Friday, November 28, 2008

Electronics on Chinese airplanes

For some reason, in China you are not allowed to use cd players or phones in "airplane mode" but laptops are allowed. What?

The last time I got on a plane the attendant insisted that I turn off my phone even though I was only listening to music on it. So this time I listened carefully to the safety video and noticed they said that with the exception of cell phones, radio controlled devices, and music players, all other electronic devices are allowed. Uhhh? Something doesn't make sense here. "All" other devices? What if somebody brought their battery powered toaster? or an emp device?

I would think a laptop would emit more electronics than a cd player but maybe that's just me.

Public transportation specialist

I think I could cap this position if one existed. Today I rode 2 airplanes (none were Lucky unfortunately), 5 busses, 1 taxi, and 1 shuttle cart.

I'm pretty sure that makes me awesome.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My extremely extremely deep thought of the day

Why do my shoelaces always come untied right before I step into a nasty unclean bathroom? Why??

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Big brother is Chinese

Like I mentioned in in recent posts, I spent a couple of hours over 2 days getting an extension on my Chinese visa to be able to see a little bit more before I move on to India.

I wasn't really planning on it until I got to Xishuanbanna and I was told by the local cafe where foreigners hang out (Mei Mei Cafe) that the cost to extend it would only be $25 while in Banna. Up until then I was told that it would cost the full $130 again and so I felt that it was too expensive.

I went to the Public Security Bureau (PSB) around 9am on Monday morning and found 1 lady working the counters. Let's call her lady #1.

I walked up to her , told her I wanted an extension of my visa and gave her my passport. She tried to bring me up on the computer but I wasn't in there so she asked me to go to the other PSB office in town to get my name in the town's computer system. She wasn't able to tell me where the other PSB was though, so I went back to Mei Mei's and asked the girls that work there. They pointed it out to me on the map.

Then as I was about to go look for the PSB, I overheard somebody talking about having gotten her visa renewed, so I looked at her and asked her if she had gotten registered at the other PSB. She said yes and ended up giving me a note that she had gotten from somewhere that said in Chinese that I need to register.

I walked to the other PSB and showed the note to the lady. She helped me out with the process in 10 min and I was back off to the first PSB. Except I had hit their 3.5 hour lunch hour (go figure) so I had to come back at 3pm.

At 3pm I came back to the PSB and found lady #1 in the midst of about 100 chinese people trying to get something done there.

She finished off my processing now that I was in the computer and then told me lady #2 was going to create the visa for me because she was busy. She gave my stuff to lady #2.

I waited about 30 min when lady #2 gives the stuff to lady #3, the cashier. Lady #3 says it's done and tells me to pay her $130! I asked her what happened to $25? Lady #3 doesn't speak english so she asks lady #2 over and I ask her the same question. She says that it was never $25, it was always $130 for US citizens.

I told her that lady #1 told me it was $25 and that was the only reason I had done the whole process. If it was $130 I would not have wasted my day. Lady #2 asks #1 if she told me $25, she says no but doesn't look at me. Lady #2 keeps repeating to me th I must pay $130. I tell her I would like her to cancel the new visa. She tells me she can't because they canceled the first visa in the process already so I would be illegal if they canceled it.

I told her I'd rather be illegal and go to the airport like I had planned and try to explain it to them then. She says she can't do that and says that I have to talk to their manager. She calls her manager and then tells me to follow her to the back building.

I meet the manager guy. He seems like a nice guy. Lady #2 gets me some green tea (I was surprised by that). He asks me to explain to him what happened. He writes down a written complaint for me on a sheet of paper in chinese. He asks me if there was a chance I misunderstood lady #1 when she told me the price. I said no because she had told me the price in english.

He tells me that they record every conversation to me at the counter and will check the security record to listen to what happened. He then looks at me like, "did I just call your bluff?" Which was pointless because I wouldn't lie about this kind of stuff. I said, "ok that's great!" with a big smile on my face.

I was surprised that they recorded everything. The office doesn't look very high tech and there's no obvious location for a hidden mic on the desks they use. but then I remembered I was in China.

He said to come back the next morning so that they have time to look over the recording and talk to his higher ups. I said thanks and left.

The next morning I walked in at 10am. Lady #1 seemed to be ignoring me but wasn't sure. She had her hands full anyway. I motioned to lady #3 to call her manager to tell him I arrived.

He came out to the front to meet me. This was his story. He said the recording had some kind of malfunction and therefore he was not able to verify the conversation. But that he would solve my problem for me immediately. He asked me if he gave me 10 days longer for $25 if that would be ok. I said sure, and he got lady #3 to get it done for me.

What I think really happened is that he listened to the recording and either 1. Figured out his employee had lied and wanted to save face for the Chinese government, or 2. This is their procedure for attempting to rip off foreigners from the US every single time, and lady #1 was in on it the whole time, or 3. Lady #3 has always been taught to never admit wrongdoing even if she has and the government will cover if she gets in hot water.

Either way I had my 10 day visa extension for $25 and I was out of there. What an interesting experience. It prevented me from going into the Mumbai situation so that part was priceless.

US State Dept email warnings

Before I started traveling, I signed up for a bunch of email lists for the countries that I was planning on maybe visiting.

I've been getting a bunch of warning emails about Thailand and their demonstrations lately, warning me to stay out of their way and also that the airport has been jammed so I shouldn't head to the airport or change my flight to a different location.

These emails have had good information and if I didn't have my bb I think they would come into good use.

I can't wait to see how long until I get one about India and what it will say in it.

Happy Thanksgiving for me

Today I am taking a bus from Chengdu to Le Shan (pronounced leeee Shan with the e sounding like the u in "put") to see the biggest buddha statue in the world. It's apparently 71m tall. That's pretty damn big. My book says the large toenail is 7m alone.

The ride will be 2 hours each way and I'm heading out from Xinanmen bus station.

Because I'm such a nice guy, I'll take pictures for you so that you don't have to :)

My words of wisdom for today

Typing on your blackberry while walking down the street in China is twice as dangerous as doing it in Seattle.

I almost got killed by a bus even though the pedestrian light was green!

What if?

My friend Ben and I like to ponder these type of things.

What if I had not decided to extend my visa and walked into a terrorist attack in Mumbai yesterday? What could have happened? What could I have done?

Here are the possibilities I presume:
1. I assume that everything I see is a completely amazingly choreographed show and I think to myself, "wow these indian people really know how to entertain their guests!"
2. In traditonal die hard bruce willis style I kill 1 baddie at a time with my fists and whatever other inanimate objects I could find and save the country and effectively the world (don't laugh, it could happen)
3. I turn around, get on the next plane out of the country to egypt or anywhere else, even istanbul or prague
4. I find the nearest inconspicuous hotel and take refuge in the corner for days, only running outside for fruit and water

I guess it would be a combination of 1, 3, and 4, but if I *had* to, I'd do 2 :) you know, if they *forced* me to attack them out of self defense, because that's what bruce willis does.

What if I was Chuck Norris? Well I guess the answer would then be obvious.

Holy crap in Mumbai

I was supposed to be in Mumbai yesterday but I extended my Chinese visa for another week so I'm in Chengdu right now. Maybe I should skip Mumbai and go to Agra or Delhi or not even go to India at all?

The article says they are specifically targeting foreigners.

My travel priorities

I recently wrote this list in an email to my friend Renee because she's considering joining me in Spain for a couple days, and it seemed like a good topic for a blog post.

Here's a general guideline of what piques my curiosity as I travel (from most interesting to least):
1. Big wonders of nature or science (such as nice views)??
2. Manmade wonders that look amazing or one of a kind
3. Very nice water areas with good views or swimming or other water sports possibilites?
4. Any other sporting possibility like hiking, climbing, running, rappelling
5. Places with good food (local stuff that tastes good)
6. Unique social events that are either temporary or seasonal (carnival, new years, oktoberfest)
7. Places with good nightlife where you can drink and dance, maybe karaoke
8. Places where you can hang out and relax and do particularly nothing

Just to clarify: I like doing nothing too, it's just not as important as the rest.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hypocrite Party of 40?

I knew there was a reason why I get to the airport a little early when I'm in China.

I was just trying to get on my flight back to Kunming and right at the last moment before I had my spot in the check-in line, a Chinese lady slipped in from behind me. Let's call her lady #1.

I sighed a little but I was used to it in this country. No big deal really. Just one more person to wait for. I smiled to myself in amusement and waited a couple of minutes as the line slowly inched forward.

Then right before lady #1 got to the front of the line, 2 men came into the front of the line from the side and tried to get the airline worker's attention to get checked in next. Lady #1 tells them to go to the back of the line like everybody else. The men said something back but barely moved.

I was secretly loving the drama. I really like and find it refreshing how the women here speak up for themselves like they are in control of the situation. They are strong even in a world that is dominated by men (at least on paper).

Then the craziest thing happened next. As soon as lady #1 steps up to the counter, she turns around to look at the back of the line and about 5 people come to the front with her, all carrying multiple bags and one of them had about 40 id cards with her.

They handed all the cards to the ticketing agent and then yelled toward the back, at which point a train of bags were moved up to the front one at a time. These people were checking in an entire group at once! Seriously like an eighth of the plane was getting checked in by one lady and her cohorts.

I waited there smiling at my predicament watching about 60 bags move up to the front and get checked in before me even though I was the 2nd person in line. People behind me started catching on and yelled at lady #1 for making all of them wait in line for so long. Lady #1 would turn around and fire something verbally back at them. I'm assuming something on the order of "too bad for you I'm so organized". haha

That drama was great to watch too. I felt like a pole in the middle of a building, just watching things happen around me.

Eventually the people behind me started getting angry and began to push forward and crash the counter. (This is typical China btw) it started turning into a royal rumble for the ticket counter with less obvious violence.

Lady #1 seemed to notice several times by this point that I never yelled at her. She glanced at my passport and I think she noticed I was not Chinese. I only kept smiling at the situation.

Before her group was done checking in, she said something to me in mandarin, which I just ignored because I didn't understand her. She takes the passport from my hand and hands it to the check in lady and says something in mandarin. Lady #1 had told this person that I was waiting next.

The check in lady tells me to step forward and she checks me in while the crowd is still raging behind me. Lady #1 says something to me again. I don't know what but it was probably "thanks for being patient" or "have a nice flight" or "dumb foreigner" or "you look like you need professional help" or "you're fat". Who knows really?

I said thank you to her even though I wasn't sure if I should thank her or slap her. She nodded and left. I felt touched in some way, which made me laugh. I wanted to kiss the woman who screwed me to begin with. How WEIRD is that? I guess I was wondering how somebody who brought 40 people into a line can also go out of her way to help a stranger get his fair turn. So puzzling is the mind I tell you.

I got my boarding pass and headed to the security line before I got caught in that mass of people.

I'm so LUCKY!

My 2nd Lucky airlines flight in the same week! Wow! Don't touch me Lucky charms!

Tonight I'm on my way back to Kunming.

Blind massage

Sounds weird at first right? But there is a famous blind massage school in xishuangbanna where I got an hour long body massage and an hour long foot massage for $13 total.

The masseur really was blind, but I think he's just legally blind. He doesn't use a cane to walk around but when I told him to look at my phrasebook he said he couldn't see.

He had really really strong hands and several times I almost yelped out in pain. I enjoyed it though. It was nice.

They soaked my feet in Chinese herbal medicine before he started the massage. It reminded me of the medicine I sometimes drank at home after going to an oriental medicine doctor.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Me = easily amused

I watched a cute chinese girl play a semi-bad looking Wii roleplaying game about an armored bear for an hour tonight. More like I had it on in the background while I decided to do some blogging but yeah, it's amazing what I will do to have some background noise in my hotel room.

It's a video game channel called Gtv, much like the one we have in the states. They have her controls wired up so that you can hear her click the buttons. I think her voice is the best touch. You can hear her every gasp and sigh as she tries to pass the game. She makes mistakes just like anybody else who would be playing the game for the first time. I wish I could understand the mandarin to be able to figure out if this is her first time through the game. I'm sure it isn't because it would be sad if she couldn't figure out a puzzle for hours on national television.

The whole thing was completely commercial free. She did not translate any of the english text into Chinese. She seemed like she was just saying a couple of things to give the viewer an idea of what was going on in the game to keep interest in the storyline.

I wonder how many other people watch this stuff in China. Haha

I'm in Chinese Thailand

This area (Xishuangbanna) has a real wacky feeling to it (not just the name) that I didn't expect before I got here. It's got the whole "still in China" reality but it feels a lot like the Thailand I remember.

I got 5 mosquito bites yesterday. The brush around me feels like the junglish area in Pai I exerienced in early August.

There are a bunch of tuk tuks here. Those are the 3 wheeled small taxi carts that you can use to get around. They don't use meters so you have to bargain before you agree to take the ride.

There are many Thai restaurants in the area. I've already tried some of the Thai food. The taste is very close but not completely the same as Thai food I had in Thailand.

Most of the store signs are written in Chinese and Thai.

There are many different cultures of people in the area, and many of these people are those with darker skin than the "usual" Chinese. Some look malay or indonesian, some wear long skirts, and some aren't speaking Mandarin or Thai.

There are a lot of motorbikes in this area, just like it was in Thailand.

The weather is warm and humid, even though it's the middle of November.

Rice noodle lunch!

This is what I had for lunch today. It was a very complete set of Yunnan rice noodles with all the fixings. Total cost was $4.

If I was on the news today

It would have read, "American man who looks Chinese but isn't, in an effort to try to be Chinese breaks his neck on sink and dies while trying to shower in a Chinese bathroom that has a hole in the ground toilet underneath the shower head and slips when he's rinsing shampoo off his hair and accidentally steps into the hole and slips on the surface of the toilet."

Yeah that was a close one. I luckily caught my balance as I grabbed the sink out of nowhere. I had to scrub the bottom of my foot for 10 minutes just to convince myself that it was sort of clean again.

I hate not doing my own laundry

I did a load of laundry when I was in Kunming at a place in an alley nearby Katja's apartment and I discovered when picking it up that I was missing a pair of socks. I can't tell whether that specific place misplaced it or if I lost it at some other laundry place I had to drop off my stuff at.

The pair of socks I'm missing though is one of my quick drying, multi purpose, comfortable pairs that I bought at REI in Seattle. They were $21 and so not a cheap buy. I brought 3 pairs of these. Another pair has a small hole in them that I know didn't form as a result of regular use.

I also noticed today when I put on my light blue GAP shirt that it was stretched out so much it didn't fit the same anymore. This is a stretch fit shirt with a little bit of spandex in it so there's no excuse unless the place seriously screwed up something and just pulled it taught for hours. This one ticked me off because it was one of my 3 shirts that fit me well. It looks like I will have to replace a couple of my shirts soon.

The other thing I don't like about not being able to do my own is that I don't know what kind of chemicals and how much they are using to clean. Since I have sensitive skin this is important to me.

Why have someone else do it then you ask? I have found several locations so far where I have had to check in the clothes because I don't have the option of cleaning them myself unless I feel like buying more handwash laundry detergent somewhere.

Thailand was the first place I found. All over the country. They just don't have laundromats. Then in Korea I had to handwash in the sink myself once because I couldn't even give my laundry to anybody. You might remember that blogpost. Then in Hong Kong and now in SW China.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

If airplanes had bumpers, ours would have fallen off

Lucky airlines must have decided to do some impromptu landing gear force weight testing when we were landing. Wow.

I thought I was going to die.

Lucky Airlines flight 8L9992

And here's my Lucky Airlines plane for today that will take me to lucky old Xishuanbanna! I heard it's super lucky! I bet they even sell Lotto tickets on board!

Forgot to mention

I changed the date of my flight to Bombay because I wanted to stay longer in China. Right now I'm in a cab type car headed to Dali airport to fly out to Xichuanbanna for a couple of days. It's an area right near the Myanmar border and it should be quite warm compared to the rest of my Chinese experience.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I just walked out of a public bathroom at the bus terminal in Lijiang that smelled like 2 tons of urine were sitting in the corner of a room for 2 years.

I didn't even dare to wash my hands because I don't have a gas mask.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Getting a refund is serious business

I had to get a refund on my train ticket 2 Fridays ago at the Beijing train station. I thought it would be a 5 minute process in a special "returns only" line, and it would have been, had I been able to speak mandarin.

11:00 am - I can't find a special line of any sort that looks like a return only line, so I get in one of the regular lines in the front of the train station entrance where people are buying tickets
11:15 - I get to the window and ask the lady for a return. I had already pulled out my handy dandy mandarin phrasebook and had the glossary open to the word "refund" and showed it to her. She nodded and pointed far to her left and told me "inside inside". So naturally I headed toward the train station entrance.
11:20 - I've passed security at the door and I look around for anything that looks like an office or information booth. Don't really see anything but escalators up, mcdonalds, and a station master's office. I walked to the station master's office and ask them the same thing. Refund in mandarin is pronounced something like "twaytion" so I say that and show her my ticket. She tells me to go to platform 4. It seems weird to me that I would go to a train platform to refund my ticket, but I think "hey maybe you refund your ticket right in front of the train?"
11:25 - I've found platform 4 but there's nothing here that looks like a refund area. There are no booths or offices, just places to sit and wait for your train.
11:30 - I walk back out to the main 2nd floor area and see a huge information booth. I breathe a sigh of relief because the people there definitely must speak english because this is the main train station in beijing and it's a big info booth. Right?
11:35 - After getting cut off in line several times by Chinese people on the go, I get to finally talk to the lady working at the booth and realize my fears are not over. She doesn't speak a word of English. She motions for my ticket. I give it to her and say what I think is the mandarin word for refund and she says to go to platform 2. I'm a little puzzled by her response but I decide to go with it.
11:40 - I arrive at platform 2. I look around again, nothing that looks like a return area. My train was supposed to depart at 12:15, so I know I only have about 30 minutes now before I have no idea whether I will be able to still get a refund on my ticket. I look around at the signs and notice that my train is leaving from this platform. I realize then that she sent me here because she thought I was wondering how to get to my train. So I turn around and head back to the infodesk.
11:45 - this time I decide to just show her the chinese word in the glossary and then looks up and smiles at me because she understands what I need. She repeats the word in a way that sounds exactly the same to me as the way I said it myself earlier! Argh! She motions with her hand to tell me to go back downstairs and to the office. I understand so I say thank you and go back downstairs.
11:50 - I am downstairs looking for an office of any type. I cannot find anything. I finally go back to the station master's office and show them the glossary as well, and that lady motions for me to go outside and around the building to the office. I smile and head out the front door of the train station
11:55 - I find the official ticket office of the train station on the far right side of the building. I laughed and was annoyed at the same time. Why are there 20 tickets in front of the station to buy tickets and also a ticket office to the side where more people are buying tickets??? I didn't get it but I went inside.
12:00 pm- after scanning the different line windows for one that looks like the chinese spelling of refund, I find that the last window says "refund" in big english letters as well as in chinese. That was nice finally. But I couldn't be relieved because there was quite a line and I had less than 15 minutes left before my train departed.
12:01 - I get in line and wait. Chinese people are bothering me like flies on crap. They keep asking me something I can't understand. I keep saying "no" and shaking my head as I usually do to peddlers and beggars when I don't want their attention.
12:04 - finally I understand something about a "ticket" when one of them says the word to me in the middle of their chinese. I tell them I already have one and I'm trying to return mine. They don't seem to understand so I pull out my ticket from my pocket and show it to them. One of the old ladies puts her hand on my wrists and pulls it lowe and closer like she was going to eat it from my hand but all she does is look at the ticket and then leave. At that point I realized what was going on. They were looking to buy tickets and resell them outside as their job. I chuckled when I realized this and showed everyone who was asking my ticket. They all walked away of course as soon as they saw it because the ticket was about to expire in 5 minutes.
12:11 - I get to the window 4 minutes before my train departs. I drop the ticket in the window and the man drops cash for me after scanning it into the computer. I got 44 yuan back, which is like $6.50. The original train ticket price was about $7.50.

I did all that for 6 dollars and 50 cents.

By the way I had all my 2 bags with me the whole time I did this.


I went birdwatching with Yan and 30 chinese people one weekend while we were in Beijing. The trip took us to the mouth of the Yellow River where it spills into the East Sea.

It was about a 6 hour ride one way on a public bus. The whole weekend including 2 nights in a hotel with catered food and transportion cost $90.

I've never gone birdwatching before. That was pretty cool. We mostly looked for birds in manmade reservoirs near the ocean and also on the ocean shore. There were mostly swans, geese, ducks, herons, and some hawks and other little birds that forage the shallow areas for shellfish. We also saw some little treebirds as well.

Though Yan and I were having a good time more than anything, the people on the bus with us were way more hardcore. Most of them brought full out telescopes from famous brands like Swarovsky and Zeiss. They had tripods that looked like they belonged as a fixture on the side of the road. Most people (even Yan) had bird books for China and were looking up species and genus names for every bird they came across.

The look on their faces and excitement in the bus was humorous and overwhelming whenever the guide called out that he saw a new bird on the side of the road and loudly asked the driver to please stop or at least lower the engine noise so that the new specimen doesn't fly away.

Another great thing about this trip was that I felt completely Chinese unless I opened my mouth. I enjoyed just pretending like I was one of the locals. Yan helped me quite a bit with translations so that I would wake up at the right time and come down to dinner at the right time and not miss any busses.

The Chinese people were very friendly to me also. They asked me frequently to look into their telescopes once they had located a pretty bird and some of them practiced their English a little bit since I was there and all.

Surprisingly to me, there was a little boy about age 8 on the bus with his dad and he started speaking English to me first. He was really cute and playing around with him reminded me of Eli (my former "little brother" in Seattle). His English was pretty good and he was such a good kid. I could tell that he was going to grow up into a formidable adult.

Food was served in typical banquet style with a lazy susan in the center. Everyone dug in like they were eating at home with family. I loved it because it was so relaxed. One guy was talking with food sticking out of his mouth multiple times. I chuckled to myself watching that.

I can't promise that I would go on a birdwatching trip again, although I did have a good time this time. I know myself: I'd probably be more interested in playing with the different telescopes than actually watching the birds.

Spicy fish

2 weeks ago in Beijing, Yan took me out to a place that had a spicy oil fish dish that you share with a bowl of rice. The dish is actually about the size of a serving tray and the fish is basically covered in the oil as it is served to you. Our dish came with a lot of vegetables, as Yan made sure to order a variety of them on top of the fish.

I wish I remembered the name of the dish or the name of the restaurant or the district we were in. Like a good foreigner, all I remember was that there were a lot of the sichuan (numbing) peppers in the dish.

The restaurant was literally in the middle of a dark alley. I would have never found it by myself, which was also fun to experience.

Monday, November 17, 2008

If you can't read Chinese

Then you can join me and look at these cutouts from a magazine to figure out which bathroom is for men and which is for women. The women's picture is a side profile of some model out of Vogue or something.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tiger Leaping Gorge

This picture is just for bragging rights. It's where I'm hiking today. We're about 1 hour north of Lijiang.

I was on strike for 8 weeks.. Apparently

Looks like Boeing engineers in Seattle (because we're still a part of the union) were on strike for 8 weeks so far. I guess they don't ask their engineers on leave of absence in dali, china to participate because I didn't hear about it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

James Bond?

I've got the urge to watch a movie at the theatre lately. Probably will go see Saw V or the James Bond movie unless there's something better out.

I heard that the Bond movie is disappointing though.

The weather today was a bit gloomy and I think that gave me the feeling, like it would typically in Seattle.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Temple of Heaven

Dennis and I went to see the Temple of Heaven last week. The architecture looked a lot like the Forbidden city except the walls, buildings, and other structures were all much shorter.

One thing that I saw that was new was a veranda whose floor layout was shaped in 2 circles partly overlapping eachother. I haven't seen that before in any asian country.

They also had an "echo wall" there. It was the inside of one the circular walls that had been surrounded and was built in a near perfect circle, so apparently if you yell parallel to the wall on one side you can be heard by a friend on the opposite side of the circle because the sound keeps bouncing and rolling along the wall.

Another thing that was different about the Temple of Heaven was that because the temple *is* dedicated to Heaven, if there were multiple doorways, the big middle one was dedicated for God only. Not even the emperor walked through that archway. In contrast, at the Forbidden City, the biggest of 3 doors was used by the emperor only.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How do you say "Bummer" in mandarin?

I came to China to learn about China but the National History Museum is closed for 3 years for renovations.

Numbing peppers

Yan also took me to a Sichuan restaurant a couple of nights ago before we headed to a play (in English) at the People's Art Theatre.

Most everything on the menu was spicy, but it wasn't spicy like Korean food where you have a bite and all you can think about is drinking water or milk or something soothing.

They have these things that Yan called "numbing peppers." They will blow your mind. After you eat them, your lips feel like they are numb, as if you can't feel anything even though you can. Like a ringing feeling as if someone had played the speakers too loud and your lips behave like eardrums.

When I first felt it on my lips, all I could think of was the feeling that people describe when they touch the poison of the blowfish, except of course these peppers don't really paralyze you.

On another note:
The play was called "Hysteria" and it was one of the imports from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Supposedly it's part of the "best of" collection but definitely not my type of play. It was quite strange (weird sounds, funky dialog, no understandable plot, the only redeeming thing was that the playacting expressions were funny) and neither of us enjoyed it very much considering we paid $22 each to get in for the 1 hour play, but we were ok in the end. You have to see some bad ones to find the good ones. Not all theatre can be good.

If I shut up I make more money

At convenience stores and other places where I'm buying little things that aren't labeled, it pays for me to not say anything and act like a local that doesn't like to talk. I seem to always get a better price.

On Friday I was walking by a small snack food vendor on the road on the east side of tiananmen square that had these wraps that were like flour burritos filled with the meat inside of dumplings. I had one and it tasted really good. But I opened my mouth to say "how much?" that day and got charged $1.50 for it, which I knew was a ripoff but I wanted one anyway.

Today I walked past the exact same store and asked for the same thing by just pointing at it and showing them one index finger to say I just wanted 1 and they charged me $1 for it!

That's a 33% savings for keeping my mouth closed! I wish my stocks did the same thing.

Granted yes, I saved all of 50 cents, but that's not the point. :) It was a great victory for jimkind. I noticed this hidden "discount" method since Japan and have been using it liberally since then.

P.s. You can ride the subway almost twice for 50 cents here

Got some

I paid $3 again but I think these are better than my last. They're thicker anyway and have wrist velcro.

The guy asked initially for $45 I started laughing (because that price really was ridiculous) and then asked for $3 and just didn't give up until he gave them to me.

He kept telling me I was killing him. I said "nooo, I know this is cheap" and "if I'm killing you I can go somewhere else" and then he finally let me have it for my price. He was really nice about it though and I had fun the whole time.

He even gave them to me in a free plastic bag so I know I still overpaid for them, because at a normal store in China they charge you for the plastic bag if you want one.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's cold in Beijing

Talk about a sudden change in temperature.

I have my beanie hat on today and I'm going to look for some cheap gloves. I lost my old ones in Australia somewhere. You know, the pair that I got from Chinatown NYC about 6 years ago for $3. Let's see if I can beat that price today.

Gotta put my haggle face on because I'm headed to the public clothes market.

Whitey sense

It's like spidey sense but not as reliable, as Dennis and I discovered.

Advice: When you're walking through an asian country (or any country) looking for a tourist trap and you think you might be lost, follow the people that look like they don't fit in (white person in this case) and most of time they will lead you to your destination.

Dennis, Becky (Chicago) and I were lost on the way to find the Olympic area to see the bird's nest and the water cube one night, but we found a caucasian guy on the subway that seemed to know where he was going so we followed him most of the way there and we ended up getting there.

P.s. Apparently the water cube and bird's nest are not lit up every night, because when we got there at 9pm the lights were already off and they looked kind of sad. The water cube especially looked weird with no lights on. Like some rejected alien spaceship design that was stored in the corner of the attic.

Take that

I was walking to the subway entrance the other day and there was this Chinese man selling maps of Beijing that were clearly marked "Beijing tourist map".

He showed one to me asking me to buy it, I happened to have google maps open so I showed him my phone, he looked at it and made a couple of pondering noises like he was surprised and then he chuckled at me and moved on to find his next customer.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Got myself a Rolex!

It was a bit pricey but I figured I could sacrifice the cash. It cost me $8.

I was sort of looking for another one anyway because my current timex ironman has a strap breakage problem.

If this one lasts me a month I'll be happy.

Update: it doesn't work properly lol

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What's up babe

Dennis and I were getting in a subway car the other day and on the way in he said "what's up babe?" to the chinese girl standing at the door that wouldn't move.

It was totally funny even though it shouldn't be because she didn't understand nor did she even know Dennis was talking to her. She didn't even flinch or look over at him or anything. Just pure lost in translation.

It was funny because it just reminded me of how foreign I am to the world here even though we all look similar and the city around us looks similar to the world at home (in a general sense).

After that he was cussing on the train like a real irishman and but nobody cared.

Last night with Yan, I went into a small store and asked for a beer in English, they charged me 50 cents. Yan went into a store and they gave her 2 for 70 cents. Haha

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pronunciation of "Hui"

I've been hanging out with a friend of my friend Hui (her name is Yan). Yan lives in Beijing.

When I first met her she told me that Hui's name is pronounced more like "Huey" with a short e sound.

That was really embarassing that I didn't even know how to pronounce my friend's name, but that's what I'd been always taught!


I met this cool guy from New York that grew up in Ireland (Dennis). He's a red haired Irish boy and he's so funny. He's got the full Irish accent and the demeanor and vocab. He went on to Xi'An last night though.

But yesterday we decided together that blogging is for girls only, so from now on I've decided I'm mlogging, short for man-blogging. He's writing in his miary, short for man-diary.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Skin peels

Ever find it uncannily weird that if skin peels off the bottom of your feet it's always on the same spot on both feet at the same time?

Tonight's dinner: Scorpion + silkworm + fried crab on a stick

Yum? It wasn't super god or bad. The scorpions were small and skewered. They deep fried it real quick and sprinkled salt on it before I threw them one at a time into my mouth. It tasted like a extra oily potato chip.

The silkworm was also fried but no salt. It tasted like burnt chicken.

The crab was just battered a bit and deep fried. Then the lady rubbed some hot chili paste on it and gave it to me. It tasted pretty good, like soft shelled crab.

I washed it all down with a pepsi and then got some dumplings and fried noodle to finish it off.

I found this stuff at a night food market area close to my hostel. I wish other people were there with me. I wanted to try the large scorpions, the snake, and the crickets but I needed more peer pressure.

Tian an men square

Hui told me that Tian an men directly stands for "Gates of Heavenly Peace". The square is the largest public square on earth. It was BIG. Not as big as I was hoping, but still BIG. (I know I have unreal expectations, that's why I'm awesome)

The place was an amazing sight to see. It's basically the front patio and one of the outside doors to the Forbidden City.

Before 2 days ago, I thought the Tian an men gate (the one with Mao's picture on it) was the actual border of the Forbidden City. It's not, as I found out. The Forbidden City is hidden inside like 4 more walls past that point.

But yeah there were a lot of Chinese people in the square, as you can imagine. It was like being at Disneyland on a busy day, but there's no rides. It's all hanging out, reflecting, looking around, and taking pictures.

Tian an men square may hold the record for having the most number of cameras in one place at one time.

I took quite a few pictures as well here, and will put them up soon for you.

In the middle of the square lies a huge building that is a dedication to Mao and to the east of the square is the building called Great Hall of the People where the congress convenes. I couldn't go into those 2 buildings because they require you to check in your bags, and I didn't have time for that.

I'm going to try to go tomorrow to check those 2 out.

Great wall salesladies

There were these ladies and men sitting around the great wall sparsely and selling souvenirs of all types including stone engravings. They follow you as far as they think they need to see if they can make you feel good and they try to give helpful tips on which way to walk and how much further you have left to go.

They were being really nice but I felt weird at the thought of giving them money because I never give beggars money. I guess they weren't begging bit I didn't need any of the stuff they were selling either. I contemplated just giving them money for a little while but didn't end up doing it.

A funny part was at one point one of the ladies' cell phones rang and we started laughing because their story is that they're so poor and they need money for their kids to go to eat and go to school, but she's got a cell phone on her and she was chatting away.

Great wall!

I can now place a checkmark next to one of the major goals of my life, which was to hike the Great Wall of China.

I did it today. From Jinshaling to Simatai. It was a 3.5 hour bus ride out of central Beijing to the start point. Because it's a long ride, it's very untouristy, which I loved.

The sky was blue, with a little bit of smog again.

I went with a small tour group of about 15 people. I think there were only 2 total groups. It cost about $40 per person, not including food.

Every 5 minutes, I'd turn around to check out the view and it would keep getting better and better because we were going uphill, so I took a lot of pictures. The view looked like just how I remember from social studies back in elementary school. I was filled with awe that I'm actually at the wall actually looking at it in person.

The wall was pretty eroded and I was a little worried that it could be gone in 50 years because of tourists walking on it.

The hike was about 7km long. It wasn't very hard actually although some people told me it was going to be tough so I was prepared mentally for something more challenging. My climb up daechungbong when I was in Korea was about twice as hard.

Monday, November 3, 2008

World friends

It's been fun meeting a lot of foreigners from different countries while I'm in each location. I get to learn something about those countries that I'm not planning to visit this time and also meet people that I can visit if I am going to their homelands in the near future.

I've met the most number of people from England, Ireland, and the Netherlands. If I go to those countries I won't run out of people to show me around.

I know I'm traveling "alone" right now but I don't think I enjoy literally being alone most of the time, so I am glad that I am meeting other people and traveling around together with them. Being able to converse with other people is a relief for me and I've had a tough time befriending locals I can communicate with in Thailand, Japan, and China.

What this also means is that other people I meet are probably doing the same thing. I hope that I am of some comic relief for them as well. How often do you meet someone who laughs more at his own jokes than you do? That's me. And someone who is smiling even when he's missed his bus/train/boat? That's me too. And someone who is willing to eat anything at anytime? That's me as well.

I bet they judge the US a little bit based on the impression that I left. I'm basically making myself a representative of America, so I need to be careful or aware of how people view me.

Turkey and Korea

When I was in Korea I found out from my friend Seonwoo that Turkey and Korea consider themselves brother countries because Turkey was one of a few countries that came to help South Korea during the Korean War. Also, Turkey has many cultural similarities with Korea.

That was definitely something I never knew.


Tomorrow morning I am hiking the great wall! I am going to sleep because I need to get up in 6 hours for it.

Less smog today

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood from the top building at the summer palace.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Toughest country so far

I've had the hardest time in Japan so far out of the 7 I've been to.

Here's the full order (from toughest to easiest):
Hong Kong
New Zealand

Why Japan?
1. Couldn't speak their language
2. I didn't know anybody who lived there
3. My phone didn't work (main things I use are google maps mobile and web)
4. It was hard to find a computer or internet access
5. Almost nobody spoke english, except in Tokyo
6. Japanese people would keep talking to me in Japanese and would not stop
7. I had a tough time making friends because foreigners would not chat me up because they thought I was Japanese and I couldn't tell which Japanese people knew English
8. The food was good, but other countries were better (thailand)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I met up with my buddy Mao

I asked him to smile for the camera but he was unresponsive. He's a little camera shy, what can I say.

Sunflower seeds tantrum

Where are all these Chinese people getting their sunflower seeds from? I haven't found a vendor that sells them yet?

I want some too damnit! NOT FAIR!

Mmmmm late night spicy beef noodles

!!! It was so good for $2

Small scare

2 days ago while walking through Shanghai, my camera lens wouldn't protrude when I turned on the camera. It looks like my camera might be on its way to death at some point. I don't doubt it, considering the punishment I put that thing through in the last 10 months.

After a while it started working again so it's still ok now but who knows how long it's going to ask.

Street addresses

I was impressed by the fact that Shanghai had decent street addressing on its buildings. The facades of each shop were marked with the appropriate numbers like they would be in the states. Also, every street is named and marked pretty clearly on signs. Even Japan and Korea haven't done this stuff.

Maybe it has to do with country size?

It made it quite easy to find my hostel when I got there.

Chinese hand signing system for digits

Jesse taught me a Chinese drinking game where you roll dice onto the table and do some wagers on what the dice are showing under the cups. To play this game, he taught me the sign language for the numbers 1 through 10.

I thought this signing system was just for this game, but a girl that was selling me some crackers on the train just now used those same hand motions to tell me how much it was when I didn't understand what she was saying.

I was very surprised. I almost felt like doing the same thing back to her just to show her I'm down with that!

It's so loud

It's quite funny to me, but the people in my traincar are so loud when they are on their phones. Sometimes it sounds like a farmer's market in here. They talk like they are all practicing to be auctioneers.

If anyone was planning on napping in here I feel sorry for them.

Pronouncing mandarin words

I thought the translations of pronunciations of korean to english was bad, Chinese is so much worse because they have 4 tones they use for each pronunciation as well.

They use the weirdest spellings too. Like zh makes a j sound. What the heck?

I have been avoiding using mandarin with chinese people because even when I say something to them, they don't understand me. It's quite sad.

It annoys me when I can't say easy words correctly and look like a retard when it's not written correctly to start with.

Origin of Song

As I was visiting the Shanghai Museum, I noticed that on the signs that said something about the Song Dynasty of China (960-1079), they wrote "song" the same way I have been taught to write my last name in Chinese a long time ago, which I thought was pretty cool.

I know that there are several ways to write "song" and so because it matched up I thought maybe my last name's history goes back to that dynasty era.

I got a nice feeling inside as I realized that there was some kind of historical connection before me.

Chinese Wal-Marts

Jesse told me that there are Wal Marts in China! Heh he also told me that the Wal Mart sells knockoffs! Like fake watches and stuff. How funny is that.

He said I could buy a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS cracked there and then get like 200 games for a buck or something close to that.

Road conditions

Dongguan doesn't have many signal lights even though the posh area of it looks pretty nice. That seems to be the norm there. The drivers drive like they're still in horse carraiges and wagons. Even if you are going against the flow of traffic, you just keep going and then one person has to give in and wait for a car to pull out and then keep going.

The drivers play the chicken game every 5 seconds. If you are an extremely aggressive and angry person you can get somewhere fast because if other people think you're not going to stop they will let you go first. However, there will be that one other driver at some point that thinks the same way and it will cause an accident.

It's crazy being in the car when it happens. Sometimes in the middle of the intersection you will find yourself among 4 cars all going in different directions.

Crossing the road has become easier for me. When I first got to Shanghai, I laughed at the people who were standing on the yellow line in the middle of a 6 lane road waiting for the right opportunity to continue crossing the street, but now I do the same thing. If you wait for the cars to stop for you at a crosswalk you will *never* get home. So you start out by walking slowly across one lane at a time. It's safer to walk than to run because sudden moves will make the drivers do weird things and you might find yourself without legs.

The only difficult part is getting used to feeling comfortable with cars going past me on both sides of my body.

Lunch at the Shanghai Museum

I didn't know what the mystery meat was in the brown, but it tasted ok. The whole thing costed about $3.

Other things in Hong Kong

I never mentioned other activities we did in Hong Kong. We went to an amusement park called Ocean Park where they were having a special scary night fest, sort of like Knotts Scary Farm. But of course it was asian style. By that, I mean that there are a bunch of Haunted Houses to go through and they are "really" scary. They have people who grab you in the dark while you're scared out of your wits. There was one moment where I was glad I had visited the "lou" beforehand, as Dawn would have said it.

Also their makeup was so awesome it was amazing. They looked like they were done up by professional Hollywood makeup artists.

I think the best part of it all was that they seemed really into being in character and really scaring every single person half to death. The enthusiasm was something to be proud of.

We saw and took pictures on the Avenue of the Stars. It was like the stars we have in the ground in Hollywood. Of course I took a picture of the Jackie Chan one. We also saw the Science Museum which was really fun because almost every booth was interactive goodness.

I wanted to go see the Big Buddha as Ben suggested but it didn't work out :( next time next time as my friend keith likes to say

The olympics are still around

Even while I was wandering around Shanghai and on the video on this train, there have been lots of continuous advertisement for the Beijing Olympics that already completed this summer.

I take that as 1. they are so proud of the feat they accomplished that it is a memory worth repeating, or 2. they have nothing better to broadcast on television.

Writing this post made me realize I haven't watched any chinese tv at all yet.