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Where has the time gone?

I know it's been a while since I've written so here's an update:

Since I've been back from Hainan after New Year's, I've pretty much been hanging out in Guiyang. Trying to hit the gym as much as possible, catch up on some reading, spend more time on lesson plans and cook more, etc. This is the 19th weekend that I've been teaching...out of 24 in the semester! So that means 5 more until I am finished with my contract.

On the list for the next few weeks:

1.Get a proper Chinese massage.

2. Go to Kaili, stay with a girl I met in the Peace Corps, and explore the surrounding minority villages.

3. Go to a KTV. (karaoke place which is insanely popular--think 6 hours straight singing and drinking in a private room)

4. Study Chinese really hard so I can impress Russ when he comes :)

There are 3 more teaching weeks until Russ comes, on February 13th. We've decided he's going to meet me and some friends in Kunming on the night of the 13th, then we'll all head to Dali for the 14th-18th (this is Spring Festival or Chinese New Year). Karl has a house there where we'll stay, and lots of friends, and I loved it when I went with Yvonne so we're going back! Russ is coming back with us to Guiyang on the 18th..then I work here 19th-21st and I'll show Russ around Guiyang. Then the night of the 21st we'll head to Hong Kong, and he'll fly back to the US on the 25th.

That leaves me with one last weekend of work after that. Et c'est fini! Crazy huh? Most of my stuff with be sent home with Russ or tossed and I'll pack up my remaining possessions in my backpack and take the overnight train up to Chengdu for a few days, check it out, then fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Giulia is going to meet me on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia where we'll spend a week. She has to get back to Hong Kong sooner than I have to leave, so I'll spend a few days in Kuala Lumpur before I fly back to the US. My mom has family friends in KL so I'll be contacting them for sure.

There's a rundown of what my next two months look like. Not a bad life, eh? I'm pretty lucky I can jet around like this.

Summing up this experience (even though I know it's not over) is not easy. I feel as if I have a love hate relationship with this place. Some of the things I hate now are also some of the things I might miss the most. There are also some things I'm not quite at liberty to say now, so I will tell you about them later...

Some things I'll MISS about China:

1. Walking down the street, spotting an unidentifiable fruit, and giving it a try.
2. The mystified looks on people's faces when they see me, the blond laowai, walking down the street.
3. My fruit and veg stand ladies outside my apartment (they always have a big grin on their face when I come)
4. The puffy outfits parents dress their babies in.
5. My 4 and 5 year old students calling me "jacket"
6. The funny looks on my students' faces when they don't understand me
7. Chinese children in general--so cute!
8. Hot pot
9. Never knowing what kind of crazy things I will encounter on my walks...anywhere
10. Street vendors
11. Living more simply
12. Eating with chopsticks
13. A language with barely any grammar rules to learn
14. Sharing plates when you eat out
15. The amazing variety of tofu
16. The diversity of the people--more so than you would think!
17. la jiao--a spice Guiyang people put on everything!
18. Old men doing tai chi in the morning
19. Trying to make sense of this crazy country

(Notice how so many of these are about food...haha :)

Some things I WON'T miss about China:

1. Line cutters
2. Pushing
3. A general lack of manners
5. Crowded elevators, buses, streets...pretty much crowded everything
6. Hazy skies--i.e. pollution!
7. Walking by roasted dog on the street everyday
8. Stepping in street juice
9. Feeling like an alien
10. Feeling like a helpless child
11. Avoiding controversial issues
12. Annoying shop assistants
13. Comparing myself to tiny Chinese girls
14. The lack of creativity and individuality in my students
15. Parents who let their kids ride in the front of a motorcycle without a helmet or let 3 year olds cross the street alone
16. Honking horns

...So I guess there are more positives than negatives...I'll complete my list by the time I finish here.

More to come soon!

New Years on the beach!

New Years was amazing this year—Sharron, Giulia and I spent it on Hainan island in the South China Sea. Sunday night, December 27th, we took a late flight to Haikou, the capital of Hainan. In Chinese, “hai” means sea and “nan” means south, so you have south sea, and “kou” means mouth so the capital is “the mouth of the sea”. Monday morning in Haikou was cloudy, plus it seemed like any other Chinese city apart from the palm trees, fresh air, and tropical fruits being sold everywhere, so we decided to get on a bus headed for Sanya, on the southern tip of the island. During the 3 ½ hour bus ride, the sky opened up and we got some sun! We also had great views of the lush landscape, mountains and tiny villages on the way.

The history of Sanya is quite funny actually. For most of the last 1000 years, the Chinese used to send prisoners to the island, like the British did with Australia. (Actually the city where I live now also used to be a penal colony…which explains a lot about people here ;) One prime minister actually called Hainan “the gate of hell” It was far from that for us. I was ecstatic to breathe fresh air, see palm trees and go swimming in the sea in December!

Once we got to Sanya, we dropped off our stuff at the hostel and headed for a walk towards the beach. After walking around for a while we realized that almost every other white person there was Russian. In fact, there are so many Russians that most signs in the touristy areas are in both Cyrillic and Chinese and hardly anything was in English. The Chinese working in the hospitality industry seemed to all have learned a few token Russian phrases so Giulia and I were being enticed to buy things the whole time in Russian. Everyone assumes that if you’re not Chinese, you must be from Russia.

Me with the fish tanks outside the restaurants:

The weather was great—high 70’s to low 80’s during the day and low 70’s at night. The first day was spent on the beach in Dadonghai, one of the beaches with lots of high rise hotels. The Chinese managed to make it a little cheesy— think lots of neon lights on the seaside restaurants—but it was still great.

This cute Chinese woman wanted a picture with us (notice the sexy Russian in the speedo behind us)

Giulia with a yummy mango:

After a few hours of swimming in the ocean, burying each other in the sand, sunbathing, and me finding a nude beach with packs of old, heavily tanned naked men, we were approached by a guy working for a scuba diving company. Giulia was certified in Indonesia last year and I’ve always wanted to try so we decided to go for it. They took us on a boat off the coast to meet our “instructors”. None of them spoke any English so it was an interesting lesson. For me and Sharron it was a trial run so we didn’t go very deep. But we saw lots of coral reef and colorful fish! I would love to get a real certification and do more diving!

Getting our wetsuits on and ready to go:

The hostel where we were staying was filled up and the only room available looked like a closet with four beds crammed in. The owner told us he just bought a new house that he would soon turn into a hostel and we were welcome to stay there for the same price. It turned out to be a gorgeous 4 floor villa, complete with balcony, jacuzzi, sauna, and full stereo system including a karaoke machine. We were so lucky to stumble upon this!! We had coffee and breakfast on our balcony every morning before the beach! That night we went further into the town center, to meet one of Sharron’s friends from her hometown in Xiamen, who was in Sanya studying. He showed us around the city center and we went to a snack street to get some local food and check out the markets.

We took one of the tuk tuks home :)

Then we drank wine and ate tropical fruit in the jacuzzi and had a photo shoot after we overflowed it with bubbles :)

The next day we went to Yalong Bay, which is one of the best beaches on the island. That’s where all the expensive international hotels like the Hilton are. But we had no problem setting up on the beach there. It was much better because when you were in the ocean, you could look back to shore and just see the beach, tropical vegetation and mountains and a few tasteful looking hotels, instead of all the high rises on the other beach.

Before we got on the beach we bought some coconuts to drink right out of, and then eat the inside. Yum!

Thursday, New Years Eve, we decided to stay at the closer beach. After failing at playing badmitton 2 days in a row, we decided to play some volleyball. We borrowed a ball from some Swedish guys and me Sharron and Giulia started messing around. Before we knew it, we had a few Chinese people start to play with us. Then we attracted some Russians. Eventually the Chinese people got intimidated and left and the teams changed to 5 Russians on each side and me and Giulia. They were intense, even more so with their intimidating language, but we stuck it out. Sharron got some good pictures of the game after she wimped out.

In the late afternoon we set up a little picnic of wine and fruit and sat on the beach to watch the sunset.

We couldn’t get the wine open with Giulia’s Swiss army knife so I ran up to the first guy I saw on the beach to help us. Turns out he was from Turkey, but living in Shanghai and spoke great Chinese. He and his friend joined us for some wine and then we all went to dinner at a seafood restaurant on the beach. It was way out of our price range but the boys offered to pay and even bought us all flowers!

We had met some people at the hostel the day before who organized a BBQ there so we bought some drinks and went to hang out there. We met a group of French girls, who knew some Italians (you know how it goes…) and we all ended up partying on the beach together around midnight. People were setting off fireworks and lighting paper lanterns all around us. We couldn’t have asked for a better celebration. After that we went to a boat bar called Rainbow, apparently popular with the expat crowd in Sanya. Of course no New Years Eve on a tropical island would be complete without a 4 am dip in the ocean :)

We were sooo sad to go back to Guiyang! But felt very lucky to have such a great time. I wanted to stay on the beach forever. I forgot to pack some normal winter clothes in my carry on so I arrived there in shorts. Back to reality…

Christmas week!

Wednesday night Aston had their Christmas party. They rented out a hotel banquet hall and had a big buffet. Lots of students and parents came and they had a talent show and some activities on stage. I was in charge of playing a game with the little PC kids. Karl dressed as Santa.

On Christmas Eve, Giulia came over and me her and Amanda ate all kinds of good food. I made french toast and Giulia made avocado and mushroom soup and then we had amazingly artery-clogging peanut butter cookies. We watched 'A Christmas Story' on my laptop. As if we needed more food, that night we met up with Karl, Martin, Nicco and Brad for some dinner. Originally, we wanted to go to a place called 51 State, owned by an American expat and her Chinese husband. Unfortunately, they were closed so we had to settled for hot pot.

We all heard that Christmas Eve was kind of crazy here but nothing really prepared me for what we saw. When we left the apartment at 6pm, tons of people were on the street and they were selling all kinds of junk, like giant teddy bears, silly string, masks, fruit wrapped in cellophane, etc etc. Basically, it looked like every Western holiday thrown together into one--Valentines Day, Halloween, Mardi Gras, whatever. I don't think Chinese people really understand Christmas, they just use it as an excuse to party.

As we were gawking at everything, a camera crew came up to us and we were interviewed for the local news. The woman spoke good English and asked us how this compared to our Christmas celebrations back home. We replied that there was no resemblance and we were quiet scared! One of our Chinese friends and some students told us today that they saw us on the news!! HAHA I hope we can get the video somehow.

Later that night after dinner, we met up with some people at the Sheraton hotel, where they were just finishing a Western buffet. We went up to the bar on the 40th floor for some good views of the city. People were lighting paper lanterns and sending them into the air from all directions. I met some more expats--an Irish guy, Canadian guy and American girl who are also teachers here and a Slovak, Bulgarian and Kiwi (New Zealander) who all play in the orchestra here.

One the way to the next bar, we were all attacked by silly string! We were pretty obvious targets being foreigners. My coat and hair got covered in pink, blue and orange silly string. I got mad once and wrestled the can out of a guy's hands and shot him back in the face. His group of friends got me pretty bad after that but the satisfaction of revenge was worth it! It was a fun night all in all but definitely bizarre. Didn't feel much like Christmas!

I woke up Christmas morning to some presents under the tree from my roommate, Amanda. Keeping with the traditions of my mother, one was from her, one from Santa, and one from our dog, Nick. And my stocking was stuffed full. It was sweet of her to be so generous so that I could have some stuff to open! Later on Christmas day, we had to work unfortunately.

Tomorrow night me Sharron and Giulia are leaving for Sanya, on Hainan island!! They call Hainan the Hawaii of China because of its tropical weather and beautiful beaches. We're going to be there until New Years Day. You can read up on it here if you want..


More to come when I get back! YAY for New Years Eve on the beach!


(Some of the pictures in this entry came out weird but if you click on them they enlarge and look normal--not sure why!)

It was too bad that Yvonne and I had to cancel our Vietnam trip last week but Dali was definitely not a bad second choice. Dali is in Yunnan province, south-west of Guiyang. The province borders Myanmar (Burma) to the west and also Laos and Vietnam. It has the most diverse population of all of China, with 25 of the 56 minority groups found in China represented there. Some of these include the Yi, Bai, Hani, Tai, Dai, Miao, Lisu, Hui and others. We took a flight Sunday night after work to Kunming, the capital of the province and stayed overnight there. We didn't have much time to see it as we had to take a bus to Dali the next morning. It took us about 5 hours to get to a small city called Xiaguan (Dali city), where we had to take another bus about a half hour to the old city of Dali. The old city is surrounded by the ancient walls and sandwiched between Erhai lake, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in China, and the Cangshan mountains.

We met an Australian guy on the bus, and being the only other Westerner in sight, we got to chatting. He had just finished university and was traveling in Asia for a few weeks. We all went together to find a hostel once we got to Dali and grabbed some dinner at a great Indian restaurant. The weather was gorgeous, in the mid 60's, and the sky was a clear, deep blue and the air was very fresh. The sun is always much brighter there. It was a nice change from the gloomy weather we've had recently in Guiyang. Getting out of the city was so refreshing. We even saw stars at night!

Here are some shots of the streets in Dali:

Our first activity on Tuesday morning was horseback riding! Well, more like mule riding. We took them up Cangshan mountain, and when we got to the top we saw a temple and a great view of the old town and surrounding villages and lake on the other side...

And we found a little friend in front of the temple...

The next day we rented a bike and explored the area. We rode through some villages, bought some fruit at local stands, and finally made it to the lake. We met some locals, taking a break from their farming to eat a meal together by the lake. They were all wearing traditional Bai (one of the minority groups) clothing, the women in brightly colored scarves and hats.

Our friend Karl, who we work with, owns a house in Dali and used to run a bar there. So he knows a lot of the expats who own bars and restaurants there. He recommended some places for us to go. One of them was the Bad Monkey, owned by a couple of British guys. So we went there a few times. One night there was an open mic night, so we went to watch. There are a lot of hippie backpackers in Dali so we had a wide range of musical talents, but also some Chinese freestyle rap. We got some pics with the rappers. And some guys who were playing the bongo drums.

Some of the Bai minority food we had was really interesting. They had this one dish where they cooked tree bark with flower buds. It sounds really weird, and I didn't especially like the tree bark, but the flower buds were delicious!

When riding through the villages, we saw a lot of beautiful art depicting the stories of their ancestors on the walls. People really took care of their towns, we were very impressed.

We came across a beautiful temple and Yvonne started talking to an old man who was curious about us. He explained he had lived in that village all his life and had once gone to Beijing to represent the Bai people at some meeting. He was still wearing the pin from 1988 that he got from that meeting and was very proud of it. We got a picture with him and Yvonne is going to send it to him. It was neat to have her translate and hear his story. On the way back to town,he got hit by crazy amounts of wind and had to hang out on the side of the road for a while. The strong winds come and go there, but mostly the weather is amazing. The sun is always shining!

Here is part of the ancient wall:

Some more of the lake...

And us at the fireplace of one of our favorite restaurants, Cafe de Jack. We went out one night with the owner and manager...and spent the night playing Jenga-turned-drinking game at one of the bars...

All in all a fabulous trip! I'm sad that Yvonne will be leaving me in a few weeks to go study in Japan. I will definitely miss her, we've had a lot of fun traveling together.

Christmas week this week! Lots of plans here in Guiyang for it..new entry soon about that..

Je vais a Suisse!

Some of you already know this but I've decided that after my China stint is over, I'm moving to Switzerland. I don't think I could have chosen two more different places to live in. So now this blog will take a completely different direction once I get there. I'm going to be an au pair for a family who lives near Lausanne, in the French speaking part of Switzerland. The family has two children, ages 10 and 15. The 15 year old boy goes to boarding school during the week so mostly I will be taking care of the 10 year old girl. The mother is a busy divorcee who works for an Energy Trading Company in Geneva. She is originally from Germany but lived for a while in the US and sometimes travels there for work. I will be given my own apartment, which is about 10 minutes from the family. They live in Vaux sur Morges, which is further inland from Lake Geneva, and surrounded by beautiful green pastures. I will be in Morges, a little west of Lausanne but right on Lake Geneva. I have explored the area on Google Earth quite a bit and I am amazed how beautiful the area is. I will be within walking distance of Lac Geneve, Place de l'Eglise (the church square), the local cheese shop, wine seller, boulangerie, etc. The family will also be paying for me to take French classes at the language school in town, which is the main reason why I want to go. After failing miserably at first Czech and now Chinese, I've decided to revisit my high school French in hopes that one day I will be fluent in another language. I'm very motivated now. I'll be there for a year so I think that I can improve quite a lot.

The area where I will be living is very accessible to the rest of Switzerland, especially because I will have a car at my disposal. I can be in France within an hour, and Germany, Italy, Austria within 2. I'm very excited about this opportunity. I think with all the craziness in China, I've been craving an orderly European country with wide open spaces and fresh air. It seems I will have all that and more in Switzerland. I'm very happy that I chose to come to China. It's an eye opening experience that I could not get anywhere else. All of the inconveniences and discomforts that I've described have only enriched the experience and I hope I don't come off as complaining. But when it comes to quality of life and beauty, it's hard to beat Switzerland, and I can't wait! Now I have to soak up the last couple months of my Asia experience and save my pennies for the most expensive country in the world...I'll be coming home for a bit in March and April, then flying to Geneva at the end of April/beginning of May.

Here are some pictures of where I will be living and the area...

shore of Lake Geneva in Morges

port in Morges

streets in Morges

Place de l'Eglise

Lausanne, about 15 minutes from Morges

Lake Geneva

Shopping woes and weird Chinese diseases

I spent much of the week wondering what strange parasite crawled into my belly and made me feel like I was dying. I finally got some stomach bug and had to stay home from work for 2 days and a few days after that I was confined to the couch. Thankfully, just as I was contemplating gathering up the courage to step inside a Chinese hospital to see what was wrong with me, I started to get better. Phew! Unfortunately, this means that I will not be able to go to Vietnam this week because I would have to take another weekend off of work and I'm only allowed one paid weekend of holiday :( Yvonne and I made other plans; however, and we're still going to salvage a 5 day trip to Dali, in Yunnan province. It's a lot closer and we don't need as long to visit. I might try to do Vietnam at the end of my contract. I gotta get there! We're leaving Sunday night the 13th and coming back the night of the 18th. Not too shabby. Dali is a small town with a beautiful backdrop of a lake and mountains. There are also lots of foreigners there who've opened up shops and restaurants, just like Yangshuo, is known to be a backpacker's paradise.

Besides me being broken, almost everything in our apartment has broken recently. Last week we were without electricity for 5 days. It went off again this week but hopefully fixed for good now. If it's not the electricity, it's the gas is off, the key doesn't work in the lock, the washer is broken. Well, this is China. I guess I will appreciate the comforts of home when I am back :) And I wouldn't have such good stories if everything went smoothly. Besides, me and Amanda enjoyed taking showers in the dark and going on a quest for candles. (No one seemed to understand our pronunciation of candle in Chinese. If you're one tone off you could be asking for dried pig's feet for all you know. Most shops do stock those, but not candles.)

Because I was feeling better today, but not quite ready for the gym, I went out to try and do some shopping. Unsuccessful. First of all, Chinese shop assistants are very sweet and I know they mean well, but they really get on my nerves. They will ask you what you need, and after I explain that I don't understand and I'm just looking, they continue to stand next to you and watch. I try to lose them by walking down another aisle but they follow you like a little puppy. Sometimes they just pick up an item and say "Hello" and show it to you. Usually, I give up within 30 seconds and move on to the next store where the process is repeated. Today, I knew that I needed some more warm winter clothes(I've never spent the winter without heat before)so I tried to stick it out. But after the third store where I didn't even fit into their XL size, I got very frustrated. Having these tiny Chinese women searching the back of the store for anything that would fit the fat foreigner is too much for me. And I thought I had lost some weight from not being able to eat all week! I know I am not skinny but man, if I can't even fit into an XL here then there's not much hope for most of America.

Oh and on the way home from my failed shopping outing, I tripped over a man walking three monkeys on a leash. The monkey grabbed onto my leg which was quite freaky. Always good fun on the streets in Guiyang.

At least last week Amanda and I were successful at buying Christmas decorations. Here's a picture of our (fake) tree and stockings. There's one for me, Amanda and Nick (our puppy). We even have loads of cheesy lights hanging in our living room which friends have said make our apartment look like a Chinese bar.

Me, Nick, Amanda :)

Second Thanksgiving

I got to celebrate Thanksgiving twice this year. There are quite a few Peace Corps volunteers working in this area of China, being that it is one of the poorest provinces in China. Some are working here in Guiyang and others in smaller cities and villages in Guizhou. All of them got together for a Thanksgiving party on Saturday night and me and Giulia were invited by a friend of a friend. They rented out a restaurant that I never knew existed here--it's called 51st State and the menu features plenty of American favorites--like pancakes, omelettes, pizza, sandwiches, even meatloaf. This time everyone just brought their own home cooked dishes and had a big potluck. Giulia and I came late after work so we missed out on the turkey but we got plenty of side dishes and pie--apple and pumpkin pie!! Yum. So I didn't miss out on Thanksgiving food this year after all.

There were about 20 or so American Peace Corps volunteers at the dinner. It was great to meet all of them but also strange to be in a room with so many foreigners. And I could understand all the conversations going on around me. It's been a while since that has happened for me. There were some people from Pennsylvania so we chatted about Penn State and also a guy from New Hampshire and one from Massachusetts. The guy from Massachusetts went to UMaine so we got to reminisce about Maine. Now I got loads of phone numbers of people living in the area that I could visit and stay with!

December is going to be a busy month for me. I got lots of traveling planned. My friend Yvonne (the one I went to Guilin and Yangsuo with) and I are going to Vietnam on December 13 until the 24th. Then I have to work December 25, 26, 27 (Yes I work on Christmas) and then my friends Giulia, Sharron and I are going to Hainan on the night of the 27th. Hainan is an island in the South China Sea which is very warm all year round. We're flying in to Sanya, a city in the southernmost tip of the island. We'll be there for 5 days, until the night of January 1st since we have New Years Day off from work. So we'll be spending New Years Eve on white sandy beaches sipping pina coladas and eating tropical fruit...not too shabby.

Tomorrow Amanda and I are going to get a Christmas tree for our apartment! (a fake one of course)


We had a bit of a difficult time finding all the ingredients for Thanksgiving here in China but we tried our best to get it as close as possible. Chinese people don't really eat turkey so that was impossible to find. Only Amanda, my roommate, and I are American so the only ones who really celebrate Thanksgiving. But Giulia had a lot of American friends at university in Scotland so she's familiar with it. The funnier part was introducing our Chinese friends to it. Amanda made some Southern specialties (she's from Mississippi) like sweet corn, mac and cheese, some kind of pineapple casserole, etc and I made some mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, sweet potatoes, deviled eggs..and everyone brought some stuff so we had tons of food. I don't know if they were just being polite or not but they all said they enjoyed it so we were very pleased. We didn't have enough utensils so we all ate Thanksgiving dinner with chopsticks...classic.

Hot Springs and Tianhetan

We've been having such frigid weather lately and finally we got a warm spell! And our friend Tracy, one of the Chinese teachers, had her birthday a few days ago so we decided to go to some hot springs near Guiyang. The temperature went from the 30's to mid 60's in one day so it was fabulous! It was me, Giulia, Sharron and Tracy. The place is a resort with a health spa and hotel and several different hot spring pools around the complex. We felt very pampered! And we were even sunbathing in our bathing suits at the end of November!

The next day we took a trip to Tianhetan, a scenic area about an hour from Guiyang. Giulia and I met our friends Sharron and Kelly in Huaxi, where they go to university, to take a bus to Tianhetan. One the way you pass several villages. The scenic area itself has a lake and several caves surrounding it. We took a boat through the water caves and then walked around the dry caves. There are some hills you can walk up and down and even a zip line you can take from the top of one of the hills. We had a great day wandering around...Luckily Sharron is a picture fiend so I have lots of them.

The inside of the caves had some really cheesy lights that changed when you walked through. Caves in China are very impressive but most of them are cheesed up. And the tour guide always has some interesting comments about what the rock formations look like...a man fishing, a Buddha, a dragon, etc...