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Land Where Trees Grow in Row

Approximately 123 million pairs of wooden chopsticks are disposed of in China everyday

The next morning we rushed out the door (skipping my coveted second shower), and packed into a taxi to the train station (weren't we just here yesterday? -yes). Last night Wei Ping's friend picked us up from the airport and drove us to our 5* hotel, but today he had work.

Our only pictures of Beijing (so far):

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At the train station Master Yang already had our train tickets, so all we had to do was wait. He told us we had to leave so early because if we had left any later we would have hit Beijing rush hour, and it would have taken us 4 times as long to make it to the train station. This, even though I didn't get my second shower, I was grateful for. Then it hit Joe, "The crossbow!" Last night he discovered that it was much easier to carry the crossbow in 2 parts, the trigger and shaft section, and then the perpendicular string and bow section. He could fit the trigger section easily in the side water pouch of his backpack, but the bow part was too tall, so he took it out of the backpack to fit it into the trunk of the taxi. And when we got all of our stuff out of the taxi, he forgot to take out the bow section. "We should just throw the rest out." he told me. "NO! Not after we carried that thing halfway up the mountain!" I was really against getting rid of it, especially since Joe fell in love with the trigger section anyways. It was the only crossbow who's finger rest was made out of curved wood rather than the straight chops of wood used on all the rest. Plus, he convinced me that it was a present that he would like more than Nate since Nate is more into the antique looking old stuff that really isn't for fighting, and Joe likes newer and simpler weaponry that could be made out of balsa wood for all he cares as long as it functions. So, sorry Nate, we will try to replace the crossbow with something even better.

At the station we met Master Yang's father who swears he has met me before. At breakfast in the train station I asked Master Yang if his father ever came to Ohio to meet us before, and he said that his father thinks every white girl who is a student of his is the same person. This was surprising because then he added that his parents live in Las Vegas, so I would think he would get over that whole all white people look the same bit.

Wei Ping (as we are forced to become accustomed to in the following weeks) wouldn't let us chip in for our breakfast noodles, and he didn't speak any English, so it was very difficult for me to argue. (Damn you Chinese hospitality!) Then we caught our train to Jinan, the city where Master Yang's father is from which is also the capital of Shangdong province.

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Good bye Beijing.

As we are getting situated a woman ran up to Master Yang and gave him a huge hug and started speaking rapidly in Chinese to him. Master Yang returned the hug and started pointing to me, Joe, Wei Ping, and then to his father. Well, when his finger landed on his dad the woman actually let out a little scream. His father was already beaming, apparently prepared for her reaction, and she gave him one of those tight hugs that pulls the other person side to side for a bit. Master Yang explained that it was really random to run into her, but she used to interpret for him at his martial arts tournaments, making sure that his students knew when they were to go on the stage area, making sure everyone knew what was going on, etc. He told us that she came from a poorer family, so this was kind of a big chance for her to move up in life. It seemed to have worked because she (like so many other Chinese women) was dressed really stylishly with black tights, a black skirt and suit jacket combination with a silky orange blouse and black shinny high heels. She had a seat right behind Joe and I, but she managed to talk the person sitting next to Master Yang's dad into switching with her, so for the rest of the train ride the two of them gossiped like high school best friends. It was really one of the sweetest things I've seen.

I had my book out on the train and was ready to read, but I had a window seat that looked out at China during the day! So I watched out my window to see what China actually looked like. For a long while it seemed as if the apartment complexes would never end. I asked Master Yang if there was a lot of unemployment in China, but he said no. China just has tones of people, but they do almost everything by hand, so they need tones of workers. This became more apparent when we came to the fields. Now this wasn't a slow process, we pretty much when straight from dirty and rundown apartment complexes almost 20 stories high, to open fields. It looked exactly like the train ride to Beijing. Just open fields with the occasional small dirt hut community of field workers, and then more open fields. The only trees in these fields, as far as the eye could see, appeared random, but then when you hit them at the right angle, you realize that they are all planted in straight rows, and they are all the same height and shape. All the trees in China are planted! From the trees along the roads in the city (which are many more than in America), to the trees between cities (which are many less than in America). The outlook, however you want to interpret, was bleak at best. After an hour of wondering if we were really moving at all or if someone was just putting the same foggy image of tan fields with dots of snow and barren trees all in a row on a moving slide across my window; so I opened Steven King's The Gunslinger.

Unfortunately I didn't have my camera out when we hit the stop at Jingwu. You wouldn't know by the Beijing look of the city (except this town had a huge ferris wheel!), but this was the hometown of Huo Yuan Jia (the character Jet Li played in Fearless). Joe told me it wasn't a big deal, and that I shouldn't be sad that I didn't have my camera ready b/c he'd rather forget that Hyo Yan Jia's hometown was now a huge city with a giant ferris wheel.

3 hours after we embarked on our journey though China we made it to Jinan. Here we met Wei Ping's nephew who's wife worked in the train station police and was the one who got us all of our tickets (otherwise we wouldn't have gotten the days we wanted to travel, or seats, so I've been told). But that was all I was told as we walked out of the train station and they spoke Chinese to each other (this happens a lot in China). We walked a few blocks over and then headed into the China Post Hotel. "Is this where we are staying?" I asked Master Yang. "No! Not here! Here we eat lunch!" Of course, why didn't I think of that? In the elevator he explained that Wei Ping worked for the China Post Office and that he can get banquet halls for lunch very cheep at their hotels. At the 3rd floor a beaming young girl with big eyes behind small, purple, rectangular glasses met us. She had on pink pajama pants and a tan Amelia Earhart jacket. (I liked her already. First Chinese girl I met not wearing stiletto boots and ridiculously stylish clothes. As a traveller, we thank you for not dolling up). Her name was LiLi (sp?), and she was Wei Ping's niece. When introducing ourselves everyone seemed to have a lot of trouble saying "Vanessa," no problems with "Joe," but my name was catching on everyones tongs. So I asked Lili to give me a Chinese name. So from now on I am no longer Vanessa, Ness, Van, Anesa, V, or Rain. But going back to my original nicknames (ones that sound like my real name), I now am called Nisha or Nissa (its hard to tell because I think its somewhere in between the two, so for all intents and purposes (or all intensive purposes if that saying rings a bell for you more... thats right, you're illiterate, learn to deal), I say and write Nisha.

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From left to right is Master Yang's father, Wei Ping, Master Yang, Joe, and then me, Nisha. The center of the table is typical in China where there is a spinning disk that they put dishes on, and then everyone spins it around and eats mostly from those central dishes. Most people don't seem to fill their personal plates, they just pick from the middle dishes and eat. We could use one of these at Thanksgiving.

Halfway through lunch a nervous sounding girl wearing a neon pink jacket and round frameless glasses came into the room, introduced herself as Bing Qing, told us that she is happy to meet us and to speak English to us, and that she was a biology major at Shangdong University, and she hopes to travel to America to continue her studies, and she is 20 years old. At first I was thinking, oh man, this kid knows no English at all, so when she sat next to me I just nodded at her and told her it was nice to meet her too. Then after lunch Master Yang took us to our newest 5* hotel. It was only a few blocks away, so we walked to it across the dangerous roundabout before the train station. We were told that we stay in all these 5* hotels for very cheep b/c Wei Ping has connections in Beijing and Jinan with hotel owners. So rather than paying around 500 or more yuen a night, we pay around 200 (about $30). He also said that a lot of these fancy hotels were only build in the last 3 or 4 years getting geared up for the Olympics, so many of these snazzy hotels are desperate to fill their vacancies. Our hotel for our duration in Jinan had Greek interior decoration with statues and paintings adorning the lobby.

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From left to right is Lili, Joe, Me, Bing Qing, Master Yang, Master Yang's dad, then Lili's brother's wife and her brother.

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Next Master Yang said that Bing Qing was going to take us shopping for winter clothes. I was extremely glad for this because it was frigid outside! There was a nasty wind that added to the already below freezing temperature, and everyone said that it was Master Yang's fault, because last week it was in the mid to upper teens. (Way to bring the cold back from Ohio with you!) Bing Qing explained to us that we were going to take the bus to an underground shopping mall, and I started to feel a little more comfortable with her english. But then on the bus while we rode for about 15 min. I was surprised to discover that she was actually really good at english and that her speech when she walked in the room wasn't just comprised of everything she knew how to say in english, but she was just that thorough of a person.

The underground shopping mall was actually in the heart of the city under the symbol of Jinan:

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Bing Qing said that it was the largest green square in all of China (Tiananmen square is the largest square in the world, according to the Chinese, I'm not sure if everyone else concurs). She said it is very beautiful in the spring and summer, but being that it was still winter it was a little not beautiful looking. Below the square was an actual shopping mall with actual shopping mall prices, so neither of us found anything. To top off what slow and pathetic shoppers Joe and I were, Bing Qing hated shopping, so it made the process even more grueling. I told her that I was more looking for an open market with disposable jacket prices since I wasn't planning on being cold for long enough to drop $40 (about 273 yuen) on a jacket. Joe needed to sit down after about an hour of bad shopping, so he chilled out in the McDonalds (they are everywhere!) while Bing Qing and I settled for going to the super market to at least buy some gloves. I got them for American prices, but they were only gloves, so it wasn't that much money. Then after we took Joe away from his red bean pies (there are no cherry or apple pies at Chinese McDonalds, you can have red bean, sweet taro (my favorite, and a really pretty color lavender), or pineapple), we headed across the square to Boutu Springs Park, the actual symbol of Jinan (the city of springs).

Going to the springs we didn't realize how big of a deal the place was, so we were kinda surprised when they charged 30 yuen to get in. This wasn't a problem b/c we hadn't had to spend any of our cash since Master Yang came in yesterday (hotels he takes us to accept visa). Most places in China don't accept Visa or any other kind of credit card. They only accept cold hard cash, so Joe and I have been having to carry around a lot of money since we came to China, and normally this would be alarming, but in China we haven't had a problem. Everyone has been scaring us half to death about people slicing our backpacks and bumping into us thereby stealing our wallets. But we haven't had any of that, and so I think that it just goes to show you that as long as you are careful, you really are quite safe in China. We haven't even seen a single beggar! Well, until right in front of this big city tourist attraction. It was really ruthless how we handed over what would be 30 dollars to this beggar just so we could see some temples and springs, and it only cost to us $4. We could have easily handed him over 30 yuen and it would have meant all the world, but we didn't. We guarded our cash and ran inside the place, worried that if we didn't hurry he would steal our identities. (Who? Us, still scarred? Nah... well, maybe.)

In any case, the place was pretty fantastic (if you consider that it was in the negatives outside, so no green on the trees) :

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This is China's answer to Japan's rock gardens (never tell a Chinese person I said that! They really do hate the Japanese). They have these huge holey rocks up on these pedestals arranged in organized chaos.

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And here are where the springs really bubble up:

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They have little bubbles coming up all over the park, but here they have actual fountains of water. Inside the nearest temple is a history of the springs, and it said that they get higher in the summer because the increase in rainfall causes an increase in water pressure. It also had a black and white photograph of a time when the spring shot up over 80 ft. high!

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These waterlines light up at night and generally aren't part of the park. All of the bright inflatable floats have been added to the park in celebration of the Chinese New Year (we are in the year of the Tiger if you haven't heard).

Bing Qing wanted to leave pretty early so we could go on a boat ride, but Joe and I agreed that we would like to see the whole park before we left since it was really nice (and we did pay for it... and we are cheap). Which I think it was a good thing we did because we got to see this amazing mansion.

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(Thats Joe and Bing Qing.)

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(And this is part of the mansion that the Communist government took from a family and turned it into a public museum. Bad for the family, but good for the tourists.)

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Now it was getting too cold for us to be outside anymore, so we headed back to our hotel. That night we had a huge banquet at the same location as lunch, but a much bigger room because we added about 3 times as many people.

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To the right of Master Yang is the doctor who didn't speak English, but Bing Qing translated that he thought Joe's stitches were fantastically done (thank god!)

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Lili's father, Master Zhang, is between Master Yang and Master Yang's dad. This is the position of honor, the "head of the table" if we weren't sitting Camelot style (coy word choice, I know, well it was until I pointed it out at least). He is a very famous master calligrapher in China, and the last disciple of one of the best calligraphers in China who said that Master Zhang's calligraphy was even better than his own (pretty cool). The woman on the very left of the photo is Master Yang's english translator for his tournaments (notice how she snagged the spot next to Master Yang's dad... he is quite the ladies man).

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Then she got bumped by the Chinese Opera singer (again, the closer you are to the "head" of the table, the cooler you are, and Opera singer beats english translator).

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During the dinner Master Zhang unveiled his newest calligraphy masterpiece. I believe it means happiness. It is the same symbol that is used on diamond shaped posters that adorn everyone's doors in China. I think it might be just for the new year, but I haven't gotten any direct answers on the subject. Everyone was very excited about the painting... but I admit I didn't quite get it (neither did Joe, that is, until he saw him actually paint, and then it was like a whole different ball game - bad idiom, I don't know why I couldn't' think of something better.)

One of Master Yang's Kung Fu brother's, Master Wong, came to dinner a bit late, and he was who was this hilarious bald man who would soon become a dear friend to us. Near the end of the meal (which I will get back to in a moment), both Master Wang and the opera singer preformed for us. First the woman sang a song I believe was a patriotic song about China (thanks to the occasional translation from Bing Qing), and she was amazing.

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Without any voice exercises or preparation, she stood up from the dinner table and belted out one of the most amazing songs I have ever heard in person. I hate opera singing, don't get me wrong, but I do admire anyone who can pull it off as a master of song, pitch, and lung endurance! Then right afterwards Master Wong stood up (apparently with a dish he broke in the hallway with a 2 finger strike, a sign of a true master not to show off to strangers) and started telling a sing song poem about a tiger.

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Like the running of horse hooves he clinked the 2 parts of the dish together in one hand, while the other gestured along with his tale. Very entertaining, very enthusiastic, and apparently very funny (I didn't get his jokes... maybe it was the language barrier).

Back to the dinner. Master Yang started it off with introducing us as his students, and then promptly saying, as they passed out individual bools with sea cucumbers inside, that Joe is a good guy who will eat anything. Then Joe proceeded to point out that I don't like seafood, which most of the room seemed to miss (no english) but Master Yang made it a point to continue the joke (at my expense) to everyone in chinese. The entire table (about 20 people: Wei Ping, his wife (the woman with the green long sleeve shirt who is not me), his close friend (man with the zip up gray jacket), the doctor, Master Yang's english translator for his tournaments, Lili and her brother and his wife and Master Zhang, Bing Qing, the opera singer, Master Wong, Master Yang and his dad, and maybe a few others I've forgotten) all started asking me in Chinese why I didn't eat seafood and how good it was for me. Yeah, this is a great way to start out a several hour banquet.

I ended up eating a lot of seafood this evening, due to the remarks about me not eating seafood, and I even called to Master Yang's attention as I took the finishing bite of my sea cucumber! It tasted like bland, squishy, wet jello. The appearance of eating an entire animal was what really got to me (the mouth with all its little feelers was the worst part). Then I made a point to show Master Yang that I had finished my sea cucumber, while Joe had only eaten half (me? vindictive? Nah... well, maybe). After eating everyone stuck around and smoked cigarets and gave "Gan bei!" to everyone around the table.

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When Wei Ping and his wife came over to give a "Cheers" to Joe and I his wife asked me if I would like one of her jackets to wear (Bing Qing translated). I told her that would be great, and then she wanted to know what style I liked (Chinese and their fashion), I told her I liked them warm.

The night ended with us walking back to our hotel with Master Yang and Master Wong who insisted that Joe take his jacket (literally right off his back). "No, no, no, no Master Wong, its okay, I don't need a jacket," Joe kept trying to tell him, but Master Wong wouldn't budge. Now, Master Wong was about my height, so Joe started using the excuse that the jacket wouldn't fit him. He kept asking Master Yang to step in and translate, but Master Yang said "I already told the guy," and left Joe to do the rest. Eventually Joe put on the jacket and showed Master Wong that the sleeves were too short, only coming halfway between his elbow and wrist. Master Wong nodded and said "Okay, okay, okay," followed by "Tomorrow..." then gesturing with his hand on his head, "I.." and then his hand shot up to as high as he could reach. "Ahh, taller, taller," Joe helped. Master Wong said "Yes, tomorrow, I taller... then," then gesturing putting a jacket onto Joe's back "here!" He finished with his token one word line, and there was no arguing.

Posted by - Rain 01:52

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