Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hiking Xiang Lu Feng

I am not 100% sure how many stairs it was to the top of Xiang Lu Feng, and a quick search online did not bring me any closer to that knowledge.  Let's just assume it was a lot, like around 1100 to 1200 a lot.  That being said it was a great trip up, I absolutely loved the views that the temple at the top provided, and the journey back down was made even better by having people almost walk off of the trail because they saw a random foreigner near them.  This is a power I have here.  I literally make people stop whatever they are doing just to look at me.  I am going to assume it is only because I am so handsome. 

The start of the hike lulls you into a sense of ease.  You know there is a temple way up at the top, and you know you have to make it there, but it is a covered forest area, there are nice steps, some birds, a few people playing music, etc.  Not too bad yet.  Nothing to freak out about.
Then you start to go above the treeline and things get brutal.  Sun.  Heights.  Walking.  More damn stairs.  A dog passes you.  It reminds you that you are out of shape.  Seriously, it just runs up the path that you want to die on.  I am pretty sure that dog looked at each person on the way up, wondering just how much salt it could lick off of our bodies before they got rolled off the trail. 

Sure, I am being a bit sarcastic, but I was told it would be a quick hike, a short trip. 

It was well worth the trip up, but by no means was it quick or super easy. 

The hike up was a bit tough, but the views and rest stops along the way were amazing.  The view from the top gave an almost uninterruped 360 degree view around Shaoxing area.  I am not sure if there is a taller peak in the area, and it seemed like quite a few people hike the mountain just for the exercise and not for a religious test.  The top does have a nice monestary with a lot of monks and visitors praying and chanting, but for the most part it seemed like a journey people were taking just... well... to have a climb on the weekend.  There were a lot of kids heading up and down, some middle age and older people carrying up offerings.  A few porters were taking up construction material, and even a few random dogs putting all of us humans to shame.

If you end up in Shaoxing, I would certainly add this to a must-do list.  It is well worth the half of a day that it takes, just remember to take water, bring 15rmb for the ticket, and take a lot of photos.  There is at least one place on the way up to buy more water, but God-only-knows what they are charging.   

Honestly, I thought have living 6 floors up with no elevator and doing Wat Thom Suea twice I was the sort of person who could look at the equivalent of 100 flights of stairs and laugh.  I am going to drink more water and go back to sleep.  Pretty sure the stairs are the ones laughing tonight.  You win this round Xiang Lu Feng.

Wandering around Shaoxing on a Saturday

Shaoxing, China has a very tranquel and subtle beauty to it that really allows a person to get sucked into the atmosphere of the city and the surrounding area.  It really amazes me how I can be in an underground Wal Mart one minute, and watching a boat follow the current of a canal 100 meters away the next.  There is something amazing about how China has kept the feel of the old and mixed it in with the new. 
I wanted to write a lot about that feeling in this post, but I figure that the pictures can do the talking for me.  What I feel like digressing into is the fact that China is and has been nothing like what the news and other "sources" told us it would be like.  We have found some incredibly caring and friendly people, who both love their country and culture, but are very curious about talking to someone else about theirs.  People who have talked to us about our culture have been overly sensitive so that they do not offend, and even gone as far as asking if certain topics were ok to discuss.  I find it quite fascinating that China as a whole is judged based on a few bad apples (such as tourists in other countries or possibly urbanites).  I think that we in the west, with our fear of China and communism have really lent to this negativity rather than trying to see China as a nation of many, and I mean many, individuals. 
I do have some gripes - the wifi speed could really use an overhaul, and blocking of sites can be a hassle, but hey, not my country and not my rules.  I just think it is quite sad that we judge all of china based on our 1950's McCarthy era fears of a Red Menace. 
The only thing that I am slowly getting a bit tired of is being stared at everywhere in public.  Literally, today I watched two people walk into eachother because they were staring at me.  Like... Really?  I know I look funny, but do you need to take a selfie with me?  Am I that amazing?  Doubtful. 
So, back to Shaoxing, I freakin' love it.  I mean, look at the photos, what is not to love?  It is an amazing mixture of 1,000 year old buildings with modern highways.

So, here I type, trying to figure out if the photos can even be seen on the 90's era laptop with a terrible graphics card that make them all look like something out of a Van Gogh painting.  I will try to be a bit better about posting, however as I am working on a laptop that seems to have the processing speed of an Apple IIe, forgive my spelling mistakes and my formatting issues, as spell check is not a thing... at all.  Perhaps one day in the future I can try and fix said issues, but more likely I will just leave them as a stain on the otherwise perfect (hahaha) blog, and keep moving foward. 
Speaking of that issue.  Just to give you an idea of how hard it is to now add photos onto the blog posts.  Here is the process.
1. Take said photo with my iPhone which is not connected to the Chinese mobile network.
2. Wait until I get wifi (usually close to dial-up speed) and send said photo to my email account.
3. Download the photo to my Chromebook which has the fastest connection rate.
4. Transfer that photo to a jump drive.
5. After it is transferred to a jump drive, load it onto my 90's era dinosaur computer. 
6. Upload it to the blog using a mixture of workarounds and other such grey-area techie things.
7. Never be quite certain the photos are even visible as I cannot actually see my blog in this country.
8. Realize that when China and Google get along better, I will be much happier.  Much much happier.
9. Sadly wish that I had chosen a different blogging platform to run off of than Google Blogger. 
10. Consider starting a new blog on a site that China is ok with so I do not need a work-around. 
11. Give up and go back to step 1.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Tourism and Shaoxing

During the last weekend we were able to shoot some photos around the downtown historical area of Shaoxing.  I have also been trying very hard to figure out how to upload photos to the blog so that I  can add something more than my writing and culture shock to these posts. 
While I do not have the system down perfectly yet, the following photos are from around the historical downtown area of Shaoxing, with most of them being taken at a place where most of the ancient caligraphy was done, and the second portion being taken in an older garden in a home.  I also tried to take a few around the streets.  What amazes me about Shaoxing is not the greenery, which is quite beautiful, but the intricate nature of all the canals that cross the city.  All of these canals have small boats that are being paddled by a lone figure in the back using his foot to paddle and oar while steering with same oar or with a small rudder by hand.

I can see why people are so quick to fall in love with this city.  While we are still far from being settled, as my Chinese is bordeline pathetic, the city is full of charm and really does beg to be explored.  I will try and write more in the next post now that I might have found a more reliable method of uploading and editing.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Few Notable Changes

While there are a lot of different things that could stand out as defining the culture shock of the moving to China experience, I have tried to narrow it down to a few.
1. Public toilets...
I live in a 6th floor walk up.  I always walk up to use the bathroom when it requires any extra amount of time... or sitting.  There is something about squatting (and yes, I mean squatting) over a public toilet that makes me really want to wait.
I have gotten into the habit of always carrying some form of toilet paper with me, just to be prepared.  Always, and I mean always carry a small amount of soap and toilet paper with you in any public restroom in Southeast Asia.  Period.  Just do it.
2. Eating in public...
I no longer want to put my arms on the tables.  At any noodle house that I have been to, the custom is to take the things out of the bowl that you have either eaten and want to discard (think of the heads of shrimp or shells on different mollusks).  While they do come by and wipe off tables... just... you know.
3. Smoking...
Perhaps I forgot what it was like to be in the US when smoking was still always allowed in public spaces and restaurants, but wow is it all coming back to me now.  It is not uncommon to eat lunch in a noodle shop, see a man finish his meal, take off his shirt and light up a cigarette.  Just go ahead and make yourself comfortable why-don't-ya?
4. Noise...
Yelling, honking, music, flashing lights... everything.  While most everyone can and will be respectful, it is just different.  You just have to remember, it is different and that is just the way it is done.  For example, see my earlier blog post about the funeral near our house.  The family rented loud speakers and played funeral music for about 3-4 days straight.  
There are always fireworks going off somewhere in the area.  I think I hear the pops from fireworks about... three to four times a day.  
5. Respect
I have been working at the school now for a little over a week.  So far we have had teacher's day and the mid-Autumn festival.  While we did work on teacher's day, the local government did give us a bonus of about 200rmb (30USD) and we also got a gift from the school of a few trays of moon cakes.  The school really does seem to respect this profession far more than most people respected teachers in the US.  
Yes, you might say that people say they respect teachers in the US, but when push comes to shove, good luck getting them to sign a petition or come to a parent night.  Here in Asia you have to find ways to politely turn down gifts because of how much more they respect you.
The 30USD also made me laugh because a few years ago, our teacher appreciation gift from our union was an empty bank bag with Hawaii State Teacher Association printed on it.  At least here in China they gave me something to put inside the bag.  (I still have that bag to remind me just how much HSTA cares...).
6.  Food
Buying food might seem like an easy thing, but when you walk into a lot of resteraunts here in China, they might have a live animal staring at you to pick from.  Now, this is not just the usual lobster in a tank or a few fish, but snakes, turtles... yeah... anything.  You literally play the hand-of-God and select your meal.  Needless to say, after trying some cobra-whisky in Cambodia, I am pretty much turned off of snakes for a long time.
Side note - if someone offers you Cobra whisky, always say no.  You are not Archer... You cannot ever be Archer.  Deal with it like an adult.  Just say no.
7.  Door Handles
So many of the handles over in our area or just the... key.  You literally just put the key in the door and turn.  The key then locks into place so you can open the door with the key.  Honestly, it still confuses me.  
8.  The deadly silent mopeds
The mopeds in our city are all electric.  They run perfectly silent.  They drive anywhere they want.  The last thing I hear before one kills me will be the little beep they make.  I am sure that will be the way I die.
9.  Crosswalks
Crosswalks are basically pedestrian zones, but ones that are more of a target area than anything else.  You walk/dodge across them, but the cars still continue to make turns.  You as a pedestrian do not ever have a right-of-way here.  Cars can and will come from any angle and run you over.  I actually think it might be safer to cross the road outside of a crosswalk zone than inside of one. 
10. No internet for almost anything, and the android market place is full of fake apps. Have a Chinese friend download apps for you.  Literally everything on the android market place is completely fake. 
11. There is always a better deal.  Case and point of this would be when we got our cell phones.  The plan was 80rmb a month.  We did not like that, so they dropped it to 50.  You know, because why not?  Then we went back and needed to get some cheap phones that connected to the "4g" network.  (Notice I used quotation marks).  They took another 30rmb a month off of the plan then too.  We are now down to paying 20rmb a month for our phone plan.  Combined we now pay 6 USD a month for two cell phones, and 4gb of data.  Yes, you read that right... 6.  I can keep our two phones on for about a year for the cost of one month of service for one phone in the US.  Really makes you think...

The Medical Exam

There is almost nothing that I hate more than getting a shot or having my blood drawn.  Now, it is nothing about the blood, which does not bother me at all, but having to have a needle in me...  There are a lot of words that i would like to use to describe how much I hate having a needle in me, but none of them would be anywhere near correct for something so noble and fine as this blog.  I also really do not think that I have any capacity in written English to explain the depth of my hatred.  
Needless to say, when I almost passed out in the heat of the Salaya, Thailand hospital, I was hoping it would be the last blood draining I would need for some LONG amount of time.  Sadly, I had yet another distinct pleasure of meeting with those vampires that work in hospitals, and getting to have a new experience in China.  
Advice for this process in China - take a native speaker with you, and ask them to stand in various lines while you go do other parts of the process.  Place holding is a normal thing, and it saves a lot of time.  Though we did have to wait about an hour and a half to start the whole process, we managed to get an electro-cardio-gram, blood test, chest x-ray, vision test, ultrasound, and have our height and weight checked in about 45 minutes.  Honestly, for the price, it is not bad at all.  The key is having someone to wait in the next line for you.  Yes, in the US people would get punched for pulling a stunt like that, but here, totally acceptable.
So, we took advantage of it, and managed to clear the whole process in a short time.  
While I hope that I can go a long time without having to visit somewhere that decides that my blood is more interesting outside of my body versus inside, I hope that when it has to happen again that it will be with the same efficiency as here in China.  
Also, all those tests cost us 72usd. Suck it US healthcare system. 

The Transition

The transition from the Kingdom of Thailand to the People's Republic of China has been less smooth than I had hoped for, but overall another great learning experience.  While I would love to say that it was made without bruises and tears, at times I think that I have personally felt the strain of starting a new life, in a new place, with a different language and many different customs.  
I must admit and say that we have met some amazingly nice people and have had the best experience with meeting fellow expats and nationals who have done their utmost to help us move in without any headache.  
We were picked up from the airport after going through security and immigration during the height of the preparation for the G20.  I had anticipated that this would take us hours.  We cleared everything in under 30 minutes.  I was blown away.  
Also, after living in Thailand for a year, I was also shocked by the lack of traffic.  We drove for about an hour and made it to our new place.  
Which is a 6th floor walk-up. 
Guess we are both going to be skinnier whether we like it or not.  
Based on just the different buildings that I have had the chance to visit during my short two weeks here, I am starting to think that elevators might not be a thing in this part of the country.  
Sadly, just looks like that is part of the transition.  I am proud to say though, that we are both able to climb the stairs with no problems, so I guess our health is not as bad as we thought.
The transition period was rough.  We moved in the night before a funeral was happening near our neighborhood, so we got Chinese funeral music day-and-night for about three to four days straight.  It was clashing of symbols, instrumental, fireworks, etc.  It sounded like a bad movie on repeat.  Needless to say that whenever the CD or whatever needed to be switched over we gave a silent prayer that it was finally over.  It was not.  They only took a break from about 11:30pm until about 5:00am.  Couple this with the fact that we were sleeping on a futon on the floor of the living room because the air conditioner was not working in the bedroom, and we were a bit... exasperated.  
We were able to find some great quality local food and took the time to get to know the school area.  
The air conditioner has since been fixed and life is starting to return to the normal routine of prep for lessons, teach, go for a run, eat some dinner, sleep, etc. 
Most of the minor repairs in the apartment have been made, and we have had the chance to make a few friends here and there from both the local and expat community.
Sadly, since facebook and google do not work, it might be a long time before I have the chance to upload photos to the blog... since it is hosted as a google domain.  Oh well though, I guess that this is the price of traveling to certain parts of the world.  
Overall, the transition was quite difficult at first, but we have been quite lucky to have a few people who have gone above and beyond to help us transition easier.
Now, for the list of frustrations:
1. The internet here is abysmal.  Sometimes it is almost comedic, but when the phone says you are covered by "4g" but you have trouble sending a text message, you start to wonder if perhaps 4g means something quite different.
2. Wifi is spotty at best.  While it is nice that there are a lot of free networks scattered around, it is hard to use most of them because they can be very spotty.  God help you if you want to upload a photo or stream a movie.  Ain't gonna happen.  Now, I know that people will read that and say that these are things that you just don't worry about.  You know, go outside and enjoy stuff.  Well, when you transition from being a tourist to actually living in a place, these are things you care about.  Sorry, I have never met an expat that does not count wifi as a vital part of daily life.  Communication is key.
3. Getting things repaired.  The school has been very helpful in the process of getting our apartment fixed up, and all the odds and ends working, but I cannot tell you how many times the man has been up to repair our sink, and god help them if my internet ever decides it wants to work steadily instead of this intermittent fiasco that creates more headaches than it solves.  
While it may seem like I am complaining about the transition a lot, overall it has been quite a good move and a good experience.  We are currently waiting on our boxes from Thailand so that we can add the things that will turn this from a temporary dorm room into somewhat more of a home.  God only knows how many boxes I will have to carry up these six flights of stairs...
Well... 103 stairs... and 103 Stairs down...
Times that by 8 boxes... 
206 stairs by 8 boxes... 
1,648 stairs... 
Yeesh, I am not looking forward to that.  

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Move

The level of emotion upon reaching a new home location is directly related to just how little you have slept and just how little the place is what you expected.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I wanted this level of difficulty and this level of hardship. As we lay on the floor of the new apartment, here long before our boxes and other trinkets that make a house into a home, I can honestly say that I long for the simplicity and peace that comes with being stationary. There is a calm in the sedentary life.
There are half unpacked suitcases waiting and new frustrations that will arise. Cell phones that don't work, wifi that should exist but doesn't, and air a walk up apartment that threatens to make me skinny. I have to remind myself that I wanted to experience, and this is part of it. You cannot wade into the shallow end of the pool of life experience. It is a near-death experience in the deep end or you have to face the fact that you did not try at all. 
Guess it is just time to try and keep my head above water...?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tips for moving internationally

You have decided to become an expat, congratulations. Welcome to a world of not understanding other people, haggling for basic items, and treating life like an adventure.
It is fun, anxiety inducing, and really forces you to stay on your toes. A week after I moved to Thailand, I was thrilled to death because I had figured out how to ask for ten baht coins and do laundry all on my own - something I had been doing for 15 years at that point. 
You really do learn to celebrate the little things. 
Here is a list of things I wish I had known before I moved to a new country. Some of these might be more "Asia Specific" but I am sure you can take it as a jumping off point...
1. Bring an original and photo-copy of literally every single document you have. Bank statements, doctors notes, everything. 
I have been asked for the following over the course of the year.
A. Diploma
B. Marriage certificate
C. Bank statement
D. Health check (each country has things they want to know)
E. Passport copies
F. Criminal background check
G. Resume
H. Transcript
Etc. literally everything you have that proves you are... you... should be brought. You think it is hard to get a copy of your diploma a few cities away? Try 10 time zones. 
2. Get every single item notarized, preferably at the consulate or location of origin. Just do it. Don't ask why. 
3. Buy area specific products. Some things like deodorant are very area specific. I sweat, especially in the tropics. The bullshit spray on deodorant does next to nothing. My armpits and the noses of others survive on people taking pity on me and mailing me deodorant. Bring a damn Costco case with you. The same goes with underwear. Just trust me, bring underwear. Lots of it. 
3a. Tampons - my wife said tampons. Adding that. Just trust her on it.
4. Medicine. Certain meds can be quite difficult to get your hands on, while others are cheap. Get on an expat forum and find out which category yours falls into. 
5. Pack very light. You can buy all that bullshit when you get to your new location. 
6. Depending on your location, consider a suitcase with wheels. Not all infrastructure is created equally. Honestly for travel I like a frame pack because the sidewalks can be quite shitty but that does cause you to appear to be in the 20-something age category.
7. Cosmetics - Asia is obsessed with skin whiteners. Literally everything will whiten your skin. Bring your own sunscreen as well unless you want to whiten your skin with local brands.
8. Asia has Asian sized clothes. If you are bigger or taller, bring your own stuff. You won't find your size here.
9. Leave your ideas of women's liberation, child labor, PETA  etc at home. It is different here and you will only insult the people you are "trying to save." 
10. Do not ever get involved or say anything political. You do not have freedom of speech. You opinion does not
matter and is not needed. No one cares how you do it at home. Leave it there. Don't say stupid political things when you are drunk - learn to take your opinions on matters and bury them down in a place you do tell anyone about. 
Number 10 is a big issues. I have so many people who say that they "get it" when I tell them about how they need to respect certain political and social structures in their speech and writing and them break it five minutes later. It just comes down to not being an idiot and thinking before you speak. If you cannot do either, you really don't belong abroad. Stay home, please. 
These are just a few, but they should make the move easier. Good luck and have fun exploring! 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hong Kong Visa Run

Due to an internal issue at the school I was working at, I was forced to make a VISA run.  For those of you not in the loop as to what this "VISA run" means, the idea is quite simple.  First, you have to leave a country, usually for at least a day, and then you come back into said country under a different VISA.  I had the opportunity to visit a few friends from college who live in Hong Kong.  Up to this point, my understanding of Hong Kong was based on some fictionalized history novels and a few bad action movies, so I was quite new to the whole experience.  To say the least, I was quite blown away by the beauty that is Hong Kong.
Hong Kong must be what photographers dream about when they go off to sleep.  When they pray to the Gods of photography (St. Daguerre or what-have-you), they must hope to be reborn in Hong Kong.  With the mixture of mountains, the chaos of the streets, the cold blue water, and the skyscrapers all thrown together into the same frame, it is hard to resist snapping a million photos.  I tried my best to just stick to a few that I thought turned out well and told the story of my trip.  Sadly, I am by no means a good photographer, but if you are looking for someone who actually can take photos and lives in Hong Kong - check out his work.

The bus drivers in Hong Kong take the corners so fast that they have their own bar to hold on to.  This was right after he almost hit a lady walking across the street.  Homie ain't messing around!