Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring Break...and other stuff

Last week I was in Beijing with some friends for our Spring Break. It was a great time! Especially because we were able break the language pledge for a few days and actually have some good conversations. That is one of the downsides of life in Harbin with the language pledge, theres a lot of really cool, interesting people but it is hard to really get to know them because we are forced to speak Chinese all the time. So it was nice to have a break from Chinese for 6 days.

Above is a picture of the Temple of Heaven. This is where the Chinese Emperor would annually come to make sacrifices for good harvests. The Temple of Heaven is also a beautiful park and the day we went was a perfect day. It was nice to get away from the Harbin cold and have some nice warm weather for a change.

This picuture above is Ronnie and I in what I think is "Center of the Universe." Everyone around was crowded tightly around this spot and you had to be quick to get on, have a friend take a picture and then get off. And speaking of Ronnie, she has been one of the cool people I have met here. She is actually Korean who goes to college in Boston. But she came to the states on her own for her junior and senior year of high school. I could not imagine living on my own in another country when I was just 16. So she is pretty hardcore.

The coolest thing we did was hike a remote section of the Great Wall. We were not really sure how to get there, my travel book just said to get off on this certain bus stop and then take a taxi the rest of the way. So when we got off, there was this guy above waiting for us who said he would take us to the start of the Great Wall, and then pick us up about 3 hours later at the end of it and take us back to Beijing. We haggled for a little bit and eventually got it down to something like $15-$20 a person, something like that. He was very interesting and we had a good time talking with him on the way to the Wall.

Here are some pictures of the wall. It was really incredible. It was a beautiful day, harldy anyone else around and amazing scenery. The two other girls above are Cat, the tall blonde, and Charlene the Chinese-American. Charlene's parents are from Taiwan and she still has family there. Her Chinese is also pretty incredible, a lot of people are fooled into thinking she is a native speaker. Im envious. Cat is from Texas and attends to attract a lot of attention from Chinese on-lookers. They probably dont see 6 ft. blondes walking the streets of China very often. The other
guy on the trip, Kyle, did not make it to the wall because we suspect he ate something that did not sit well with his stomach. So, unfortunately he took the day to rest back in Beijing. He was missed.

These last two pictures are Tiananmen Square. I had to convince Charlene and Ronnie we should stay for a few minutes to watch the lowering of the Chinese Flag ceremony. They reluctantly agreed and what I thought would only be a few minutes turned out to be about an hour...haha, I felt bad. The flag ceremony was actually not very exciting but I did see someone get arrested on the square for who knows what and get carted away in a police van.

So that was some of the highlights of Spring Break. I only have about 5 more weeks in China until I head back to the States. Right now Im looking for a job to come back to China starting in August. Most likely I will be an RA at the current university I am in in Harbin or teaching English in a small town in Sichuan province at a public university. The RA job is my first choice because it would allow me to continue taking my current classes and I think my Chinese would improve the most with that job. But I wont know for a few more weeks whether or not I get the job. I have pretty much already received the teaching english job. They mailed me the contract to sign a few days ago and I just need to stall a little bit until I hear about the RA job. Both jobs have their plusses and minuses so whichever one I do, I will be excited.

Lastly, I wanted to tell a quick story about what happened last weekend. It is probably the weirdest event that I have experienced in China. Last weekend, about 6 of us went out to a movie and dinner and were heading back to campus at about 8 o'clock. Cat, one of the girls from the pictures above, and I were walking ahead of the other just chatting on our way back to campus. All of a sudden, we heard one of the Chinese roommates exclaim, hey, hey na chu lai le, na chu la le!!! (this means something like hey, hey, taken out, taken out....not sure how to properly translate). Surprised we both turned around and there was this Chinese guy (actually a guy from Xinjiang province, so he looks more central Asian than Chinese). He had Cat's wallet in his hand but politely handed it back to her and said, "oh, bu hao yisi" (which is bascially Im sorry, but literally "im so embarrased.") Then he just turned and quickly left. I was just stunned. This guy just picked her pocket, was found out and had to say "oh, my bad" here's your wallet. But really what else is there to say for him. It was pretty crazy.

(also, as a side note, I have looked over some of my recent posts and noticed a lot of grammatical errors. From now on I will proofread these things before I post them. If people are going to read this I should at least spell everything correctly. Anyway, just wanted to let you know.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Random thoughts on the last few months

I havent written a blog in quite some time. Unfortunately, I seem to start a lot of my blogs this way, need to be more consistent with keeping up with this. I will just write some random thoughts and things that I have been up to lately.

One interesting introduction to Chinese contemporary culture has been using social networking sites and online instant messaging to communicate with friends that I have made since being here. The facebook in China is called Xiao Nei, or Campus. It is basically an exact copy of facebook. One interesting feature that Xiao Nei that facebook does not is a place where it tells you everyone who has recently viewed your page. So if you are just casually looking at peoples pages, you know that person will know about it. And you also know everyone who recently sees your page, it is kind of weird.

Also, a lot of random people add me as a friend. I dont know if this is a normal thing in China or just because I am a foreigner people decide to add me. And the things they will write to me are also pretty interesting. The weirdest thing is random strange guys greeting me on Xiao Nei and commenting on how handsome I am. This is especially true of my travel pictures that i posted. People will just comment on how attractive I am. Kind of strange. I guess it is just a cultural difference or I have recently become a lot more attractive, who knows?

Another interesting thing is the pictures that Chinese people post, especially girls. A lot of them put up these professional pictures taken in what seems to be photo studios. And some of the poses are just interesting. My favorite was this girl who was posing in this leopard skin theme background with a matching dress staring at you seductively. Very bizarre.

In addition to Xiao Nei, I started using this instant messaging called QQ. When I was traveling every person I met would ask me what my QQ number is. Because everyone asked me this question I had to check it out. It is basically just MSN but a little different. After I got my number, I told people I had met traveling to add me. So my friends started adding me but I soon encountered a problem. For one, for some reason a lot of Chinese people do not use their real name, they use some sort of nickname. So complete strangers would add me and then my friends would add me and would not know who was who. My plan was to just figure out who was who in course of conversing with people, which was not a very good plan. One emabarrasing moment was when I told my teacher to add me one day but then completely forgot I told her. A week later I told her again oh, you should add me. She looked at me like I was crazy because she said we had already had two conversations online! But I had no idea it was her...hehe. It was pretty embarrasing.

Anyway, besides all that things have been going pretty well. My chinese has improved quite a lot but it is still frustrating. Right now I now enough words to be able to communicate most anything I need to get across. But the hard part is getting the correct grammar and pronunciation. So that is still a struggle. One of my teachers today was telling me I need to improve my pronunciation, but Im not really sure how to do that other than just practice speaking a lot. Its not like you can memorize how to pronunciate words. I think the best way is to just spend as much time as I can speaking and listening to Chinese.

This semester is going by really fast, its already half way over. Next week we have our midterm exams and after that we have a week off. I dont have any exciting plans and I have already been to all the close cities around Harbin. So I am going to go with some students to Beijing and hang out there for a few days and then come back to Harbin a little bit early.

I have also been think a lot about next year. I really want to come back to China and continue studying. I have applied for a job at the school I am currently studying at where I would assist the American students who come to Harbin adjust to life in China. This job sounds pretty laid back and the main reason they need another American to help is to assist in case of some sort of emergency that could arise and act as a bridge for the Chinese staff. But the best part of this job is that it provides free full time study at the university. So I could continue the classes I am currently taking while also getting paid. It sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I have an interview sometime in April so I hope it all works out, we will see.

The only downside of this job is having to live in Harbin again for another year. It would be nice to be able to live in another city in China, preferably one maybe a little more warmer. For some odd reason, I keep getting stuck in all the cold places of the world. Living in Alaska, Pullman WA and now Harbin, China. Its very strange.

As a back up, I have also started applying for English teaching jobs. My ideal choices would be Chengdu, Qingdao, Beijing and Dalian. These have been some of my favorite cities to visit so far in China. I have not really known how best to go about getting this kind of job. I have given my resume to a couple American hiring agencies who have partnerships in China as well as directly applying to Chinese colleges. So far, I have not had any success and only a few unpromising replies. But I hear it is still early in the hiring season so hopefully something good will come along.

Anyway, thats about what I have been up to for the first half of the semester. I have a feeling this second half will go rather fast and before I know it I will back in good ole alaska.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Beijing...Mao and the Forbidden City

Today was one of the most frustrating travel days that I've had in China. It all started with going down to Tiananmen Square to check out the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. I knew they closed at noon so I got up a little earlier than usual and actually made it down there by 9:30 am. By this time, however, there was already probably a hundred or more people lined up to get inside. I got in line and began to wait. Then this security guard came up and started pointing at me saying, "nobeg, nobeg!"

"What?" I replied.
"Nobeg, nobeg...go, go!!" he kept saying pointing off into the distance.

I finally realized he was telling me I had to store my bag in a storage place just off the square (at a 9 yuan fee, by the way). So I got out of my place in line and walked all the way off the square to store my bag. I then got into that line and began to wait. For those of you who have not been to China, Chinese people do not know how to properly stand in line. Apparently, it just is not part of their culture, how that is escapes me. Even though there are 15 people waiting in this line, people try to just cut to the front and store their bag while the attendants yell at them to go back and get in line. And if you are not aggressive in maintaining your place in line, the person behind you will just simply cut right ahead of you. So it causes all kinds of pushing and having to be extremely close to the person in front of you to keep all the others at bay. It is really ridiculous

(On a side note, it is the same in basically every place where lines form. Buying train tickets, at the metro, even at Mcdonalds, people will always just push their way to the front no matter how many people are waiting in front of them. It really makes me wonder what is going on in their minds. The stupidest of all is getting on and off the metro. Common sense would lead you to wait 2 seconds for people to get off the subway and then for you to get on. But Chinese people, as soon as the train comes, just start pushing their way in as the people getting off are pushing their way off. So you have this equal mass of forces pushing in opposite directions. What are these people thinking?)

Anyway, after the side trip to store my bag (not allowed to have any bags or cameras inside Chairman Mao Hall for whatever reason) I then walked all the back to stand in line. And there was still a ton of people waiting and everyone resorting to being the first one in. Im standing there waiting and there are all these little old ladies who, if you just blink or leave a centimeter of space between the person in front of you, will swipe your place in line. And people are just pushing each other and elbowing for position. It is truly incredible.

Finally after making it inside, it was amazing how the mood changes from pushing and shoving outside, to complete quiet and reverance inside. The first hall is a statue of Mao surrounded by all kinds of plants. They have 3 yuan flowers for sale that the vast majority of the people buy to lay on the ground, and as the people come in, they are completely silent, face full of gratitude, lay their flower down, clasp their hands and bow a few times to Chairman Mao. I walked a little way up and was just watching the throngs of people come in and all pay their respects to the late chairman. It was more quiet and referential than all the buddhist and taoist temples that I had visited.

Apparently, I was lingering too long and one of the white gloved security guards told me to keep a move on. These guards were all pretty intense. If anyone made a sound, they were quick to tell them to stop talking. They were also very particular and stern about getting people in and out. You were not allowed to stand around at all.

The next room was supposed to be Mao's body but it definitely looked fake to me. I dont know what an embalmed body should look like, but Mao's definitely looked like it was made of wax. He was lying there in his casket with his face glowing a strange, eerie orange color. Again the guards made sure everyone kept coming in and out. And of course, no talking.

The best part of this was simply observing the Chinese people. It was amazing how much respect and awe they all still felt for the late chairman. Even though he has been dead for over 30 years and most of his policies have been obviously abandoned, there is a big soft spot in the Chinese heart for Mao.

Next I went to the Forbidden City. What was cool about this place was just how big it was. You could easily spend a whole day walking the grounds and visiting all the former residences and office buildings of previous Chinese Emperors. The only downside was despite the fact that it was so large, the coolest things to see are actually quite small. For example, there are various thrones of the emperor, each with a different function (this throne he did his official business, this throne he listened to opera, this throne he studied, this throne he accepted tribute, this throne he played his video games, etc). So the little viewing area would be jammed packed with Chinese people, all shoving their way to the front to get a good look as well as a take a picture. And for the vast majority of them, the concept of waiting for the people in front of them to leave and then fill in their spot escapes them. Instead, its a shove contest to get the front. I also wanted to get some good looks at this stuff, but after awhile it just is not worth practically fighting with old Chinese people to get to where you want to go. Luckily Im a little on the tall side here for so I rarely have obscured views.

Besides just the vastness of the place and the cool architecture, the coolest exhibition I saw was the antique clock room. This room had on display hundreds of clocks that had been either been manufactured in China during the last several hundred years or had been giving to the Emperor by foreign dignataries such as England, France, Japan, Switzerland, etc. They had quite an eclectic collection. From huge water powered clocks to small tiny pocket watches, anything you can imagine was pretty much there. I was also lucky enough to be in the exhibition hall right before they were going to do a demonstration of some select clocks. They would wind up these clocks and then all the bells and whistles would go off on it. Hard to explain but definitley worth it to see.

Well, Im about nearing the end of my two month vacation. It two more days I am meeting up with the rest of my American classmates to begin the new semester in Harbin. This break has not only been a lot of fun but I feel like my Chinese has improved quite a lot as well. In Harbin, I did not use my Chinese very much outside of people I was very comfortable with such as my teachers and roommates. Traveling, though I have had to use it everyday with people from different parts of the country. I have also made an effort, especially in the last few weeks to just sit and talk with Chinese people. So Im hoping that this upcoming semester I will make even more progress than the previous one. I am definitely going to study and use my Chinese a lot more than I did previously. I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Chinese New Year and Xi'An

The week of Chinese New Year for me was not the most exciting week in the world. I did not realize that all the small shops, including restaraunts, all close for about 7 days. The only places to eat were the more expensive places, street food and, of course, McDonalds. I wish I could have spent the day with a real family because it is really a family holiday. Everyone in the entire country goes back to their homes and spend time with the family. They eat special dinners together, play mah-jiang, visit other friends and relatives, launch fireworks and watch this special television program on CCTV1. All the children receive what are called hong bao, or red envelopes. These are simply fancy red envelopes that are filled with money. Gift giving is a little easier in China than in the US. From what I have heard, you rarely buy someone something you think they want. All you have to do is give the kids a wad of dough and forget about it. Actually doesnt sound like a bad idea.

On New Years Eve everyone watches the special New Years Eve tv program on CCTV1. I watched a little bit of it and it was very interesting. All kinds of Chinese celebreties are on it, singing songs and things like that. They have all the famous Chinese musicians as well. The show also has SNL type comedy sketches, artistic dances, etc. Its quite the show.

Another thing the Chinese are crazy about is fireworks. When I was walking around on the evening of New Years Eve, it was like a war zone. Fireworks everywhere, from big explosions way in the distance to local people in alleys shooting off all kinds of different ones. The explosions also triggered all kinds of car alarms to go off to add to the noise. One thing about China is that they have entirely different views of safety standards. Walking back to my hostel, there were these two little kids just chucking fireworks into alleys where all kinds of people are walking and exploding right next to them, I could not believe it. Then when I got back to the hostel, the staff were shooting off fireworks in the lobby right next to my room! This whole building was made of wood and there is smoke and sparks flying everywhere, it was pretty crazy.

That about sums up my Chinese New Years experience. After I left Chengdu I headed to north Xi'An, one of the ancient capitals of China. Two of the coolest things I have done here are see the teraccota warriors and the biking along the original city walls. For those of you who may not know, the Terracotta warriors are clay replicas of the army of the first emperor of a unified China, some 200o years ago. He expected to rule in death as he did in life and decided he needed some clay life size figurines to take with him to his grave. Amazingly, these statues were not uncovered until the 1970's and have been on display ever since. Its one of those things that you have to see in China and I have to admit it was pretty cool. This emperor had thousands of these warriors created and no two are alike. But when I really think about it, all it is is some pscyopathic emperor thinking he is going to need an army of clay soldiers to help him fight some sort of battle in the afterlife. When you think about it that way it is sounds a little crazy.

The other cool thing I did was bike along the original city walls of Xi'An. These walls are some 500 years old and have protected the city from outside invaders, with varying success, many times. The width of the walls was at least 20 ft. or so leavin tons of room to ride a bike and take a better look at the city. It took me a little over an hour to complete it and it was incredible. Its similar to how I felt on the Great Wall. Being on something so old and that at one time was really important is pretty cool. The only downside was that it was freezing cold and really foggy, so the view was not the best in the world. But I still had a good time.

Anyway, Im heading to Beijing tomorrow and will stay there until I meet up with my program on February 11th. Staying in Beijing for about 4 days will give me a chance to see the things that I missed the last time I was there like the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Mao's embalmed corpse. Im looking forward to it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back in Chengdu

I just got back to Chendgu and will be hanging out here for a few days I think. My last couple days in Guilin were a lot of fun. I got to meet some really interesting people and feel like my Chinese was able to improve a lot just from the week I spent there by myself. One benefit of being a foreigner in China is I do not have to worry about offending people or asking too personal of questions. I just ask them anything I want and Chinese people do not seem to mind. There are so many stories I could tell right now. Like about one of the Chinese guys living in my hostel who was in Guilin interviewing for a job at Pepsi and really needed the job so he could convince his girlfriend that he was reliable so she would be willing to marry him, or the 4 girls from Nanning who wanted me to come visit their hometown because they have the best food in china. But the most interesting person I met was a girl who works in the city of Shenzhen.

First I should say a little about the city of Shenzhen. It is located in the south east of China and is right across the water from the island of Hong Kong. Today Shenzhen is one of the most developed and prosperous cities in China but that was not the case just 30 years ago. Before, it was simply a poor fishing village when it won the lottery of the century by being selected as the first Special Economic Zone as part of the Reforms of 1979. Deng Xiaoping, the leader of China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, wanted to introduce market economic reforms in China but wanted to experiment in a few cities first before bringing the reforms to the country at large. Shenzhen proved a tremendous success and today attracts a lot of professionals from China.

So, this is where my friend worked. She actually spoke English quite well (definitely better than my Chinese). What was so interesting about her was the fact that she had such an independent and open mind. She was a Christian and talked about how her faith in Christ gave her a better sense of morality to treat other people better. She said that a lot of people in China will not think twice about cheating you if it will benefit them. She thought that Chinese people could learn from the example of Christ to treat people as you would yourself. She even had many negative things to say about the government, and how they constantly lie to the people rather than tell them the truth. She was the first Chinese person I had met who actually held these kind of views. Most others either did not think this is the case or simply have no opinions whatsoever.

But the most interesting part of talking to her over a few days was her thoughts on America and Taiwan. She greatly despised American foreign policy in the world and saw the country as looking down on everyone else. When I asked for some examples, she pointed to our immigration policy and how it is very difficult, time consuming, and expensive for Chinese people to live or visit the US. She said we think we are just so good that we want to keep everyone else out. Later, she went on to say that with China becoming stronger and stronger they might just do the same thing to Americans and keep all of us out.

It was pretty crazy how our conversation turned so quickly from a lively one to a fairly antagonistic one. It then got worse when she brought up the question of Taiwan. She wanted to know why America wants to divide the Chinese people by selling sophisticated weapons to Taiwan. In her mind, America is trying to control China by using Taiwan. When I told her that the US does not support Taiwan independence and hopes to eventually have a peaceful reunification, she did not seemed too convinced. She then made a very interesting point by referring to how Hong Kong was re-integrated with the mainland in 1997. At that time, there were a lot of fears that Mainland China would restrict the relative freedom that Hong Kong enjoyed under nominal British rule for so long. But China agreed to allow Hong Kong to have their own independent press as well as local government and enjoy relative autonomy for the next 50 years. This policy, from my understanding, seems to be fairly succsessful. My friend said that this proves that Taiwan should be reintegrated by the same kind of policy. It also shows that China really does not have bad intentions, but just wants a united country.

Granted, we obviously do not see completely eye to eye on this issue but it was very interesting hearing what she had to say. I try to do my best to avoid political discussions because it usually does not lead to anywhere constructive and a lot of times becomes a bit testy. But I really enjoyed getting to know this lady over the last few days I was in Guilin.

Today is the Chinese New Years Eve and I do not have any plans as of now. I think I am going to go to a local bar and watch the New Year festivites on tv. Apparently, everyone from around the country will be watching so I am curious what it is all about. I have been traveling now for over a month and still have about 3 weeks left before I have to head back to Harbin. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity where I can just travel anywhere in China that I feel like. In fact, I think on this trip, I will have seen more of China that most Chinese. Im pretty lucky.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Still In Guilin

Right now I am in Guilin waiting on a train back to Chengdu. I have decided to take it pretty easy for the next three weeks before I head back to Beijing for the start of the new semester. I leave for Chengdu in a few days and then plan on going to Xi'An, Tianjin and then finally Beijing. In Beijing I am meeting up with the other Americans in my language program for the upcoming semester and then we will all take a train over to Harbin.

My traveling companion, Andrew, left Guilin a few days ago to go to Hainan where he will spend the Chinese New Year. I decided not to go because it sounded like it would be a expensive and I also wanted to travel on my own for a change. Now my goal is to spend my days studying Chinese and talking to people I come across in my hostel and throughout the cities that I visit.

For example, today has been a good day so far. I woke up late, took a long hot shower, ordered a western breakfast the hostel and hung out in the lobby for awhile reading my Chinese book. I had planned on taking a walk along the Li River in the afternoon but two Chinese students from Shanghai were also hanging out in the lobby. They came and sat with me and we spent the next several hours talking, mostly Chinese but they also spoke some English as well. These girls were very interesting, they are both currently studying French and want to travel there with their school in two years. But they told me they have to be selected to go and the selections are based on how good their French is in two years. So if they study and work hard they will have a chance to go abroad, if not, they wont.

Im going to walk around the city square this evening and eat some Guilin rice noodles at this really cheap place that I found. Some locals also told me about a local bar that is popular for young people so tonight I plan on checking that out. One of the cool things about being a foreigner in China and having an OK grasp of the language is that it is not too hard to meet other Chinese people. If you can speak a little Chinese they really want to talk to you and are really excited. Im already pretty good and the general first encounter conversation with Chinese people (like where I am from, whats my major, why I am in China) etc., and working on having more in depth conversations. That is still a work in progress but will improve with time and hard work.

Im getting hungry so Im going to grab some of those noodles I mentioned. Thanks for all of you who read this thing, especially you who leave me some comments. I really appreciate it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

In Guilin

Right now I am in the city of Yangshuo in Guangxi province. This city is amazingly beautiful and one of the best places I have been to so far in China. The city is very flat but has these large, steep mountains popping up all over the place. They come out of nowhere and are really hard to explain. When I get back to Harbin and settled in I will start putting my photos onto here for everyone to see. The view is really breathtaking, definitely the most beautitful city in China that I have ever seen.

I will give a recap of what I have been up to since I was in Wuhan a few weeks ago. My companion, Andrew, and I took a train from Wuhan to Shanghai a few days before New Years and spent about 4 nights there. Shanghai is an incredible city. It is developing new skyscrapers everyday and as you walk around you cannot help but keep staring up at the sky. But for some reason I was not too keen on Shanghai. Shanghai has a lot of foreigners and does not feel like China. It is also does not feel like it has a whole lot of culture. And it is a lot more expensive than "real China" so I was pretty happy to get going from Shanghai.

We spent New Years there and it was also a little disappointing. Chinese people dont really celebrate real New Years at all, they have Chinese New Years or the Spring Festival that is coming up at the end of the month. It is based on the lunar calendar and so is on a different day every year. Anyway, we went down to the Bund, which is a popular place along the Huangpu River, that houses a lot of European architecture. It also across the way from the Pudong area where the tallest skyscraper in China and second tallest in the world is located. Anyway, there were thousands of people congregated down there around midnight and I was expecting a pretty spectacular fire work display, seeing as it is one of the biggest cities in the world. But the when the clock struck 12, they began a pretty pathetic show. It reminded me of the displays we would do in AK out in the woods during New Years eve, not the stuff of a major international city. Afterwards we went to McDonalds and pretty much called it a night.

After a few days in Shanghai we got on a train to Nanjing, which only took about 2 hours. In Nanjing our main goal was to relax for awhile and not spend money. We found a hostel that had dorm beds starting at 30 yuan a night, pretty cheap and for the first two days just hung out at the hostel in the day, eat cheap jiaozi for lunch and dinner, and maybe go to starbucks in evening, come back to the hostel and watch a movie and then go to bed. I felt we had just been going and going so much it was nice to relax for awhile.

In Nanjing we also hung out with two of the hostel workers a few nights which was a lot of fun. One of the girls could speak English incredibly well so it was cool to have some lucid conversations for change with Chinese people. We toured some of the lakes as well as old city walls from the Ming dynasty and also checked out some of the muesums. The most impactful one was the Rape of Nanjing musuem. It chronicled Japan's occupation of Nanjing from 1937 to 1945 when an estimated 300,000 people were slaughtered by the Japanese. Some of the worst atrocities of WWII were commited in Nanjing but do not get a whole lot of attention for some reason. A lot of historians refer to it as the forgotten holocaust. The pictures and images from that museum were incredibly disturbing and it really got you thinking how massacres like this can possibly happen.

After Nanjing, we took a 24 hour train to the city of Guilin in Guangxi province. The train ride was not as bad as I was expecting it to be. We had a hard sleeper where you have these little room like holes where three beds are stacked on top of each other on both sides. I was concerned that it was going to be an awful trip but Andrew and I slept for about half the way and the rest of our time was taken up by eating, talking, reading and looking at the scenery. So it was not so bad. As soon as we got into Guilin we hopped on a bus to Yangshuo and that is where we currently are. On the bus, we were also lucky enough to meet two other Chinese travelers and we hung out with them in Yanghsuo on our first day. We rented some bikes and ride about 8 km down to whats called Yueliang Shan, or Moon Mountain, and had a fantastic dinner of hot doufu, this pork and vegetable dish called huiguorou, and the Yangshuo speciality pijiu yu, or beer fish. It was one of the best meals I had had in a long time and it was relatively cheap.

I have also discovered our travels are a lot more fun when we make some Chinese friends to hang out with. The ones we met in Yangshuo were also good because they could not speak any english so we had to use Chinese the whole time. So it is good to continue practicing and improving your Chinese. Life is also a little easier with other Chinese people because people dont try to cheat them as much as all the foreigners. For example, we were in this chinese painting store where they had these scenic drawings on Chinese scrolls. I was not seriously thinking about buying some but I asked how much and the guy told me 80 yuan. I knew this was way to expensive so I said how about 30 yuan and after a few minutes he actually met my price. 30 yuan is less than 5 US dollars, not very much money at all, but my Chinese friend said I should pay no more than 15 yuan, about 2 dollars. And later I actually saw him offer roughly this price to other Chinese tourists. But I would not be surprised if other foreigners are paying incredibly high prices for stuff Chinese people are paying pennies for.

This morning we slept in and later rented bikes again and toured the countryside a little bit as well as hiked up a mountain. Yangshuo is quite the tourist town and everywhere you go people are trying to sell you some kind of trincket or touristy item. It reminds me a lot of being in Mexico this summer, I dont really like it. I think we will spend a few days here and then head back to Guilin for a few days and after that I am not sure where I will go . Andrew is planning on going to Hainan, apparently the Hawaii of China but I think I will either go to Yunnan or perhaps Chengdu again. Not sure at the moment. The Spring Festival is coming up and I have heard things get pretty crazy in China during that time, especially hotels and trains. So I really just want to settle down some place and not have to deal with the craziness.