Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Welp See ya later

         The time is finally come and everyone that is leaving China has left except for the 5 people who work with my at Shane and must  painfully finish out our year contract unlike everyone else in the program who only had a 9 month contract. I must say that my phonebook has significantly gotten smaller and so has my social life which is both a burden and a blessing as I need to finish writing my thesis before I leave. My apartment started the month with 5 people in it and now is completely empty except for myself for the next month. 2 of my roommates have gone their separate ways with no intention of returning while the other 2 are traveling  around with the intention of returning right before the lease ends on Aug.19. As I spend my last month in China trying to embrace it, I find myself surprisingly busy doing absolutely nothing to show of it. Lets just hope and pray that I finish my thesis before I start my travels!

International Day

The other day I stumbled on a blog that I forgot to post a few months back  about international day.  At my school each year, they have international day, which is where the kids get to eat food from a different culture for lunch. This year, happened to be America. Straying away from the white rice and pork and tossing out the bowls and chopsticks, the students were presented with an assortment of “American” food as well as plates and utensils to which many did not know how to use.

Menu for the students:

Grape Juice
Toast with Jam
Mushroom soup
Egg Tarts
Chinese Hot dogs that taste nothing like Hot dogs

Menu for the Staff:

Dinner Rolls
“Fruit Salad”
Rubber tasting hamburger patties
Mushroom soup
Hot dog
Egg Tarts

I am not sure where they got the idea that this is what we eat in America, but I found it humorous.

hmm Chinese hot Dogs

Staff lunch

Pants off Dance off

In all of my classes, students are assigned a number to go along with their name,which they put on all of their assignments. I am not sure the purpose behind this as their numbers are not used in my classroom, but I am sure there is a reason why the Chinese teachers do this. A few months back a received a new student who was the 31st kid in the class so he was granted the number 31. When I asked what his name was, the teacher told me that he does not have an English name so I decided to name him Bryan. After numerous times of calling him Bryan without any responses from him, Ive realized that he  doesn't respond unless I call him "31", which makes me believe he thinks his name is 31.To confirm my theory, in his work book he was asked to write his name, so what did he write Bryan or 31? 31, of course! I can only imagine what the school teacher will think next year when there are not 31 kids in the class and he goes by a number rather than a name.

The heat has taken over Shanghai in a hurry and the students are wearing less and less clothing by the day. This past week I was surprised to see one of my students named Jackie who showed up to my class sitting in his chair with out his pants on and his legs opened wide. After unsuccessfully trying to figure out an explination for why he doesn't have pants on, I decided to make the most of the situation and provide some entertainment by getting him to dance in front of the class, to which he refuse. But, as with most guys, with the help of one of my female students, he caved in and performed part of their dance routine for their upcoming performance.

Cheap Entertainment

For the past 3 weeks I have been on my own without any set curriculum as my students have finished their assigned books of English vocabulary.  Rather than making my own flash cards and picking out the words my self, I have decided to take the easy way out and rummage through flashcards from different books that are laying around the office. Since teaching kids the same 3 words a week is very boring, I have picked words that are entertaining to teach but essential to have in your vocabulary.

The list of gems that I found

As you can imagine, these are very descriptive words and kids being kids are brutally honest.  With each word that I taught, the kids loved to point at each other and share their opinions on who best fit these characteristics. While some characteristics are nicer than others, it was entertaining to see the reactions that were gathered as students pointed at each other.

Posing as "Ugly"

Posing as  "Pretty"

Posing as "Handsome"

Funny Shorts my Students were wearing

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yellow Mountain

              With little time left to travel, my friend Rob and I decided to make a spur of the moment trip to Yellow Mountain before his work schedule changed as this would be his last weekend to travel. Having planned this trip for a holiday a while back, it was cancelled because of the bad weather. Initially, we thought that that we would be hiking this trail, but later realized that it was at a different location called Huanshan, not Huangshan, where we went. Yellow Mountain is about a 6-hour bus ride or a 12-hour train in the ahui province in China. Friday afternoon we booked tickets for the train that left later that night. Unaware of how horrible the seats were and trying to save some money, we booked seats, rather then the sleeper, figuring they would be like the normal seats for the trains we’ve traveled on, which weren’t too bad. Boarding the train, our seats were right at the entrance next to the onboard ticket counter. These seats were hard metal and sat at a 90-degree angle with 4 seats facing each other with a mini table in between. The train was filled with so many people that some didn’t even have an actual seat and had to sit in the isle. Like everywhere in China, people were smoking at the entrance, which in return made the cabin smell like smoke along with the noise of all the other passengers and made for a horrible sleeping environment. A few minutes into the trip, I realized this would be a long ride and tried to upgrade our tickets to sleepers but the guy said that it was not possible, so I took a seat and tried to take a nap. After 2 hours of uncomfortably napping, and getting woken up to people trying to buy tickets and other seatless passengers trying to share my seat, my back was stiff as a rock and aching. I had enough of these darn seats and insisted on buying a new ticket as we had 10 more hours on the train and if this is how I felt sleeping for 2 hours, I can only imagine what it would be like for 10 more. 
           Like anywhere in China, money does the talking and this time I went back up to the ticket counter and flashed the cash pointing to my phone that I wanted a sleeper bed. With money in his face, the guy understood what I was talking about this time and upgraded me and robs ticket, which was the best move of the trip. Excitedly, we got out of our seats and gave them to 2 guys that were annoying the heck of the ticket person as they kept trying to talk to him and put their crap behind the ticket counter so that they could have room to sit. All in all in was a good deal as we got sleeper beds and they got seats and the ticket guy was free of their pestering. Once inside the sleeping cabins we set up shop, unfortunately our beds were not next to each other but that was the least of our concerns. We both had top bunks, which were fine, but it did get cold as the beds were directly under the vent for the air condition.

       After a decent nights sleep, we could only imagine what it would have been like to be stuck in our old seats for the night. We hopped off the train and hopped on one of the many buses headed to Yellow Mountain.  The hour bus ride took an unusually long time to get to the mountain as it kept picking up and dropping off people on way there. Eventually we made it to Tunxi city, which is the base camp for Yellow Mountain. As people kept getting dropped off to different hotels on the way, Rob and I were the last ones on the bus. Eventfully some guy named Mr. Chen jumped on the bus speaking English told us the bus stopped here and that we can go to his restaurant that was mentioned in Lonely planet. We jumped in his car and rode down the street to his restaurant where we ate lunch. Afterwards for an overcharged fee, he dropped us off at the bottom of 9 dragons waterfall where we started our hike. In what was supposed to be a 2 ½ hour hike turned out to be much longer as ¾ of the way through, we encountered the map telling us one thing and the sign telling us another. Initially we followed the sign for about 2km before turning around and heading the other way, as the map suggested. Finally after 6 hours off the train we finally were at the East entrance of Yellow Mountain. Due to the recent landslides we were unable to hike the trail and had to take the gondola up the mountain. The gondola ride was quite interesting as it started to heavily rain and fog covered the mountain making everything disappear as we elevated.

They call this the stairway to heaven, if you fall you will go to heaven

          Once at the top of the mountain, we tried to hike a trail but soon realized this was pointless as the rain was pouring down and the viewpoints were covered with fog. We hid under this little awning but others soon followed our lead waiting out the rain. Once the rain stopped we tried to hike some trails but once again the fog took over all the scenery and we couldn’t see anything. We eventually walked around the trails but it was boring since all we saw was fog. During this time, we bumped into a creepy girl who was surprised to see Rob, who is white, and even more baffled that I was an American since I look Chinese. After about a 10-minute conversation of me yelling “Wo Shi Meigueran” I am an American, she insisted on taking pictures.

        Rather than staying at one of the hotels on the mountain, which was about $120 for 2 twin beds, we decided to camp in a tent, we set up camp with a few others right outside of the bei hai hotel on this somewhat flat surface that had a basketball court on it. We decided to splurge and go to the $25 buffet at the hotel, which turned out to be a horrible idea. While it was nice to sit inside in the warmth, the food was disgusting and tasted worse than Chinese school lunches, which are pretty bad to say the least. I left the dining hall feeling hungrier than I entered it in and my pockets were also lighter.

The Yellow Tent is our tent


        We decided to go to bed, and call it an early night as we were waking up to watch the 5:13 sunrise. Laying just on the in the tent on the hard ground with no pillows or blankets, I can confidently say ive had much better sleep, not to mention the voices of the crazy Asians yelling at the top of their lungs to hear themselves echo during the middle of the night constantly and the sounds of people trekking back and forth right outside my tent. With the amount of noise coming from people, you would never have thought it would be in the middle of the night.  The dreadful alarm clock went off and Rob and I jumped out of bed to catch the sunrise, only to see we weren’t the only ones with this idea. We hiked up to the highest peak near us only to find hundreds of people standing around taking pictures. After waiting around for about 30 minutes without any sunrise we decided to head back to our tent and get a early start since you could actually see the scenery. Sadly enough as we headed down the trail, the red sun came out for a brief moment, but at that time I was not in a good position to take pictures with crowds of people in front of me.

Rob & I

         Rob and I went on a tear, hiking through all the trails and viewpoints that we could not see the day before. Having an early start, we were able to see some of the thing before all of the tourist groups got the mountain and before others woke up. With all the fog gone, we could finally see all the beauty that the mountain had to offer and realized what the hype was. Almost as impressive as the landscape of Yellow Mountain is the fact that all the resources and materials used in the hotels and on the mountain are all brought by hand. All the food, blankets, sheets, beds, decorations are all brought by hand up the mountain. It is said that these men are able to make 2-3 trips a day, getting paid only $5 a trip. While I complained about how heavy my 20 pound bag seemed after walking up and down the endless staircases, I can only imagine what it is like for these guys who consistently are carrying these heavy bags while weaving in and out of tourists.
The guy in the front is carrying 210 ponds of rice

one of the many tour groups

         Being adventurous, Rob and I decided to take the Western Sea Trail, which was said to be one of the most beautiful trails on Yellow Mountain, which I would have to strongly agree with. Since we had plenty of time to kill with our early start, we figure this would be a good idea. This trail essentially followed the creek from the start of the mountain all the way to the bottom of it. This trail is only hiked by experienced hikers and is very strenuous as it ended up being almost 20km long weaving in and out of the mountain. Essentially this trail sends you up a peak and then back down it, which means that were thousands of steps. We followed the trail all the way to the West entrance, which was in a rural town. Having not gathered our bearings, we were just as surprised to find out where we were as the people were to see us. We were out in on the boonies almost 15 km outside of the main entrance.

              While in Shanghai, I can fake my way around acting like I know more Chinese than I do and get around fine, but, in rural China this does not work, it’s a hit or miss kind of situation and lets just say I struck out trying to speak with these people. I'll be honest, for the past few months I have slacked on learning the language and ive resorted into pointing to things rather than calling them by names, causing my Chinese to become incredibly bad. Being in the middle of no where and having a train to catch, we were in quite the predicament, get ripped off and take a  “cab” ride with one of the guys to the bus station or back track another 15 km to get to the main entrance with our legs feeling like Jello. Obviously, we bit the bullet and went with option one but only angered us more as this cab ride would have been about a 1/4 of the price at most if it were using the meter. The guy took use for a little joy ride and kept trying to swindle us of all our money.  We had to make multiple stops due to cow,chickens bulls and oxes crossing the street, which gives you an idea of how far out we were. After about a 30 minute ride, we arrived at the bus station to which the guy “offered” to take us another 10km to Tunxi, the base camp where we were dropped off at earlier for a small fee of 200rmb, to which one of the people in the bus station said in Chinese of course, are you stupid? They can just take a bus for 10rmb, which made me giggle a little bit. As we showed the guy our train ticket of where we needed to go, we created quite the scene in the bus station, as they probably have never seen a white guy in their life. 
            With the simple task of telling us which one of the four buses do we hop on to, it turned into everyone in the bus station huddling around us to look at the tickets, including the bus drivers, ticket sellers, passengers and even the janitors. With a bunch of Chinese people yapping at each other for about 10 minutes, we finally figured out where we needed to go and hopped on the bus. An hour later we arrived into the city at the bus hub, where we had to catch another bus to the train station. Thank goodness that we did not run into anymore trouble as Rob and I both started the trip with 1000rmb($150) and ended with 5rmb for him and 20 rmb for me. Although it was a bit stressful, it was a wonderful trip that added on to my experience in China.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

All aboard!!!!!

  Prior to this year in China I have not had any experience with Couch Surfing, which is a community that allows people to essentially crash on other peoples couches throughout the world. While I’ve heard of it and thought it was a cool idea, I have never actually been apart of the Couch surfing family. Thanks to my roommate Mike, who is an experienced couch surfer and a big advocate of it, I have gotten a taste of what it is like. At first, I thought it was creepy to have some random strangers stay on your couch, which it is, but I have gone out of my bubble to help others out and in return, it has been a great way to meet people and talk about each others culture and traveling experiences. Throughout the course of the year, we have had people stay on our couch from all over the globe including China, Korea, Norway, Germany, Denmark, Sweeden, and good ole America.  After setting up a couch surfing account months ago, my account went unnoticed until recently, when I received a few requests.  A few weeks ago I had my first actual Couch surfers of my own that contacted me rather than Mike. There were a group of 3 people, Mychell (Michael), Britta, and May who met at a gymnastic academy in Oslo, Norway. They have been traveling for the past 3 months and this was their last stop before flying back home. Although my initial impression of them were not too keen as I waited 30 minutes at the train station for them, they turned out to be very nice and well traveled and a joy to be around. I had another request from a guy named Matt who wanted to couch surf but due to my hectic schedule of late with trying to hang out with my classmates before they go, he was unable to stay with me, but I was able to meet him for a burger and a beer. Just like my other couch surfers, I ended up waiting 45 minutes for him to arrive. It turns out he is from the Philippians but has lived in Christ Church, New Zealand for the past 12 years. He extended an invitation to stay with him there if I was ever in the area and ironically enough in September, I will be flying into Christ Church from Kuala Lumpur, so there is a good chance I might take him up on the offer and get a local tour of the city. Even though I was hesitant at first, I have had a wonderful experience with couch surfing that has let me meet people from all over. It just shows that when you do good deeds, they will eventually be returned to you in one way or another.

Where in the World is John Gregory?!?!

       As St. Augustine Says "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page".
With each second that goes by, my time in China is coming to an end.So whats next?!? Well, one I finish my contract with the horrible Shane English,I will be taking my talents elsewhere.. where? well that part is unclear but until then I will be traveling until I figure it  out.  The  beautiful thing about htis situation is that i have no time constraints which lets met travel as much as my heart desires, or atleast until my bank account runs dry. Come 9am on August 25th, I will be boarding a plane headed to Thailand where I will meet up with one of my best friends J.D. Siler in Bangkok for a few days before we head North to Chiang Mai via overnight train. from there we will head South to the  luscious beaches of Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands for a couple more days before heading to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where J.D. Will fly out of back to the states for grad school on September 8th. I will stay another night there in Kuala Lumpur before flying out to  Christ Church,New  Zealand where I will be meeting my buddies Jackson and Merianah, who I met in Shanghai and live in Wellington. Since I will be getting in to Christ Church  late at night, I plan to to stay there for a a day or two before taking a bus and then a ferry up North to Wellington. During this time, the Rugby World Cup will be going on which will make for an exciting time as I already have tickets to go to it. Although I only have a one way ticket to New Zealand, I imagine that I will be there for about 3 weeks before heading to my next destination.With so many options of where to go from New Zealand , I currently in a prediculment of heading to Australia or going back to Kuala Lumpur to trek through South East Asia, but as Paul Theroux once said, "Tourist don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they are going". So with that I leave an empty page in the book I call life, ready to be written.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rain Rain Go Away

         Riddle me this..I have been able to successfully live in Oregon for over 17 years without owning an umbrella and been fine but have lived in Shanghai less than 1 year and own 2 umbrellas??? I guess you can say that I learned my lesson after I tried my normal approach of wearing a hooded jacket through the rain but after running to the metro station in a slight rain turned downpour I am now an advocate for umbrellas as I spent a whole day teaching in soaked pants, boxers and all. This past month has been almost as weather bipolar as Oregon. Known to have their rain season around this time of the year, I never figured it to be as bad as it actually was. After having 2 weeks of rain, we were teased with a few days of sunshine and blue skies, wait a second, let me rephrase that, Grey Skies, as there are never any blue skies in China.
        Those days of sun were short lived as the rain paid another visit and this time came back as Thunderstorms for the next 2 weeks, which reminded me of the Good ole’ Southern down pour. With thunder striking in the background, rain falling like cats and dogs, and puddles turned into lakes it made me a bit nostalgic and reminded me of those summer thunderstorms in Louisiana. The only problem with China Thunderstorms is that the irrigation system was not built to meet the needs of the floods and as the water pours onto the street, it overflows the drains and causes the sewage to also spill on the street making matters worse. Luckily for me Shanghai never had too serious of flooding as other Chinese cities, which literally were submerging cars.
      Now that the Thunderstorms are over, it is back to the wicked Shanghai Summer weather, which I first experienced 10 months ago. While the high 80s or low 90s might not sound that bad, with the addition of the humidity, it has made it a bit painful. As I write this blog, it is currently 99 degrees outside but the heat index makes it feel like it is 111. Lovely right?  With 2 more months of this heat, I’m glad my 2 best friends, the Air conditioner and Gold Bond, will be there to get me tough this.

Pictures below are from the Chinese cities Beijing and Wuhan.

Time Flies when your having fun

      This blog is posted in honor of my wonderful Sister Gabbie for her persistence and determination to get me to write another blog. Despite not having any more class work for my masters program, I have been busy as ever. Some how my time in China has evolved from slow motion into fast forward mode. Rewind 9 months ago I sat here thinking how I was going to be in china forever and how there was so many things I wanted to do and the thought of today was so far away. Little by little time has picked up and snuck from beneath me. It seems that yesterday, that one of my best friends here Patrick O’Malley, gave me a Scott Rowland inspirational speech on the Huihai pedestrian walkway overlooking cars about how he leaves in 3 months and we need to make the best time of it. Since we will never get the same opportunity as the one we have now and this is a once in a lifetime experience. With that being said, this count down has been the focus of where my time has been spent. Initially it started as months and transformed into weeks and now into days. Yes that is right, DAYS. With some of my cohort having already left, little by little people are funneling out until Late August when the last batch of people leave including myself, leaving those who want to continue to stay here another year all alone.
       As the last grains of salt leave the hourglass, I am amazed at the wonderful experience that I have had in my time spent in China. Not only have been able to get a master degree out of it but also have gone on one epic and life changing adventure making great friends along the way.