontal class cleavages. Finally, Professor Yen ended his lecture with a discussion on Taiwan’s relationship with Mainland China, and the possibility of reunification, with an emphasis on the ramifications on Taiwanese identity.

Then we had a quick tour of campus. The capus was really nice and the weather was gorgeous. They had a ton of fabulous amenities and a bunch of the buildings are built into the surrounding hills. It's metro accessible, but it's way on the edge of town so you can go for hikes and walk along the river, and from several academic buildings there's a wonderful view of the city.

On Monday afternoon we had a lecture at NCCU by professor Yih-Chyi Chuang on The Economic Development of Taiwan, which was intersting and the professor was great, but I will never be totally fascinated by a subject that always leaves me feeling so lost. The lecture began with some data on population, imports and exports, land use and industrialization of the island. Professor Chuang touched on the narrowing wealth divide between rural and urban incomes, the structural change brought on by rapid industrialization, and the recently growing unemployment rate.

Next, professor Chuang discussed some important historical economic policies. These included: the 1953 Land to the Tiller program, the 1949 Compulsory Rent Reduction act, the 1951 movement to sell public land to tenants, the 1960s outward oriented development policies, the 1968 implementation of Export Processing Zones (EPZs), the 1979 development of research and development institutes and industrial and science parks, and the 10 major infrastructure construction projects of the 1970s.

After a discussion on Taiwan’s export partners and markets, including its largest – China – Professor Chuang ended his lecture with a set of goals he felt the Taiwanese economy was now faced with. The first is to normalize relations with China, and the second to expand Taiwan’s economic cooperation with other countries.

I did have an opportunity to duck out in the middle of the lecutre for a bit to meet with the head of GW's study abroad office who coincidentally happened to be in town checking out the school for a future exchange program on the same day that I was there.

On Monday I also asked out host at NCCU - the dean of the OIC International Affairs School - about graduate school. They offer a few programs in English that really interest me - various Asian studies degrees, cross strait relations, Masters in IA, etc. Also, a masters here is extremely cheap, and the government is offering substantial scholarships to foreigners for next fall/academic year. If I can figure out if the program is internationally recognized, I'll be looking into it further.

Monday night, Darci, Ann, Anna, Isabelle and myself, along with some NCCU students, went out to the night markets. It was raining, which blew, but we saw a bunch of shops and got to try a bunch of interesting snacks. We visited Shida and Taida, and tested noodles, tire cookies, brown sugar bubble tea (omg so good) and began out ongoing addiction with a spectacular store called Sassy.

After we got back, Anna and I went out again in search of a mysterious night market that was apparently all delicious food. We walked for about 500 hours, epically failed and got wet feet, but did come out successful re: deep fried taro balls. Picked up some beer and watched what became out new favorite show: Role Play Queen. After dark, or maybe all day - we've only watched TV at night, channel 85 and 88 became softcore porn. From midnight to 1 AM is Dancing Queen - an upskirt camera dancing show. It's as awkward as it sounds. Then, at 1:30, Role Playing Queen comes on. I think the two shows are linked as some sort of variety show. Role Playing Queen begins with the host dressed as a nazi marching girls dressed as sexy soldiers around. Then he dances and juggles a blow up doll, then we cut to the store. Each night the girls don a different costume which progressively comes off during the show as they complete various variety show tasks. Anna and I have become committed to the drama of teh show - you can call in and vote for your favorite girl - and we're rooting for "sexy cat."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Taiwan I: Salad Ice Cream

Getting to Taiwan from China is a bit weird, because it’s a quasi-international flight. Obviously China and Taiwan have differed views of Taiwanese sovereignty. We took off out of the domestic terminal in Shanghai, but we had to go through customs. We landed in the international terminal in Taipei, but though we went through customs, we didn’t have to fill out any declaration forms. We ere checked for swine flu and there was a produce sniffing dog, though.

We were met at the luggage claim by our hosts from NCCU and then changed money and bought SIM cards. The situation is so “one country” that you can’t change RMB to TND in the mainland, so we had to do it here. And the Chinese cell phones don’t work. And it was way complicated for the Chinese nationals to get permits to come here. Nuts.

Then we checked into our hotel and went to dinner. This city has a great vibe. Laid back, modern, stylish. I know that sounds contradictory, but whatever. People have been so friendly – the restaurant gave us gifts when they heard it was our first time in Taiwan. They also devised a special, and beautifully presented, menu for me, even though we ate at a steakhouse. For desert I had vanilla ice cream in a chocolate bag. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds, but no, it wasn’t Chinglish as suspected. This is a salad:

Unfortunately, I’m a bit too full now to go out snacking. Huge disappointment as all of my research tells of Taiwan being a nation of night markets and xiaochi. And you know how I feel about eating my way through ravel. Food + travel – culinary tourism as the secret to happiness.

So, while I’m disappointed at missing Obama’s visit, and challenged by the traditional characters, I’m really optimistic for this week and this city.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mmm Cake

Sometimes you have to get creative in China.

And make cake in a camp stove.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just Some Taiwan Anticipation

Two weekends ago it was Halloween - what did you dress up as? I toyed with the idea of going as blackmail (wearing black and postage stamps) or stealing the classic Megan and going as gum-under-shoe (all pink with a shoe tied on my head), but ended up being distracted by other matters and copping out, going as a nudist on strike.

The day before Halloween I made a last minute decision to go to Hangzhou (杭州) for the weekend. I needed to get out of Shanghai (those of you who knew Mason - RIP - understand. I've been pretty torn up for the last week), and have been meaning to visit my friend Drue there for some time anyhow.

Hangzhou is beautiful, and certainly doesn't seem like a city (or by China standards, small town) of around 7 million. It takes about two hours to reach the city from Shanghai by bus. I took a sketchy van/bus/面包车 which was cheap and oh-so-legitimate. My fellow passengers were quite nice; I befriended the other young girl in the back row and someone even produced After 8 mints!

While I'm not sure that Hangzhou is truly is a cross between Lake Geneva and Aspen, it did have lovely parks and the lake was pretty remarkable. I highly recommend renting a boat for a few hours. Also, next time I go I'm for sure spending at least one night in one of the "vacation huts" along the shores.

Drue and his friends were lovely hosts and I had a great time. We visited a bar where one of their friends had his debut DJ event, carved pumpkins, met some Russians, and played some good old American drinking games at Zhi Da.

This past week has been relatively uneventful. A little bit of class, a little bit of actual work. I am however fully engrossed in planning for Taiwan!! We leave next week Sunday. It should be a pretty excellent time. If anyone has ever been to Taipei (台北) and has some suggestions, I would absolutely love to hear them.

Hope all is well with everyone.


P.S. I forgot: this week I rode go-karts in China. It was surreal.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The UN and Global Challenges Conference

I just got back from a conference held at Fudan today by the United Nations Foundation on the subject of the UN's current global challenges. I was really excited for the conference, given the topic of interest and the star studded panel of people-who-have-influenced-so-much-of-my-studies-and-research. But, I walked away feeling more frustrated and limited than before.

The talk had such potential for giving real information, but it seemed as though the panelists underestimated their audience's intelligence and came unprepared to give that information, or even just opinions - which is really what we were all looking for. Granted, they received several fluff questions that I could have easily answered (but they didn't really even go in depth into answering those) but they also got some great questions which they pretty much avoided answering entirely.

Each panelist started off the discussion by stating what they thought the major problem facing the UN was, and a question and answer followed. Senator Timothy Wirth talked about climate change. Professor Emma Rothschild talked about climate change as a source for the economic crisis and urban planning as a way to combat both issues. Professor Ni talked about what his students talked about. Ted Turner talked about nuclear proliferation and climate change in terms of energy production. Muhammad Yunus talked about technology and the UN as a vehicle for our generation. Professor Yuan Ming talked about a need for leadership and and a projection of Chinese culture. Then the Q&A started.

After that (seemingly) good start (since the Chinese professors didn't actually say anything), things just got frustrating. Yunus started things off by talking about how nothing can be created until you imagine it. Without a vision you're just drifting. Having a vision leads to organization, and common vision leads to inspiration. You should use this inspiration to start small and then get involved big. This is great, but frustratingly was the answer to almost every question. The panelists responded to almost every inquiry ("What should we do about climate change?" "What is the UN doing about internal reform?" "How should we use technology?" "How do we influence the people in power?") with a plea to our generation to join the UN or government organizations. Over and over again it was the "have a vision and go for it, the power lies in the young generation" speech. Who are you, Walt Disney? We've all heard the "if you can dream it you can do it" speech. What we were looking for was the inspiration for that action and the affirmation that SOMETHING is going on among the higher-ups right now. Also, is the UN doing anything NOW, or is it just WAITING for my generation to join up and fix it - because thats what all these appeals were making things sound like.

Not to mention, I, and my peers would LOVE to get involved with the UN or a government organization, but for someone of my age, means and experiences it's so easy to feel limited by the opportunities available. Don't talk to me like I've never tried and that there are limitless opportunities out there if I'll only commit myself to them. I guarantee you half the people in this room have tried and it's not that we're all under-qualified - we come from some of the best universities and the best international affairs programs, but the fact is those internships are competitive, there are only so many entry level spots available in government, the UN can't take everyone who was a vision - you need to do something big to stand out so we needed inspiration from you to feel like it was POSSIBLE for us to become involved.

After the discussion was over I went up to Senator Wirth and attempted to articulate this, although I think he thought I was more accusing him of denying me some state department internship or something, which was not my intention. He gave me a little talk on the UN Foundation not having the resources to provide internships for more than 20 or so people. I tried to backpedal and say that I understood that - which I do - and explain that I just wanted some advice on what else I could be doing. Myself and so many of my peers are unable to get these opportunities, what else can we do to educate ourselves and work towards bettering the world? He had nothing to say besides commenting that the internet must be a great resource.

The internet is a great resource, but I want to learn and I want to one day be able to make a difference, and I want to not be frustrated by the lack of achievement I have going with my "vision." Sometimes it's not enough to "post it to my wall for inspiration" per Mr. Yunus' advice and too often the "start small action" is under-appreciated and overlooked. The least you could do is give me an idea of what is going on on the international stage regarding these issues right now. What should I use the internet to be researching?

All that said, there were some interesting ideas discussed in this panel and I did take copious notes. Professor Rothschild in particular had really interesting things to say regarding urban planning and specific changes that could be made in the economic model of mass consumption in developing countries. Mr. Yunus discussed his utopian vision of a world without passports and visas, and the problem institutions being based on state lines even though these problems are cross-boundary. He also talked about the philosophical interpretation of the human being as profit-maximizing. But, none of these ideas were expanded upon the way I would have liked. It seemed like the panel thought they were talking to uninformed children. They asked if we had ever heard of Model UN or the Copenhagen summit. Sure, there are people who haven't, but not those people who fought to get tickets to this particular conference.

Bottom line, you're preaching to the choir and I think we all really wanted to hear a bit more.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Some Shanghai Stuff

It's been an exciting couple of weeks here in the Pearl of the Orient! After I got back from my Qinghai trip (of which entries are still being added and post-dated! See here and here and here and here and here!), some of my friends from IES BJ came to visit. Sean was between jobs in Hong Kong (香港) and Drew is living/working in nearby Hangzhou (杭州). It was a wonderful visit, I was a crappy tour guide, and we marveled at the tourist tunnel and the ubiquitousness of Haibao.

This past weekend I got 17 new kiddos from Babson. So far so good, and orientating in October is weird. I've been getting to chaperone all their field trips though, which is way more fun than work. Excellent. It meant the tourist tunnel twice in two weeks (a little much even for me) and I got to go on a river cruise of the Huangpu! Something I've always been too cheap/lazy to do, but now I will definitely recommend it to SH visitors, especially during this glorious fall weather.

Other than that, life is going well, as is probably evident by my toaster oven post. Mmm delicious cookies. Halloween this weekend! I have no plans or costume yet, how about you? What is everyone going to be for Halloween?

This Friday I will either have a Chinese midterm or meet Kofi Annan and Muhammad Yunus. Hmmm...


Saturday, October 24, 2009

So beautiful!

Check out the glory:

Yes, those are coffee shortbread cookies in there!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Only in China

1. The other day the trash can in my gym's locker room was full of liter beers. Which they sell behind the counter. Along with coke. But no water.

2. Outside my building there is a shop that sells bubble tea and "wheat iced." That's like ice cream, but it's wheat.

3. Yesterday, in the infinite bike line up, I became frustrated with my bike lock key when it didn't work. Turns out there were three of the exact same purple bike with black basket and off-red rope lock. This happens often

4. Today at the grocery store, I asked where the sugar was, with the intention of baking. I was brought to a wall of sugar cubes.

5. Tomorrow I will make cookies (pending sugar discovery). Four at a time. In a toaster oven.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chinese Aerobics

Yesterday I took an aerobics class at the gym I've recently joined. Shockingly, my Chinese vocab does not cover terms used in such a class. Hilarity ensues.

I have all the entries for my Qinghai trip in my journal. I'll copy them over when I have time - probably at the beginning of next week. They'll be backdated to the day they actually occurred. Keep checking back!


P.S. Fall weather is incredible!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

That time I slept on the floor of a bus.

Yesterday morning we hiking around the mountain with the Buddhist prayer flags all over it, but not really on it because it felt a bit disrespectful. Got some good photos and saw a ton of prairie dogs and yaks. (Come to think of it, I think prairie dogs are the only small non-domesticated animals I've ever seen in China. Weird. No squirrels or equivalent.) Then we packed quickly in anticipated of the 2 PM bus.

We were rejected by the 2 PM bus. They said they would only take 4 of us, and thinking that there was a 3 or 4 o'clock one, we foolishly decided to pass on those seats. The restaurant owner who saved us by finding the hostel assured us there were others and agreed to call us when he saw a bus so we could just chill out.

So, we sat in his cafe drinking tea and eating na'an while having two of us stand sentry outside for HOURS! We went in 20 minute shifts and I'm pretty sure it hailed in all of my shifts. After waiting 4 hours, a sleeper bus came through. We hailed it down, and the lovely restaurant owner convinced him to take us on, despite the fact that they had only one open bed.

Jose took the bed and the rest of us pushed to the back with the intention of sitting on the aisle. A young Tibetan couple saw what was going on and, without hesitation, offered us one of their beds. These are not large beds. Charlie and Ben got in that and the Tibetan couple cozied together on just one of their 100 kuai beds. Gareth, Anna and I took to the floor. For the first few hours it was pretty awful; I couldn't lay down because Anna was behind me, so my back was dying, but more importantly I had to pee so badly so every position was absolutely awful. This bus wasn't stopping either - bathroom breaks by request only. We didn't discover this until waiting patiently for a break for about 2 hours. After the bathroom we rearranged and I was able to lie down. From then on, smooth sailing. Well, smooth as it can be to be lying on the cold, bumpy, miserable floor of a bus. All that aside, it was actually a rather pleasant ride. I taught the guys in the back how to play solitaire.

We finally pulled into lovely Xining around 11 and parted ways with the nice bed loaners. We went to out normal hostel, but after calling and door pounding, no one responded. So sad! So we called up the other HI hostel in town and headed over.

This one had a much better location (2 blocks from the snack street and 3 from the bars) but there was an awkward spread. There were 2 six person dorms, one had 3 people and one only had one person. 5 of us went to one room and Charlie went to the other. We never met the guy in our dorm - he woke up really early - but he did leave us a nice note wishing us good travels. It was so sweet!

Took a shower this morning - glorious! But cold, and the showers weren't very nice. Then we went to the Tibetan market for the morning. Everyone bought a ton of stuff. I stuck to my list, which was good, but I feel a bit guilty about not getting more gifts. I bought a Thanka painting of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, incense and a burner, a banner of the Om sutra and 2 bracelets like mine for the diamond family (if you guys are reading this, surprise ruined, but get excited for mail!). I also got to feel very clever because my Buddhist art history courses finally came in handy and I was able to interpret everyone's paintings.

We had lunch at a Muslim restaurant, and then just went to the hostel to hang out and play around on the internet for the afternoon. We hit up the snack street for train supplies - nuts, fruit, na'an - and then headed for the station. I feel awful for not remembering to tell the boys to keep their knives in their pockets, because they all went through the metal detector in their bags and were confiscated. [Side note to future train travelers in China - keep weapons in your pockets. They will not be detected there. They will find them if they're in your bags].

Last night on the train was uneventful. I agreed to the middle bunk and turns out it is also pretty claustrophobic. It did not help that Gareth found it productive to tell me claustrophobia stories and compare my bunk to a coffin.

Now we're just sitting around, settling in for out day on the train. Gross. Some people are studying, some are reading, and I'm thinking about going back to sleep, but it's so hot and stuffy my coffin will be uncomfortable. It's gonna be a long, hot, stuffy, thirsty and unattractive day.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Primordial Soup

After the hostel yesterday afternoon, we went back to that Tibetan market. It really is the best place in Xining (西宁) to hangout - even if you're not buying anything. I got a necklace, and helped the boys pick out jewlery. Then we had early dinner at a Muslim restaurant and hit up the bus station.

I asked about 5 people how long they thought our ride would be from Xining to the hot springs in Wenquan (温泉). Responses literally ranged from 3 hours to 15 hours. After some initial excitement (on my part) about a night bus, we ended up boarding a regular bus (bummer). Turns out the ride was actually 7 incredibly uneventful hours. I bet the scenery out the window would have been beyond beautiful, but it was dark the hole ride. We watched some horrible Chinese amateur plays for teh first few hours, and then this crazy movie called Chaos. Then I pretty much slept. The bus did have an hour break fro dinner around 9, although no one told the foreigners what was going on so we wasted a good deal of the break wondering where everyone disappeared to and worrying about leaving the bus.

Anyways, around 1:30 AM we pulled into Wenquan. Thank God there was one restaurant still open so we could ask for help finding a place to stay. Turns out there is a truck stop in town were we were able to stay for 25元 per night. 3 beds per room with 2 comforters and heated blankets. Absolutely necessary - it's freezing here! It's been snowing since we arrived, and all is mud and iciness/sleety rain.

Woke up this morning and went to the restaurant that saved us for breakfast. Delicious friend rice, and really really nice guy running it. Asked him where the hot springs were. Should have been more suspect when he told us the springs were free.

We followed his directions 200 meters past the last house in town (the town is approximately 400 meters long) and came upon a giant steaming pile of trash. We though, "oh, maybe the springs are BEHIND this trash pile!" Yet, behind that is just more steaming trash. Not a Turkish bath in sight. Turns out the residents here dump their trash in the hot springs, creating a primordial soup of interesting plastic bits. The water was warm, probably 80 degrees, but a bit stagnant with algae and trash. So, we decided to follow the stream a bit further down to where there was a rock structure that we were hoping might be some sort of outdoor bath.

It was, but for sheep. Of course you need to wash your sheep every day! We came upon a corral of sheep that a few men were desperately trying to herd into a hot spring bath to be bathed - I guess. We joined in the pushing and stick beating until all the sheep were through. Then we decided to wander down river a bit.

We hiked for a ways up into snowy mountains, and then Anna and I turned back while the boys continued their hike. On the way back we figured we'd check out the source of the hot spring and came upon a pool where a couple of little boys were having a bath. Their older brothers were sitting on cinderblocks with their feet dangling in. Anna and I followed suit and pulled up some cinderblocks and sat for a while. The water felt really nice at the time, although my feet haven't really warmed up since that hike.

Then we walked back to town and wandered into what looked like a pretty happening restaurant. It was pretty happening. We asked if we could sit and drink tea with them and pulled up a seat by the stove. Thus part of Qinghai it seems people are just really into chilling out, and they just sit around doing this for hours. So we sat and chatted with them - all Tibetan men, mid 30s, for hours until the boys came back. They especially enjoyed checking out the photos of Sudbury I have on my itouch, and were super excited to see my photo of the Dalai Lama (so glad I downloaded it for this trip, now).

Boys finally came back around 4, too late for an afternoon excursion which was disappointing. We went back to the room and rested/chatted over some Grape Wall wine (yes, it tasted like it sounds), and then went to dinner. Had some of the most amazing soup ever and saw lots of the friends Anna and I made this afternoon (like I said, Wenquan is small).


Wednesday, October 7, 2009


We caught the bus to Xining (西宁) from Heimahe (黑马河)with the help of a nice monk who was also attempting to catch that bus. Uneventful ride; 2 movies and a baby slept on my lap the whole times.

After lunch we attempted to catch the 3pm bus to Tongren (同仁). All was going well, and the scenery was insane - jagged mountains, fall foliage, etc - when the cops pulled our bus over. They made all the foreigners get off (ie us), examined our passports, and then took us into the police tent where we had out temperature taken. All was normal (thank God) but then they told us we were forbidden from going to Tongren. Apparently (according to my shoddy Chinese), Tongren has the swine so the government wasn't letting foreigners in. This blew. They gave us a bunch of pears and put us on the swine-ridden bus back from whence we came.

So, uneventful evening in Xining, and now we're blowing through a lazy rainy day until our bus leaves for the hot springs at 6 pm. I'm a bit nervous about that ride because I don't know how long the bus is, what to expect and if we'll be able to find somewhere to stay at midnight or whenever we're getting in. I'm willing to roll with the punches (TIC), but I hope everyone isn't freaking out in about 12 hours. Keep you posted.


Monday, October 5, 2009


Last night we tried a Xinjiang restaurant, but the guy kept trying to hustle us with all kinds of deals. We ended up at a pretty expensive place, but it wasn't so bad - food was pretty good. Then we picked up a crate of beer and headed home.

We started hanging out in our room, but pretty son were approached by some Chinese guys who were in the process of biking around the lake. They were nice and we talked to them for a while. Got some digits. One was older - 38 and from Shandong, and the other looked about our age and was from outside of Beijing.

I woke up at 6:30 this morning with Charlie to watch the sunrise over the lake. It was really beautiful. And cold. Then we went back to bed. Woke up around 9 to fried rice and zhou for breakfast and then hired a van to drive us to Heimahe (黑马河). A mianbao for 25/person, just a bit more than the (unpredictably arriving/free space) bus. It was a pretty cozy hour and a half.

We had a bit of a saga finding a hotel with a dorm, but did get lucky and ended up at the Jiaotong (交通) truck stop which had a 6 bed room with heated blankets and cable tv (!) for 15/person. The hotel(?) is a bit dingy, but its really quite nice compared to my expectations for this trip. We have also just discovered that Jose and Charlie would clearly make the perfect sitcom-about-first-year-roommates pair.

After lunch at a Tibetan restaurant, we went for a hike. We went high and far, and I was embarrassingly dying a bit. But it was so worth it. The views were amazing amazing. We had to cut through some farms, hop over and/or through a ton of barbed wire fences, and cross rivers with stepping stones. At one point there were no stones and we had to lose out shoes and ford the river. THe water was frigid but so so clear. We drank some and it was delicious. We probably hiked for about 3 hours, I'm really interested to googlemap/mapmyrun the route to see how far and high we went. The altitude was definitely getting to me; I was pretty lightheaded and overly easily exhausted. Of course a gorgeous sunset, and then we went out to dinner. Sichuan thus time - the lamb was getting a little old.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

To the Lake

The Xining train was uneventful. Two and a half hour hard seat with amazing mountain views (at least until the sun went down). Also got Anna hooked on Noah's Arc (what a lovely show).

Our hostel in Xining was actually legitimate (the only one of the trip - and the Qinghai Sangzhu Youth Hostel for future travellers' reference). It was decorated in Tibetan style: lots of red and lacquer. The beds were a bit softer than before, but still pretty hard. However, reception was nice and there was wireless. Also, it was Hostelling International, so it had a lot of nice facilities including maps, guidebooks and a pool table. And we got showers.

We had a pretty good dinner at the corner of Snack Street (小吃街)and Home Avenue(家街) (seriously). It was pretty good. Then we went looking for a bar. Several false attempts at KTV places first, then we ended up at a shady basement "club"/bar. It was filled with absolutely wasted Chinese people. Absolutely wasted. We danced with them and had some good times. This club was literally slapshod together - clapboard walls, plexiglass blocks over x-mas lights for a dance floor, etc. etc.

Yesterday Charlie, Jose and I woke up at 6 to go buy train tickets back to SH - the never ending saga of nervousness. Success! We were waiting in the line that forms before the station opens, and a policeman came up to us, took us to another line, had us cut that line, and opened up the ticket window just for us. Then he helped us to ask for tickets. It was amazing, and I'm not sure why it happened, but I'm always in favor of trusting in the kindness of strangers. Long story short, we all now have tickets for Saturday night, getting in at around 4 AM Monday morning. Getting to class will be awful, but there's only one SH train per day and it leaves at 10 pm. Ah well.

Everyone else woke up around 10 (and took glorious showers). We went out for brunch and then explored the Snack Street. So much delicious naan and deep fried sesame bread! I love the west. Then we went to Beishan temple (北山私). The Daoist temple is built into a mountainside. Most of the shrines were in small caves or grottos. There were also full temple structures built into the rocks.

I am also convinced that every tourist location in China involves about 20 miles of stairs.

We bought incense and learned how to worship. We also got some amazing views of the city and a random flash rainstorm. When the rain started the plateau dust swept over the city in a matter of minutes. The result was eerie and awe inspiring, and this photo absolutely does it no justice.

After the temple we went to visit Dongguan Mosque (东关清真寺) on the recommendation of some people I met on couchsurfing. It's one of the oldest and largest mosques in China and was pretty visually impressive. We made a bunch of friends on the grounds, although most Uigher muslims do not permit their photo to be taken. Then we explored the area around the Mosque. It had delicious bread, tons of tea shops, cookies and other Muslim wares.

Before dinner we went to the Tibetan Market by the train station which was awesome! They had every kind of Tibetan good you could imagine and they were such nice people! No one tried to hustle you or anything - such a welcome change from the big Eastern cities. Ben bough sheepskin, the boys all bought winter coats, Anna and I bought jewelry, Jose bought incense etc. I also got this sick pair of long underwear - so warm and comfy. Prepare for them to be heavily featured in future photos.

We attempted to find an Indian place for dinner and failed epically, but did end up at a Tibetan restaurant which was quite delicious. They had that sweet potato stuff, but it wasn't as good as it was in Lhasa. Mild downer, but the rest of dinner was delicious.

Later we went to two bars that were in the area (side note for future visitors - we found the bar area on Wenhua Lu - 文化路). At the first we played some cards, and then when it got slow we went upstairs to another bar. We were playing kings when a bunch of Chinese kids came up and asked to meet/join us. Thus begins the epic translation of Kings into Chinese. It kind of worked. More amazing was successfully teaching them how to play Thumper (like concentration). Successful evening. We were even kicked out of our table for being too loud.

This morning we took the 8:30 bus to Lake Qinghai. First we tried to go to the Tibetan Market again because the rest of us decided we needed warm coats as well. Only Jose and Ben found one - including a legit Chinese Police Jacket which has been a huge hit among the locals - but Anna and I had to settle on mittens. I have dibs on the sheepskin should I die of cold tonight/tomorrow/etc.

The bus took about 4 hours and dropped us in the town of Hatu (哈图). The ride was uneventful, but the scenery was incredibly impressive. The valleys and mountains we passed through were exactly like those I was in at the first nunnery in Tibet, and the rolling hills around the lake seriously remind me of Xiahe. Most of the rapeseed had been harvested, so we missed out on those crazy swaths of yellow, but it was still just absolutely beautiful. There were some squares of rapeseed that had awkwardly been left for the tourists, and we drove past the Minorities "Amusement Park" - disgusting.

Hatu itself is pretty damn touristy. Its obviously the place to go for matching orange hatted Chinese with too much money. After talking to our incredibly kind hosts at lunch (thus I highly recommend the Lanzhou restaurant with the red sign across from the gas station) we found the only dorm in town - no hostels here - and were able to bargain the price down to a somewhat reasonable 30 kuai per night. I have to say though, these bunks are a good deal more comfortable than where we've slept the past few days, although the massive picture window is a bit of a creeper and a heat drainer.

After settling in we asked around for a way to get to the top of a mountain and/or downtown to the shore of a lake. The hotel owner found a friend, and we negotiated an afternoon of private driving to 150 kuai, pretty legitimate. The six of us loaded into a sheisty van and headed up. First they took us to the top of one of the mountains. The views were stunning. They also took us to a friend's house that was on a bluff with 360 degree views of lake, mountains and sky. What an absolutely perfect place to retire to. The lake is saltwater, and looks like an ocean, and there was hiking everywhere, people no where, and mountains all the way to India. After that they took us down to the lakeside where we borrowed some horses. We rode back and forth along the beach for a bit and then back into the van to 4-wheel it into town.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Lanzhou Beef Noodles

Today is my second day in Lanzhou - no one else is awake yet and we still don't have return tickets to Shanghai, a fact which makes me insanely nervous. But regardless, here's a past two days recap.

Wednesday morning we walked, waited and pushed our way through the rain to the Shanghai rail station to catch our 8:15 train. Getting out tickets was the world's biggest fiasco, so we had no idea how long the train would be, and I can't believe how incredibly fortunate we were to all be in the same berth. We had originally tried to use a travel agency, because it's so hard to get tickets for Golden Week and that way you can reserve in advance. The day after the tickets were supposed to be delivered I called the agency and asked why they hadn't delivered them yet. They simply responded "the tickets never came, good luck!" Gee, thanks. Obviously by then every single ticket to anywhere was sold out. We got super super super lucky with a last minute cancellation that just happened to come up as we were in the middle of a nightmarish freakout at the ticket counter.

It turned out to be a 30 hour train - we pulled into Lanzhou at 1:30 on the 1st. Spent our time with cards, stories, MASH, Lemons, and making up random shit to do. And of course endless naps. From which I woke up to this:

Got to Lanzhou and tried - AND FAILED - to ret return tickets. Am now dying of nervousness. Then we checked into the shadiest hostel ever. Apparently it's a Chinese-only targeted hostel, which is clearly true. We are the only foreigners here and quite obviously a curiosity. The inside is a courtyard filled with plants and a fake river that ends in a grotto of goldfish. The river - since it doesn't flow - is a bit stagnant. Our beds are literally just the wooden planks. There are a few amusing sheets of newspaper between the bottom sheets and the wood. I've slept on worse, sure, but the whole atmosphere of this place is kind of creepy. The hostel owner is also incredibly unhelpful and the bathrooms are straight China. There is only one shower for the whole place, and it's located on top of the toilet that the entire hostel shares.

Then we went for a long walk around Lanzhou. We started out along the Yellow river and came up to the Zhongshan Bridge - built in 1907 by German/American engineers. It was the first east/west cooperative building project, which is pretty neat. Then we walked south through some Uigher alleys, snacking along the way on naan and sweet potato (my loyal readers know how I feel about snacking my way through travel). Eventually we had dinner at a Xinjiang restaurant which I thought was a bit overpriced and Chineseified but the others all said it was excellent, so I guess it was a success.

Lanzhou's pedestrian street is pretty hoppin at night, and people here are super friendly. We saw a bridal dance and fashion show, and went to a couple markets. There was an (probably illegal) puppy market on the street, so adorable. I need one. Then we went to a "German Brewery" and had the grossest most watered down beer ever - FAIL. If you're ever in Lanzhou, avoid the German Breweries. They may have servers in leiderhosen, but there are two beer choices - light and dark - and there is chao mein on the menu. Silly.

After returning to the hostel to discover out new roommate - an 80 year old man - we set out to discover a bar for the night. WE ended up at ILKBAR where beers are crazy cheap compared to East China (approx 10rmb). We also met an English Teacher with pretty awful English who was celebrating his birthday. People in Lanzhou are all so friendly, and so thrilled to practice their English and welcome us to town.

Also, I bought a silly cowboy hat.

After a nice, hot, uncomfortable night back a the hostel, we spend the next morning sleeping in. We went to lunch at a much tastier Xinjiang restaurant along the Uigher alley. Then we went to he gondola that takes you up to the top of the hill on the other side of the Yellow River. I'm a sucker for cheesy Chinese transportation (see various entries on the Shanghai tourist tunnel). The hills were covered in temples and pagodas, which we didn't really make it to. One of the bluffs had a really nice view of the city and it was covered with picnic tables, so we grabbed some beers and sat for a while. We had some nice discussions with other picnickers and discovered a cozy couch which awkwardly turned out to be a literal hole of poop.

When we rode down, Ben, Jose and Charlie ent in search of massages they never found, and Anna, Gareth and I went in search of a teahouse we never found. We did find a pretty cool looking antiques market though and wandered it a bit. Our cab driver on the way back was thrilled to meet Obama, and enjoyed listing off all the other Americans he had ever heard of.

Back at the hostel I said goodbye to the little boy who I had befriended this morning while everyone was sleeping. We acted out scenes from Monkey and he taught me his kung fu skills. It was pretty long and tearful. I do feel a bit bad that I won't be returning and that I don't even know his name, but I'm over it - he was a bit clingy.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shanghai Living and Qinghai Tomorrow!

My life here could usually take place anywhere, for the extreme lack of playing the tourist lately. I've settled into a routine of work, class, work, sleep, punctuated by trips to the store or dinner with friends.

Last night one of my professors had our class over for dinner. His apartment was so nice, and his son cooked the most amazing meal. I was told by my language partner the other day that Shanghai women are known for controlling their men - they must be able to cook and clean on command and generally act as "house husbands" - so perhaps by professors son is in training. In a lovely moment of cultural exchange, I taught my language partner how to say whipped.

I joined a gym the other day. It's in a pretty extensive athletic complex - as things tend to come in China. It's very nice, and I'm excited to be active again. I went swimming this morning, which turned into more of a social hour with 80 year old men who also like to swim/chat bright and early on tuesdays than a workout, but that's ok. The pool is one of those annoying 50 meter ones; for some reason those make me so much more tired than a 25 yard even if my workout is the same distance. The locker room was also colossal - I would hate to see how crowded this pool is when all those miles of showers are necessary. In all it was a lovely morning - early workout followed by the cheapest take out coffee (and actual coffee!!) that I've found in China yet, and then an actual omelette from the street food guy (Jake, clever as he is, has been teaching the jidanbing guy to make omelettes, scrambled eggs, and next up french toast. He's even created a separate "American Menu" now).

Last week Isabelle and I went for a wander somewhere in midtown Shanghai. We ended up in the lace district (as mentioned above, things in China seem to come in giant square blocks of goods). After stopping in a shop or two that apparently couldn't sell us anything (maybe they were wholesale only?) we found one with a really nice guy willing to sell us lace and chat about fabrics and his hometown for hours. Final result of this field trip is my modded Fudan t-shirt. Not gonna lie, it came out pretty nice. I'll get a picture up here eventually.

Tomorrow I'm leaving for my National Holiday trip. I'll be going to Qinghai, although no major plans as of yet. We'll use Xining and Lanzhou as jump off points. Qinghai is on the Tibetan Plateau (and is culturally Tibetan) in Western China. It is kind of like the wild west of China - largely unpopulated except by nomadic herding groups. The landscape is mostly high steppe and rolling hills, and the population a mixture of various Tibetan, Uigher, and Muslim minorities. We'll probably spend a few days travelling/camping in the area around Xining - Qinghai Lake (one of the highest saltwater lakes in the world), Takster, Linxia, Tongren, Bingling, Yushu, Nangqian. You can google it if you're interested, I don't want to bore anyone with history or information that I'll likely duplicate in a coming post (or who knows, my plans could easily change and I'll head to different places after all). So yeah, all that's concrete is the 24 hours I'll be spending on a train (oh my favorite form of China travel!) starting bright and early tomorrow morning. Stay tuned for what happens next.

Here's a map of possible destinations. Obviously the dot in Shanghai is my home.

View Qinghai Trip in a larger map


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

[Creative Title Here - Mental Note to be More Interesting]

I have really been lacking in the blogging inspiration lately, apologies.

Since I last wrote, all my students have arrived, classes have started, the endless heat has begun to wear off, I've gained a roommate, gone to Suzhou, and basically settled in.

The students are all awesome, thank goodness, and it's so nice to have English-speaking company. Now that Fudan has started, there are foreigners everywhere. I never really thought about how Fudan would get so many exchange students, but I suppose the number three school in China is going to have it's draw. The line for foreign students registration was literally a day long (and in typical China fashion required about 20 silly steps).

Classes are what I expected. Chinese is three hours per day. Unlike Beijing (when the 5 hours of class kill me) started at 8am, in Shanghai Chinese doesn't start until 1:30, and I can't even begin to tell you how much better that is for my cognizance. Chinese class isn't super hard. Although today she did ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I literally was unable to answer. Humiliation ensues.
I'm also taking a class on the history and growth of Shanghai, which is interesting in all senses of the word. Our first class involved an hour long PPT biography of our professor - from birth to the present. I'm cutting him some slack though, as he is a world renowned professor. The course also involves a lot of "fieldwork" - interpreted here as short field trips to various sites of Shanghai in small groups. On our first trip we went to the World Expo Expo Hall (the redundancy was lost on my Chinese counterparts). It included this awesome wall fixture:

China takes these things seriously. Our small groups for the Shanghai Metropolis class are made of of two Chinese students and two foreign students each. When this was announced on the first day, every single Chinese student audibly groaned. The foreigners tried to pretend this wasn't insanely awkward. The two Chinese girls in my group are best friends. Clearly. They either complete each other sentences or speak in unison at all times. It's charming for now.

As mentioned, I now have a roommate. She has yet to tell me her Chinese name, but her English name is Judith. She seems nice, although I don't know much about her despite the fact that we've been living together for going on two weeks now. I know she's from Suzhou, she's a 30-year-old ex-banker, and she's recently decided to stop working and go to Fudan for a masters in History. She also likes to read Chinese poetry and sing traditional Chinese opera in the shower. She has a nice voice.

Last weekend I went to Suzhou with the group. It was a pretty touristy trip, but some parts of it I wouldn't have been able to do alone, so I guess that's ok. First we went to Tiger Hill, a very pretty park area with a pagoda on top of the hill. The pagoda was very seriously leaning so we couldn't climb it, but it was quite pretty.

Next we toured a silk embroidery factory and a silk making factory (the part I needed the icky group tour for). Both were equally impressive. I was very impressed that the embroiderers were able to reproduce paintings with no technological assistance, and though incredibly pricey, everything produced at that factory was very stunning (ok, some were tacky, but you win some you lose some. Even the silly fat pandas weren't without skill).

The silk making factory was oh-so-touristy but oh-so-awesomely-interesting. I really like learning about things I've never been able to figure out. I'd also like to know just who was the first person to look at a cocoon and go "oh hey, if we boil that down, and then pull at it in about 50 different ways, and then throw it on about 5 different looms and soak it in water it'll turn into silk!". Clever clever. Also, silk worms are pretty gross. And if you eat them, they're supposed to improve your sexual stamina.
The first photo is the assembly line in which the cocoons are boiled and then someone is able to find the end of the thread, pull it out, and attach it to a motorized spindle. The second photo is of the ever so appetizing boiled silk worms.

So that's about all I've been up to lately. I'm working on planning my trip for National Holiday now, and I'll keep you posted as things become more concrete. Right now it looks like I'm going to be camping on Lake Qinghai - all kinds of Wild West deliciousness.


P.S. ADPi - Congrats on what I hear was a most stellar recruitment! Keep me posted on the biddies and maybe I'll send you postcards.

P.P.S. Keep the emails coming, I love hearing what everyone is doing with their lives.