Saturday, April 24, 2004

Yangshuo and Suzhou

It's been way too long since i updated this blog...a combination of just being extremely busy and extreme laziness. I've really been neglecting my studying a little over the last few weeks, but I don't feel like my chinese is neccessarily worse for it. Basically if I have an opportunity to hang out with chinese people or see something new and interesting here at the cost of my grades, I've decided that it's worth it. I came here to learn chinese and experience china, not to do well on chinese tests, so I've been trying to live it up a little lately.

I never posted the rest of the Yangshuo story. The three of us ended up just staying in that city for the whole week. We had planned to go to one other place, but my friend got rather seriously sick so we stayed there the whole time. It was a great time overall, and I met some interesting people. We rode bikes around a couple days just to check out the countryside, but didn't go into any of the famous sites mainly because of the obscene prices they were charging for the tickets. When I see a price of $10 US to get into a cave, I just think of the rediculous meal I could buy with that money and decide not to go in, and then when you leave the entrance and have ten old women literally run over to you to try and sell you water or drinks because they seemingly need the $.25 they will make off that bottle so badly, it makes the price seem even more obscene. Furthermore, when you already have an empty bottle of water, and one of the women asks to take it from you because she can carry it to some place and get paid $.001 to recycle it (we asked how much she gets), there is just no way I'm going in. Plus, it's just a cave, seen them before, or it's a weird shaped mountain, or an extraordinarily large tree, or some famous author's mansion. Pretty much every tourist site in China that I've had to pay to go into has been grossly overrated. Many chinese people say "O, this place is so famous for blah blah blah blah, you have to go see it" and it turns out to be some old home you pay $5 to go into and it's the same chinese mansion I've seen 10 times already. It was like $5 to get into the Grand Palace area in Bangkok, and $40 for a 3 day pass to Angkor Wat, two of the most incredible sights I've ever seen - China is really cheap overall, but so many of these tourist sites are just ripoffs. Anyway, sorry for the rant, just got back from Suzhou, where all the tourist sites were very expensive and it annoyed me. I could go on a long tangent about why the prices are so expensive, with the supply and demand of domestic tourism in china, but I think I'll save that for another time...

Here are some pics of Yangshuo, it is an amazingly beautiful area:

Anyway, so Yangshuo was nice and relaxing, just the spring break I wanted. Bought some cool stuff, ate a lot of great food, especially homemade apple crumble and hot gooey chocolate cake...there are very few good desserts in chinese food. The trainride back wasn't as cool as the trainride there, but it was still kind of interesting. On both train-rides we taught people how to play Egyptian Ratscrew (the card game) and people really liked it. If I could start an egyptian ratscrew phenomenon here in china it would definitely be one of the premier accomplishments in my life (I see people playing cards here all the time, usually it's a variation of Asshole with gambling involved). Of course, I destroyed everyone I've played here at Ratscrew...I don't think i've lost at that game since I was a little kid...I am the Screwmaster.

The week was also pretty fun. Teaching the kids last sunday went alright, it's so much easier now with the chinese teacher to help me and the fact that I'm just better at teaching after having a little experience. Don't have to teach tomorrow or the next weekend because of the Labor Day holiday, it's a week long here, and it's one of the most popular times to travel. I'm looking forward to going to some of Hangzhou's tourists spots and checking out the crowds.

I went to Suzhou yesterday, a city that is famous for its gardens. There is a saying that innumerable chinese people have told me that goes like this "In heaven there is paradise, on earth there is Hangzhou and Suzhou." I figured since I'm in Hangzhou, I should check out Suzhou also since it's only 2 hours away. Definitely not paradise. It was cool though, had a good time. I had a "friend" there to show me around. This is kind of interesting: When I was in Wuzhen this girl wanted to take a picture with me and some of us other foreigners (a pretty common thing at tourist spots), so we started talking to her and she is an english major in suzhou. I figured since I planned to go to Suzhou and at the time had just bought a cell phone, should get her number. Got her number and kept in touch over txt messaging the last month or so, and finally went with a friend to Suzhou yesterday and she showed us around. But not only did she show us around, she paid for everything. Bought us all our meals, snacks, and paid for every cab. We tried very hard to pay for stuff, or at least pay for one good meal, but she refused. At the end, she gave us bookmarks that she hand-embroidered. It was pretty weird, but she was just incredibly nice and sweet. The sites in Suzhou were nice and worthwhile, but I probably would have been disappointed with the city just going and seeing some tourist sites.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Right now I'm in Yangshuo been here for about two days now. The train ride down to Guilin was as smooth as possible. Me and my friend Ian (one of the guys i'm travelling with) were talking before hand about "wouldn't it be cool if there were just like some hot girls in our cabin and we just chilled with them the whole time," well our wish came true and sure enough there were two hot girls two bunks below us and we just hung out with them the whole time speaking chinese and playing cards. Also slept really well, much better than i expected to, woke up the next morning, and got off the train. We met up with ian's friend in guilin, and all of us went down to yangshuo. The area around here is beautiful, it is all small mountains, but they are like nothing i've ever seen. they are really steep on all sides, almost like platueaus, but there are trees and plants growing the whole way up. i'll put a few pictures up next week. the city here is also really cool. it's like a western traveller's paradise, all kinds of streetside cafes with genuinely good western food (most of them seem to be owned by expats). I've seen more forks and knives in the last couple days than the last two months in china. got a real breakfast with eggs over easy, toast, butter, fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, and was delicious.

the first night we just hung out in the city and chilled at a couple bars. It's a great city just to relax for a couple days with no real agenda. yesterday we rented mountain bikes and rode out into the countryside. That was fun, took a lot of great pictures. Then last night hung out again in the city, and today we climbed a mountain and chilled up there for awhile. There are lots of really touristy stores around, and it's hard to avoid buying some of the crap...i bought a pretty pimping silk robe and a huge dragon pipe.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Had midterms all week this week, nothing interesting happened or was about to happen. It was a pretty crappy week, but now Spring Break has sprung and I'm heading down south to Guilin for the week. Taking the train down there, 24 hour train ride, should be quite fun. Not much else to write, if you're looking for enterntainment, please check out this, this, this, and definitely this.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Wanted to update this all week, but I've been really lazy. Last weekend after the rugby match the good times just continued. Found a pretty cool bar that night, hung out there for the night and met a bunch of cool chinese people. Next day went to Wuzhen. To me, the city is basically just a tourist trap. It's something like a cross between a renaissance fair and museum. It actually is something of an ancient city, and there are lots of canals and houses of important people in Chinese history. But there is also stuff like this demonstration:

Which overall was much cooler than the town or sites themselves. I actually liked the ride to Wuzhen much better than the city itself. I just watched the countryside go by and took a lot of pictures from the bus of people walking around and the scenery. I feel like some of the best pictures I've taken have been from buses in the last few months. Here are a couple good ones...

I wish I could just upload all my pictures, but it's such a pain to go to the internet cafe with my laptop and explain what I want to do. I tried to do it again a couple weeks ago, but the internet cafe guy said I wasn't allowed and if I wanted to i would have to talk to his boss (who I talked to the last time i did it and he let me) and the boss wouldn't be back for like 5 hours. It was more annoying because i had already paid for time and he refused to give my money back. Anyway, I'll try to do it eventually.

Other cool stuff happened last weekend, but nothing quite as interesting as what happened this friday night. It was one of the strangest things i've ever seen. We (about 5 of us) were leaving this bar at a pretty happy stage in the night and start walking down the street just wandering around trying to find another decent bar, then out of nowhere we see this line of people start hopping out of a barbershop. Yes, I said hopping...also, remember this was at about 11:30pm on a friday night. There were guys and girls, but mostly guys. They were all barbers, I could tell because all the male barbers here have dyed long hair (I think there is some kind of barber gang here where the initiation includes dying your hair and other vile obscenities). Walk by any barbershop in Hangzhou, and there are guaranteed to be at least 5 or 6 guys with long dyed hair chilling, watching cheesy chinese TV, and probably talking about what new colors they can dye their hair. Back to the story, so we're walking down the street and see this seemingly endless line of barbers jumping down the block. We can't stop laughing...we have no idea what is going one friend decides to jump along with them and hops down the street with them -- to their inifinite delight. Then they get to the end of the block, turn around and all start hopping back. It was like a huge game of leap frog, but without the leaping over each other. They hop back to the barber shop that they came from, we were about to ask what the hell was going on, and some guy just shuts the door in our face. Two days later it's still bothering me...what the hell were they doing? My only guess is that it was some kind of barber initiation ritual. We all figured they went back inside to have a big dyed-hair initiation orgy. Nothing the rest of the night lived up to that encounter....