A Travellerspoint blog

How About I Meet You Halfway?

Today we have a train at 5pm leaving to Beijing to meet Master Yang at the airport! So we got up pretty early and Joe managed to communicate to the hostess that we wanted to check our bags at the hotel so we could climb Taishan without them. But we were weary to leave the laptop just in the back room, so we packed Joe's backpack with the laptop, passports and snacks, and then we took the bus back up to Taishan. It let us off at the ticket office again, so to start at the main staircase we had to walk across the street and beyond the bridge to the right a little ways, past some curves in the road, and then to what we believed to be the entrance to the staircase.

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Here we find a functioning hand crafted crossbow (Joe tried it out by shooting the store wall). He really liked how the wood was fashioned together in a way that you knew someone had put it together by hand like a really good physics project in high school. So since Nate bought Joe a really nice antique looking crossbow that didn't work from Europe, Joe got Nate a not so fancy looking crossbow that worked really well from China. Then, we carried the thing all the way up the mountain strapped onto our backpack, and most of the people on the way up let us know that they liked our crossbow (we got many thumbs up, as well as smiles and laughs).

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We walked up some stairs just through the forest for a while before we came up to anything, and then one of the first things we found was completely unpredicted. We found an obelisk. A miniature Washington Monument standing right against the sitars to an ancient cluster of Taoist temples on a sacred mountain in China.

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Then I read the inscription on the right face (so cool!) and I realized that this obelisk was probably the newest thing added to the Mountain besides the shops (which are not so cool). I couldn't read much, but I could read the date:
January 7th, 1946

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I figured it was a war memorial built on January 7th to commemorate the Japanese surrender almost 6 months earlier. Then we found the description sign written in Chinese, and then English, which stated just as much.

We passed a lot of rocks with some really nice calligraphy carved into them,

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we saw some temples,

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and we passed a couple of the big multi building temple areas because they were either closed off or you had to pay to get in. Since we figured we had to be off the mountain by 3pm in order to make our train, we decided not to pay the extra money and just keep heading up the stairs. Then after about an hour we came to a gate with a ticket office. It was 250 RMB for both of us to just walk the stairs past the gate.

Joe:

Crap, that's a lot of money! We talked it over. We tried saying that we're students, but we had no student IDs. How can Chinese people afford 125 bucks for one person to climb a mountain? The Chinese upper middle class now makes probably half what we make in America, but most common goods still cost 1/7th the American prices. They just save their money for the occasional ridiculous expense. It's all part of living in a society that is growing and advancing too fast. I think all third world countries

Rain:

The nice thing was that beyond that gate (about another hour beyond) we found a temple you could go into without extra cost. This temple group was really cool inside. At first you walk in and you see 3 temples around a central incense burning cauldron and you think, this will be short and not worth paying extra money for.

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There was a small temple on the right meaning that the moment you step over the "trip" guard (they say its to keep demonds out... but I think its there to trip people), you have maybe a foot in front of you before you get to the pillow on a 45 leaning up to a statue of a Buddha (not the fat, bald, smiling one; usually a stern older man with a long beard). Then the temple on the left was a bit bigger with 3 different statues you could kneel on pillows and pray to. This temple had a little Buddhist priest in it who came up to Joe and started talking to him in Chinese. "What is he saying?" I asked Joe to 1.) know what he was saying, and 2.) so the priest wouldn't try and speak to me in Chinese. Joe was struggling for a bit, repeating what the man said over again but slower, and then the sign language kicked in. "Ohhh, he is asking if we are married." He told the priest that we weren't, and the questions continued. This guy really wanted us to get married. He kept taking my hands and putting them into Joe's as if he was ready right then to officiate on our behalf. I kept saying "No, no, no, not yet," smiling to the man as I shook my head. He was very light hearted about it, but still very insistent that he could tell that we should marry each other and that when we get to the top of Taishan we should purchase a lock to attach to the incense burner at the top most temple.

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Then Joe and I bowed to the Buddha that we felt spoke to us the most, and then we left, shaking the hand of the little man, and then being tricked into having him put our hands together. As we left he told Joe one more thing that came out something like, "You don't have to listen to me, but I think you should marry each other, but you don't have to."

Then we went into the large temple and it was literally the coolest temple ever! In the center was a large golden statue of a buddha with 6 arms and 4 faces (very Hindi looking),

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with 2 larger than life sized women on either side holding up offerings. Then all along the walls were different buddhas, but not none of them were inside alters or cases like before. Instead they were along this elaborate wooden 3D art sculpture of mountains and clouds and some Buddhas had animal spirits around them while others had large weapons or scrolls depicting which god they were.

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The photos didn't come out so good because the room wasn't lit. But you can imagine what it might have been like wondering around a room surrounded with statues all part of the same picture each having their own prayer pillow you could kneel upon and ask that particular god for their blessings. Joe picked the black buddha that looked like he was very angry as he screamed and held up a coin like a bludgeoning weapon over his head.

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I picked the buddha with the little student standing behind him holding a midget sword.

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And as we were coming out of the temple to exit the courtyard back to the main staircase we saw people ducking in and out from behind the buildings, so we followed and we found that this place was actually like a little village! There were all sorts of other buildings and trees with their little crochet's (no, they are actually prayer ribbons, but Corey got me started on the idea that they are wearing little tree scarfs), and ponds with metal lotus flowers:

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(you have to try to bounce coins off the leaves and into the flower... we tried)

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Then, more walking. More stairs. 1/2 hour later:

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Cool turtle tablet. Turtle with tablets on their back are really big in China. We will find out why later. Another hour later:

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Cool tree fallen across the walkway. This was one of the 8 trees planted by one of the emperors of China. Now all of them have fallen except for one.

Then more stair mastering,

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Around this time Joe and I stopped to preform a show we like to call Ghosts Eat Lunch. It was a big hit with this group of old women who literally stood there and watched us eat sandwiches and some walnuts. Then from this point up the number of people asking us where we came from increased exponentially. Almost every person we ran into seemed shocked to see a couple of ghosts this far up the staircase, so they always asked what country we were from (thats right America, we make you look good!)

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Now its starting to get late and I'm worried that we needed to start heading back down the mountain. We said that we would give ourselves until 2pm to hike up so we would have enough time to make it back down the mountain and get our train. But Joe was insistent that we had time to make it a little further. "Just to the next big marker!" he kept saying as he pointed at our map. But when we would get to the next marker, he would say, "Look at how close we are to the halfway point!" and he would get me to keep climbing. I tried to help him out from time to time with the backpack, but I way dying now and I couldn't take another step with the backpack (I probably wore it for a total of 15 minutes on and off the whole day).

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And then, almost 5 hours after we started hiking this morning we made it to the halfway point! (And we are going to miss our train)

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(Yes, that is snow) Then these following pictures are about the same altitude as us, but a couple of hundred meters away, and then the final is a zoomed in shot of the very top.

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We could see it from the halfway point, which made me feel like we went more than half way, but I guess it means half way in altitude, so from this point on the mountain is all stairs, where as before we would have long periods of slightly up sloped ramps.

Higher vantage point of the Halfway to Heaven Gate:

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Joe was a little disappointed with the Halfway to Heaven Gate because it was very touristy. Going up the mountain there was hardly anyone. We had the place mostly to ourselves, and there was the occasional shop selling food and charms, but that was it. Here there was a huge shopping center area and tuns of people coming up to you when you go to a temple saying "Money, money, money" (in english) as they rub their fingers against their thumbs. Before there were always donation bins, but nobody ever came up to you and specifically asked you for money. And then I realized why this area was far less sacred feeling than the rest of the journey up... they had busses! At that area about the same altitude as us but a couple of hundred meters away... there was a bus station! I didn't know that there were busses to the Halfway Gate, otherwise I wouldn't have been so insistent on turning around and walking all the way back down! Taking a bus would save us at least 2 hours if not more! Joe said he knew that the busses went this high, but he didn't want to tell me b/c he thought I might cave if I knew there was another way up (his lack of faith in me!) And if busses weren't bad enough, they also had cable cars from the Halfway Gate all the way to the top!

Walking to the bus station shops:

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Hotel and restaurants:

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Looking back at the Halfway to Heaven Gate to see the cable cars:

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This is us doing a little hiking up the second half of the mountain, looking back at the Halfway Gate, but then we had to climb back down these few stairs to the busses so we could ride back down the mountain and catch our train. Our bus didn't leave for another half hour though, so since we were both very cold and tired we decided to go back to the hotel and restaurant area and get a cup of tea and coffee. The coffee was instant, but it was alright. The tea was quite good though, but it wasn't worth the prices! We expected the bill to be under 5 yuen, and when Joe asked how much we owed she told us 40! (The Chinese really have accepted western tourism pricing. I told Joe that they are just getting back to their roots, Communism doesn't soot their ancient culture, so I kinda liked how China is just as capitalistic as America... but just not at that exact moment b/c I was really pissed about being over charged.)

The ride took us about 20 minutes, and we saw the point back at the free side of the mountain where Joe and I decided to head right instead of left (if we headed left we would have been on the same road we were just driving down and we would have made it to the main staircase... we were both glad we did not choose the paved road with all the smokey busses to climb to the Halfway Gate). Back at the hotel we got our bags with no problem, and we made it to the train station with plenty of time. We walked around showing people our train ticket, and we had people hold our hands to get to our waiting area. Then a very stern little chinese lady sat us down, told us to stay, and when it was time to go she personally came back to where we were sitting, stood us up, and took us to the proper gate (stern, but helpful!) The train was a sitdown train like the one we took from Shinjin to Guangzho, and like that train it was dark ouside so we couldn't really see much of China while we traveled. So Joe and I just read our books and pointed out the city lights when we would pass a major town (in China every town is a major one), and then 3 hours later we were in Beijing! It was a little confusing, but since we learned how to use the subway in Guangzhou we made it to the airport subway fairly easily. The airport had a separate metro that went above ground and about 30 min around the city of Beijing (kinda like how Cleveland Hopkins isn't really in Cleveland so much as Lakewood). Then we started wondering around the airport trying to figure out which area Delta let out.

"Hey guys!" We hear after wondering around aimlessly for about 10 minutes. (Do all Chinese people really look alike?) It was Master Yang! We seriously didn't spot him at all and almost walked right past him! He told us that he had just gotten off his flight and was trying to find his cousin (good timing!) So the 3 of us walked around the airport for a while trying to find Wei Ping. When we found him we hopped in a car and drove 30 back into Beijing. Joe and I both thought it would have saved us a lot of time and money (the airport metro is about 5 times the cost of the normal metro), to just meet them in Beijing, but oh well. Then we checked into a really ritzy hotel around 10pm and Master Yang told Joe that if he gets hungry to give him a call b/c he was probably not going to sleep b/c of his jet lag. However, Joe and I were pretty exhausted, so neither of us woke up until 7am the next morning when Master Yang gave us a wakeup call "You ready to go?" (does this guy know Joe at all? He needs at least 1 to 2 hours warning to be ready to go anywhere!) And with that, I say:

Net Cafes Do With The Wind!

Posted by - Rain 15:05 Comments (3)

I Wish I Had My Own Theme Music

- Family guy

We woke up this morning to a scene like something from out of a movie...

Films don't have to add a soundtrack in China, it really sounds like this every day :)

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Seeing as there was a cell phone store across the street, we decided to refill our cell phone with minutes before heading up to Taishan. A little over an hour later after visiting several cell phone stores who all directed us further down the road, we decided that we weren't going to find a store that would refill our minutes. We gave up right in front of a bus stop, and the first bus that came Joe asked if they were going to Taishan, and he motioned for us to hurry up and get on the bus (was that the answer to the question? Maybe.)

The bus dropped us off at a roundabout right in front of some pillars that led the way to the mountains, making it so the mountains were like the temples themselves. The intricate detail carved into every pillar was impressive. Dragons wrapped themselves around the clouds, some holding onto little balls of Chi that released energy in poofs of smoke that must have been the essence of the morning mist on the mountains, but now was probably only the smog from Tai'an. But maybe not, the air was so much fresher here than in Shinjin, you could actually take a deep breath and feel good about doing so.

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Beyond the pillars was another roundabout filled with busses that appeared to take you up the mountain. Now Joe told me that the story goes that whoever can climb to the top of Taishan would live to be 100 years old. Is this a testament to faith? Or is it just that anyone healthy enough to make it to the top will probably live a long time? Either way, what does it mean if you take a bus to the top? Does that take 20 years off you life expectancy? We didn't chance finding out.

We did got to the ticket office though, and it seemed to be 30 yuen for the ride up, and then 125 yuen to enter the staircase. But where was the staircase? We tried to ask the ticket office, but our Chinese was hopeless. So we just left and walked over to the map that had everything but a distinct “you are here” marker. At least in America they put a big star as the marker. Here we assumed it was labeled, but being that the map was all in Chinese, we guessed.

Fist we headed across the bridge to someone's tomb,

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but all you could see was a wall with his picture on it in golden emboss.

Next we kept walking up the street past all sorts of kiosks selling rocks with Chinese symbols carved into them, walking staffs, and all sorts of prayer beads, jewelry and Chinese knots with tassels. The road kept going up, but we took a detour into the Daoist park filled with pagodas, ponds, and dried up waterfalls (most water sources in China are now dam(n)ed).

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Side note: In present time we are in Beijing and one of our friends told us that there are 2 rivers that go into the city... but none that leave it. This causes him some concern because if there is so much need for water that the city can drink 2 rivers dry, then where does their liquid waste go? (Faucets? Is this why you shouldn't drink the water in China?)

The park was still very nice, and we can only imagine how beautiful it would look in spring when the trees become green and the flowers bloom. Well, we could do more than imagine because all the pictures on the maps and billboards are of Taishan in the spring with greenery and trees loaded with cherry blossoms (or as our friend Haorong calls them: peach blooms).

---> dam(n)

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We crossed the dam(n) at the base, then climbed up the stairs to see that above the dam(n) there was a very nice lake with a double pagoda standing in it. There were also people standing in the water even though it was close to freezing that day. The men going into the water with their swim caps and speedos would give this “barbaric yalp” before entering into the water that was always answered by some anonymous person hiking into the mountains. Then their yells would be echoed by someone else, and it would jump around you in surround sound. Their yells would start medium loud, and then when they would be close to running out of air they would get louder and louder until they end with a sharp grunt.

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We crossed the dam(n) again after hiking a little ways up the road and realizing that this path was more for the busses, and that most of the people sining their yalps were coming from the same side of the lake we started on. Here we found a narrow staircase (still not at the main one yet), and we figured that if we climbed up high enough that the map showed that what could possibly be the staircase we were on would meet up with the main staircase around the halfway point (maybe).

On the staircase we saw loads of people carrying water jugs, but none of them had water in it. Then we passed people carrying full water jugs on either side of 2x4's across one shoulder heading down the sitars. I felt kinda silly carrying my water bottle up the sitars with water already in it. It seemed much more efficient to take the light load up the stairs, and then carry the heaver stuff back down. About an hour later we figured out where all these people were going, the one waterfall left with enough water to actually fall.

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It seemed that there was a sacred spring that came out of the mountain that people would hike up about ¼ of the mountain to get to. We weren't sure if it was safe for drinking though since we never saw the source of the spring, just the tiny river that flowed through the top of this mountain valley. We assumed that with the large bridge that went over this creek that the river used to be much bigger, so to honor the once great river Joe did Daofanza (which we think translates to big fanza).

After this we found the bus road again, and we decided to follow it a bit in hopes that it would lead us to the main staircase. Along the way we found a little house with a farm and we went to walk along their path that dipped down into a little ravine next to the road. I was following the path with Joe for a bit, but then I turned back because I realized what they were farming near the path... bees. The old man who was living(?)/ working there was very excited to see us, “Hello!” he called and ran up to us. Joe attempted to hold a conversation with the man in Chinese, and the old man tried to do the same in English. After a few phrases the two of them seemed to really be able to understand each other, and I figured that they would be okay without me, so I left and began walking up the road and waited for Joe where his path meets the road again.

We hiked up this road for almost a half hour when we came to a decision. The road forked, and we could either go the more level road to the left, or curve on a steep road to the right. We figured that the harder path was the one that would get us up the mountain to the main staircase, so we started hiking up the road to our right. Hours passed and we saw no other people. The road winded back and forth up the side of the mountain, and we were pretty sure by the lack of busses passing us that we were not on the road that went to where they were taking all the tourists. “To that pagoda, then we will turn back.” Joe said as we realized that we were both getting really tired and the sun was beginning to get rather low in the sky to be this high up on the mountain. The map seemed to say that if we kept heading east that we would hit the main staircase, and the mountain range was in the north, so as long as we kept heading right... we were lost. A group of old women were singing a Chinese song while hiking back down the road, and I wished we had a English- Chinese dictionary. We passed them with some hellos and nods, it was the best we could do.

Then we came to the end of the road at a huge temple with an empty parking lot least for one car parked in back and one motorcycle. Around the temple was this wonderful secluded village that Joe had eyes like a child who just found Santa's workshop. The village seemed deserted, but at the same time it seemed spiritual, as if the women just leaving this village had reinvigorated its human spirit in a way completely separate from the touristy sections of the mountain where the people have the ability to drain the life and dignity out of a location.

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“To the pagoda?” We could still see that same little pagoda up on the hill past the village, and we did agree to go to that point before turning back, so we left the road and started heading up a decorated staircase made out of smooth black and white rocks. Up the hill we wound through terraced land for farming, and we could see a little ways up the mountain from us people were still working with plows and wheelbarrows.

The pagoda at the top was extremely energizing, maybe from the fantastic view of everyplace we had passed before, or maybe there was a energy to this spot that caused the pagoda to be built here beyond its vantage point. The floor of the pagoda had the yin yang in the center with the 8 trigrams surrounding it while reaching out to the octagon shaped sides of the pagoda. Joe bowed to the pagoda's energy and asked its permission to enter.

Once Joe finished his Bagua form we agreed that it was time to hike our way back down the mountain. When we made it back to the parking lot we started waking down the road with this older woman who we attempted to ask her where the hell we were. We got out the map and asked her if she could point to where we were, but she seemed to say that where we were was not on the map. She tried to show us the general area, but she wasn't quite sure herself. Then she wrote down for us the name of the place we just visited, and we searched the map for those same symbols, but they weren't there.

On the way down from the road when we started taking the small paths again we ended up taking different stairs down, and because of this we finally found where you could see the waterfall from before straight on.

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And we found a new pagoda made entirely out of unaltered branches.

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And then we made it back to the park at the base of this side of Mt. Tai (aka, Taishan).

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Walking back down the city road we looked for a place to sit down, get warm, and eat something. I wasn't a fan of going to fancy sit down restaurant, and told Joe that some food at the restaurant by our hotel where we know they have pictures would be fine. But Joe was insistent that he needed some meat after that hike, and they didn't have any pictures of meat. They probably had some on the menu, but since their menu was in Chinese, all we had to work with were the 8 or 9 pictures of food they had above the kitchen.

As with any good 24 year old male, he found a restaurant with a huge neon sign that blinked in different colors, and he was set. I thought the place was closed, but they called us in and sat us down at a yellow clothed table with yellow clothed chairs with big yellow bowes on the back (this is actually kinda standard for restaurants in China). The one waiter knew a little English, so we asked for something with chicken and some tea. “Taishan Chicken?” Why not? We just hiked Taishan, how much more festive could we get? A few minutes later the tea came out, and then about 10 min. later he came out with a huge plate with an entire chicken (possibly from Mt. Tai) chopped up on it. Every piece of chicken had some sort of protruding bone with skin wrapped around it. I tried to eat around the bones, but they weren't like American chicken where its mostly meat with some bone. This was mostly bone with some meat, and I was kinda not excited about it. I would have been even less excited about it if Joe had told me what he was hiding over on his plate (beak and feet). In China every dish you order is just that. Comparison: you order a hamburger and all you get is a circle of meat. You have to order the bun, veggies, and fries separately. So Joe tried to order some noodles to go with all of our Chicken. He was doing the charades of making a long string between his fingers and then slurping it up... which eventually worked “Ahhh, New-da-la!” the waiter said.

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After dinner we took the bus back to our hotel and we looked around the basement mall next to the bank near our hotel for maybe some gloves or a cheap coat (no luck, should have learned more Chinese). But we did find a supermarket where we stocked up on some snacks. So on that note, I will leave you with the Chinglish of the day:

(on the package for instant coffee)

It will captivate with relish.

Posted by - Rain 09:09 Comments (4)

Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box

- Radiohead

In the morning I woke to the televisions turning on with some pop star who looked like that girl from Smallville, singing a song that I swear I herd somewhere in my dream. We climbed down from our bunks and grabbed up the two fold out chairs and ate the snacks we bought before heading into the train station.

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But as you can see, it was kinda ugly outside, so I headed back to my tin box, hid under my really comfy covers, and went back to reading my book. Hours passed by, and it started getting even too cold for me to hide under my covers. Joe put on some pants (he had shorts on), and I put on layer after layer. Why was it so cold? Joe climbed down to get a snack at the table, and he called me down from my bunk to see for myself. It was the thing we had been running from since Colorado. But I guess it didn't really find us, we found it.

Recently Joe brought up an interesting idea about the saying a picture is worth a thousand words. He said that most of the time when you see a picture that wasn't taken by you, maybe have one word come to mind, sometimes two; "beautiful," "dark," "strange," "gross," just to name a few. Its only when its a photograph of a place you can remember what it actually looked like could a picture be worth around a thousand words. But a good writer can explain a scene to a person who has never seen what they have seen in a paragraph that would give the them greater depth into the imagery than any photograph ever could. So I guess it is a good thing that I only want you to think of one word when I show you these pictures.

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"Snow"

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Time to head back up to the covers.

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Several hours later I started to get nervous about how we were supposed to figure out which of the stop was ours (there were no overhead announcements). So Joe went in search for the answers, and as usual, we were saved by someone who could speak some english. He told Joe that we should be hitting there around 7pm, and on top of that he would come back to our cabin and tell us when our stop was next.

We were actually just sitting down to eat some spicy noodles from a prepackaged noodle bowl when Joe's friend came back to tell us we were the next stop. So we inhaled the noodles much quicker than we needed to (we forgot that the next station on a train usually meant at least an hour).

Getting off the train we followed everyone else down the stairs and through a tunnel that let out into the city of Jinan. The parking lot of the train station was big and empty, all except for this line of taxi cabs that stood between us and the rest of the city. We stood out apparently because every cab driver ran over to us saying "Hello? Hello?" We didn't know where we should go being that it was now after 9 o'clock at night. One guy who seemed to win the fight for our attention kept motioning with his hands in prayer against the side of his tilted head. "I take you to sleep." But then I spot a sign across the street and over a block that said hotel. "Only 10 Yuen! I take you to sleep for only 10 Yuen!" I tried to point out to him that I could see a hotel just across the street, but then his charades seemed to fail him. We finally just did the only thing you could, keep walking until they go away.

Crossing the street twice (dangerous as usual, most streets in China have at least 2 or 3 lanes each way (I guess it helps to build a major city from scratch, like the flip side of Europe) ours was a 4 lane and 6 lane-er), we made it to the hotel and Joe struggled to let them know what should have been apparent. We are tired, and would like a room please. Eventually they figured it out and asked for 100 (or so we thought). Quickly rethinking our race they asked for one more hundred. "Uh-aw" I told Joe (even though that was still only $30 to us). But I have seen that look one too many times, that look that says I could have charged at least double to these people, and this time, I wasn't giving in (helps when the person has a dress suit and acts nonchalant on rather than someone in raggedy clothes acting like if you bought from them it would make their week). When the woman behind the desk realized that I was asking for the money back and we were going to try a different hotel, she agreed to 100 yuan (works like a charm). Then another woman took us to our room and after unlocking the door, proceeded to leave. "Key!" I told Joe quickly. Then he proceeded to have a battle with the woman for who was best at dance dance revolution (I really need a thesaurus for the word charades). Eventually we figured out that she keeps all the keys for the hotel on her huge ring of a key chain, and if we wanted our own key it was an extra 50 yuan. Another example of how in China it is cheeper to pay a woman to walk around with the keys and unlock everyones rooms than to pay for a lost or stolen key.

So we dropped our stuff off and headed out for some dinner. There was a little restaurant with pictures (yes!) just next to our hotel, so we went there and Joe pointed at the pictures, and then when he noticed something other people were eating that he wanted... he pointed at that too. After dinner we decided that we should go ahead and buy the train ticked to Beijing now so we can make sure that we get a seat (in China they sell tickets even if there are no seats left). Heading back to the train station we realize that we don't have enough money to buy a train. On top of that, our ATM card was back in the room. So we tested out this system of this hotel of ours. No problem apparently. Then we walked down the street to the corner where there was a bank with a 24 hour ATM, and then it was back to the train station. This time we forgot the train schedule Ivy printed out for us. Joe kept trying to explain to the woman at the ticket office what train we wanted, but it was hopeless. So yeah, Joe was convinced that it was better to go back to the hotel and wake the poor woman with the keys than to stand on the train to Beijing for 3 hours. The second time was less of being not a problem, but no complaints.

Finally this time around we got the train tickets and made it back to the hotel, this time staying for the rest of the night.

Posted by - Rain 09:21 Comments (0)

Question Authority

This is the Chinglish translation for Information Booth (Is this an example of situational irony? Castle? Anyone? )

You are the new man.How delicious can not forget,special taste,return the true flavor-Give you the minerable feeling.

I wanted to start this entry off with a quote we got on our sesame coated walnuts we bought in Taishan. They love putting these english phrases on the packages of things, but they don't love writing in english what the product actually is. I guess the Chinese figure that Americans will buy anything as long as it has good advertising.

And here is another element of culture whip lash:

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(meat drying in Ivy's window)

After we woke up Ivy had already left for work so she left a China cell phone and a note in front of our door that told us in english how to reload the phone with minutes, and in Chinese so we could just and the paper to the shop and they could figure it out from there. Her brother was still sleeping b/c he works late shift, so Joe and I left the apartment as quietly as we could and headed for the train station ticket office. Ironically, the ticket office is located at the corner of the street where I took the pictures of Linda's apartment complex. On the way back to Linda's place, just outside of the entrance to Ivy's apartment complex, we stopped to watch a woman attempting to plant her orange trees in the only available dirt space she could find.

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This is their garbage dump. These are common in China. Its the place they dump all the garbage that is then picked up at a later time by a larger truck heading to a landfill somewhere. But that is just our own speculation, we haven't had the rudeness to ask Ivy why there is a large pile of garbage at the entrance to her apartment complex.

The nice thing was while we were taking pictures I was checking my bag to make sure I had the papers Ivy printed out for us last night with all the train information written in Chinese. I couldn't find them, and realized that they must still be in her apartment. So we had to go back upstairs and knock on her door, hoping to only wake up the pregnant lady (we suck). No one answered. We waited 5 min. and knocked again, this time Joe used the shave and a hair cut. I told him that the Chinese probably didn't know that one, but he said that maybe then Ivy's sister in law would answer the door b/c she would know it was the Americans knocking. Now we were checking my watch and calculating how long it should be before Ivy would make it back from work, and then her sister in law answered the door. In perfect (-ly bad) sign language we explained to her that we just needed to get some things and we would be heading back out. She seemed to understand, and so we left it at that.

The ticket office went really smoothly b/c we had everything we wanted printed out in chinese, so all we had to do was hand them the slip of paper, and they did the rest. We ended up not having enough money, but there was an ATM across the street. So I ran and got some extra cash and made it back to the office before they even printed the tickets (very smooth). Then we went to Linda's place (which was also across the street) to get our toothbrush and toothpaste we had forgotten there. Linda was in the middle of a facial, and Jason was getting his lesson plans ready for the private English classes he was giving to 2 rambunctious kids (and for anyone who thinks that Chinese kids are really well behaved, you've only met ABC's. Most of the children we see in China are left to do pretty much anything they like, and they act like the boundless, ruleless, spoiled by being mostly brought up by their grandparents, kids that they are).

But Jason was ready for a break, and our train didn't leave until evening, so we went back to DaFen to the same restaurant for lunch outside on the patio in the square with the bust of Da Vinci. Jason and Joe wanted to order the meat soup, and Joe wanted this plate of meat, and that was all fine with me as long as I got my stir-fried/ glazed/ spicy chilly coated green beans. After lunch Jason headed back upstairs for his teaching and Joe and I spent a few hours walking around DaFen.

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Then we headed back to Linda's b/c she wanted to do some personal training with Joe before we left, and she could use some help on the computer. Her friend who we met last night at the dancing square was supposed to come and help her, but he wasn't available just yet. He is another foreigner like Linda, living for extended periods of time in China (he's from New Zealand and lives in Shanghai, but is visiting Shinjin), and they don't know hardly any Chinese. But I guess that Shanghai has a lot of english speakers because it is a big business city, so he gets by. She was glad to have me help her instead b/c when he comes over she always has to hide the toilet paper (Chinese toilets can't take more than 2 to 4 squares of paper at a time or they'll get stopped up, and I guess her friend from New Zealand lives in a Western style apartment that can, so he always stops up her pluming when he comes over).

So I taught her how to take screen shots of children's books off the internet and set them up in word so she can save them and print them out to the size she wants (for teaching ESL). And Joe took her aside and gave her about an hours worth of personal training to help her regain her figure after the surgery. She isn't allowed to do any sit-ups or heavy lifting so he had to give her a lot of outside the box techniques to get her exercising and strong again without injuring her post op. I didn't get to see most of the training, but I did hear her say "Oh, yes, thats a good one" a lot, so he must have been doing something right. At the very end I watched him teach her the "butt" exercise as I call it, and Joe called it "the move that gave Rain a really fantastic ass" as he motioned with his hands the exaggerated curvature of my you know what. I was shocked, literally shocked. Moth wide open, eyebrows in the middle of my forehead, mind like a blank slate, shocked. Linda broke the silence with a "well alright then, lets see this magical move!" Joe gave his nervous laugh that said he had done something wrong and he knew it, and that he was pretty sure that he was going to get away with it too, and then hooked her exercise band to the foot of her sofa and showed her how to hook it to her foot, and then lift her leg up using her glutes.

But now it was time to start wrapping things up in Shinjin, so Jason took us to the mysterious KFC that was supposedly so easy to find when Linda gave us directions to her place. The sign was right in front of the entrance to her apartment complex, so if we had walked down the street a couple hundred feet further that first night we may have found it, but the KFC was actually located about 5 blocks down the road from Linda's. So we sat down after ordering what we wanted by pointing at the pretty pictures, and we ate our first real American food and attempted to explain to Jason that we do not dip our cookies in gravy. This KFC, much like the ones in England, didn't have any biscuits, so trying to explain to Jason what one was to an American was harder than trying to tell Ivy what Sweet and Sour Chicken was. "You know, its chicken, but not long and thready chicken, its all ground up, and its not tan, its all white, and its inside a ball of deep fried bread, and it has a really sweet... candy... hot pink syrup... gewy liquid stuff..." you get the picture, its ruff, and all this time we thought we got it from their country (there is no Sweet and Sour Chicken in China, and the English don't know what biscuits are).

Joe and I both ended up getting food poising. We decided to shy away from KFC, American food is so questionable :)

Then it was time to get our stuff from Ivy's and head to the buss to take us to the train station to take us to Guangzhou to take us to the other train that we would spend the night on heading to Tai'an, the city at the bast of the Taishan Mountain (wich is like saying Chai tea... chai means tea in Hindi, and shan means mountain in Chinese).

At Ivy's her sister in law gave me some form of Chinese little debbie cake, and then she got her son to quickly run up to Joe, hand him the package, and then run back behind the table and watch him with eager excitement. Then Joe tried to tell his mom that we didn't need 2 cakes, and that we would split one. So she took back his cake and put it back inside the big bag on the table. I placed mine in my shoe while I ran to our room to pack our things (in China everyone takes off their shoes when you enter a house, but they all then put on flip flops or slippers, and they always have extra ones for when guests come over b/c most floors are all tile and its not too comfortable to walk around on cold tile all day in just your socks). But when I got back the cake was gone. Oh well, it looked radioactive orange anyways. Joe was a little distraught by this discovery when we were leaving, and he was thinking about asking for another. I pleaded for him not to. The little boy seemed to know what we were talking about though, so to make up for taking our cake back, he dumped all the cakes onto the table and gave Joe the main package. "Shae Shae" he told the kid, and then secretly handed the bag back to his mom as we were about to leave. "Okay, final check, do we have the tickets? Check. Cell phone? Check. Passports?" Where were the passports? I start to freak out a little, no, change that, make it a lot. Then Joe says he remembers that he put the secret pouch on the hanging rack in Linda's bathroom. He ran. I stayed at Ivy's place with all our stuff and continued to freak out. When Joe got back he held up the bag with our passports and I almost cried again. But we didn't have time, we needed to get on the bus about 10 min. ago now.

Waiting at the bus station half way between Ivy's and Linda's we realized that if we didn't get a taxi that we would miss our train to Guangzhou, which would be a huge loss, but then that would make us miss the train to Tai'an which cost over 10 times as much as the first train. Thankfully the Chinese are really big into taxis, so we got one in less than a minute. Joe told the driver "train we go to" in Chinese, and the driver seemed satisfied with the destination, and we hoped he knew what Joe was talking about. We drove for about 30 minutes through Shinjin on the highways (which are actually above ground level in many cases), and made it to the station with little time to spare. I saw the exit for the train station on a sign 2 exits before the one he took, and I protested in English to him that he was going the long way around. I don't think he expected us to be able to read the Chinese signs, and for the most part he would be right, but in this case he miscalculated and almost cost us both our train tickets.

When we got out of the taxi I thought the guy waiting to prey on the car was going to take the taxi after we got out, so I left the door open and walked to the front to pay the driver. But instead of going into the back seat he started leaning over me and tapping me on the shoulder. I turned around to his face right in mine. Then he moved back a bit to allow his hand to push between our faces. My first Chinese beggar. I didn't see it coming because we had done quite a bit of walking around in this huge town filled with what appear to be poverty stricken people, but we never saw a single homeless person or anyone with pots asking for change. Nervous, I paid the driver and tried to hide where I was placing my change while the driver shouted at the guy to get the hell away from me! The guy pretended not to know that the man was speaking to him, but then the driver got even angrier and moved his upper body into the passenger's seat and almost out the window to tell the guy to buzz off. While the two argued Joe and I made a run for it (and we were moving fast b/c we were late). Inside the huge train station that reminded me of a mix between a Toronto mall and the DC subway, we got very lost. But since we are white and look completely helpless we got many people to come up to us, look at our tickets, and then point us in the right direction.

At the actual entrance to our particular train was a waiting area and a ramp. We walked into the waiting area, found the dead end, panicked, looked like 2 lost white people, and a guy came up to us and asked us if we were on the Train to Tai'an (I understood b/c he spoke english). "Follow me!" he told us and we went with him up the ramp. Then the bus was right there and he pointed to car number 8 and said "You are car 8." We understood, and we found our seats all by ourselves. 2 guys were sitting in our seats, but when we got there and looked confused they just got up and went to the back of the car. We discovered that they sell tickets to trains even if there are no seats left, so people who don't get seat numbers have to stand. This was a 2 hour train ride, so anyone without a seat grabbed up the open ones hoping that the people who bought the seats never show, but they don't put up a fuss if they do.

When we were getting nearer to our stop Joe started trying to ask the stewardesses where we go to get to our next train. This was a question that couldn't be answered by someone who didn't speak the same language. So we got lucky again and someone heard Joe struggling and stepped in to help. He figured out very quickly that we bought a train to the wrong station! We handed the ticket officer the paper that said very plainly which train we wanted and to which destination we wanted to get off on, and he blew it. We were going to Guangzhou East station, and our train for Tai'an was leaving out of the Guangzhou station. Then he told us that we would have to take the subway to get to the other train station, and that we would have to make 2 transfers, and that it could be a little confusing for someone who doesn't know Chinese and has never used the Guangzhou subway before. Great. But it actually was, because this guy said that he was getting off at the same stop as us, and that he would ride the subway with us to the Guangzhou train station! He said he was taking the subway to the opposite side of the city, but that he had time to spare and as long as he didn't leave the subway he could transfer as many times as he likes on the same token, just as long as he gets off the train at the stop he bought the token for. It felt like a mix of Washington DC and Toronto's subway systems, and it could quite possibly better than both for economic fairness and simplicity (this is a first for my opinion of Chinas policies).

When we were really closing in on our stop Joe started getting jumpy "Hurry UP!" he yelled at me as he started dashing up the train cars. He wanted to make sure we got to that guys train before he got off just in case we can't find each other or he forgets about us. I raced after him, and we made it just in time. The three of us power walked through the train stations shopping mall and came to the subway token machines. "Wait!" Joe stopped in mid stride and tuned to me and asked, "Were are my shoes?!" "They are on the train now, no time!" I told him as I grabbed him by the arm and raced back after Billy who was starting to get lost in the sea of people. We had just bought him new shoes for China in Hawaii which were the exact same waterproof hiking shoes he had all trip, and now, not even a week into being in China, this kid is back to crocks and socks.

The subway machines had a touch screen option for english, but we just left it in Chinese and let Billy work the controls. I gave him the change he needed, and then he quickly inputted everything we needed like Tom Cruse in Minority Report, and then 2 little green tokens dropped into the tray. Billy went through all the steps again and received 1 yellow token, and we were ready to go. Billy taught me how to read the metro signs b/c he saw that I could understand some Chinese characters, and it was so easy once I knew what to look for. Now we can mix in the London Tube with Toronto's subway and DC's metro and you can taste this bit of China. On the wall there is a drawing with the different colored subway lines and little white balls on the different stops. Regular stops have black outlining, but transfer stations have thick blue outlining. Then above each door on the subway is a light-up map that shows the line you are currently on. Each stop has its own light, and the stops we've passed have red lights, the stop we are going to has a green light, and the stops we haven't been to yet are dark.

Billy had written down the Chinese characters for the stops we needed to get off at to transfer subways and our final destination, so I could have handled it from there, but he still stayed with us just in case since we didn't have much time before our train left (and I was still grateful). We had to run up a flight of stairs to get to the line 2 level of the subway and get on the yellow line heading west, so that was a little confusing, but I agreed with the train we picked after recognizing the stop for the Guanzhou train station (see, told you I could do it). Then Billy came with us all the way to the exit of the subway and pointed us to the sign that said train station and repeated for us not to leave the building b/c the train station shared the building with the subway. We had it under control.

Then we got on the sleeper car train, wondered around the outside of the train looking through the compartments (the soft bed compartments only have 2 bunk beds in them and they looked so nice), then finally found the one we were in (3 beds on each wall, so 6 per compartment). We walked into our car and found our compartment, and then showed the mom in our compartment our ticket. She pointed to the top bunk for me, and it seemed like she pointed to the middle bunk for Joe, so we started putting our stuff on our beds and she protested that Joe was also the top bunk. Cool. I liked being across from Joe b/c there was only about a foot between the bunks, and it would be strange sleeping right next to another person like that. It kinda sucked that we were on top though b/c the space between beds got smaller as you got closer to the ceiling. So while you could sit up on the bottom bunk with some head space, and sit up on the middle bunk if you slouched, you could barley prop yourself up on your elbows on the top bunk before you hit ceiling. The window stopped to just beneath the top bunk, so I really was having a small tingling of claustrophobia going on. Joe got our bags up on the luggage racks across from our bunks and I placed all our valuables in the corner of my bed next to my feet. There was no corner where my head was like you see in the trains on Harry Potter. The train just had separators between the beds sharing walls, and then less than a foot of isle space between the beds and tables under the other far window. The tables had 2 fold out seats each, so the other 4 people in that space had to stay in their bed if 2 people were using the table.

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This was going to be a 22 hour ride over night, so I stayed up and read Steven King's Gunslinger novel for the first hour of the ride, but when 10pm came around it was lights out, and it was just as well b/c sleeping made me forget that I was trapped in a small space for a very long time.

Posted by - Rain 08:17 Comments (2)

It's Always Sunny in China...

but where is the sun?

This morning Joe and I got up before the sunrise to absorb the Chi from the trees before they start photosynthesis... but then Joe left w/o me because I (I wanted to capitalize that to EMPHASIZE it, but then I realized that it is already capitalized anyways) I was taking too long. So I went back to sleep. A few hours later Joe came back up stairs wondering where I was. I told him that if I left him every time HE was taking too long... and I left it at that (self explanatory). We cooled off, and then Linda gave us directions on how to get to the good hospital. Joe's glue wore off and his finger was split open again, it wasn't bleeding, but it needed to be held back together by something stronger than a bandage if it was going to heal. Then her friend who she was meeting for something today told her that afterwards she was going to the hospital to do something, and Linda had to drop off her stomach x-rays for research (the doctors here have never seen anything like her case and they want to look at her exam papers from England for clinical research); so she said she could come with us. At the bus stop we discover that it was going to be over an hour bus ride (even though it was in the same city... these cities are huge), and I decided that I really didn't need to go with them to the hospital. Luckily just then Jason was passing us by on the way to Wal-Mart (they have those here, and McDonald's and KFC), so I followed Jason around Wal-Mart for a bit before we headed back to Linda's (I would have done it myself, but I've only been here a day now, and I don't speak Chinese, so I really didn't want to have the slightest possibility of being lost).

On the way back we stopped at the art museum and Jason showed me his favorite painting. It was of this little old woman sitting on one of those foot high fold out seats in front of a Chinese shuttle board. Your first impression of the black and white painting is that it must be a couple hundred years old, or at least a painting of a woman who lived a couple hundred years ago. And then you see it in her right hand... she's talking on a cell phone.

Another humorous anecdote Jason told to me on the way home:
What do you call a person who speaks 2 languages?
- Bilingual
What do you call a person who speaks 3 languages?
- Trilingual
What do you call a person who speaks 1 language?
- English

I thought he was going to say American, but I guess since Ivy told it to him she changed it around to be a little harsher in his favor (their nice like that to each other). I did hear this joke again a little later in the trip, and the Chinese person telling it to me did change it to American for me (but I interrupted the punchline and I said "Amerikajin desu!" to say, yeah, I've heard this, and yeah, I can say it in Japanese!

Then the rest of the day I attempted to catch up on blogging at Linda's. So, to fill in the time, I shall show you some pictures!

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The tall buildings behind the buildings on the left are the apartments in Linda's complex.

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Now the tall buildings on the left are the apartments in Linda's complex.

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These are pictures of the courtyard between the apartments in Linda's complex (the first one is the area around their swimming pool! But they don't open the pool or fill water into the fountains until May, even though its 25 outside (77)!

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Her living room and balcony. (All the paintings are from DaFen.)

When Joe got home he was kind of upset because the doctors pretty much laughed at him when he showed them his cut. It wasn't bleeding, so they didn't see the need to stitch it up. Then he disappeared for an hour that I didn't really notice b/c I was busy on the computer. But when he came out and was ready to go out for the night, I noticed something on his finger. "Let me see it" was all I had to say. He willingly held up his finger and I saw a ball of thread stuck to the edge of his cut. Then I saw the thread weaving in and out of his skin. He stitched his finger with the $2 sewing kit we bought in Colorado for the hole in his pants. He thought I would be really really mad, and I was, but I just let it go and told him that I didn't care what he does to himself as long as it doesn't affect me. (Does anyone else believe me when I say I let it go?)

That evening we went out with Jason to see Ivy dance, but when we got to the square outside the art museum we went to earlier that was between Linda's and DaFen... we didn't see Ivy. Eventually we found her in another group off a ways taking lessons. She was dressed in the cutest black short sleeve top with pink trimmings and a matching skirt. She also had on real hard toe dance shoes. We didn't mean for her to see us, but after one person sees 3 white people, everyone turns their heads to see what the excitement is about. She came over to us and said that she is an advanced student, so she could skip this class because it was only beginning dance and she was only there to help demonstrate the proper hand motion. I thought we were going to see her doing traditional Chinese dancing, but it was salsa! When she took us back to the square there were about 40 people dancing in a roped off section of the square, all doing the same dance to the music. There were some variations between levels, but you could tell that they all had taken lessons. When the music changed there would be a little confusion and shuffling around, but then they would all conform to the right dance for the music. The next song was a waltz, and everyone started turning and spinning and rotating through the section in a counter clockwise revolution. Ivy kept trying to get us into the ring to dance, but I didn't want to, even though it was 8pm at night and there were hardly any street lights there. We were in the dark, and nobody was looking at us, and I liked to keep it that way. But when the waltz started playing, I felt that it would be harder for me to mess that one up, so I gave in and Joe and I started dancing outside the ring (isn't it the boy who is supposed to be the difficult one?) Then it turned back to salsa music, and Joe dragged me into dancing. We took lessons (on youtube) when we were living back in Ohio, but it had been a while, and I was fumbling following, so we both tried to lead. Eventually we took a break and watched Ivy and Jason dance, and Ivy was fantastic! Jason... well he wasn't as bad as my senior prom date.

Then this flamboyant Chinese man of about 50 comes up to them and takes Jason away! He started doing the man's side of the dance and was trying to get Jason to follow him! It was the funnest thing to watch too because the Chinese man was so graceful, and Jason had 2 left feet. Eventually when Jason seemed to get it the Chinese guy took him by the hands, and he started dancing with Jason like he should dance with Ivy, except the man was still dancing the male side so Jason could still sort of follow along. Now we were getting a bit of an audience going, especially this little kid of about 2 or 3. He just kept starring up at us with wide eyes, never blinking. Ivy told the little boy "Say, 'Hello Ghost!' Can you say it?" Ghost? Ivy explained to us that when the first white people came to China, the Cantonese thought that they were ghosts because of their pale skin. So the actual word they still use for foreigner is gwailo, meaning ghost.

That evening we came back to Linda's and backed our things. Linda was supposed to have another Couchsurfer coming in tonight at 3am, but he canceled. This was only after we had already been told that we could stay with Ivy. So Linda was kinda surprised when we told her we were moving, but we didn't want to be rude b/c Ivy had already set up the guest room. She only lived about a 5 or 10 min. walk away, so it wasn't that bad at all. Right now her brother's family was also staying with her, so she told us that when we leave in the morning to go and buy our train tickets, not to worry about getting back in because her sister in law and baby nephew would be there durning the day to let us in. We got to meet her sister in law and nephew when we came over, but the brother works the evening shirt so he wasn't home. The nephew was not excited to see us and he kept hiding behind his very pregnant mother. Eventually Ivy dragged him onto her lap next to me and started rocking him like crazy trying to get him to say "I love you" in English b/c that was the only sentence in English he knew. The boy burst into tears (hopefully from the rocking, but he wouldn't be the last baby we've made cry just by existing). Then we stayed up pretty late on Ivy's computer printing out what trains we should buy to get to Mt. Tai, otherwise known as Taishan.

Posted by - Rain 00:53 Comments (0)

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