Team Macau

Composed July 8-15, 2016

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It was sad to say goodbye to Hong Kong but I was depressed to leave Macau for the last time. I have really come to enjoy the city of Macau. It’s called the Las Vegas of the East and duly so because the main industry in Macau is the casinos. And many of my coworkers assumed that when I went to Macau I was going there to gamble but actually there is so much more to the city and other things to see and enjoy in Macau besides gambling. The casinos aren’t as flashy as the ones in Las Vegas and they aren’t as diversified either. There is not as many entertainment options in Macau as there are in Vegas. However the casinos are still interesting to go and see. What I love about Macau is the mixture of Latin and Chinese culture. You walk around Macau and you can still see all these old colonial buildings in the Spanish/Portuguese style. Hong Kong has knocked down most of their old and colonial buildings to make way for new industries, skyscrapers and high rises. But Macau, the tiny island that it is, has kept their heritage. I love walking around the old streets in Macau. There are little Catholic churches dotted around the city that look straight out of Latin America. These different flavors all come together in Macau and in conjunction with a culture that has been influenced by the West like Hong Kong but is more causal and laid back, Macau is although maybe not as touristy as Hong Kong but has a much more enjoyable atmosphere than Hong Kong.

 

Hillary and I went to Macau on June 25 to visit Elmo. We met up with her at the Venetian casino which I have since learned was at one time and possibly still is the 2nd largest building in the world. I totally believe that because while we were there we decided to try to find the front door. We met up at the back door and it took quite a bit of wandering and sign watching in order to find our way to the front. We had to wind our way through the shopping mall that is in the middle of the casino and find a passage that would lead us to a different part of the hotel to finally make it to the main lobby and the front door. It was totally worth it though. The front façade of the Venetian looks exactly like a picture of Venice. It’s amazing. When you sand there on the bridge over the “canal” looking at the huge building you do not have a hard time imagining that you are standing on a street of the real city of Venice.

 

After the Venetian we explored the area of Taipa. We stopped at a small place serving Italian gelatos and got a chance to cool off. The sun was very intense that day. Not a cloud in the sky! Then we visited a souvenir shop with unique and artsy Macau themed merchandise. When we got hungry we stopped at a hole in the wall diner for a snack. The diner had no seating just little benches you could sit on while waiting for your food. Take out only. You would laugh at the benches in China, their width is less than half of what it is in America. They are more like planks, really. You can’t sit on them comfortably for long at all. Once we had placated our tummies we spent some time in a nearby bookshop browsing the selection and of course I couldn’t stop myself from buying a couple of books. All 3 of us are avid book lovers so visiting a bookshop is a perfect way to get out of the heat and enjoy our time. We started to get hungry again so we popped into an Irish Coffee Shop to get drinks and a snack again. We sat there for 2 hours just chatting a passing the time. Finally, we ended the day at the Galaxy Casino.

 

At the Galaxy we watched the sequel to Now You See Me. This movie was partially filmed on location in Macau. This big blockbuster, Hollywood film was actually filmed in Macau and they got some great shots of the city too. The film doesn’t really capture the Portuguese flavor of Macau at all but it does a decent job with the Casinos and the Chinese culture. It was kind of surreal watching this movie about Macau in Macau. As we took the free shuttle bus back to the border that night we crossed a bridge which gives the exact same night view of the city that is shown in the movie with the casinos all lit up on the main island.

It’s not unusual for Hong Kong to be used as a location in Hollywood films. Hong Kong is sort of the gate to and symbol of the Far East anyways. Anytime you want an exotic, Asian location, Hollywood goes to Hong Kong and usually the atmosphere given Hong Kong in the movies isn’t really how you feel when you are there anyways. But Macau never gets any screen time. I never even heard of Macau until university and that is only because I had a professor who used to live there. It’s is sort of Hong Kong’s little, less well known sister. But Macau has its own merits and far my part I am glad it has made it onto the Hollywood stage.

Visits to Local Places

Composed June 5-11, 2016

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On Sunday Jessica invited us to join her on a visit to a farm. Apparently, this farm visit was a group activity organized by a family in her daughter’s first grade class. Although the weather was warm and steamy due to recent rainfall, the visit was definitely interesting. The group activity was organized for the kids to experience a farm but it was fun for the adults to see too. This farm was different from typical farms in the States because the farm doesn’t specialize in just one crop. We saw many different crops growing on this farm and we were told that they change by season as well. One of the crops growing at this time was sunflowers. A huge field of sunflowers opened up before us, their heads waving in the slight breeze. Dotted amongst the field of flowers were wooden windmills which churned slowly. Altogether with the small mountains in the background the farm was quite picturesque. The farm grew crops inside large greenhouses as well. The interesting innovation in these greenhouses was their use of covered walkways to grow food. In fact the upper supports of the covered walkway were a garden for pumpkins, melons and other squash. These fruits were hanging down from the overhead covering. It was fascinating. It was like walking through a melon forest! Outside of the greenhouses, it was interesting seeing the traditional irrigation systems in use. From my impression in the States we mostly use the sprinklers or some other sort of mechanized system to water the crops but here they use the tracks of water throughout the crops. This makes sense because there are water sources readily available.

As part of our tour through the farm, the kids got to play some team games. During that time Hillary and I just relaxed. Then we went to the farm restaurant to eat a lunch. It was here that we saw just how many people were out visiting the farm. There were several groups besides our own having an outing. Apparently, according to Jessica this day was actually not very crowded. I guess they usually have even more people here. Although it seems strange to me to have an outing to a farm it makes sense for these people who spend all their time living in high rise apartments in urban centers. They rarely see how and where their food is grown. It’s an adventure for them to explore a farm. Whereas for me, I can go to the Allen County 4-H fair every year if I like. And I grew up in suburb adjacent to many corn and soybean farms. It’s normal scenery for me.

After lunch we trekked back out the crops to pick some beans. We walked out to the bean patch through some muddy pathways. The beans were growing on vertical supports. We were allowed to pick 2 kilos worth. I have no idea how much 2 kilos is so I just picked a few. While we were all pretending to be farmers, the heavens opened and it started pouring on us. We all ran out of the beans and back through the muddy path which was quickly becoming muddier by the minute to find some shelter in a nearby gazebo. The rain effectively ended our tour of the farm. We waited for about an hour for the rain the let up so we could leave.

It’s been raining every afternoon for the past week. The mornings always begin bright and hot but the storm clouds roll in around noon. On Thursday Hillary and I got caught out in the rain again. We were at the huge market in Zhongshan trying to find some good Chinese teapots to take home. This huge market sells everything under the sun. I came to this market one time last year with Will. This year it wasn’t so overwhelming and I was able to buy some things that I wanted such as a Chinese tea pot. I bought a pot with a picture of an old style Chinese ship and some script which wishes you well on your journey. I feel like that is appropriate since China has been such a journey and adventure for me and I plan to have more in the future. I love walking through the stalls in this huge outdoor market. The stalls are so closely packed together with their wares spilling out all over the place. It’s fun picking your way around the market, peering at what these people are selling for their livelihoods. The market is split into different sections. There is a food section, a household and miscellaneous section, a household plant section, a small antique section and a clothing section. When it started to rain heavily all the people running the stalls ran to throw their tarps over everything to keep it all dry. Luckily by the time is started raining we had found a shop with some tea sets we really liked, we just needed to finished our purchases.

Before the market we went to a kids play zone where Jessica and Cynthia’s daughter had some coupons. We all, adults included, got to play a game where we simulated being firefighters. We got to drive this “firetruck” around and use our hoses to spray different “buildings” with water to put out the “fires.” It was surprising quite fun. Sometimes I miss being a kid and having these innocent pleasures.

I have one month left in beautiful Zhongshan. This, my little corner of China, has really become a second home to me. It won’t be easy to leave.

If you want to hear more about Chinese hospitals…

I just realized that although my previous post what about my first visit to the hospital I have never written about my first experience of a Chinese hospital which was way more interesting than my own visit.

In the middle of January, Hillary and I one day went to the walking street to do some shopping. While there Hillary slid on some steps and fell, injuring her back. When it looked like the pain wasn’t going to subside anytime soon we made the decision to see a doctor. We contacted my supervisor so that he could help us navigate the hospital.

When we arrived we had no idea what to do, so we found some chairs to sit on and waited for my supervisor, Joe. When he showed up, we didn’t even check in at any sort of counter, Joe took us straight up to the 10th floor to see a doctor. This is where things started to get a bit bizarre.

We arrive at the 10th floor and stop at a nurses’ station. The nurses have Hillary lie down on a very narrow gurney and wait for the doctor in the middle of a hospital floor hallway. Eventually the doctor comes to examine Hillary. They don’t move into a room of any sort. He just examines her in the middle of the hallway. During this examination in which I am hanging back since I can’t be useful as a translator, I see this man come up with a bandaged and bloodied arm. Blood is oozing out of his bandages. He brings a piece of paper with him and starts talking to the doctor totally ignoring the fact that he is interrupting the doctor’s examination of Hillary. And the doctor doesn’t seem to mind either and no one is doing anything about the blood that could start dripping at any moment. Eventually this intrusive man leaves and the doctor gets back to Hillary.

The doctor directs us to take Hillary to get some x-rays. At this point I assumed the nurses would take over from here and conduct Hillary to the x-Ray room. But this was not so. We had to wheel Hillary on the hospital gurney back down to the first floor where the x-Ray room was. We had to help her get onto the table. At least there was a technician there to take the x-Rays. We had to go get the results of the x-Ray, which were printed as two wallet sized photos on a sheet of copy paper and then wheel Hillary back up to the 10th floor so that the doctor could continue his examination of her out in the middle of the hallway.

The whole thing was very surreal to me. There we were doing the jobs of the nurse, wheeling our friend around from point A to point B on a gurney. We started to take photos of ourselves with gurney in the elevator and in the hallway waiting to take the x-Ray. Besides the man with a bloody arm I saw another bizarre thing at the hospital. As we were pushing Hillary around I saw another man, a medical worker of some sort, pushing an occupied wheelchair in front with one hand and with the other pulling an occupied gurney behind him. After seeing and experiencing all this I now know why health care in China is so cheap. You certainly aren’t paying for quality service!

A Trip to the Hospital and a Trip to Hong Kong

Last week, I came down with a severe cough. My sickness caused my ears to feel with fluid and for the last week my hearing has been muffled. On Wednesday, I decided it was time to see a doctor. Visiting a Chinese doctor is nothing like my experience in the States. The Chinese medical system is quite different from what we have in the States. First of all, there is no such thing as a doctor’s office, a clinic, or a family doctor. Whenever you need healthcare, you simply go straight to the hospital. Because of this, hospitals function very differently than in the States because they are filling all the healthcare needs including ones that as Americans we wouldn’t ever consider going to a hospital, we would just book an appointment with our doctor or go to a clinic.

If it is your first time at the hospital you need to register and get a card. This is card is then used for your records. Next, you need to go to a diagnosing station where a doctor will very quickly examine you and determine if further testing needs to be done or decide on a course of treatment. In my case, I simply had the common cold so he looking down my throat for a second and listened to my breathing. He consulted my Chinese friend as to my other symptoms, then wrote up some prescriptions and we were done. We took the prescriptions back to the desk where we paid for the visit and prescriptions at the same time. The total came out to less than 20 US dollars! After we got the receipt we walked down the hallways to the pharmacy and waited in line to receive the prescription. After that we left the building. All in all it took less than 15 minutes. It was the most efficient doctor’s visit of my entire life. Because I went in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, I didn’t encounter a lot of other people at the hospital. However, I have heard from other expats that in the evening the hospital is very busy. Obviously, there are some major downsides to this system. Did the doctor accurately diagnosis me? He didn’t even look at my ears which were my main complaint. Did he give me good prescriptions? Not really. I stopped taking them within 24 hours because they upset my stomach. On the upside, it took no time at all and very little money. If nothing else, it was an interesting experience and proved to my skeptical employer that I really was sick and not just sick of work.

Though I was suffering from my cough and my plugged ears, I still made a trip to Hong Kong this weekend to visit the city one last time before I leave this part of the world. I would have called off the trip but I booked a nonrefundable room and this was Hillary’s last weekend to make a visa exit. Due to my sickness, I ended up chilling in our hotel room in the middle of the day instead of going out and making the most of my last trip. At least the hotel had a nice view. We were on the top floor, floor 36, and we were in a corner room so we had huge windows that wrap around the corner. I can see the harbor from here too.

The weather called for heavy rain all day on Saturday in Hong Kong. Apparently, it rained in the morning but by the time Hillary and I got there the rain had cleared off and had cooled down the temperature. However, one positive of coming to Hong Kong this weekend was finding a drug store to purchase more western medicine.

Another stroke of luck besides the weather was that Hillary was able to meet up with her friend, Julie. Julie showed Hillary around the Causeway Bay area and took Hillary on the tram; 2 things that I have already done. While Hillary was out with Julie, I rested in the hotel room.

On Saturday evening, my Hong Kong coworker, Will, met up with Hillary and me in Mon Kok to us around that area of Hong Kong. We visited a mall with a unique design. You can take two escalators up to the top of the mall and then walk back down to the bottom by walking around the floors which are built in a spiral. Every few feet are a few more stairs but you never take an elevator, escalator or a flight of stairs. You just keep walking around and around past the shops. I saw something similar to this design in Korea but on a small scale.

Next we ducked into a local diner to pick up some dinner. We ordered two steaming bowls of noodles, one with beef, and one with wonton as well as a curry dish. I like the curry dish but it burned my sore throat and I couldn’t enjoy much of it. I love going to local diners but if it is a diner I have never visited before I prefer to go with someone who speaks the language. So whenever I have a translator with me, I take advantage of getting a bit of local food.

After dinner we browsed through the long street market called the Ladies’ Market. The stalls lined the street for 5 blocks selling all sorts of wears from clothing, to scarves, to technology, to little trinkets. We haggled over the prices of our purchases and walked away with gifts and more souvenirs. The market was full of people and the aisle was narrow and jam packed. At some points it was like threading a needling trying to get yourself through. The clientele was quite diverse as well. There were more Indian tourists than white tourists frequenting this market. In the end, I think Stanley Market which I have visited several times has more to offer in the line of gifts and souvenirs but I was glad to visit a part of Hong Kong I had not seen before.

To wrap up our evening we left the crowded streets of Mon Kok which were teeming with people listening to buskers and doing late night shopping and hoped on a bus bound for the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. On the promenade we enjoyed the night view of the Hong Kong skyline from across the bay. The evening was fair and we spent our time chatting and taking photos.

On Sunday morning, Hillary and I spent some time in a bookstore we had spotted on the waterfront the night before. This bookstore had a well-stocked English section which I spent a long time browsing through and making selections. It was so refreshing to be in the presence of quality literature again. It was like taking a deep breath of sea air. We then ate lunch at the ferry terminal and took the 2pm ferry back to Zhongshan. I am not planning to go back to Hong Kong again in my last week here. I said my good byes to this famous city.

Hong Kong is like the gateway to the Orient. You might think that Singapore is but I think you don’t get a real experience in Singapore, it’s too comfortable there. Here in HK you get West and East all mixing together in one city teeming with people and tourists. You can avoid the Chinese experience if you want to like the two British girls we met in Beijing. They said they hadn’t eaten any Chinese food since Christmas. But if you do that, you will lose out on the essential nature of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is culturally Chinese, traditionally Chinese and technically Chinese but structurally Western. By that I mean, they have adopted many western practices, manners and styles. They like to use Western organization but the flavor is still Chinese. That’s why Western cultural for the longest time has painted Hong Kong as an exotic place, an Oriental labyrinth. Hong Kong people would never stylize themselves that way. They view Hong Kong as the gateway to the West, as the sophisticated alternative to China. In reality, Hong Kong is somewhere in the middle. It’s not as Western as Singapore but neither is it a den of Chinese intrigue.

Beijing

The first thing I noticed about Beijing was the pollution, which is cliche I know but I was actually curious about the infamous pollution levels. I wasn’t sure what to expect about the pollution. The pollution haze is definitely noticeable; there is such a huge difference between Zhongshan air quality and here in Beijing. At first on Saturday it wasn’t too obvious, we even saw a patch of blue sky, but when we climbed up to a higher elevation we could see the haze settling over the city. You couldn’t see even 2 miles because of the grey haze. And when we went to the Great Wall, it was the same. Even though we were 3 hours out of Beijing and into the countryside, the pollution was still just as bad. We couldn’t see the surrounding mountains. We could only see the peaks adjacent to us. It made the views from the Great Wall quite sad because the stretches of the wall we could see faded into the smog quickly. It was sad to see because we knew the landscape would be so much more beautiful without the pollution lying on everything.

Another aspect of Beijing that I wasn’t expecting was how spread out the city is. The city isn’t packed together around a collection of skyscrapers. The center of the city is Tiananmen Square and there are not any real tall buildings in that area. The square is huge and spacious. In the center is the People’s Monument. Surrounding the monument are somber looking western style buildings such as the National Museum of China and Mao’s Mausoleum. Outside Mao’s Mausoleum are two statues honoring the proletariat, depicting the people rising up and coming to power. On the other side of the square is the Main Street of Beijing which separates the square from the entrance to the Forbidden City. Which is a large red building in the ancient Chinese style. Hanging above the gate to the Forbidden City is the famous portrait of Mao. The Forbidden City is the last imperial palace of the long history of China. Which lends the position of Mao’s portrait a special kind of symbolism.

After walking through Tiananmen Square, we tried to buy tickets to enter the Forbidden City. It was about 11 am and the tickets for the whole day were already sold out. There was an incredible amount of people trying to get into to see the imperial palace. We visited Beijing on a three day holiday weekend and as such every one in China is also on holiday and many decided to visit Beijing on their holiday much as we did but because there are so many more people in China, it makes these famous tourist sites really congested during a holiday.

Today, Hillary and I visited the Great Wall. We booked a trip with a tour group through our hostel so our group was full of fellow foreigners. We left at 6 am this morning because our commute was 3 hours. Again, I had no idea what to expect. I thought you could pretty much just drive right up there and then you get out and walk around for a bit. I thought that wall would have some slopes and inclines due to its nature of being built on the peaks of a mountain range but I didn’t realize how steep these would be. Our walk along the wall requires quite a bit of exertion. The stairs were very steep and tall and the steps themselves were sometimes very narrow. At certain points the steps were sort of crumbling away so they were not even. The tall stairs were torture of the knees and thighs. At other points there were no steps at all but just a very, very steep rise of smooth stone. It was torture on the calves. I thought I was going to start sliding back down the slope one time when the angle was especially steep. We often toon breaks to drink water and regain our breath. We were soaked with sweat by the end of our time and totally understood why venders were selling T-shirts which said "I climbed the Great Wall."

Though the wall took a lot of effort to traverse at different points, it was totally and completely worth it. As you know, the wall isn’t a straight line but, as I said before, it is built along the peaks of a mountain range and as such it snakes it’s way along the top of the landscape following the top of the mountains. The rising and falling of the wall resemble the Chinese mythical dragon. You’ve all seen pictures of the Great Wall so you know there are towers every so often along its length. Some of the towers have really started to crumble but most of them are intact and sturdy. The wall itself has little walls either side of the walkway as you have probably seen but these have also crumbled in many places, providing weary travelers with a nice bench to rest their sore legs. I thought the wall was made of grey brick but it was actually more of a faded yellowish beige color which made me think that it is base ingredient is clay. It’s amazing that ancient peoples were able to build such a structure on top of a mountain range. It would certainly give them an advantage if the Mongolians or Huns were invading by climbing up the mountains. The wall was worked on during 3 different dynasties, the Qin, the Han and the Ming.

Obviously Beijing is the center of the communist government so there is a lot of national sentiment and pride in Beijing. However, it is also a very historical city. For me, who has lived in a relatively new city in China, being able to see a Chinese city really steeped in their cultural history was amazing. I’m thinking specifically about the pre-communist buildings that are every where. The traditional architecture is a very present and beautiful element to this mega city. Before I came to China I would have never associated such things with the city but the old style buildings are very common and give the city a unique and historical flavor. Even the street of our hostel which is very close to Tiananmen Square looks like it belongs to the 1920s or 30s. These kinds of buildings are made of grey brick and and have an ornamental wooden frame on the facade. This wooden frame is painted with bright colors such as green, blue and red. The wood is intricately carved as well. Typically with images of dragons but also gods and goddesses or other scenes, figures and symbols of Chinese myth. These buildings line the street and if you concentrate you can be transported to China as it was in the first half of the 20th century, a nation just leaving its imperial history and struggling to enter the world stage. That brief moment in time between the fall of the imperial dynasties and the rise of Mao Zedong was a very unique time of Chinese history. It held a fleeting hope of a kind of mature modern Chinese national much different than the one we know to today but that dream was snatched away and a harsher reality set in as the country was ravaged by the Japanese in WWII and then descended into civil war shortly afterwards.

One of the best parts about our 2.5 day trip to Beijing was all the interesting expats we met. Hillary and I met a girl from the Netherlands on our Great Wall tour. She was also staying at our hostel and she was traveling alone so she spent the day with us on the wall. Her name is Maud and she is studying Chinese in Shanghai during her gap year between high school and college. She is super chill and easy going and fit right into our group. So after our tour group dropped us off at the hostel and Simone met us for dinner, Maud stayed with us and joined our dinner as well. At dinner, Simone brought her old friend as well. Cece is an American from Las Vegas who has lived in China for many years. She runs a business which employs single moms to make handmade bags and purses. Maud also hung out with us Monday morning before she had to catch a train back to Shanghai. We went to the temple of heaven together and then she left us while we went shopping at the Pearl Market. Maud was my first travel friendship. We will probably never see each other again but for those 2 days she was a great addition to our group. We met some other old friends of Simone’s on Saturday evening. We are dinner at a xinjiang restaurant. Xinjiang is a province in the far northwest of China near the Stans. The people there are Muslim and of a different ethnic group than the majority of Chinese. That province has been in a state of unrest in recent years and the rise of militant Islam has not helped the situation. Anyways the food from that province has a distinct Arab or Middle Eastern character. We met Simone’s friend Jeremy and his wife Katie there. Jeremy has lived in China for about 10 years of and on since 2001 so he has a lot of great stories about this country and the culture here. After dinner we walked to their apartment to see their cat, Ralphie.

Our Great Wall tour was almost exclusively foreigners and they came from all over the world. I know I heard several different European languages spoken in our group. At the end our tour of the wall we ate a Chinese lunch. At our table was myself and Hillary, representing the USA, Maud representing Holland, 2 young women from Britain working in Hong Kong as teachers and an older couple from Australia. After awhile the couple from Australia engaged the women from Britain in a political discussion about the EU and Britain’s possible removal from it. Probably the most amazing moment was on the Great Wall and a young woman passing me stopped me and asked if I was from Indiana. She saw my Visit Fort Wayne T-shirt. I asked her if she was from Indiana and she was from the Indianapolis area. She is studying Chinese in China. Who would have thought that I would meet another fellow Hoosier on the Great Wall of China! We Hoosiers are world travelers! The funniest moment was at the beginning of our trip at the Guangzhou airport. The three of us were walking to our gate and Simone had a question she wanted to ask an attendant so when we passed someone professionally dressed standing at a desk with their back turned to us she said "Ni hao" to get his attention and when we turned to look at us, he was white. His hair was black and he was short and slim so from the back he looked Asian but he wasn’t and the irony of being white and getting a white person’s attention by saying "Ni hao" was so hilarious to us that when we saw our mistake we just burst out laughing and kept walking. Then that same guy was on our flight with us and only a few rows away.

On Monday we visited the Temple of Heaven which is the place where the Emperors sacrificed to the High Lord of Heaven. Unfortunately the temperature dropped dramatically over night and it began raining while we were out so it was hard to really enjoy this cultural artifact. The ornate architecture is similar to that at the Forbidden City so seeing this site sort of made up for missing the Forbidden City on Saturday. The important buildings on this compound are built in a circle. And they are quite colorful with lots of bright greens, blues and reds. The wooden roofs are so beautifully carved and and delicately painted, it makes your eyes happy to see such work.

The Pearl Market is indoors and so was a welcome respite from the weather. We bought tons of souvenirs and gifts here, I actually ran out of cash. I guess in getting my Christmas shopping done early this year! I just hope I can get it all into my suitcases when I move back home!! The market was your typical bartering experience where you have to walk away to get a good price. I would say that I only got a real cheap price about 40% of the time, the rest of the time I caved and paid a higher price. Well even if some of the stuff was over-priced by Chinese standards, by American standards much of it was still dirt cheap.

Even in Beijing which is a pretty international city we experienced a lot of people staring at us. It was more noticeable on the Great Wall where a lot of the people are tourist from other parts of China. The Chinese tourists depending on where they are from may not have seen many foreigners at all and boy were they taking the opportunity to take photos of us. Maud, our Dutch friend, found it really interesting because people in Shanhai are so used to foreigners they never even notice them. She was getting her first real taste of sticking out like a sore thumb.

Despite some weather issues and flight delay issues it was well worth to see the capital before I leave the Middle Kingdom.

Chilling in IKEA

Selections from my digital China journal

10 April 2016

I want to write about Macau. Macau is a super interesting city because it was a Portuguese colony for a long time. The Portuguese influence gave a lot of Latin flavor to this otherwise Asian city and that is something rarely seen in Asia. In the many parts of the city you can stumble across all sorts of buildings that would make you think you are in Spain, Portugal or Latin America. These Latin influenced buildings are colorful and curvy with white highlights.

Another interesting aspect of Macau is the casino culture. There are two different areas of Macau that are teeming with Casinos. It is often called the Las Vegas of the East. And Asian don’t just gamble for fun like many Americans do. To many Asians gambling is a serious thing. It’s a vortex of darkness and desperation that many are sucked into. Macau has made a fortune off their casinos. Macau makes so much money that they give money to their residents. But due to the anti corruption campaign in China they may start to lose money. Most of the big gamblers are rich businessmen from mainland China. What’s ironic is that though Macau may be losing money on the gambling side of things, more mainland Chinese are visiting Macau then ever before due to the tension between Mainland and Hong Kong. Last year Hong Kong people got really angry at how mainlanders would cross the border everyday and buy a bunch of merchandise to take back over the border. Apparently stores would get sold out of certain products like milk powder. So a new law was put into place limiting the number of times a mainlander can enter Hong Kong. Now that there restrictions on their entrances into Hong Kong, Macau has become the new destination for mainlanders.

But for me the biggest attraction of Macau is the cultural difference from that of Hong Kong. Macau is more casual and less business oriented. The people are relaxed and more willing to be unique. Hong Kong is so competition oriented and everyone is so intense and stressed out. Plus it is way more crowded and the people are rude. As far as Chinese cities go, Macau is my second favorite after Shanghai.

18 April 2016

On Sunday the waiguoren (foriegners) made a huge group trip to Gunagzhou. I use the term “waiguoren” which means foreigner in Chinese to indicate the group of expats I normally hang out with. This group consists of the American teachers at CHES and an Australian family we know from church. I was happy about this day trip for 2 reasons. First I have never been to Gunagzhou before and it was my goal to see China’s third largest city before I left the country. Guangzhou is only an hour north of Zhongshan so it’s really sad that I hadn’t made it up there yet. The second reason I was excited to go is that Gunagzhou has an international church. These are special churches that are licensed by the government where only foreigners are allowed to attend. This is because although they have a legal license they are not supervised by the government. We do not have such a church in Zhongshan. The best part about attending an international church is that the service is English. All year I have been attending Mandarin/Cantonese services which only about 50% of the time have an English translation through a headset. The worship songs are Chinese, not Chinese translations of Western songs. So experiencing an English service again was so personally refreshing. Unfortunately it is almost a 3 hour commute to get to the church through public transportation from my place of residence in Zhongshan. So not practical to do every week but for that day it was a great experience to worship and be edified in my mother tongue again. The church was also a great experience just because of how diverse a congregation it was. I saw Caucasians, Africans, Indians, and more people groups. Because everyone is an expat it’s guaranteed that they all come from very different cultural, language and especially faith backgrounds and yet everyone puts that aside in order to come together in fellowship.

After church we walked to a nearby plaza and found a Western restaurant for lunch. The restaurant served real American breakfast foods which we can’t get even at the Western restaurants in Zhongshan so nearly all of us ate breakfast for lunch. I ordered pancakes and potatoes.

Our final destination in Guangzhou was the famous Swedish furniture store, IKEA. I’ve been to a few IKEAs before and was looking forward to finding a few small things for my apartment; I was not prepared for what a cultural shock it would be to visit an IKEA in China. The experience I had in IKEA reminded me of my observations of Chinese people in bookstores here but on a bigger scale. First of all the store was extremely crowded. Of course this is natural since we are in China, going to a popular business and going on a weekend. But IKEA is one of those stores they set up so that you have to walk through the whole store, you can’t just jump to whatever department you want, you have to follow the path, winding your way through the merchandise. Which is fine but with high traffic, the pathway became congested and impossible to turn around and trace your steps, especially in a narrower section. The crowds are the first shock, the second shock is seeing how many people come to IKES to simply chill out. Sections of the store with living room, bedroom, office, and lawn furniture were even more crowded than the rest of the store because people were using the sitting spaces to chat with their friends, play on their cell phones or even in some cases take a nap! And the employees just allow them to do so. I was standing in the mattress area and all the mattresses on display held people at least 2 people just chilling out. The display couches were exactly the same. This is the same cultural phenomenon I have observed in book stores. People come to the bookstore, grab a book off the shelf and read it for several hours and then put it back on the shelf. So you could buy a "brand new" book for the normal price but it looks like it’s been used. Luckily for me this doesn’t happen quite as often with the English books. It has always led me to wonder how bookstores in China stay in business and the answer is that they sell a lot of other things. My favorite bookstore here sells stationary, art supplies, movies, games, random gifts and kids’ toys, even some athletic equipment. Janessa told me how she read an article about IKEA in China and how they have had to change their policies to embrace this cultural difference.

The crowding in the big cities of China is something that makes me appreciate the small city atmosphere of Zhongshan. As much as places like Guangzhou have Western amenities that it would be nice to enjoy (apparently there is even a section in central Guangzhou where the internet isn’t censored!) the crowding is a real cost to pay. The subway was especially difficult with people pressed in on all sides of you and great masses of people all moving in different directions through small tunnels and gates. But it can be bad above ground as well. As we left IKEA, we had to cross the street and so many people were crossing with us that a bottle neck was created between some cars that were picking people up and dropping them off at the curb. By the time we got onto the zebra crossing past the stopped cars the pedestrian sign was gone and we were stuck out in the middle of road with on-coming traffic. There was such a large group of pedestrians caught on the street that traffic had to go around us on both sides. We all just waited there in the zebra crossing in the middle of road with traffic honking and swerving around us until the pedestrian light came back on.

I wasn’t able to see much else of Guangzhou. We had about a 3 hour commute back home so we had to start after IKEA. However Guangzhou isn’t really a tourist city. There isn’t much to see there and not much culture or history either. So I’m not disappointed. But I can at least say that I’ve been to the capital of Guangdong province and the third largest city in China.

Day Time Fireworks

Selections from my China digital journal

1 April 2016

Today, Vincy and I were talking about her wedding which sadly doesn’t happen until November long after I will have sailed from these shores. Well not sailed exactly, more like flown. She mentioned that she won’t be wearing a western wedding dress because she must wear gold jewelry in the Chinese tradition and gold doesn’t really go with white. She explained to me that one piece of jewelry she is required to wear by her mother-in-law is an expensive necklace with a big golden pig. The pig symbolizes fertility essentially. The mother-in-law wants her daughter-in-law to bear her son lots of children (this is ironic considering the one child now two child policy in China) just as a pig always has lots of babies. I was so glad the Vincy finally explained the meaning behind the pig necklaces I have seen in every jewelry shop in China. I was so fascinated and amused by the sight of a huge golden pig on a necklace. I use to joke about wearing a pig necklace to other foreigners with me. However, what Vincy said makes sense with what I know about Chinese culture. They are very much into symbols and they have a strong superstitious culture concerning luck: what’s brings good luck and what brings bad luck.

Chinese have no filter when it comes to foreigners, waiguoren. I’m sitting here in my cab on my way to LiHe Guan Chan. We are waiting at a light and there are two motor bikes idling next to us on my side of the vehicle. The one parallel with me starts to talking to motorist in front of him and indicating me with his head. The motorist in front turns around to look at me. They talk at each other and my taxi driver (our windows are open) chuckles along with them. I try to give them dirty looks to tell them that I am not an idiot, I know they are talking about me. Another example: on Monday I boarded a bus and found a seat in the back. As I sat down, a boy across the aisle from me said “waiguoren” (foreigner) so I turned to him and said, “yes.”

One of my favorite places in China is this Italian restaurant. I know, right? That’s a little strange but it’s true. There is an Italian restaurant not far from where we live that is owned and run by Italians. So I can get better Italian food in China than I can at home. Last year we came here a lot more often. It was a get-away from the real world of China. We could order in English and enjoy really good food that reminded us of home. This restaurant and Yellow Submarine (Owned by an American) are where we get our comfort food. It’s also where we end up seeing a lot of other foreigners so you don’t stick like a lone white person amongst all the Asians. However, we never really connected with Zhongshan expat community here and there definitely is one. I guess there were a couple of reasons for that. One being that none of my foreign coworkers had any interest in doing so and two I didn’t want to be part of some elite club and not get to know any locals. The up side is that I have made good relationships with some locals and some of my Hong Kong coworkers, the down side being that I never got a chance to meet more international people, I pretty much just stayed in my small American coworker group. It’s easy being with those people but I know missed out a bit. However, I also know that I don’t think I would really fit in with the expat crowd, not in life style choices and not in attitude.

4 April 2016

It’s a Chinese holiday today. It is called tomb sweeping day. This is the day where Chinese are supposed to go clean and decorate the tombs of their ancestors. They will probably also make some sacrifices and say prayers to their ancestors. They do this for good luck. One thing that Chinese people do on every holiday and sometimes even on normal days is shoot off fireworks. “Oh cool!” You might say. Except that the fireworks are shot off regardless of the time of day. “You mean in the middle of the day when there is light out?” You might ask. Yes. In the middle of the day when you can’t see the fireworks at all. All you get is smoke and noise. Day time fireworks. It’s sort of like day time television because it is just not as good as the evening stuff. But that’s the point. The fireworks are not always meant to be beautiful. In this culture, their primary function is to ward off evil spirits. So yes, on holidays in China you can count on a barrage of fireworks going off throughout the day. And during Chinese New Year it can feel like you are in a war zone.

Better Late than Never: New Zealand

I know this post is incredibly late in coming. It’s been almost 2 months since I left New Zealand and I am just now getting around to writing about it. I apologize again that my writing hasn’t been as prolific this year as last year. I will try to remedy that in my last 3.5 months in China.

Traveling with my coworker and fellow HU alumnus, Hillary Pulse, we met my parents in New Zealand for a two week vacation down under. At the bottom of the world can still be found a piece of this Earth left in the original splendor of creation. Barely touched by the hand of man. It’s a land fit for the gods. It’s fairyland. It’s Middle Earth. It’s like nothing else on this planet. It’s a slice of heaven. There are less than 5 million people living in New Zealand and most of them live near Auckland. The South Island has vast stretches of empty ground. We drove by beautiful clear blue lakes surrounded by mountains with not one lake house, not one trailer, not even so much as a dock for your boat. The sky is the deepest, purest blue, you just want to fall into it. The wide and narrow valleys are bordered by sky scraping mountains and the winding rivers hug the feet of the mountains. Every moment is a new picturesque scene that belongs on a postcard. The longer I spent there the more I understood why LOTR was filmed there. We didn’t have enough time in that wonderful land. We were merely brushing our fingertips along the country and not really taking it in.

The culture although definitely Western is very different from American culture. Nothing opens before 8 or 9 am and everything closes at 6 which is when everyone goes out for a drink after work. The people are super casual. We didn’t even have our IDs checked when we boarded a domestic flight from one city to another, let alone go through any sort of security screening. The people we passed on the street reminded me of hippies and hipsters. They are very environmentally minded and very outdoor oriented. It was so refreshing to see so many people reading books. No one reads in China.

I can’t write about every day. This post would become incredibly long and tedious. However, I will give you some of the highlights.

1. Transportation. Shout out to Dad who did an excellent job driving on the left side of the road! Thanks to his deft driving skills, we were able to rent cars and travel New Zealand at our leisure. But we didn’t leave all the transportation in his hands. We took every form of transportation possible while in the country. I have already mentioned domestic flights of which we took 2. We also travelled by ferry boat to cross between the two islands, took a coach bus on a tour, took several shuttles, and took a local bus as well to get us to an airport. I think the only type of transportation we didn’t take was taxis but some of our shuttles were similar to taxis. The best part about the airports was that they were so tiny! We boarded and exited the plane, outside and walked on the runway back to the airport. I loved that! I’ve always wanted to do that because you see it in the movies all the time.

2. Lord of the Rings. Part of my reason for going to New Zealand was to see the land where the famous trilogy was made. Although we did very few actual LOTR related things in New Zealand. Our two big LOTR days was one day in Wellington and our tour of the Hobbition movie set. Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand and it is also Peter Jackson’s headquarters so many parts of LOTR were filmed in the area. We booked a tour with a guide who showed us different locations around town. We saw the rock quarry where they made the sets of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith. We saw the forest where they filmed parts of Rivendell. We also walked through the woods outside the shire and saw locations for several different shots in that sequence. We also got to see the park where they film Sauraman’s tower. In Hobbition we got to walk all over the set which is in the middle of a huge sheep farm. Hobbiton is the only set from LOTR that is still standing, every other set had to be taken down and the location returned to it’s original state. The Hobbition set was amazing! But it was also a huge tourist trap. Everyone and their mother was visiting and the crowds took away the magic of Middle Earth but it was still a lot of fun to take pictures with hobbit holes, see Bag End, enjoy a drink at the Green Dragon and just immerse yourself in all the details of that set. We saw parts of the set that didn’t even make it into the movies.

3. The Southern Alps. I think all four of us would agree that seeing the mountains of the Southern Alps was probably the best part of the whole trip. We were continually amazed by the landscapes in this part of the country. It wasn’t just the mountains that were jaw dropping and breathtaking it was the sheer lack of civilization. The land was primal, left alone since the dawn of time. We all loved the clear blue lakes where no lake house, dock, or boat had touched. However, my favorite part of the Alps was seeing the yellow grass valleys. Yellow grass is very typical in the South Island and I loved how it contrasted with the mountains. I wish we had been able to come in New Zealand’s fall because then more of the mountains would have been capped with snow. One day we took a coach bus out to Milford Sound which was an area of valley’s scooped out by glaciers and now filled with water. It looked like a lake with banks of mountains. On another day, we hiked a trail up to a receding glacier. We were unable to actually touch it because that part of the valley was too dangerous. On another day, we took a train whose track twisted through the mountains. On our first day in New Zealand, we chilled in Queenstown, where we were staying and just took in the beauty of this small tourist village which nestled against a lake surround by mountains. I think all of us were quite sad to leave the South Island and I know I wish I had scheduled a few more days to wander around the Southern Alps.

4. Whale Watching. After being cheated out of my chance to see a whale in New England in the summer of 2014, I was rewarded by our day with the Kaikoura whale watching company. We saw two sperm whales while on our tour. The second one was apparently a very famous sperm what who has been in many documentaries. We caught him the moment he surfaced and he stayed floating at the top of the water for at least 10 minutes! Plenty of time to take a thousand pictures and just enjoy the sight of him. We weren’t able to see his body underneath the water, we were only able to see the tip of his head and then his tail when he dived. After we saw the two sperm whales we found two pods of dolphins which swam around our boat for a long time. These dolphins swam close enough to us that we could see them through the water beneath us. The last bit of marine wildlife we saw was a small group of very rare dolphins called Hector’s dolphins that are small mammals in the ocean. They did not swim close to the boat, and they did not like to float near the surface either, but we did see him occasionally as they swam around in the swallow water. This was a bucket list day for me. I had always wanted to see a whale (not just a killer whale at Sea World) and I finally got my chance.

5. Maori culture. We didn’t spend a lot of time diving into the native culture of New Zealand but we did visit a museum which included a lot of their history and we visited a geothermal park owned and run by a Maori tribe. The Maori people are Polynesian and they immigrated to New Zealand in the last 2,000 years if I remember correctly. Before that, there were no people living in New Zealand. Like many other colonial stories, the native people were betrayed, oppressed, and reduced by their white invaders. But unlike many other countries, such as the United States, the Maori people are seeing a revival and renaissance of their population and culture. Their numbers are growing, their language is being taught and spoken and the white majority have come to respect and appreciate the Maori as a fundamental part of the national heritage and contemporary culture. Evidence of this was all over New Zealand. As an American coming from a culture who has totally and with very little apology repressed the indigenous people of our continent and who continues to ignore them was humbled by this cultural revival of the Maori people. Now granted there are a lot of different factors. It’s not a simple 1:1 scenario but we could still stand to learn something from their example.

Obviously, there is so much more that I could write about, but you should probably just look through my photos on Facebook, that would be much easier. These 5 items I have listed above are the 5 things that are really going to stick with me about our vacation in New Zealand.

Time Flies

Really, this second year in China is going by so quickly! I can’t believe that in a little over 7 months I will be back home in the States for good. This year is passing so fast that I haven’t written many blog posts and I’m sorry about that. In some ways, there isn’t as much to write about because I’m not experiencing everything for the first time anymore. However, I will take some time to bring you up to speed with the events of the last 2 months.

Hong Kong

In mid-December Hillary and I had to make a visa exit trip to Hong Kong. This time I was the “expert” and the one showing someone else around. Except that I wasn’t really enough of an expert to do an adequate job. All my brilliant plans for the trip pretty much fell through. First of all we missed the 9am ferry to Hong Kong on Saturday morning December 12th. So we had to wait around for 2 more hours to take the 11am ferry. By the time we got off the ferry it was close to 1pm. We still had to find our hostel and get checked in before we could really start our day. This proved difficult. We found the correct building in Tsim Sha Tsui but the information about where our hostel was located inside the building was incorrect. We wandered around for a bit trying to find it but couldn’t so we gave up and ducked into a nearby Pizza Hut to finally get some lunch and decide what to do. While eating we read the original email that the hostel sent us to confirm our booking, this email told us to go to a different floor of the building to check in. But it was almost 3pm by this time so we thought that it would be better, especially in light of the head cold that Hillary caught the day before, to just go back to Zhongshan in the evening rather than stay the night in Hong Kong. The hostel was pretty cheap and we didn’t mind being out $30 if it meant sleeping in our own beds. Looking at some more incorrect information we saw that there was a 10pm ferry back to Zhongshan. So we decided to go out to Stanley Market and come back in time for the 10pm ferry.

We crossed the bay from Kowloon Island to Hong Kong Island and made our way to a bus station where we caught the bus out to Stanley Market. The metro doesn’t go out that far. It was on this hour long bus ride, which I previously thought was shorter, that we discovered the incorrect ferry information. We realized that there is no 10pm ferry back to Zhongshan, there is only an 8pm ferry. And if we were going to get back in time to make the 8pm then we wouldn’t have much time at all at Stanley Market. The bus ride as always is breathtaking and totally worth the hour long ride; however, by the time we got to Stanley it was 5pm. We didn’t even have time to eat any dinner. We quickly walked through the souvenir market, I picked up some gifts for people, and we went back to the bus stop at 5:40pm passing by a lovely Christmas market set up by the Stanley mall only to find the bus stop packed with people waiting for busses to take them back to Central, Hong Kong. At this point we thought, “Oh no! We might not make it back to the ferry port in time.” We should have just accepted this fact and been okay with returning to the hostel then we could have spent more time in Stanley but instead we decided to try to make it back in time for the ferry. So we waited in an overcrowded, convoluted line for the busses. It was 6:30pm by the time we got on a bus, 7:30pm by the time we got back to the bus station and 8:00pm by the time we got back to Kowloon Island. That was the second ferry we missed that day.

We were so tired from the journey, lack of dinner, and from lugging around our backpacks all day that we only had energy to eat something at a McDonalds, look at a few Christmas lights and head back to our hostel. With the correct information from the email we easily found our check in desk and found our rooms. What a horrible misadventure! If only we had read the email thoroughly the first time, we could have saved ourselves a whole bunch of trouble! But now Hillary and I have a good laugh about the time we tried to enjoy a weekend in Hong Kong. On Sunday, due to Hillary’s cold we decided to take a ferry back to Zhongshan at noon. So we chilled in a café for the morning and went back home without any adventures on Sunday, which was a relief.

Christmas

Christmas is always hard as an expat. It’s hard when you don’t have any family to celebrate with. It’s even harder when you live in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. This year was easier in some ways for me because I knew what to expect and I could comfort myself with the knowledge that next Christmas I would be back home. But it was also harder because many of our Christmas plans didn’t go according to plan.

We did watch a lot of Christmas movies throughout the holiday season. Sometimes it was just Hillary and I and sometimes the whole group joined us. We started off December with The Holiday. Hillary and I planned a girls’ night where we watched the movie and colored Christmas coloring pages. I printed off an assortment of Christmas themed coloring pages and Janessa brought the crayons and colored pencils. Very therapeutic. Later in December we organized another movie day. We watched It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas, some of the old Christmas classics. One week day night we watched the animated, classic version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Hillary and I watched Elf, A Family Stone, Scrooge, and A Christmas Story together. So as far as getting in as many Christmas movies as possible, Hillary and I definitely succeeded.

I also succeeded in decorating my apartment with more Christmas Cheer than I did last year. This year I looked up simple paper Christmas decorations on Pinterest and added some of those to my decorations from last year. I also burned large candles almost every night, found a fake poinsettia to put in a vase (really an old glass bottle) and had multicolored snowflakes on my walls. Of course I turned on my Christmas lights every night and played Christmas music as well. This year I used my computer to display a picture of a roaring fireplace on my TV screen and put my space heater near the TV to simulate the coziness of a real fireplace.

Christmas week didn’t exactly go as planned. We had wanted to have a big Christmas party on Friday night after the Christmas Carnival and then chill out together on Saturday and watch some more Christmas movies. However, that week ended up being really busy and instead we had a small Christmas party on Saturday evening. First event of the week was a big dinner with the Secondary Hong Kong teachers on Tuesday night, Dr. Choi threw his annual foreign teacher Christmas party on Wednesday, and then we all went to the Christmas Eve party at Church on Thursday night. The Christmas Eve party at Church was not a typical Christmas Eve service that one would see in America. It was really more of a party. Different members of the church formed groups and put on performances around the theme of Christmas or other biblical themes. The Church was packed with people and I think overall the party was a success.

Of course on the day of Christmas the school held its annual Christmas Charity Carnival. This is where the students put together different acts and performances (usually songs and dances) as well as selling food and other items to raise money for the Red Cross. Unfortunately, just like last year the school asked the foreign teachers to do a performance. Last year, Andrew Macejak and I performed a short magic trick. This year we decided to keep it simple. We choose two traditional Christmas Carols to sing a Capella. On stage in front of an audience of Chinese people both Andrews and I sang, without accompanying music, Joy to the World and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. We tried to show them what Christmas caroling is all about so we brought mugs and copies of the lyrics and wore Santa hats, scarves and sweaters and explained what Christmas caroling is. It wasn’t a hit. But we got through it and the audience members got to see the foreign teachers, which is the whole point anyways.

Christmas night, I made pasta for myself and Hillary. Together we watched Scrooge which is a family tradition for me and A Christmas Story. It wasn’t ideal because I had want to show everyone my family’s traditional Christmas movie, Scrooge, especially the Macejaks since we did Christmas eve together last year but it didn’t happen due to business of the week and Hillary and I had a singles’ Christmas party. What would I do without her?

On Saturday morning, the day after Christmas, the 6th floor got together in Hillary’s room, where we had set up a Christmas tree a few weeks ago, for a pot luck breakfast. We all made a different breakfast item and enjoyed a relaxing morning together. Later in the day the Fillers, Hillary and I went over the Macejaks for a small Christmas party. I made French toast again just like last year (unfortunately Vincy wasn’t able to come and help me). So we had breakfast yet again that day. After brinner we played a Christmas trivia game, girls v. boys, and we ended the evening with Christmas catch phrase.

Singapore

Hillary and I spent the New Year’s holiday in Singapore. Our school only gave us Friday January 1st off for New Year’s so we made a really short trip. Our flight from Hong Kong to Singapore left on Thursday December 31st at 9:45pm so we went immediately from school to the Hong Kong airport. We landed in Singapore at 2am and took a taxi to my friend’s apartment. Hillary and I stayed with my friend, Bekah Steiner in Singapore. She was kind enough to give us a room and show us around the city. We really only had 2 full days in Singapore because our return flight was at 5:45 am on Sunday morning. Both days we explored different parts of the city but unfortunately we didn’t have time for the famous Singaporean zoo. On Friday we went to Chinatown, Marina Bay (which is the central area of the city and has great views of the skyline), took pictures with the Merlion (which is a fountain statue in the Marina Bay area and is the iconic symbol of Singapore) and saw the Gardens by the Bay light show. On Saturday we went to a historic hotel, the Raffels Hotel, where we saw the bar which created the Singapore Sling. There is a funny story behind that cocktail. Back in the day, late 1800s, ladies weren’t supposed to drink alcohol in public so the proprietor of this bar, called Long Bar, created a cocktail that looked like fruit juice for the ladies. Unfortunately, drinking a Singapore Sling is quite expensive at this bar so we passed. We then went to Little India to shop in the craziest department store I have ever seen. This department store, Mustafa’s, was a labyrinth of winding aisles and selves of merchandise. Everything under the sun was sold in this beast of a store. After Mustafa’s we went on a river boat cruise and then headed to Orchard Road to enjoy the once a month pedestrian street there and the local buskers. We didn’t go to sleep on Saturday night, rather we went back to Bekah’s apartment to pick up our things and take a shower then headed to the airport around midnight to chill until we could check into our flight.

We ate lots of different food in Singapore which was wonderful. We had Vietnamese, Mexican, Singaporean hawker, and Middle Eastern kebabs. Eating food from all over the world has got to be one of the many benefits of living in Singapore. I was truly astounded by this city. It must be the cleanest and safest city in the whole world. And it is true that you are not allowed to spit your gum out on the sidewalk in Singapore. In fact gum isn’t even sold in Singapore. Like Hong Kong, you aren’t allowed to eat or drink on metro which really helps keeps the metros clean. Even the buskers have to have a license to busk. Everything is very up to date and modern. It was like walking around in a futuristic city. Because Singapore is so small, they haven’t been able to keep many historic buildings. We saw only two historic hotels and one historic church. That would be one negative to living in Singapore; I love historic buildings. The only other negative to living in Singapore, besides an expensive standard of living, would be the hot and humid weather all year long. Singapore is close to the equator so there is little reprieve to the constant warm humidity. At least in Guangdong, China we get 2 months of cool humidity. However, I am thinking about living here for a couple of years if Donald Trump is elected president, hehe.

Remember, Remember the Month of November

It has been a memorable month. Mostly because it has been so warm that none of us can truly believe that it is actually November. Though by the time I post this it will probably no longer be November. I’m starting this post on the last day of the month.

The most important news of the month is that Janessa decided to resign. Her last day is today, the last day of November. She decided to leave her job at CHES due to health concerns. She got bronchitis and pneumonia in October and still has not fully recovered. The school wasn’t willing to negotiate a reduction of hours with her until it was too late. In any case it has been a very stressful and emotional time for her. It is sad that she is leaving CHES. She will no longer be at staff events that all of us attend and I know that she will miss her little kindergarten kids as they will miss her. But hopefully she will have time to rest and recover and look for a job that is better suited to her. I am looking forward to seeing her more often. Between her sickness and her busy schedule I have rarely seen her this term which is very hard for me since we practically lived together last year.

Earlier this month Hilary and I took Jessica and her friend Cynthia out to two foreign restaurants in Zhongshan. The first one we went to was an Indian restaurant. We ordered naan, lamb and rice, chicken curry and vegetable rolls. They really like the Indian food but they weren’t sure how to eat it. Cynthia asked for chopsticks. They also weren’t used to the spicy flavor. Guangdong is not a spicy part of China. Their uncertainty toward the food reflected my own when I am confronted with unknown Chinese food. I found the reversal interesting. The next Friday night I took them to an American restaurant. We had the whole second floor to ourselves and Wreck it Ralph was playing on the TV so the young girls had something to do. Hilary and I ordered cheese quesadilla, Jessica got a hamburger, Cynthia got spaghetti and the girls split a hamburger. When Jessica’s hamburger came out she look quite confused as to how to eat this huge hamburger so I told her to smash it down a bit so that it’s easier to handle. Then I joked that this is one food that cannot be eaten with chopsticks. Jessica and Cynthia really appreciated our adventures with foreign food. They had no idea that these options were available in Zhongshan.

Hilary, Elmo and I went to see the last installment of the Hunger Games series Mockingjay Part 2 on November 21st. We were really excited because it actually came out in China at the same as the States. This is unusual. Typically, China releases foreign blockbusters several months later. For instance, last year when Mockingjay Part 1 was released in November, we had to wait until the next February to see it in China.

We also had our annual Thanksgiving feast the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Macejaks hosted and we invited some friends to join us. Our Australian friends came as well as some Chinese friends: Vincy and her boyfriend and Jessica and her family. Like last year we ordered a Thanksgiving meal from Yellow Sub because they make good food and it is too complicated to get all the ingredients and equipment needed to make typical Thanksgiving dishes in China. Though Hilary made an apple pie, Esther made a pumpkin pie and Alysse made a sweet potato dish. Jessica was fascinated by all things Thanksgiving. She took a lot of photos and asked a lot of good questions. But her husband was eating the food with a pair of chopsticks I brought. We started eating at 3:30 and didn’t finish for quite some time. Before we started desert we read the first reading of advent and then went around to say one thing we are thankful for. Zeke and Jessica’s daughter finally warmed up to each other after dinner. Zeke allowed her to play with some of his toys and it was so cute to hear them speaking Chinese to each other. At the end of the evening we took some group photos. Janessa had made a “Happy Thanksgiving” sign that we stood under for the many photos we took. Eventually people started leaving and it was only the Americans left. At this point we broke out the Christmas decorating supplies and started making Christmas decorations. That is the woman made Christmas decorations and the men entertained themselves.

On the first of December the girls went out for a night at the hair salon. This is now my third time experiencing the typical Chinese activity of a hair wash. I believe I have explained this before but once again let me describe it for you. For 15 RMB (that’s less than 3 USD) you can get your hair washed thoroughly and a head, shoulders, and back massage. I just usually just go for the head and shoulders massage. It takes about 30 minutes and your hair is super clean and soft afterwards. Once your hair is very well washed they blow dry it for you. You can get them to blow dry it straight or curly. One other interesting fact is that all of the hair stylists are men. Not all those who wash hair are men but all those who style hair are. This is just typical job for men in China. And no, it doesn’t mean that they are gay. This trip to the hair salon was interesting because Alysse came with us. Alysse is half Puerto Rican and has very tight curly hair. I would say it’s halfway between Latin and African hair. The lady who washed her hair couldn’t believe that it was natural. The man who blow dried her hair had no idea how to do it so the first time around it just became a big poof. So they called over the boss of the hair salon and Esther game him a short tutorial on curly hair which he proceeded to ignore until he found out she was right. The boss eventually got Alysse’s hair to dry straight. Then he straightened it with an iron. It took forever but it was worth it. Her hair was really long and looked beautiful all straightened out.