Saturday, February 21, 2004

It's been awhile since i updated this, mostly because i've been too lazy and haven't had much time to go to an internet cafe since i've been in China. I didn't get a chance to write about my last night in Saigon, which was a great one. Shaul left around noon that day, so I was by myself for the night. I ended up meeting with one of my dad's customers, Sunny in saigon and checking out his business. He was driving me around the city at high speeds during rush hour on his motorbike (no helmet of course), and it was a pretty scary experience. During the last month i rode on motorbikes at least 15 times, but this was the first time i was really scared for my life. For the whole hour we were riding around, I kept imagining myself falling off and thinking of ways i could land that would only break a few bones and avoid death. But there were no problems in the end.

After we went to his 2nd cold storage warehouse, he asked me if I wanted to go to a reception with him. I asked what kind of reception, and he said it was a wedding reception. I was wearing a beer t-shirt and cordoroy pants, so I said I wanted to go but would have to go back and change, but he said it's no problem and I can go dressed like that. And that's how i went to a vietnamese wedding. It was a really surreal experience...there were probably about 300 people there, and it was on a wednesday night. He was right about the dress, there were a bunch of people wearing just polo shirts and sweaters, but i was still the most casually dressed person there. The reception was at a 2 floor building that all it does is host weddings every day...there were 4 wedding receptions going on that night. There was a kind of dance routine, and a couple singers came out and sang songs in vietnamese, then the family walked out, spoke a bit, there was some kind of ceremony and lots of cheesy music played by the DJ, then there was a burst of pyrotechnics and the ceremony was complete. I had no idea what was happening, but it was pretty cool. After the ceremony (I don't think this was the actual wedding ceremony, Sunny said something about another ceremony in the morning), they started bringing out the food and pouring the beer (with ice, which I'd never had before, but I kind of like it). As soon as I would finish about half the glass of beer someone would come by and fill it up, so i'm not sure how much i drank but i was feeling pretty happy by the end. The food was great, all seafood and pork, with a cheesecake dessert. I took a few pictures too, which i'll put up next time I'm able (along with about 200 others from the last few weeks). After the wedding he took me back to the hotel and I had a night by myself, ended up just getting really drunk, playing pool all night (mostly pretty badly), and passing out in my room. Luckily I ordered a wake-up called the day before and caught my flight to China at about 11:30 that morning.

Originally I was supposed to fly from saigon, to hong kong, to fuzhou, to shanghai, but in hong kong I was able to change it to a direct flight to shanghai from hong kong. It was a pretty good move too, because they told me my layover in Fuzhou wasn't enough time to go through customs and catch my next flight, so I'd probably be stuck there. I got to shanghai and saw one of the teachers from my program, took a cab to the hotel and there was no one around from the program. Everyone went out to party in downtown shanghai about 20minutes before i got there. They gave me a single room though, and I was tired as hell so I just took a shower and went to sleep...only to be woken up at midnight by the hotel staff saying they gave me the wrong room and I had to go somewhere else. I was really pissed off...don't really like being woken up, and now it would be really hard to get back to sleep...I kind of yelled at the lady who woke me up in english, nothing really serious, but she probably didn't understand anything I said anyway. I didn't mean to yell at her, but for about 10 minutes after I wake up I usually have no idea what i'm they should have just let me have the room, it was already midnight. At that point, though, all the people from the program were coming back from partying, so I changed rooms and went and hung out with them for a couple hours.

The next day we all took a bus to Hangzhou, where we're studying and got our rooms, took a tour of the campus, and the West Lake (a big beautiful lake surrounded by mountains right next to the campus). That first night we asked around for a club to go to, and we all went to a dance club downtown. It was valentines day, so there was a big party there. Before going we bought some beer at the market across the street from our dorm, it's only $.40 for a 24oz bottle. When we got there, the dance place seemed pretty high class, and the cost to get in was supposed to be something like $12 a person, but probably because we were all foreigners we just walked in for free. Within about 5 minutes one of the managers (who was actually cuban) of the club comes up to me and shaul, gives us his card and tells us "if you ever have a problem with any of the chinese here, you let me know." We pretty sketched out by that, but he also gave us a coupon for a free drink and discounted drinks. Most of the people in our group left after about 30 minutes because they don't like techno music, but about 6 of us stayed and danced for awhile. It was a pretty cool club, the dance floor was like a trampoline, so all the people dancing made the floor bounce up and down. I'm sure they have this in other places, but I've never seen it before and was pretty impressed. We went into what seemed like the VIP room, for about 5 minutes and just felt extremely out of place and left. It was a pretty good night.

The next day I bought a bike for only $20 and went to the supermarket to get some stuff for my room. The bike is the shittiest thing i've ever ridden. every time I pedal it I feel like it's going to break in half. It seemed like a good deal, but now i wish i would have spent a little more because i've already had to take it back twice because it broke down. Right now the seat is falling off and i'll have to take it back again. But it's pretty nice to bike around, every day so far i've tried to ride to new places, explore the city a bit, and get a little excercise. Since I had no winter clothes and it's pretty cool here, I went out and bought some winter clothes, which I'm pretty happy with. I needed a haircut, and I was a little scared to get one here, but me and a friend both got it together and it turned out pretty well. I didn't even tell the guy anything, he just started cutting, and in the end it looked pretty good. May ever be one of the better haircuts i've ever gotten, certainly was the cheapest.

So class started last monday, I have chinese class from 8:30am (somehow i'm managing that) about a 10 minute bikeride from my dorm, until about 10:30. Then in the afternoon, monday through wednesday there is a 2 hour chinese modern history/culture class. So thursday and friday afternoons are free, which is pretty cool, and so far they haven't given us too much homework on the weekends. I expected to be somewhat overloaded with work, but so far it's been reasonable. Hopefully it stays at this level. My chinese has definitely come back this week, and I've been learning a lot. The second night of the program we had to sign a language pledge to only speak chinese the whole semester. This is pretty much impossible, but everyone kept it pretty well up until the weekend. Yesterday we had our first test and I think i did alright, then the whole class went to a nearby mountain and climbed up it. It was a good time, took a bunch of pictures (it was too foggy to see really anything), but the best part was meeting a few random chinese people as we were climbing. Somehow two different people just started talking to was pretty basic conversation, but it gave me a lot of confidence in my chinese. It was the first time so far where I really talked to a stranger on my own in chinese. There were a few times we were talking to people in groups, but this was the first time on my own. Yesterday I also met my language partner, whose job is to talk to me for 2 hours a week in chinese. It's pretty hard to understand him because he doesn't speak to clearly, but it will probably be good practice once i get used to it. We went to a DVD store together (the pirated DVDs are only $1 per disc), and I bought Lawrence of far I've bought 2 DVDs, but will probably buy a lot more once my computer comes in the mail. And last night a big group of us went to a few bars and clubs around town. Overall it was a good time...the weekends will definitely be fun.

Today after I got back from lunch a person stopped me in front of my dorm and asked if i wanted to teach english to kids at a nearby language school. It sounded like it would be fun, they were offering $12.50/hour and i'd only have to teach 2 hours a week on sunday afternoons. I really didn't want to do it by myself, so i ran around looking for shaul who i knew would do it with me. So we went with them to the school and they explained the details and answered some questions, then we signed the contract to teach there and they gave us the book we'll be using. Tomorrow is our first class and I'm pretty nervous about it. We both are actually...not really sure what we got ourselves into. We're trying to plan a class (we each have our own class, with 25 students) and just have no idea where to begin. Tonight we looked up some info on teaching english on the internet, it helps a bit and they have a bunch of lesson plans. Still have no idea what will happen tomorrow during the 2 hours I have to teach. Our only real regret about it, aside from havign no clue how to conduct a class, it that it might keep up from travelling on the weekends. But we should be able to get back by 3pm class from anywhere we go.

That's all i got, this update was long as hell, but hopefully was worth reading. I'll try to post something tomorrow about how the class goes.


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