Hey everyone,

I made it in and its been great so far.  The flight wasn’t too bad, only about 15 hours from LA to Guangzhou and then another 1 hour flight to Changsha.  The coach seats with China Southern Air seemed a little bit smaller than what I was used to, but I was able to sleep most of the way since it was a night flight.  It was kinda cool because the entire flight was in the dark until we reached Guangzhou this morning at 6am, which is weird b/c we totally skipped over Thurs.  It was really a lot like time travel.  Right now, its about 8pm on the 27th and I think its about 6am on the 27th your time, just to give you an idea of the time difference.

It has been a great day so far!  Shirley, my FAO, and Tom, a history teacher for the university, along with a driver met me at the airport this morning in Changsha and were absolutely great with me.  They kept calling me their VIP.  As soon as I got my luggage and met them, they grabbed all my bags and carried them to the car, then insisted that I sit up front since that is reserved for the VIP guest.  I know their names sound American, but that is their English names, their Chinese ones I can’t pronounce very well and have already forgotton.  They drove me the the hotel, all the time flattering me by telling me how strong I looked and how handsome I was.  The hotel is nice enough, and I think they are actually staying at a different hotel.  Mom, my hotel room is actually nicer than the one we stayed at in Denver.  The third floor is dedicated to an internet cafe and it is very nice.  Very comfortable chairs and private tables, if you pay 1 more yuan an hour.

After the hotel, we took a walk to grab lunch.  Shirley wanted to know if I wanted Western food or Chinese and being unsure, she took me to a restaurant that served both.  The outside didn’t look like much, but walking up to the third floor where the restaurant was, it was actually very nice.  They have private rooms for people to eat in if they want, and instead of chairs by the tables, there are sofas.  Its all about comfort.  The food is delicious and very spicy, so I have been sweating a lot, plus, its quite humid here.  The craziest thing I ate at lunch was fish head.  Not bad really, except you have to pull out the bones, though they swear the bones on the face are the best and they suck the meat off.  They were pretty impressed with my chopstick skills, though, its much more difficult than when using them on the food at home.  They bring out the food in large plates and everyone digs in with no regard for double dipping with the chopsticks, though they do not use their hands at all when eating, even when we ate the seafood pizza (shirly was afraid I wouldnt like the food so she ordered a pizza just in case)  I told them you had to eat pizza with your hands, so they tried it, but still used chopsticks with the other hand to guide it into their mouth.

After lunch, Shirley had some business to attend to, so she left me with Tom and the driver and they took me to Orange Island wich is an island surrounded by the Shou River.  Its very beautiful, something like a Chinese Central Park and have a huge mountain with Mao’s head carved into it.  Hes the guy on all their money and the one responsible for libertating China in 1945 and bringing it to Communism.  What really is most shocking is the driving.  Its like Juarez but worse.  People walk in the middle of the streets and cars either stop or go around them.  Motorscooters are everywhere and its not uncommon for those scooters to be driving the wrong way down a street or freeway.  Jon, its like that video of traffic in India that we saw.  The people seem very happy here and life doesnt seem so bad at all.

After the park, we picked up Shirley and her friend and went out to dinner.  Again, large plates of different kinds of meals, noodles with beef, beef and rice, potatoes and rice, fried pig ear (which tastes a lot like a tough calamari and resembles it too.)  And now I am back at the hotel, beat and ready to relax in bed.  All the men do smoke and it is rare to see women doing the same, though Shirley says some young women do bc they want to be trendy, but are often looked down upon by those more traditional.  And they smoke everyone, indoors, at restaurants, and honestly, its not so bad.  You don’t even notice it.  I actually like it.  So the people are super friendly, many locals stared at me because Im so beautiful, and the food is delicious.  I can tell Im really going to enjoy myself.  We are meeting tomorrow morning at 10am for breakfast and then they want to take me to a museum and then to a mountain for some hiking and sightseeing.  I think they just want to wear me out.  And they order so much food bc it is rude to let the guest plate go empty, so they order more just in case.  It may be harder than I thought to lose weight.

Diana, you would have loved the park, they had a pond filled with Koi fish that would gather in schools at the surface.  I took pictures, but it will probably be a while before I can upload them.  I hope you guys will all visit me soon.  Daniel, you’d love it.  The women here are actually very beautiful, but they take relationships very seriously.  so seriously, according to Tom, that it is very difficult to break up with them after you have formed a relationship.  Its almost unheard of, and some girls will go so far as to jump off a building for it.  What constitues a relationship you ask?  Having sex, that apparently is a commitment for a lifelong bond.  Well, I guess thats all I got for now.  I will do my best to keep you guys updated and really look forward to hearing back from all of you.  Dad, I showed Tom the picture of you that you took at my going away party, the one where i said make me look good and you took a pic of yourself.  He really liked it and asked for a copy for himself.  You reminded him of someone named Bao and asked me if you could sing.  He wants you to come visit and said you looked very American, I suppose because of the goofy smile you had on your face.

Love you all and cant wait to see you again…Love,

Brandon**Wed Sep 01, 2010 04:52 *Thanks dad,  what no response from anyone else?  Am I not missed by anyone except my dad and diana?  Sheesh.  So heres something interesting.  The beds here are as hard as the floor, but I slept very well.  Wonder if its going to be good for my back.  You know, in America, we have the next new and improved bed every five years and here, theyve stuck with the hard surface.  Who knows, maybe they’re on to something.  This morning I had a  traditional Chinese breakfast of rice porridge, steamed bread stuffed with meat, and spicy pickles  and I do mean spicy.  It was really the only thing that had flavor, the pickles I mean, but it was filling.  Also, I ordered orange juice and it was more like an orange drink and its served hot.  Something Im having to get used to because most of the food is hot and spicy and the only thing cold to drink is water or beer and the water comes in very small 4 oz glasses.  Well, the glasses are 4 oz and you pour either your water or beer in them, but the beer comes in a big 24 oz glass and then you share it around the table, but at least i dont have to wait for a waiter to fill my glass with water.  After breakfast they took me to a museum which was about as boring as any other museum although I did get to see many artifacts that date back from the Mongols during the BC era all the way through several Dynasties.  Still, theres only so many pots and jewelery and fabrics you can see.  I did get to see the preserved corpse of a prior queen which was kinda freaky.  They said she was once very beautiful, but her body looked like something out of Texas Chainsaw.  Seriously, the face was just like leatherface.  Then we had lunch at McDonalds, which was really a nice break from all the spicy food and chopsticks.  Dont get me wrong, the food is delicious.  Much better than anything you would find in America, obviously, but its nice to have a Big Mac now and then.  Actually, the food seems to be doing me well, they feed me so much so I dont think Im really going to lose much weight while Im here, but Im def. pooping a lot and it doesnt burn coming out like Mexican food tends to do to me which is a nice surprise.  Also, its not as filthy and third world as we had imagined.  I havent seen anyone spitting on the floor and the bathrooms do have toilet paper though they do usually have squatters except for the handicap stalls which have a western toilet.  Still, Ive noticed that most only wash their hands with water.  They have soap dispensers, but I seem to be the only one using them.  by the way mom, the anti diarreah meds came in handy today.  Thank God!  So, after lunch, we came back to the hotel to have a nice 4 hour break where I crashed out!  Prob. the only reason Im still awake now, its only 1050pm, I was tired before the nap.  After that, we met around 7pm for another fabulous dinner where I again was the guest of honor.  They fill my cup with hot tea first and fill my bowl with rice for me. They also like to refill my glass with beer or whatever Im drinking when I low and always want me to be the first to take food from a dish.  Im getting much better with chopsticks now.  Then, we drove to Orange Island to see an amazing firework display,  I got about 7 min. of it on video but it must have gone on for at least half an hour.  Better than Disneyland, though there was no music, just car alarms going off.  Apparently, it was in honor of a wealthy person who had just been married.  So here I am, back at the hotel and using the internet cafe to check in with everybody.  I guess while Im sleeping, you all will be enjoying your Saturday and when I wake up, youll be getting ready for bed.  So it seems like 8-10pm my time, 7-9am your time is the best time for us to communicate live.  Try and get a gmail email account because then we can chat live, you know, if youre interested.  I love you all and will talk to you soon, Love, Brandon *Wed Sep 01, 2010 04:53*

So…this morning was all business.  We had to go get my physical done and I was a little nervous since I really wasnt sure what the urine test was checking for.  They took my blood, my weight, height, blood pressure, performed an ultrasound on my liver (its a boy!), gave me a chest xray, and took a urine sample.  Great news mom, I am very healthy, except my blood pressure, which was a little high on the first run, but cleared the second time around.  So, no HIV, no diseases, good liver, great heart, and apparently nothing wrong with my urine content.  So after that, we had another fabulous lunch, though nothing too odd.  I woke up a little sick this morning.  My throat is very itchy, most likely from the air.  China’s air is extremely polluted.  Its like LA, but worse.  I couldnt find my pamphlets this morning and didnt know which meds to take, but Shirley got me some to take before we had lunch.  Then, when we got to the restaurant and I was going to take them, they gave me a glass of hot water.  I asked for tea to take it with, but they told me that in China, they do not mix tea and medication.  I also cant eat spicy foods, drink alcohol, smoke, or eat fish, since “fish will fight the medicine and my stomach will be the battlefield”  these things are taboo apparently when taking chinese medicine… -* sigh  So after lunch, we went back the hotel, packed, picked up my paperwork from the physical and headed to Shaoyang.  It was a 2 1/2 hour drive and the country side is beautiful, then…we arrived in Shaoyang and I quickly realized that the honeymoon was over.  Shaoyang looks a like like Juarez, if Juarez were about 10X poorer and 50X smaller.  This is the China we read about. Little kids with split pants so they can poop easily, pig snouts for sell in the street, a strange scent in the air mixing with the dust from the streets, and vendors everywhere selling out of storage units lining the sidewalks.  Again, the countryside is beautiful, but the entire time I was driving through the streets my mind kept saying “Oh Shit, Oh Shit, Oh Shit”  We stopped first at the new University which was nice…for Shaoyang.  The elevator didnt work so we had to climb 6 stories to get to Shirley’s office and meet her collegue.  I def. need to get into better shape.  I wasn’t breathing hard, but I was getting there.  Again, the polluted air probably isnt helping matters.  We then went for dinner at a very nice restaurant where we had a private room and traditional Asian green sofas surrounding the dinner table.  There was even a tv and internet in our dining room. Pretty cool.  Nothing bad can be said for the food, its delcious, I cant emphasize that enough.  I just wish I could get an old fashioned American glass to drink out of with free refills from a coke dispenser.  I do miss free refills and Big Gulps.  Also, yesterday when I was eating breakfast, they asked if I wanted tea to drink.   I said Id rather have a coke and was obliged.  But while I was eating and sipping on my tasty beverage, Tom told me,”you are eating hot food and drinking something cold…”  I was thinking, “duh” but he said that traditionally, chinese believe that mixing hot and cold is bad for your stomache.  I told him eating hot food and drinking hot drinks was bad for my toungue.  Seriously, think about eating a steamy, spicy dish, your mouth is burning and you poor hot tea down your throat.  I don’t know how they do it.  Its one of the reasons I like to order beer at dinner ( as if I needed a reason) because that is the only thing thats served cold…sometimes.  So, after dinner, they drove me to the old campus, the one I will be living and teaching at, and again im thinking, “oh shit, oh shit, why are we turning onto a dirt road, oh shit”  and I see this old building and I ask, so, whats this building and they say, thats the teachers’ dorm, let me go get the key and Im starting to freak, bc my imagination is putting together the pieces.  If the outside looks like that, what does the inside look like.  Of course, I want to be polite so Im not letting them know what im thinking, but Im obviously not enthusiastic.  So, we haul my luggage up three flights of stairs, Shirley comes with the key and opens the door and…bam! Im pleasantly surprised.  Brand new furniture and coffee table, brand new molding.  High ceilings.  Plenty of living area space.  Two rooms, one with a nice sized bed with fresh bedding and the other with a nice desk, new computer, and flat screen monitor.  I’m happy.  She shows me around and I am pleased.  The only thing I notice that will take some getting used to is the bathroom.  It has a toilet, a sink, a drain, and a handheld shower head.  But wheres the shower?  Ahh, the bathroom is the shower.  I guess on the upside I can clean off while still on the head…if that is an upside. But hey, at least its a western toilet.  All the other toilets throughout China are squatters.  A porcelein hole in the ground.  Also, it took me a little bit to figure out how to turn the internet on since the entire windows program is in chinese.  I would try to change the settings to english, but it was hard enough guessing which icons and characters to click to start my little internet icons flashing.  I guess Ill tackle the settings tomorrow, as well as the shower.  Shirley did provide me with all new kitchen ware, even a little pot for boiling, though, after I boiled water in it for the first time, I left it on too long and all the water evaporated and I noticed that what was left was a pool of caramel brown liquid.  I guess thats what the website meant about boiling out the germs, but not thewaste.  Dont know if I can drink that…Im gonna have to stock up on bottled water.  Going to the store first thing tomorrow.  Well, thats it for now.  Out of Changsha and into Shaoyang.  Wish me luck!!! Love, Brandon

ps…a few odd things ive noticed about China.  What we consider traffic laws are more of suggestions to them.  People use their horns constantly to communicate that they are either switching lanes, not stopping for pedestrians, or that they are simply going around you.  Its not uncommon for people to drive in both lanes at the same time until they decide which one they would rather take and its also not uncommon for cars to pass each other in the same lane.  Again, the lanes, the medians, the sidewalks, the direction of traffic, all suggestions rather than concrete rules.  Strange custom number two…Men, especially those with big beer bellies, like to pull their shirt up above their stomach and walk around.  Usually, its to cool down, but honestly, it looks like they just like to show off their bellies.  Its like women in American constantly wanting to bare their stomachs except women here dont do it, just the men.  Number three, I saw a woman yesterday at the restaurant wiping her little babies butt through its crotchless pants right at the table.  Whats worse, after she was done, she simply threw the napkin that she was using on the floor under the table (at least she threw it on the floor) and by the reaction of the people at her table and the rest of the patrons at the restaruant, this is not uncommon either.  I must have been the only person with wide eyes and a crinkled nose…*Thu Sep 02, 2010 06:59* So…this morning was all business.  We had to go get my physical done and I was a little nervous since I really wasnt sure what the urine test was checking for.  They took my blood, my weight, height, blood pressure, did a sonagram on my liver, gave me a chest xray, and took a urine sample.  Great news mom, I am very healthy, except my blood pressure, which was a little high on the first run, but cleared the second time around.  So, no HIV, no diseases, good liver, great heart, and apparently nothing wrong with my urine content.  So after that, we had another fabulous lunch, though nothing too odd.  I woke up a little sick this morning.  My throat is very itchy, most likely from the air.  China’s air is extremely polluted.  Its like LA, but worse.  I couldnt find my pamphlets this morning and didnt know which meds to take, but Shirley got me some to take before we had lunch.  Then, when we got to the restaurant and I was going to take them, they gave me a glass of hot water.  I asked for tea to take it with, but they told me that in China, they do not mix tea and medication.  I also cant eat spicy foods, drink alcohol, smoke, or eat fish, since “fish will fight the medicine and my stomach will be the battlefield”  these things are taboo apparently when taking chinese medicine… -asterix- sigh  So after lunch, we went back the hotel, packed, picked up my paperwork from the physical and headed to Shaoyang.  It was a 2 1/2 hour drive and the country side is beautiful, then…we arrived in Shaoyang and I quickly realized that the honeymoon was over.  Shaoyang looks a like like Juarez, if Juarez were about 10X poorer and 50X smaller.  This is the China we read about. Little kids with split pants so they can poop easily, pig snouts for sell in the street, a strange scent in the air mixing with the dust from the streets, and vendors everywhere selling out of storage units lining the sidewalks.  Again, the countryside is beautiful, but the entire time I was driving through the streets my mind kept saying “Oh Shit, Oh Shit, Oh Shit”  We stopped first at the new University which was nice…for Shaoyang.  The elevator didnt work so we had to climb 6 stories to get to Shirley’s office and meet her collegue.  I def. need to get into better shape.  I wasn’t breathing hard, but I was getting there.  Again, the polluted air probably isnt helping matters.  We then went for dinner at a very nice restaurant where we had a private room and traditional Asian green sofas surrounding the dinner table.  There was even a tv and internet in our dining room. Pretty cool.  Nothing bad can be said for the food, its delcious, I cant emphasize that enough.  I just wish I could get an old fashioned American glass to drink out of with free refills from coke dispenser.  I do miss free refills and Big Gulps.  Also, yesterday when I was eating breakfast, they asked if I wanted tea to drink.   I said Id rather have a coke and was obliged.  But while I was eating and sipping on my tasty beverage, Tom told me,”you are eating hot food and drinking something cold…”  Im was thinking, “duh” but he said that traditionally, chinese believe that mixing hot and cold is bad for your stomache.  I told him eating hot food and drinking hot drinks was bad for my toungue.  Seriously, think about eating a steamy, spicy dish, your mouth is burning and you poor hot tea down your throat.  I don’t know how they do it.  Its one of the reasons I like to order beer at dinner ( as if I needed a reason) because that is the only thing thats served cold…sometimes.  So, after dinner, they drove me to the old campus, the one I will be living and teaching at, and again im thinking, “oh shit, oh shit, why are we turning onto a dirt road, oh shit”  and I see this old building and I ask, so, whats this building and they say, thats the teachers’ dorm, let me go get the key and Im starting to freak, bc my imagination is putting together the pieces.  If the outside looks like that, what does the inside look like.  Of course, I want to be polite so Im not letting them know what im thinking, but Im obviously not enthusiastic.  So, we haul my luggage up three flights of stairs, Shirley comes with the key and opens the door and…bam! Im pleasantly surprised.  Brand new furniture and coffee table, brand new molding.  High ceilings.  Plenty of living area space.  Two rooms, one with a nice sized bed with fresh bedding and the other with a nice desk, new computer, and flat screen monitor.  I’m happy.  She shows me around and I am pleased.  The only thing I notice that will take some getting used to is the bathroom.  It has a toilet, a sink, a drain, and a handheld shower head.  But wheres the shower?  Ahh, the bathroom is the shower.  I guess on the upside and I can clean off while still on the head…if that is an upside. But hey, at least its a western toilet.  All the other toilets throughout China are squatters.  A porcelein hole in the ground.  Also, it took me a little bit to figure out how to turn the internet on since the entire windows program is in chinese.  I would try to change the settings to english, but it was hard enough guessing which icons and characters to click to start my little internet icons flashing.  I guess Ill tackle the settings tomorrow, as well as the shower.  Shirley did provide me with all new kitchen ware, even a little pot for boiling, though, after I boiled water in it for the first time, I left it on too long and all the water evaporated and I noticed that what was left was a pool of caramel brown liquid.  I guess thats what the website meant about boiling out the germs, but not thewaste.  Dont know if I can drink that…Im gonna have to stock up on bottled water.  Going to the store first thing tomorrow.  Well, thats it for now.  Out of Changsha and into Shaoyang.  Wish me luck!!!

ps…a few odd things ive noticed about China.  What we consider traffic laws are more of suggestions to them.  People use their horns constantly to communicate that they are either switching lanes, not stopping for pedestrians, or that they are simply going around you.  Its not uncommon for people to drive in both lanes at the same time until they decide which one they would rather take and its also not uncommon for cars to pass each other in the same lane.  Again, the lanes, the medians, the sidewalks, the direction of traffic, all suggestions rather than concrete rules.  Strange custom number two…Men, especially those with big beer bellies, like to pull their shirt up above their stomach and walk around.  Usually, its to cool down, but honestly, it looks like they just like to show off their bellies.  Its like women in American constantly wanting to bare their stomachs except women here dont do it, just the men.  Number three, I saw a woman yesterday at the restaurant wiping her little babies butt through its crotchless pants right at the table.  Whats worse, after she was done, she simply threw the napkin that she was using on the floor under the table (at least she threw it on the floor) and by the reaction of the people at her table and the rest of the patrons at the restaruant, this is not uncommon either.  I must have been the only person with wide eyes and a crinkled nose…*, 0, 9, 2010, 1, *4c7f839710123*, 0), (9028, 2834, *Thu Sep 02, 2010 07:53:49*, 1283428429, **, *Well, I’m happy to say I am feeling much better.  Yes, I did get sick.  A slight upper respirtory infection mixed in with a case of the common cold and a nice dose of what I believe to be food poisoning.  Sandy, a head of the English department here at Shaoyang University, took me down the Better Life Mall to shop for some basic necessities and food.  She asked me what I was interested in buying and the first thing that popped out of my mouth was, “water”.  She looked at me strangely and said, “you don’t like drinking boiled water?”  With a slight crinkle in my face I replied, “I prefer bottled water”  Apparently, bottled water is seen as expensive and most just boil the water to drink.  Even today when I was throwing out my trash Tom noticed the large quanitity of empty water bottles in my garbage and remarked how expensive bottled water was and wanted to know why I just didn’t boil it from the tap.  I explained my dilema of accidently boiling all the tap water into steam and being left with nothing but a pool of rust colored sludge and how I simply prefered bottled water.  Needless to say, that afternoon, at the reccomendation of Shirly, my FAO, Tom took me to buy a water dispenser for my apartment.  We also had a little science experiment and boiled water from the dispenser, the bottled water I had bought, and water from the tap to see what type of sediment was left behind from each once the water had fully evaporated.  Turns out that the rust colored sludge I had encountered from the tap water the first time actually was rust from the pipes since they hadn’t been used for a while.  Either way, Im happy to have my dispenser now, but I did feel the need to clear China’s good name with all of you.  It was rust, not waste.  Ok, concious cleared.  So, back to shopping.  I picked up the basic necessities, you know, toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, cleaning products, and an assortment of beverages and snacks.  Mainly, I stuck to the brand names that I know.  Coca-Cola, Colgate, Pringles.  I did get some delicious Chinese beer and also, the toilet paper and soap I grabbed were a Chinese brand since there was no Charmin or Axe.  By the way, the toilet paper came without a cardboard roll in the middle.  Strange, but I suppose since the entire bathroom doubles as a shower, it wouldn’t make sense to have the toilet paper resting on a toilet paper dispenser as it would become soggy and difficult to wipe with.  Oh, and I bought a carton of milk, which is literally a box carton.  Not like we’re used to, but I digress.  So, I didn’t pick up much food since I really didn’t recognize much.  I recognized the sugar, but its just in big basin and you scoop it into a little bag yourself.  I was tempted, but I had a mental vision of tiny creepy crawlers funneling their way through the cracks in my apartment and into the bag of pure sweetness, so I passed.  Also, I did recognize the parts of the pig lying about in the meat section.  Hooves, snout, skin…I can now understand why the Jewish consider it unclean, because it is pretty damn unclean looking.  After seeing a hoof and snout, you don’t really crave bacon anymore.  Not to say that was the only type of food there to eat, but its the one that stood out to me the most.  So instead, I opted for some Lays, and venturing out of my comfort zone, even picked up the Chinese version of Pringles that were flavored as spicy seafood!  Still, that wasn’t enough.  For someone who studied Cultural Anthropology, I was a little disapointed in myself for sticking with some many American brands that I was familiar with and not going out on a limb and experiencing what China had to offer.  So, I asked Sandy to help me pick out a tasty Chinese treat.  She pointed out a bag of spicy tofu triangles and I said, “Sure, why not”  In her defense, she did warn me to only snack on a few at a time, since they weren’t “fresh”, but I didn’t understand this.  I mean, they were sealed in a clear plastic bag with a cartoon Chinese girl smiling at me and throwing up the peace sign,  so how could they not be fresh?  So, once I got home, I sampled a few of the Chinese pringles, drank some of my Chinese beer, and before you know it, I had gone through the entire tube of chips.  Blame it on the “once you pop, you can’t stop” culture that was engrained into me as a child.  So, I popped open the bag of tofu triangles and after a few cautious bites, I realized that they were actually quite tasty and had an interesting texture, so I proceeded to not stop and snacked my way through the entire bag in less than thirty minutes.  Less than two hours later, I started getting aches around my shoulder, but I just assumed I had been sitting at the computer too long.  So, I took an aspirin and got ready for bed.  A few hours later I woke up and something deep inside told me I should head to the bathroom.  Yup, I had gotten sick.  I figured it was the flu or something and started taking some flu medicine.  I was just surprised by the whole thing since I had been on antibiotics the last three days for my respitory infection and figured that would have killed anything swimming around inside me.  It didn’t.  Instead, I spent the entire next day lying in bed and hating China.  I hated the stale and humid weather for creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.  I hated the air, polluted by coal and emmissions and cigarrette smoke, for giving me a respitory infection.  I hated the censorship of the internet for not allowing me to watch some of my favorite american tv shows online.  I hated everything about China so much, that I walked a mile and a half just to have lunch at McDonalds.  In my defense, I did have their Spicy Grilled Chicken Sandwich, which is nothing like what you get back in the states.  Its prepared more like teriaki chicken and has some spicy mustard smeared between the buns, which was actually quite good. However, the fries come without salt and pepper, and anyone who knows me knows how I love my salt and pepper.  But anyways, I feel much better today.  I think my body has finally finished digesting those criminal tofu triangles and I am back on the road to recovery.  So today, I went and opened up my bank account with the Bank of China, which due to Communism, seems to be the only bank in China, where I ran into another American teacher.  We exchanged greetings, commented on the air quality, and asked each other how our Mandarin was coming along.  All in all, it was nice to see another American, even if just for a small time. Then Tom and I wandered the streets to find me a water dispenser, which we bought for 50 yuan and then continued to explore the streets of Shaoyang.  He taught me a little more Mandarin and explained how to read Chinese characters.  Its going to be a while before I get the hang of it, but I enjoy learning.  Then, for dinner I went to the canteen, which is like the University cafeteria.  So, what you do is bring your own bowl and then when you get there, they fill it with sticky rice for 7 jio, which is 7/10 of a yuan.  Think of it as seventy cents, but cheaper than that.  If you feel like doing the math, approx. 7 yuan = $1.  Then, you can have them top that off with an assortment of Chinese dishes.  At the recommendation of Tom, I had them top mine with a spicy version of what looked like chopped greenbeans, a fried egg, and then some beef, which turned out to be spicy fried fat or at least chewed that way.  Everything in Hunan is spicy, but delicious.  All in all, the meal came out to be 4.2 yuan.  Not bad really.  I ate alone for most of the meal since Tom had already eaten and had a family to get back to, but soon enough I was greeted by a Chinese student excitingly waving at me and saying “Hello” then fumbling for a moment in her head before saying, “How are you” and “Where are you from”  Turns out, she is an English major and was very excited to have the opportunity to speak with real foreigner.  Soon, her two friends joined our table, both English majors, and we delightfully conversed with one another.  They were very friendly and one of the girls said she knew I was friendly because I was always wearing a smile, and anyone who knows me knows how charming my smile is…and also said she hoped that I would be her teacher.  Needless to say, I’m making friends and I’m sure once school starts, I will have a nice social circle to help me with my Mandarin while I in turn, help with their English.  And that pretty much brings us up to date…Stay tuned for more Surviving Shaoyang **Fri Sep 03, 2010 06:14

* So, what a fun-filled day!  This morning, just a few minutes after I woke up and before I was going to hop in the shower, a knock came at my door.  When I opened it, shirtless and sporting my Miller Light pajama pants, I was greeted by one of the English students, Rasta or Ren, he goes by either one, and Mike, the former English teacher whom I was replacing.  Mike is a Canadian who has spent a few years teaching in China and had recently left Shaoyang University to teach at a vocational school in Changsha.  I had heard stories about Mike, his fondness for frequenting the local bars and his unsupervised bike rides out into the country, but he looked different than I had imagined.  He had to be in his 40’s, had gangly teeth, a receding hairline, and a long neck with a strong adam’s apple.  Anyway, he was taking advantage of his downtime before school started by revisiting Shaoyang and seemed to be very popular with the students and teachers.  He invited me out for coffee so, after showering and putting on some more appropriate clothes, I met him in front of my building and took off down the Shaoyang streets.
I was deeply interested in talking with Mike, since he seemed to have a good knowledge of how things worked out here and I could finally get some straight answers about what is appropriate and what isn’t while working as a teacher for the university.  The Chinese don’t seem to be as upfront as westerners are, so talking with a fellow North American was quite a treat.  He showed me where to get a therapeutic massage with no worry about damaging my reputation with the university, simple information that was like pulling teeth when speaking with my Chinese counterparts and took me to the Orange, a coffee shop that specialized in everything western.  They were even playing some good ol American music, though they sure make you pay for it. A cup of coffee cost 28 yuan.  Thats ridiculous when you consider that you can eat an entire meal for less than 5 yuan.  Thank God he picked up the tab.  He also helped me prepare for the classroom presentation I was scheduled to give later that day.  Right before the knock came at my door, I had a received a phone call letting me know that at 4:30pm, I was to give a quick 20 min. lecture on unit 4 of the textbook, though I hadnt even received the textbook yet, and that a student would call me to meet her to pick up her textbook so that I could suffiently “prepare”.  They also wanted a lesson plan and my ideas on how to motivate and inspire the students to speak English.
After our coffee, Mike wanted me to follow him to the hotel he was staying at so that I could meet his girlfriend, a young 23 year old Chinese girl named “Mimi”, I think.  So, we took a cab down to the trainstation which was right by his hotel, met his girlfriend and then went next door to the home of a family he had met just a few weeks ago when he had fallen into an uncovered drainage ditch and gashed his shin.  The girl, Lei Hongbo, had seen him and taken him back to bandage his leg and care for his wounds.  Since then, they had become friends and she had invited him over for lunch at their house, so, he had invited me.  He quickly introduced me to Lei Hongbo, her mother, her husband, and her baby, as well as her sister Lei Jinbo or “Candy”, her English name.
We all sat down for a traditional Chinese meal complete with rice, chicken soup, yams, greenbeans, spicy chicken, and of courseYan Jing beer.  Now I know what your thinking, other than the beer, that doesnt sound like traditional Chinese food, but thats only because Im calling the food by the english names that I’m familiar with.  See, when I first reached into the bowl of chicken soup to pull out some meat, I grabbed onto a piece of chicken foot and upon realizing what it was, let it go with my chopsticks and grabbed another piece, which was mostly bone.  I guess the chicken foot was actually quite good because later on in the meal, I saw the little 2 year old sucking on it while sitting on his grandmother’s lap.  Ever see a baby sucking on a chicken foot?  I have.  My favorite was actually the spicy chicken, which I later found out was actually chicken heart.  It was good until I knew what it was, and once I found out, I noticed how salty the meat actually was.  Still, not bad…not bad at all.
After lunch, Candy asked Mike for a favor.  She had twice taken and twice failed her CAT 4, which was an English profiency test, and wanted to know if he could help her with it.  Knowing that Mike wouldn’t be spending much time in Shaoyang, I told her that I would be more than happy to tutor her for it.  Afterall,they had welcomed me into their house, fed me some delicious yams and chicken heart, and served me a tall, cold bottle of Chinese beer, it was the least I could do.  Plus, its always good to expand your social circle when living in a foreign land.  She was very excited, and after giving her my email address, Mike helped me grab a taxi back to the university and promised to pick me up later tonight to take me out to the Bobo bar, his favorite in Shaoyang.  And knowing that I was still waiting on money to be sent to me from America, quickly pulled out his wallet and lent me 500 yuan without so much a blink of the eye.  Not once did I solicit the money from him, but I also didn’t refuse.
So I got home, read the chapter I was giving a lecture on, Travel and Tourism, wrote out a quick outline, and met Shirley at the front of my building to be escorted to the class.  It was to be supervised by 3 heads of the department, including the dean, 4 English teachers, and about 20 students.  Needless to say, I was a little nervous since this would prove to be the first time I had ever taught a class.  Ever.  But I pulled it off quite well.  In fact, other than my sporadic use of the black board, I seemed to be a natural.  I guess my mother was right, I’d be good at anything I put my mind to.  After the twenty minute lecture, I pleaded to the students that whether they are in my class or not, practicing English and participating in class was the best way to become proficient at the language and after that, they even applauded me.  Now, Im sure I wasn’t that outstanding and this is simply a polite courtesy that they extend to every foreign teacher, but still, it was nice.  I am really looking forward to starting class on the 6th and really getting to know my students.  I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy Shaoyang.  Especially now that I see how popular Mike is with everyone, even though he no longer teaches here.  I have a feeling I’m going to be very popular too… 1, 9, 2010, Sun Sep 05, 2010 08:03 Wow, it seems like so much has happened since the my last blog and it was only a day or two ago.  Everyday, I meet new people and experience something new and exciting.  I suppose that is one of the benefits of moving to a foreign country.  So, last time I left off, I had finished having supper at my new friend Lei Hongbo’s house with my new friend Mike.  After that, I came home, wrote my blog, and soon after showering, was picked up by Mike and three of his friends for a trip out to BOBO, a local nightclub here in Shaoyang.  The city looks so different at night.  There are lights everywhere, bright reds and oranges and pinks flash from the signs off the buildings and hanging off the tree branches are long white streams of light flicker in such a way that they resemble rain falling from the sky.  The club scene in many ways is similar to America, but also so much different.  For instance, the place gets packed around 8:30pm and by 11:30, the party’s over.  No 2 am last call here in Shaoyang.  When we get in, Mike signals for service by lighting the candle in the middle of our table and holding it high in the air.  Immediately, an eager young waiter comes to our call.  Mike orders 2 bottles of whiskey which cost us 300 yuan and within minutes, brought to our table is a platter of fruit with watermelon, grapes, the whole spread along with a plate of barbequed tofu and peanuts.  This, of course, is part of our bottle service.  Then they bring out one of our bottles and along with it, about 8 plastic bottles of ice tea.  The girl then measures about 2 shots of whiskey and pours them into a pitcher and proceeds to fill the rest of our pitcher with ice tea.  This is how alchol is drunken in Shaoyang.  They pour shots of whiskey laced ice tea, and everyone downs the shot and refills.  You can’t even taste the alcohol since really, its mostly ice tea, but after about 30 shots, you feel pretty groovy.  So, we start playing a traditional Chinese drinking game…Rock, Paper, Scissors.  They love this and we play about ten rounds before we start playing a dice game where the objective is lose all your dice before the other person.  The rules are simple enough.  You start with 5 dice which are housed in a blue, air hockey type canister that you shake and slam on the table.  Then you reveal what you rolled.  Any 1’s get taken out and any 6’s are given to your opponent.  Pretty easy right.  Only took me two or three rounds to figure out what I was doing, who says there is a language barrier.  But of course, dancing is the universal language and they love to dance and why wouldn’t they, the music is great.  American pop mixed in with a little Chinese pop,  and the dance beat never stops.  So, in between Rock, Paper, Scissors, rolling dice, and drinking large shots of ice tea, everyone is dancing around their table.  It was a great time!  I was just so happy to hear some American music.  What’s really cool, is being American in there is kinda like being a celebrity.  The girls hang around us, acting coy as women often do, and the guys, well, it was pretty common for the men in the club to come up to me with a shot of ice tea whiskey and have a drink with me.  They would just tap me on the shoulder, maybe lead me back to their table, and offer me a drink.  So, we danced, we drank, we played Rock, Paper, Scissors and by 11, we were out the door.  We only finished one bottle, but they gave us a ticket, so when we go back, they will have our other bottle waiting for us.  Oh yea, the Chinese know how to do it.
And that was Friday night.  The next morning was actually quite slow.  I went to the street market right outside the front gate of the university, ordered myself a bowl of rice noodles and vegetables, (Wo yao yi won fan), and bought myself a usb plug for my camera’s SD card.  Well, actually, right before breakfast, my friend Rebecca, a young student who had dinner with Shirley, Tom, Sandy, and myself the first night I had arrived in Shaoyang, had stopped by my room.  She had just gotten back from her first trip traveling all by herself.  She had been very excited about the trip and asked if she could use my camera and of course, I could I say no to a young, excitable Chinese girl.  So, in return, she had brought me back a beautiful wooden Chinese fan, with a famous Chinese landscape etched into the wood foldings, and scented with perfume.  It was actually an extremely awesome and thoughtful gift and I was pleasantly surprised.  However, she didn’t have a way to transfer her pictures to her computer, and neither did I, so buying a USB adapter became a priority for me.  And after that, I came home and relaxed with a nice movie.  But, about an hour in, a knock came at my door and it was Mike.  I was happy to see him, so we shared a couple of beers, discussed our views on spirituality ( a favorite subject of mine), and decided to go hit the gym before meeting Rebecca and two other foreigners for supper.  See, Mike had posed as a “model” during the grand opening of the gym and in return, they had given him a free year membership.  Hiring foreigners to endorse a business is a pretty common practice here and I’m excited about getting work myself.
We took a cab to get there and walked into a building, up the stairs, and came into a rather nice looking gym.  Freeweights, machine weights, treadmills, bicycles, heavy bag, pool tables, stripper poles, and even a nice sitting room complete with airconditioner, tv, and ashtrays for that after excercise cigarrette.  The Chinese love their cigarettes. So much so that after pumping out a few reps on the benchpress, one of the patrons lit up a cigarette right there in the gym during the rest period between his sets.  Ever see a guy smoke a cigarette in a gym?  I have.  So, Mike gave them his membership card and I was asking them how much it would cost for me to work out (Duo shao qian?) and the boss came up and just escorted me right in.  No charge.  I think he was just happy to have me there.  Good for business I guess.  And after about ten minutes of hitting up the weights, I started getting pretty hot and sweaty and noticing that most of the people there had just taken of their shirts, I decided to do the same, since I didn’t have a change of clothes and really didn’t want to stink up my shirt right before dinner.  And even sporting a few extra pounds, my body was quite well received.  The boss kept coming up to me and in broken English would compliment my body, telling me I was very strong and pointing to the pictures of American body builders lining the walls of his gym.  I love it here, I feel like Superman.  On Krypton, there’s nothing special about Superman, he’s just another Clark Kent, but on Earth, he’s Superman.  That’s kinda what its like for an American in China.  Something special.  So I put in another 20 minutes or so and decided it was time to hit the showers.  Before leaving the boss asked me if I would come back and wanted to know when.  Looks like I found a new gym.
We left and walked through Shaoyang for about half and hour before reaching the central square to meet Rebecca and the two other foreigners.  While were were waiting, we kept getting a lot of looks from the locals, pretty common anytime I venture out into the streets.  One girl, after I flashed her a smile and said Hello, excitingly asked me in Chinese if she could take my picture and of course, I said yes.  She flashed one of me by myself and then gave the camera to her friend and laughed as she posed for a few more of me and her standing next to the KFC.  Soon after, Rebecca showed up and right behind her were my new friends Jessie, an American from Northen California, and Lorne, a Brit from Manchester.  Both just started teaching jobs for one of the local middle schools.  From the sound of it, I got a pretty good deal working for the University.  Not only have my guides been more than excellent, an honor that wasn’t as generously bestowed on Jessie and Lorne from the people at the middle school, but they also have to share an apartment, have a shower that is pure “rubbish”, deal with snot nosed pre-pubescent little monsters, and are being paid 1000 yuan less than I am.  So, needless to say, I feel like I made the right choice when accepting the position.  We all had an excellent dinner at the top floor of a fancy hotel, chatted with each other enough to realize we would all be good friends, and then, at the suggestion of Mike, went to meet a friend of his who he calls Phoenix.
Phoenix just happens to be one of the more prominent members of Shaoyang.  A very wealthy man with many powerful connections and in China, as with most places, its all about who you know.  We met him at his old flat where he happened to be having an English class for many young students.  Apparently, he runs his own private English school out of his old apartment.  He was very excited to meet all of us, apologized about the crowd, and eagerly took down all of our phone numbers after offering to take us out for lunch the following day.  The whole meet lasted maybe 5 minutes, but the connection was made.  From there, we headed to an illegal bar just outside my campus, drank a few liters of beer, sampled the local liquor, and spoke on our views of politics.  Mainly, comparing Britian and America with me defending our right to bear arms and complaining about America’s current shift into socialistic ideals and the collapse of the independent spirit of our forefathers, but hey, anyone who has drank with me already knows my views on this.  We called it a night around 11 and all made our way home to prepare for bed.
Mike picked me up around 11:30 to meet with Phoenix and my new friends and took a taxi to the restaurant.  I’ll give this to Shaoyang, anything you order is made fresh, and I mean fresh.  The chickens you see pecking at the ground on the patio of the restaurant will be the ones served on your plate if chicken is what you order.  The turtles piling on each other in buckets, the caged frogs, the fish swimming in the basins, or the snakes slithering in their box are all there awaiting your order.  Makes you feel kind of bad knowing that whether they see another moon or not is reliant on your appetite.  But then again, after giving it some thought, I realized that any of the chickens being tortured in American factory farms would love to immigrate to China.  At least they get to peck at the ground and walk freely until their time comes.  In America, most of what we eat never knows a kind hand or even feels grass, or even dirt, under their feet.  Think about it.  So, Phoenix, his wife Summer, a middle school student from his school, and the two other Lao Wai (foreigners) show up, and Phoenix orders a feast for us to sample.  Fish, frog, chicken, beef, its all there.  Its spicy and delicious, and goes down smoothly with our beer. Even our middle school friend drinks beer with us.  He tells us he loves it, and honestly, I rather enjoyed drinking with a 12 year old.   Phoenix speaks to us about his travels, boasts on his numerous BMW motorcycles and the size of his flat, and then casually asks us if we are looking for part-time work.  Work that he will pay handsomely for.  And of course, we are interested.  Just like that, we can double our monthly salaries for a few extra hours a week.  And to top that off, he knows a lot of business men who would be interested in renting us to model for their business and when work is available, he will give us a call.  It pays to be the three only Lao Wai in Shaoyang, and it pays well.
After lunch, we are invited back to his flat for coffee and what a flat it is.  210 square meters, pool table, 40″ flat screen tv, illegal satellite television, and even a guest room with western toilets and showers, and of course, we are welcome anytime we like.  We shoot some pool, drink some coffee, eat some fruit, and watch a pirated copy of Salt on his big screen tv, which is conveniently connected to his high speed internet.  He shows us pictures of his motorcycles.  The Ninja, the BMW, the Harley Davidson and after a few hours, we feel like its time for us to leave.  So, he offers to drive us to the new campus of Shaoyang University to check out the new soccer field and of course, we agree.  Its a beautiful field, but its not ready yet.  So, we drive around campus and find a plethra of basketball courts and decide that we would like to play a little 3-on-3 with some of the students.  We’re about double their size, but all three of us are pathetic at basketball.  What a story these kids have to tell their friends.  How they embarresed three Western giants on the courts.  They were fast and had their fundamentals down, while we could barely shoot, dribble, or pass.  I did manage to floor one of the poor guys when he ran into my chest, but I apolgized and he was quite nice about it, telling me I was very very strong.  It was fun, but we maybe scored three baskets to their 20 and they were extremely good sports, very gracious with no gloating.  They didn’t have to.  A large crowd had gathered and they seemed to love seeing us play basketball, and more amusingly, lose.
We thanked them for the game, complimented their skills, and headed down to soccer field to play a little five on five.  Again, I floored a poor guy when we were both chasing the ball.  It was clean, he ran into me, and then flew like he had hit a wall.  It was actually pretty fun, but I helped him up as I am a friendly giant.  We played for a couple of rounds, lost, though it was close and decided to head back since the humidity here makes it feel like your playing sports in a sauna.  Phoenix drove us back and mentioned that he likes to get a massage after exercise and asked if we would like to join him.  And of course, the answer was yes.  So, he dropped me off first and said he would call to pick me up around 8:30, which is in about half an hour.  Its been an excellent weekend and tomorrow will be my first day officially teaching classes.  Oh, and Phoenix said that if we get our license here in Shaoyang, we can borrow his car anytime.  We made a really good contact!  Can’t wait to see what will happen tomorrow.  Living in a foreign country really makes every day a new and exciting one.  Cheers!*, 2, 9, 2010, 1, *4c83870c3b341*, 0), (9125, 2834, *Wed Sep 08, 2010 09:51:09*, 1283953869, **, * Ok, so classes have started for me now and I don’t have as much free time as I used to have.  Still, its not too bad at all.  I only have classes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and spend about 4 hours a day actually teaching.  But before I get into that, let me tell you about getting a massage….
Phoenix kept to his promise and picked me up from the university at 8:30pm.  After picking up Lorne and Jessie, we made our way to a brand new massage parlor.  Phoenix asked us what we would prefer, a full body or a foot massage and we all agreed that after a day of basketball and soccer, a full body sounded brilliant.  He negotiated the price and got us a great deal on a hour massage.  He asked us if we wanted a heavy or light massage and us three foreigners all agreed that heavy was the way to go.  And so, they took us into a room with four massage tables, brought us some hot tea, a cigarrette, and turned on the flat screen tv for us to enjoy.  The Chinese really know something about service.  My therapist came in first.  A short Chinese man with a combover and strong, magic hands.  He laid me down, stomach up, and started by massaging my head.  In China, its customary to leave your clothes on during the massage and the therapist uses a thin, small sheet to cover the area of the body they are massaging to reduce skin to skin friction.  So, for example, when he was massaging my arms, he used the thin blanket to smoothly massage my muscles rather than lathering me up with lotions or oils.  So, again, he started with my scalp and I knew immediately that this was exactly the type of massage I was looking for.  He really knew what he was doing and focused his thumbs on relieving all the pressure in my chakras.  Then, he worked his way down my neck to my shoulders, being carefull to follow the directions of my muscles, and the best part, really seemed to care about relieving any tension or pain from my body.  He took my arms and twisted and pulled them in such a way that I could feel my muscles cracking.  Really, the best part was when I lied face down and he worked on my back.  Its like he could feel exactly where my back had been hurting all these years and wanted to make sure that he took the time to heal it.  He got into the places that no one has been able to get to.  Most of the time, I have to tell people, this is where I hurt, pointing to the pain in my lower back and hips, and even then, my muscles are usually too tight and thick for them to get really deep into.  But this guy, he knew exactly what to do without me saying a word.  And he was able to get deep enough that the next morning, I was sore and possibly bruised.  But thats ok, because its just what I needed.  What I really appreciated was that I could tell how hard his hands were working and yet, it felt like he really did care about healing me, not just giving me some foo foo massage.  So, I can say that the entire hour was just what I was looking for.  But after we were finished, Lorne, whose mother is a sports massage therapist also, felt that while the pressure from his therapist was good, she just wasnt hitting the right spots.  Needless to say, what he really wanted was a foot massage, since his were pure “rubbish” as he put it.  Still, he didn’t want to impose on the rest of us.  That is until I told him that I was totally down with getting a foot massage also.  Phoenix and Jessie opted out, so me and Lorne went to another room, had more hot tea brought to us, turned on the tele, and awaited while two small but strong Chinese men came in and poured hot tea into a basin.  Then, the small man lowered my reclining bed for me, so that I was sitting in a comfortable reclined posiiton, fluffed my pillow, and put a comfy comforter over my torso.  Then, he placed my feet in the hot tea and let them soak.  While they were soaking, he came around and gave me shoulder massage.  Brilliant, just brilliant.  Then, he went to the basin and began washing my feet.  Im telling you, the Chinese know a thing or two about service.  It was at this point that he pulled my feet out of the tea, dried them off, and began to give me the most painful foot massage of my life.  I almost regretted saying I wanted a heavy one.  I mean, I could feel him breaking the crystals in my feet, and I could really feel the reflexology pressure points, and everyone he hit was excruciating.  All I could hear was my mother’s voice saying, “Breathe, breathe”  So I did.  And as painful as it was, I knew it was just what my feet, and organs, really needed.  He worked on my left foot for about thirty minutes and started working on my right foot, which didn’t hurt nearly as badly, for another thirty minutes.  I thought the massage was all over, but apparantly, a foot massage is for an hour and a half.  So, he emptied the tea and left the room, only to return with soapy water, which he used to again wash my feet.  Then he brought me a pair of new silk socks to cover my feet with as he lied me face down and began massaging my back, once again.  Only this time, he did something I had only dreamt of paying someone to do for me.  He straddled my back, grabbed both of my arms in what I can only describe as a wrestling hold, put his knee into my spine and bent my torso all the way up into the upward facing dog yoga postion as he used his knee to work my spine.  Marvelous, just marvelous.  Then, he turned around, grabbed my right leg and bent my hip all the way back stretching my lower back and quad.  He did the same with the left leg, rotating it in 360 degree circles, then grabbed both legs and bent them back at the same time.  Honestly, I felt like the Tin Man at Oz, getting rubbed down right before I was to meet the Wizard.  By the end of the two and a half hours, I was putty, ready to crawl into bed and wake up refreshed for my first day of classes.  The whole experience cost me 80 yuan, about $12.

So, the next day, I woke up sore to all hell.  My muscles definetly had not forgotten the serious rub down the night before, but I soldiered through it and met my first class at 8am.  I spent the first 20 minutes or so introducing myself and then asked the students to go ahead and stand up one by one and introduce themselves.  This proved more difficult than I had planned and it took the next hour and ten minutes of class to get through less than two rows of students.  So, for my next classes, I decided to assign the students introductions as written homework and spend the entire first day of classes introducing myself, answering questions about America, and commenting on the many things that I thought were amusingly different between China and America.  And all my students just ate this up.  The biggest issue was the humidity in my classes. The fans didn’t work too great and I was sweating so much from the heat and humidity that by the end of my first class, my shirt was completely soaked.  So, during my first break, I went back to my apartment and grabbed my electric fan.  The fact that I was carrying this with one hand and my shoulder bag with the other really seemed to impress my students.  I walked into class with them oooohhhhing and aaaahhhhing.  I guess this seemed like an amazing feat of strength to them.  So, they gave me my Chinese name, Gao Gao, meaning very tall and mighty.  I’ll take it.  So, for the whole week, I have 8 differnent classes, all an hour and a half, and I meet with each class only once a week.  So, since today is only Wednesday, I’ve only met with 6 of my classes, and they have all been pretty much the same.  I come into class, introduce myself, draw a map of Texas, explain where I’m from, and in each class, when I tell them I can see Mexico from my hometown, they oooh and ahhh and even sometimes applaud.  And the strangest things impress them, like the fact that I used to be business manager, they almost applaud this, or my tattoo.  They love it!  They think it is so cool.  So, I talk about the differences in food, and how in America, we do not share food or double dip with our utensils.  I talk about how crazy traffic is for me here in China and how brave the Chinese are for walking in front of traffic with the expectation that the cars will stop.  I talk about babies in crotchless pants pooping and peeing in public and how different dating is in America compared to China.  And no matter what I talk about, I make them laugh.  I use funny facial expressions and act more as an entertainer than a teacher, and they love it.  I show them pictures of my family, of halloween, of my dad, and then I show them how my dad dances and they eat it up.  I sing Beatles songs for them and they applaud.  I talk about girlfriends I’ve had, and the fact that I’ve had more than just one girlfriend makes them gasp and ahh and laugh.  I tell them I love the food in Shaoyang and how the women here are so beautiful and they all giggle, especially since out of the 300+ students I have total, I maybe have 10 boys total in my classes.  I let them ask me questions, and answer them honestly, though humorously, and I plead with them to please make sure that they practice their English with me this term by talking in my class, though I doubt most will unless I call on them.  They love my observations on China and my stories of America, and the entire time, I feel like some sort of comedian at an USO show, just trying to make the troops laugh, and thats perfectly fine with me.  After each class, I have several students come up to me offering to be my personal Shaoyang guide, inviting me out for lunch or supper, for which they refuse to let me pay for.  Actually, the hardest thing about my job is being so popular with my students and the locals.  My phone is always ringing at home, and I never give out my phone number.  They just contact enough teachers until someone gives it to them and then they call me, making appointments with me to take me to dinner or lunch or meet me to talk about English.  Its actually quite exhausting, and I rarely eat at the student canteen because I can’t do so without several students sitting down with me and speaking with me, and as much as I appreciate it, sometimes, I just don’t want to talk shop.  But all in all, the experience is so much fun, because I really have free reign to take the class in any direction I please, and honestly, I really do enjoy entertaining them.  I think I should have been an actor or comedian or something, because I love the sound them laughing and applausing and they truly are an easy audience.
So, other than school, I’ve spent time visiting my friend Candy and her family, helping her with her English and graciously accepting dinner at her house.  I’ve been taking Chinese lessons from my friend Rebecca, gone shopping in Shaoyang, and rode the motorscooter taxis throughout the city.  I’ve had lunch and even dinner with a few of my students.  And tomorrow, I have been invited back to Phoenix’s house for dinner where he will also give me a cell phone, free of charge, and probably offer me a part time teaching job, or some other type of part time work.  Eating is a big thing here in China, one of the favorite pastimes of the Chinese, and why not, their food is delicious.  So, I suppose that catches us up.  I hope I hear from all of you very soon as well.  All my love,
Brandon*Mon Sep 13, 2010 04:45 *So, the scariest thing I saw today was a five year old girl holding a 6 month old baby and crossing the street with heavy traffic.  Imagine seeing a child and a baby dodging traffic, guess its all just part of the culture.  Speaking of a different culture, saw a little girl last night walk out onto the sidewalk, pull down her pants, squat down and pee right there on the sidewalk.  No wonder the Chinese take off their shoes before walking in their house.

So, I have had trouble logging on to my blog these past couple of days, so I will do my best to catch everyone up.  Last Friday, I was invited by my friend Rebecca to accompany her and her friend to the outskirts of Shaoyang county to visit the countryside.  I told her I had no problem going as long as we were back by 04:30pm so I could make my dinner invitation at Phoenix’s house.  So I spent that morning meeting with Candy to help her with her English and around 1pm, Rebecca called me to meet with her and her friend to first have lunch and then head out to the countryside.  Since Candy was already with me, I invited her along.  We met up with Rebecca and she introduced me to her friend, an older man who was actually her boss for an English training school.  They took us to lunch at a very nice restaurant on the top floor of a very nice hotel here in Shaoyang and from there, we made our way to the countryside.  It wasn’t long before I realized that this was not a leisure trip and was actually a business trip to many different elementary and middleschools for Rebecca and her boss to promote their English training program.  And guess who was the prime advertisement.  So we pulled up to the school and they gave me a quick tour and led me to a classroom where they asked me to say a few words.  And let me tell you, I may as well have been the President visiting because I was actually the first foreigner any of these children had ever seen before.  When I walked into the classroom, the kids went wild with excitement, laughing and applauding and staring with wide open eyes of wonder.  When I left the classroom and began heading back to the car, all of the students in the school, not just the classroom, but in the entire school came running out of their classrooms and followed me down the steps, across the basketball courts, and to the front gate where I got back in the car.  I’ve never felt so much like a celebrity and actually, it made me feel quite good.  Then we went to another school, an elementary school, where the reaction was even greater than before.  I was mobbed quite quickly and no matter where I walked, the children encircled me, staring and giggling.  Some of the little girls would push the other girls into me, trying to get them to touch me.  And so I started playing with them.  I would walk up three flights of stairs just to see if they would follow, and they would.  Then, I would walk down a flight of stairs and walk to then end of one corridor, and of course, the mob would follow, only to grow in size.  Then, I would walk to another side and they would seperate to let me through and collapse back into each other to follow me whereever I went.  I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea.  So, it was all in good fun and I felt great about being able to expose the children to something they had never seen before.  That is, until we got back in the car and the boss man told me to take a nap and rest.  This did not sound good.  It was already close to four and I was tired and really didn’t feel like having to drive much further, but as it turns out, we were about to drive a lot further, about another hour and a half.  Of course, they wouldn’t just come out and tell me how far it was.  Instead, anytime I asked, Rebecca would tell them something in Chinese, they would answer in Chinese, and the answer always was, not very far, or we are very close.  Lies, flat out lies.  The problem was, there was no air conditioner, so we had the windows down, but we were driving on an extremely bumpy dirt road, so dust was constantly coming through the windows and I kept hitting my head everytime we hit a pothole, which the road was mostly made of.  To make matters worse, Candy started feeling faint and asked them in Chinese to turn on the A/C, but then, I saw her eyes get very dizzy and she put her hand over her mouth.  A sign that I took to be internationally known for being sick.  But no one else seemed to pick up on this and I’m yelling, “Stop the car, pull over!  She’s not feeling well, PULL OVER!”  And do you think Rebecca was keen enough to translate this for me without me having to tell her to?  No, of course not.  I had to directly tell her, “Tell them to stop the car!  She’s sick”  So finally, she tells this to the driver and he pulls over and Candy, who is sitting in the middle of the car, is leaning over Rebecca, trying to make it to the window, with her hand still over her mouth and Rebecca just sits there, as if she doesn’t understand that she should be helping her out of the car.  So I yell at Rebecca, “Rebecca, open the door, she’s sick”  Poor Candy, who knows how much of her own bile she had to swallow since Rebecca, her boss, and the driver, have no sense of intuition or empathy.  So Rebecca opens the door and Candy jumps out of the car and throws up on the side of the road.  And do you think Rebecca gets out to hold her hair back like any decent American girl would do…No, of course not.  I have to get out and take care of her.  And so, I feel just awful, since Candy is my guest and now she’s not feeling well because we have been driving on such a bumpy, dust ridden, god awful road for over an hour now.  So I’m pissed, to say the least, and I’m not smiling anymore and I ask forcefully, how much longer and the answer I get is, not far at all, which apparently means, another forty minutes.  And at this point, the only thing I’m concerned about is finding Candy a store to buy her something to drink, like a Coke to help settle her stomach.  And the sweet thing she is, Candy is apologizing for getting sick and is still smiling and keeping a positivie attitude.  That is, until about a half hour later, when I see her eyes roll back into her head, her hand go over her mouth again, and I say, “Stop, she’s getting si…” and the poor thing throws up right there in the car.  And do you think they had the fucking courtesy to stop the car and let her get out to compose herself?  No, they say we’re almost there and make her sit there, with vomit at her feet, for another 20 minutes until we get to the third school.  And we keep passing stores that sell drinks, but not once to they give it any concern.  And I’m thinking, screw this.  I didn’t sign up to be anybody’s poster boy.  I’m not being paid for this and as far as I’m concerned, I was misled into believing this was simply a nice trip to the countryside, not a chance for these people to whore me out for their own personal gain.  So, we pull up to the school and I tell Candy to come with me so I can go buy her a drink, but as soon as I begin to walk the other way, the boss calls me desperately and says, “No, this way” and I say, “You guys go ahead, I need to get her a drink for her stomache” and they say, “Oh, we’ll take care of it, they will get her a drink inside” and Candy says, still smiling, even with her eyes, “It’s ok, lets go inside”  So, we walk into the school, same song and dance.  A bunch of little Chinese children who have never layed eyes on a foreigner, and when Candy and I sit down at a table, all the kids come running up just to sit around us.  Of course, by this time, I’m not feeling that happy about the situation, and the little bastards who are slapping me on the back, just to touch a white man I guess, are not making the situation any better.  So, Rebecca comes back with a water for both of us and I snap at her that she needs to bring Candy a Coke, or something with carbonation to help with her stomach, so she comes back with a can of green tea.  Then, I check my phone to see what time it is, and its already 5pm.  So, I step outside to call Phoenix to let him know I’ve been kidnapped and am not in Shaoyang and hand the phone to Rebecca to let her talk to him and figure out when we will be back.  She talks to her boss, speaks to Phoenix in Chinese, and hands the phone back to me saying she told him we would be there by 6, since the trip back to Shaoyang isn’t that far.  It was only far between the two schools in the countryside, but that Shaoyang is rather close.  So, I think we are about to leave, but instead, Rebecca gets up in front of the school and starts talking in Chinese to all the students.  I ask Candy to translate and apparantly, Rebecca is telling the children if they calm down and be quiet, the nice foreigner will get up and say a few words.  And of course, this is the first I hear about it.  So, before I know it, all the children are clapping and I’m being brought the microphone.  I say a few words, since I’m not at all enthusiastic about being here anymore, feeling completely used and misled and expect to leave, but instead, they initiate a question and answer portion of the presentation, where the students ask me questions about America and myself.  The same generic questions I am always asked out here.  “Do I like Chinese food?  Can I speak Chinese? Do I like China?”  And I give them the same answers I always do, “Yes, I love it.  Yi Dian dian.  Yes, China is great.”  And we head back to the car, finally.  But the driver is still cleaning out the sickness from earlier and we take a stroll down the street, and I’m thinking, Shaoyang better be very close because its already 5:40 and dinner starts at 6.  So the car comes and picks us up and as we’re waiting to leave, I notice a dirty young man with a scar leading from his mouth up his cheek, just like the Joker from Batman, and he is sitting right in the middle of a pile of trash.  And I’m trying to figure out why, out of all the places to sit in the street, he would choose a pile of trash.  I think about getting out of the car to give him a little money, since he looks so pathetic, but the car starts moving and I can’t take my eyes off him.  Then, as we move, I notice that right next to him is a paper bowl and chopsticks.  He was not only sitting in garbage, but he was eating his meal in it.  Then, I noticed not only was he eating and sitting in a pile of trash, but that his pants were pulled down to his knees and he was actually sitting bare assed in the pile of trash, and I was very happy I didn’t go over there because I think I would have gotten sick myself.  I guess he was just plain crazy.  Or as my brother Jon would say, “I always knew you were crazy, but now I can plainly see your NUTS”  So, we head back to Shaoyang, which isnt as close as they wanted me to believe because we didn’t get back until after 7pm and I’m just pissed.  Candy had gotten sick again on the drive home, threw up bad on the side of the road, kept smiling still, though I could tell she was not feeling well at all and was extremely tired.  We drop her off at her home and head to Phoenix’s house.  Lorne had invited Rebecca to come along so she follows me to the flat all the while telling me to slow down and I tell her, “Rebecca, we are already an hour late, I’m not slowing down”  So we get to his flat at half past 7 and all the food is sitting for us at the table with Lorne, Jessie, Phoenix, and his wife Summer, waiting patiently for my arrival.  I apologize profusely and we eat.  Afterwards, Phoenix treated us to a night of playing pool and a nice Thai massage.  Actually, it wasn’t that nice.  Thai massages are the ones where they walk on your back and use their feet.  It was actually quite excruciating and not relaxing at all.  The most interesting part of the whole thing was when Phoenix asked if I wanted to have one of the girls clean my ears to which I said, “Sure, I’ll try anything once.”  I thought the girl was going to use Q-tips, but actually, she used a long needle to scrape deep into my ear, and a tuning fork to shake loose all the crud.  It was actually quite uncomfortable and scary.  I was so afraid she was going to stab my ear drum, but let me tell you, she definetely cleaned my ears.  In fact, at one point, all the girls were gathered around in awe at the amount of dirt she took out.  Definetely only trying that once.

The next night, Lorne, Jessie, and myself decided to go out for a night on the town.  Back to the Bobo bar.  Well, first we hit up the local campus bar, took down a couple of pitchers of beer, and Jessie, the diplomatic foreigner that he his, offended Candy by using the word “Fuck” and “China” in the same sentence.  I tried to explain to her that Americans typically curse when we speak to each other, but honestly, he did say some offensive things.  Really, he’s just not as enthusiastic as myself about experiencing different cultures, so much of what he sees in China is construed by him as being negative.  I guess thats why Americans have a reputation for being offensive while abroad.  But nevertheless, I straightened everything out, and after dropping Candy off at her house (she felt uncomfortable being the only girl going to a nightclub with three men and understandably so.  Such a thing is frowned upon in China) we three headed out to the Bobo bar.  Only this time, I made sure to take a few shots the “American” way.  See, I had heard a rumor that the bottles of Whiskey were actually fake and wondered if that’s why the bars were so keen on mixing most of it with ice tea.  Turns out, it was just a rumor.  I had two beers, 4 shots of pure whiskey, and a countless amount of “Chinese” shots and by the end of the night, I was dancing on the stage with my shirt off and swinging it around my head.  Yes, I was a sight to see and the Chinese locals loved it!  I was dancing all over the place, with women, with men, with myself and they kept pulling back onto the stage to dance with them.  And as soon as I would climb up there, a dozen women and men would follow suit and dance around me.  In China, its quite common to see two men dancing with each other, just as it is common to see two male friends walk down the street with their arm around each other or two girl friends holding hands.  I suppose the whole dancing with men thing has something to do with the dynamic of East meets West with a bang.  See, even the whole nightclub experience is quite new in China.  It wasn’t too long ago when such a thing was unheard of, but the country is rapidly becoming Westernized and yet, is still holding tightly to their traditional values.  So yes, they go to the bars to dance and drink, but hitting on girls for their numbers or a one night stand is still not part of the scene.  So, I’m thinking, since the idea of multiple lovers is still out of the mental grasp of the Chinese, the night scene doesn’t boil down to strangers meeting on the dance floor to hook up.  Since this is the case, it seems reasonable that two male friends who are close, can be often seen dancing with each other and with one swinging the hips or hands of his friend in rythmic movement.  Quite similar to how girls in America will dance with each other instead of approaching a man they don’t know in the bar.  So, there were a couple of times where the guys would come up and start dancing with me, putting their hands on my hip, and when they’d dip, I dip, and we’d dip.  No, not really,  There was no dipping, but there was defintely hip swaying.  So, by 10:30, im soaked in sweat, my shirt is soaking wet, and its twirling around my head like propellers on a helicopter.  The guys in the bar are pulling over the girls to come dance with me, and they were really excited, let me tell you.  I even gave a few a kiss on the cheek and then they asked if they could take a picture with me, since it was their friend’s birthday.  All in all, it was quite innocent, but really a lot of fun.

The next morning, all three of us met Phoenix to introduce ourselves to our part-time students, with Jessie being the only one hungover.  The guy had continued to take Western style shots throughout the night, and instead of dancing shirtless on the stage, was walking up to every girl in the bar with his cellphone, and using his American to Chinese translator program on his phone to ask the girls if they had boyfriends and if any wanted to be his girlfriend.  Needless to say, there were no takers.  So we introduced ourselves to the class, gave the kids English names, then headed to McDonalds for breakfast, which it turns out they don’t serve here in China, and settled with a shake and coffee and proceeded to joke how we are going to start giving English names to the students like, “Homer” and “Bart” and “Patty” and “Selma” or maybe something like “Shaniqua” or “DeWayne” or “Latoya”.  It actually sounded like a pretty humorous idea.  Besides, how would they know the difference?  Later that afternoon, we met up for another shot at basketball.  We spent about ten minutes getting the fundamentals down and then hit the courts for some serious game time.  We were determined not to lose face again, and we creamed the competition.  We played three on three with about four sets of teams.  Everytime we beat one team, the next three boys would eagerly stand up for their chance at the Westerners, and we kicked all their asses.  Of course, I think most of the kids we played were still in middle school, but hey, thats not the point.  The point is, we won!  The next morning, Sunday, I met with Phoenix again as he wanted me to go by myself to teach a class.  It was quite easy.  I gave them a lesson on the four seasons, the 12 months of the year, and how to describe weather as being “hot”, “cold” “cool” “rainy” or “sunny”.  Then Phoenix payed me in advance for four classes which was 500 quai or yuan.  Quai is slang, like calling a dollar a “buck” and I think it sounds much cooler.  Though, when I use this word in class, the kids have a tendency to laugh at me.  And that pretty much brings us up to date.  Sorry if I wasn’t so detailed, but its a lot of days pushed into one blog.  Oh, by the way, at the nightclub, I guess I was buzzed enough to chew on a chicken claw.  Interesting is all I can really say.  Well, that and that the spices were so hot that I accidently rubbed my eye and it left it burning for the rest of the night.  Think about touching a jalapeno and then touching your eye.  Now do that over and over and over again and you have an idea.  Ok, talk to you all soon…Love Brandon

*Mon Sep 20, 2010 12:04So, I just got back from a KTV, which is a karaoke bar, except, here in China, you rent out a private room so its just you and you’re friends singing to each other. It was actually a lot of fun. See, earlier in the night, I met with Lorne, Jessie, Rebecca, and Candy, my new crew, and we hit up this Grand Opening party at Lorne’s new gym. It wasn’t quite the party we expected, but we had a good time. We walked in and were led to the yoga section of the gym where most of the people were sitting on yoga mats and they were just finishing up a game of musical chairs. I’m telling you, the Chinese can be so cute and innocent sometimes, its actually quite refreshing. So we sat there and in between games and entertainment, they would call out numbers for a raffle. They never called out mine, so I was a little disapointed. My streak of never winning anything continues. For entertainment, they had the yoga instructors demonstrate their talents, which was quite amazing. You know, balancing on each others backs, lifting their legs to their face, and other quasi acrobatic movements. I have to say, watching two women bend in unison can be quite thrilling. They also had a former army man demonstrate some Kung Fu, definetely could have kicked my ass, though I was tempted to let him try, a break dancing duo, and even had Lorne and I get up to sing a song. We decided on “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” and we were just awful. I blame it on the feedback from the microphone, but maybe I just sound better singing in the shower than on the mic. One of the reasons we decided to go to the KTV, I felt I had to redeem myself after such a pitiful performance. Still, they did give us each a box of Moon Cakes as a consolation prize. Moon Cakes, by the way, are a traditional desert that people give to each other as gifts for Mid-Autumn Festival, which is this coming Wednesday. Its pretty awesome, especially since I get Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off and then, the week after next, I get another nine days off for National Day. Its actually kind of different from American holidays off since although I get three days in a row off, I have to work on Saturday and Sunday to make up for missed class. Still, we are heading to Changsha this Wednesday to party it up Westerner style! Anyways,back to the gym party, Candy and Rebecca both sang as well, and I have to say, they have really pretty voices. Then, I played some game where me and another lady teamed up against Jessie and his stranger and raced each other by standing back to back with our partners with a balloon in between us, which we had to take across the room, sit down on a chair, and pop the balloon between our backs, and then race back to grab another balloon to see who could get the most popped. Just some good clean fun at the gym! So, after the party was over, I took advantage of the discounted price and signed up for three months, time to get this flab back into shape, and then we headed out to find some fun. We decided on a KTV, at my recommendation, and to our delight, the girls agreed to come with us this time. See, a couple of days ago, we were invited to a Tea House and in turn, invited the girls to accompany us, but they bailed last minute since the hour was getting late, and they felt uncomfortable being outnumbered my males. Its a China thing, the girls are very traditional about being out late and being around a lot of men. After all, they have a reputation to protect. The Tea House was actually pretty damn awesome! Let me tell you, forget about getting a coffee table, what you need is a Tea Table. This thing was rocking! It was made out of a very old tree trunk, but was varnished with some sort of gloss, so it was very shiny and appealing. It also had its own water faucet resembling the R.O. water system back in Midland, a water boiler, and tons of little trinkets for boiling and serving tea. They even had a little clay boy who, after pouring hot water on his head, would pee out water from his little wee wee onto anything he was facing, and let me tell you, he definetely had some range. We sampled about 5 different teas, the first being some special tea that actually helps you lose weight and runs for 1000 RMB for a cake of it, which is about the size of a Peter Piper Personal Pizza, and it was delicious. Drinking tea in China is a lot like drinking wine. You’re suppose to smell it first, then take a sip, breathe out, then in, and appreciate the flavor on your palate. We also sampled a flower tea and green tea at the end, which was extremely bitter like no tea I have tasted before. They said that it starts out bitter, but after three or four cups, which are about half an ounce containers, it becomes sweet. It never got sweet for me, just less bitter, but it was a really cool experience and it did have a euphoric effect, much more pleasurable than drinking alcohol. If I take anything back from China, I hope its a rocking tea table like the one in the Tea House and the habit of drinking good tea everyday. So yeah, I wish the girls had joined us that night, but they didn’t, so after the tea, we pleasured ourselves with a foot massage. Its good to be the king. But tonight, the girls did accompany us, and we rented out a private room, and sang our little hearts out. My best song, surprisingly, was “Handlebars” by the Flobots. I actually sang it quite well, that and The Beatles’ “Yesterday”. The rest, well, it was a lot of duets and Lorne kept throwing me off, hahahaha, just like an American to blame the Brits. Actually, we were playing a doubles game of pool the other night, Lorne and Rebecca v. Candy and myself, and I was just doing my best to knock them off their game because, well, because I wanted to win. So there I am, talking smack and trying to distract Rebecca and Lorne busts out with, “That is totally American. See that girls, that is 100% American. Notice, I haven’t talked smack this entire game.” To which I reply, “Yeah, and you haven’t won a game against me yet. We Americans know how to win, even if it means psychological warfare.” But it was funny, because he was right, it was a completely American thing to do, and if living in China has done nothing else for me, it has definetely made me proud to be and American. I can say now, confidently, that America is the greatest country on Earth. We have our problems, sure, but all in all, there’s no nationality I would rather belong to. So, lately, thats what I’ve been up to. Drinking tea, getting massages, singing, teaching, and spending free time downloading American tv and movies to watch in the luxurious air conditioning of my apartment. It is bloody hot out here and I can’t walk ten steps without soaking my shirt in sweat. The worst is in class because there is no A/C, just ceiling fans, and sometimes, they plain don’t work. By the way, this week, in an effort to get my students talking in class, we have been discussing Chapter 14 of the textbook, which deals with Homosexuality. Now, that’s been fun. Hey, its always fun to open the minds of young people. It was great. I wote the term on the board and asked them to tell me whether they thought Homosexuality was Immoral? a Disease? or Natural? Most seemed to think it was a disease, some thought it to be plain Immoral, and there were even a few who saw it as being natural. I, of course, took up the argument that it was natural, informed them of the Bonobo monkeys, their close relationship to humans, and the fact that they take part in homosexual behavior, and performed a social commentary that while most of China has homophobic tendecies, how funny it was that they have no problem with two men walking with their arms around each other or two men dancing with each other in a night club. It was hilarious when I told them that two men dancing with each other in America only happens at gay clubs. So,all in all its been a great week. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a few things that just bother the hell out of me, and mostly, its the honking. Oh my God, they use their horn like a turn signal. And the funniest thing is, I don’t even need an alarm, because as soon as its 7am, the horns start going off. It’s crazy, I can wake up at 6:58am, and there is no sound coming from the street, but as soon as it turns 7, the horns just start going off, as if the taxi drivers are moonlighting as roosters. Whatever they are, they are definetely cocks! But hey, things could be worse, so hopefully I’ll get used to it pretty soon. Anyways, that’s all I got for now. To my family, hugs and kisses, to Charly, a big sloppy kiss, to my friends, I miss you guys, and to my lovers, I wish you were here with me… *, 4, 9, 2010, Mon Sep 27, 2010 06:00
It was 11 am and check out was in an hour. Lorne and Hugo were still lying in their bed, nursing their hangovers when I came in and told them, “Jessie’s M.I.A.” Lorne, eyes still closed and curled up in the fetal position says, “What do you mean?” “What I mean is, he never made it back to the hotel and his phone has no signal. He’s an American lost in Changsha…”

Two days earlier, my university had taken me down the local police station to apply for my resident visa. It took at least 6 hours, not because that is how long it takes to apply, but because the police chief, Ms. Moore, enjoys using her position to practice her English and converse with the foreigners. We had to walk back and forth down the Shaoyang streets to get all the appropriate signatures and when that was finally done, Ms. Moore had me sit there while she asked me questions about America, China, and my thoughts on the Western influence on her country. She told me about her daughter and how worried she was that her daughter only like to watch American films and listen to American music and how the Western world was even influencing her daughter to leave Shaoyang and move to Shanghai for college, an idea that conflicted with Ms. Moore’s more traditional values. So, we talked and I smiled and gave her my honest opinions, telling her not to worry, that whether in China or America, youthful rebellion was a normal part of growing up. Still, I had been up since 7am to get all this done and it was already nearing noon, and I was hungry and therefore, becoming impatient. Still, I kept a smile on my face and tried to be as polite and agreeable as possible. That is, until Ms. Moore told me we were finished and that she would keep my passport for the next 9 days while they processed my Visa. At this point, my patience grew thin. I told her that I was leaving for Changsha on Wednesday to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival and my three day, mid-week vacation. She told me that it was impossible and I would have to cancel my plans and stay in Shaoyang, which I then told her would be impossible. It took me about forty minutes of arguing, losing the smile on my face, and even playing the “my passport is United States property and my government forbids me to trust anyone outside myself with it” card, but eventually we came to an agreement that I would deliver my passport to her on Saturday once I had returned. I have to be honest, it actually felt quite good to stand up to her, especially after she wasted half my day getting a free English lesson from me. So Changsha was on and I was quite excited. That Wednesday, I bought some moon cakes for my friends, met Candy and her family for an early lunch, and met Lorne and Jessie at the bus station for a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to the capital of Hunan… Changhsa!
There were a few snags in the transportation process, but nothing major. I almost missed the bus leaving from Shaoyang because I made the mistake of calling Jessie to meet me out front of the bus station to make sure I was in the right place and of course, he went to the back and we thought we were at different bus stations. So I left on a motorcycle taxi only to find out that I was at the right place all along and speaking to Jessie was as bad as speaking English to someone who only spoke Chinese. But everything worked out, we had a nice conversation about religion, thanks to me and my ever debating personality, and arrived at Changsha sometime in the early afternoon. From there, we took a 40 yuan taxi ride to Central Changsha to meet up with Lorne’s original TESOL training group, which he spent two weeks with in Changsha before starting work in Shaoyang. Of course, they were all Brits, so they were all good people.
There was Lorne, a tall, slender Albino with blond hair and a proper Oxford accent, Hugo, a Brit with a penchant for Chinese girls and a winning attitude that matched his smile, Chris, whose birthday we were celebrating who spoke with a Northern England accent and had a big belly and full beard that made him look like a Scotsman, Phil, a softspoken chap who had managed to pack two shirts and a pair of socks into a plastic handbag instead of a proper suitcase, Percy, an outgoing young girl from Wales who was great at being one of the boys, and Jessie, a Californian who despite being a vegetarian is utterly void of any ethics or moral fiber. Talk about a great group to hang out with in such a lively city. So, we checked into a hotel right in the middle of all the buzz, grabbed a bite to eat at Subway since we were craving a taste of home, and after showering and getting settled, started off the night pre-gaming with two plastic bottles of the Chinese version of Tequila, Bai Jo.
Mike, who was not living in Changsha, also met us at the hotel with two of his French friends, Simon and Kabul. It was him who suggested we hit up a bar called Hooligans, which now, I am so happy we got to experience. Hooligans was about half a mile down the center strip and was located down a hidden street right off the central square. We turned down what seemed to be a dark alley, only to be greeted with a long and narrow winding cobblestone road lined with Western bars catering to foreigners. You could tell because all of a sudden, it didn’t feel like China, but more like Spain or some other European city and all the bars had signs for Heineken, Murphy’s Irish Stout, and of course, Budweiser. Some even sported symbols for marijuana, which I found amusing since most Chinese would have no idea what that was. So, at the very end of the strip was Hooligans, a three story bar owned by an American expat with all the foreigners congregating on the third floor. We ordered 20 bottles of Budweiser and were trying to get some soda, since we had filled a water bottle with some Bai Jo and wanted to sneak some shots in, but this pissed off Mike, since he was friends with the owner and apparantly was trying to score some green from him. So, he made a comment that pissed off Lorne’s friends and before you know it, were were short four guys from our team, since they refused to be talked down to and decided to walk out. Lorne was meeting a potential business associate at the bar and decided to stay, and I really didn’t want to get in the middle of anything, so I played darts, drank my beer, and got into a deep conversation with Mike, Phil, and anyone else who would listen about how lucky we are to be in China at such an exciting time. After all, we were here on the groundfloor and with our basic, natuarally ingrained understanding of the Western world, we had a great opportunity to really be entrepreneurs here in the ever expanding and developing country that is China.
It wasn’t an hour later that those who left our group were back in Hooligans, smashed out of their mind. Yelling, screaming, and being stereotypical “Brits Abroad” We all decided to leave, and make our way to a nightclub to finish off the night, said our goodbyes to Mike and his French friends, and proceeded to meet everyone at a bar across the street. So, Chris, Hugo, Percy, and Chad were already there, drinking beers and Bai Jo and Chris and Chad were obliterated. There was Lorne, trying to calm them down saying “Mate, your eyes are gone. Your eyes are gone Mate” to which Chris would just start singing some English drinking song. We managed to pull them out of the bar and back to the winding cobbled road where it was night raining slightly, which was actually quite nice because I felt like I was walking the streets in Europe somewhere. It was very romantic to strolling drunkedly down a slippery stone road with the soft rain and the soft glow of the bar lights leading our way. We headed back to the hotel since there was a nice strip of nightclubs just around the corner from us, but it took us a while since we kept losing the drunkards. While walking, we could hear them behind us screaming, “Brits Abroad!” and heard a bottle smash on the floor. Afraid to be associated with the behavior, we walked farther ahead, only to realize a few minutes later, that they were no longer following us. We doubled back, found them harrasing a food vendor on the street, and led them back in the right direction. We found a great nightclub about 20 feet from the entrance to our hotel and walked in like we owned the place, and by the end of the night, we did…
It must have been midnight by the time we got there and we did the usual, made our rounds around the nightclub, scoped out floor plan, and then continued to get lost in the madness. Lorne and I unoffically became the shepards of the group, making sure no fights got started by our boys, making sure that Percy was safe ( we even spent a good twenty minutes searching for her only to see she was harmlessly getting hit on by an American outside the bathrooms) and keeping relations cool between the rowdy foreigners and the locals. But most of all, we danced. And drank. And danced. And drank. I know that for a while, all of us were standing on the stage, dancing and make a fool out of ourselves for the entertainment of the locals. Chris and Chad were drunkedly leading each other around until they broke out in an argument and Chad left the club and went home. He wasn’t staying at the hotel since he was stationed in Changsha, but he had no money on him and we never did find out how he made it home. The next day, when we met up, he couldn’t believe half the things he did and had no recollecton of the night after leaving Hooligans. And after that, they all started dropping like flies. At one point, Hugo, knowing he was going to be sick, made a b-line for the bathroom and wasn’t able to make it. He said, all he remembered was thinking, “I’m not going to make it” then, looking up, made eye contact with the cleaning lady outside the bathroom right before throwing up all over the floor right in front of her. He disappeared into the men’s room to finish up and expected the bouncers to be waiting for him when he walked out, but instead walked out only to see the poor cleaning lady dilegently cleaning up his mess, so he just went right up to a couple of girls, sat down next to them and began chatting it up. Needless to say, he spent the last hour that we were at the club passed out on a lounge chair with a beautiful Asian whispering into his incoherent ears. Next was Jessie. While we were all dancing on stage again, I turned to see Jessie, bending over the stage and throwing up at his feet. I pointed it out to Lorne and both of us started laughing and pretending to hump him from behind. Jessie found a table to stand at while I tried to get him to drink water, but he was gone and couldn’t even do that. So I left him there, while Lorne danced around the tables shirtless with Chris and Percy and jumped in to join them, also shirtless. I was keeping an eye on Jessie, but at one point, he left the table and I thought he was making his way towards us. Moments later, he had disapeared. We danced until the early morning and by 4:30am decided to head back to the hotel. By this time, Lorne had caught the sickness and on the way back to the hotel, Hugo chunked on the street. I tried to have Lorne do the same, but it wasn’t happening. Instead, they all staggered back to their spinning beds, while Percy and I, the only two who were still coherent, made a fun run to McDonalds. We passed out around 5am, and by 11 I was knocking at everyone’s door, handing out bottles of water and helping everyone to piece together the night. Phil had woken up in the laundry room sleeping on the dirty linens, Hugo had gone to Chris’ room and thrown up all over their toilet, and Jessie was still missing. We gathered our wits, extended our stay for one more night, and finally got a call from Jessie telling us that somehow, he had managed to wake up in the dorms of a local university about 40 minutes from our hotel laying on a bamboo bed with a group of older women standing around him and poking him. All in all, it was one of the best nights I’ve had in China so far…

Thu Oct 07, 2010 03:29

Wow, so much to talk about…Last Friday, October 1st, was National Day, a holiday in China that lasts for an entire week.  So, the boys and I decided to meet back up with the Brits Friday afternoon in Changsha and then head to Gui Lin the next day.  But first, we spent Thursday night at a local park here in Shaoyang which also has carnival rides.  Pretty much the kind of rides you would find at any carnival. Bumper cars, the Yo-Yo, etc.  Except there was also this crazy one that had to be the most intense ride I have ever been on.  Its hard to explain, but I’ll try.  Picture a ten seater swing.  Now picture the swing doing a complete loop around the swing set, several times.  Now imagine the the seat of the swing also rotates 360 degrees several times while you are swinging around the swing set.  Now just imagine that the swing set is 20 ft high and at the highest point you are spinning backwards in your seat 30 ft in the air at least twice before you start your descent towards the metal platform beneath you.  Of course, your seat is still spinning like Darth Vadar’s jet fighter at the end of Star Wars and you open your eyes just in time to see the platform coming right at your face and about 4 ft from a face plant, you swing back over the bars, backwards.  The ride lasted for about 5 minutes and it was fantastic.  I rode it twice!

After that, Lorne, Jessie, Candy, and myself took a stroll around the park, played on the excersise equipment before Lorne decided to treat himself to a foot massage and Jessie decided to call it a night.  Candy had just recently taken a job about an hour outside of Shaoyang, so for the past week and a half, we haven’t really been able to hang out much.  She’s become a really good friend and I help her with her English and in trade, she teaches me Chinese, though, her English is far more advanced than my Mandarin.  So, since she is now living out of town, our time has been limited.  Still, she was able to come home Thursday afternoon to spend the National Day Holiday with her family and met up with us boys for the night.  And since we were heading out early the next morning to Changsha, I decided to walk her home the long way and somehow during the walk, was able to convince her to come along on our trip for the week.  It took some convincing, but really, I never thought she would agree since its quite unheard of for a Chinese girl to travel alone with a group of foreigners, especially when the majority of them are men.  But her mother agreed to let her go and the next morning, she met us at the bus station ready for an adventure.

We arrived in Changsha close to noon, booked our hotel rooms and took a rest while Lorne and Jessie went off to make some money at a modeling gig.  They had met an Australian the last time we were in Changsha that had a job for them to make about 400 RMB for a few hours working the runway.  I didn’t crawl out of bed until about 5pm, went to check on Candy, and we both headed out for dinner while the rest of the group headed to the train station to grab our tickets for Gui Lin the next morning.  After dinner, I introduced Candy to the group before she headed out to a local university to spend the night with an old school mate of hers.  The group was pretty much the same except Phil hadn’t made it and Freya, a take no shit 21 year old Oxford graduate who could keep up with the boys, and Tommy, another Brit with a lip ring and two nipple piercings, had joined in on the party.  The night was much like the last time we were in Changsha, except not nearly as rowdy.  Everyone decided to pace themselves this time and we spent most of our time at Hooligan’s playing British drinking games and then just wandered the streets and decided to stay clear of the clubs since we weren’t in the mood for a late night nor dropping too much cash.

Saturday morning we hopped the train to Guilin, excited that we had booked a sleeper car.  Though, it turns out we had booked the cheap sleeper car so instead of a private room, we were in the coach section, which meant that the cars were lined all the way down with two sets of bunk beds piling three high, and because of the crowds, we were all sitting on the very top beds with had about 3 ft of clearing.  So lying down wasn’t too bad, but sitting up, well, we were all hunching over with our feet hanging over the side.  It was a 7 hour trip so we spent a few hours napping and the rest of the time drinking beer and watching the beautiful countryside scenery go by.

We made it to Gui Lin around dinner time and had still not booked a hotel, which proved more difficult than we thought since it was the National Day holiday and everyone in China was traveling.  Also, Gui Lin is apparantly more popular to travel to than Beijing, so it was packed.  We found a lady at the bus stop to drive us around and help us look for a place to stay, and as helpful as she was, every place was too expensive, and the Brits, being the paranoid travelers that they are, thought that everyone we met, including the nice lady who was helping us, was out to scam them somehow.  So, it was quite difficult to get anything done since they refused to follow the advice of the lady, who said getting anything in the central part of town would be quite impossible, and kept breaking off to see what they could find instead of letting the lady do her job.  But, after they had no luck either, we were able to have a local store owner rent us out his old apartment for about 80 RMB per person.  Problem was, there was only 3 beds.  So, all the girls, Percy, Freya, and Candy, shared one big bed, I called shotgun on another, Tommy got the shitty mattress on the floor, and the rest of them had bedding put down on the floor for them where they slept.  Though, we didn’t get much sleep since the Brits were hooting and hollering about having to use the squatter to take a proper poop.  It was their first time having to use one, and since we had all shared a large dinner about an hour before we got back to the apartment, they had no choice.  It was actually quite funny to listen to them and really, if it wasn’t them keeping everyone awake, then it was the sound of the train that seemed to come by every 15 minutes right outside our window.  Still, we got some rest and woke up around 9am the next morning and started getting ready to meet the day.

We had decided to spend the first part of the day at an amusement park about an hour or so away called MerryLand, then, head back to Gui Lin, grab our bags, and make our way down to Yangshou, another hour or so away.  But, when we finally got to the bus station and grabbed our breakfast, a few of the group began to worry that we wouldn’t have enough time since it was already 10am.  So, there was a reshuffling of plans and the next few hours were sort of a nightmare since it was quite difficult to organize ten individual minds and plans.  In the end, we booked a bamboo raft ride down the Li River that would take us halfway down to Yangshou, where we would grab a bus to get us the rest of the way.  Thing is, we wouldn’t meet the bus to the raft until 2pm and it was now just 11:30.  So, we went and grabbed our bags from the apartment, had a little lunch, bought some provisions for the boat ride, and met back at the bus station around half past 1.  Of course, the bus was late, like everything in China and we didn’t get to the rafting point until around 3:30.  But again, it was the biggest traveling holiday of the year and grabbing a boat took a while as well.  So, we took pictures of the scenery, waded in the river, haggled with the locals for little wooden duck souveniers and finally, got us our boats.  The boats only held four at a time, so we had to split up.  It was Jessie, Chris, Candy, and myself on one boat and it was actually really nice, though none of the boats were actually bamboo.  Instead of bamboo pontoons, they were large pvc pipes, but it was still cool because you head down the river with a small motor propelling you and all around you are green majestic mountains.  Not like the mountains we see in America that are wide and long, but ones that look more like something out of Avatar.  Actually, there is a place in China that I’m going to travel to next, that actually was the inspiration for the floating mountains in Avatar.  I’ve seen pictures and it is gorgeous.  Still, these mountains were pretty similar too.  They’re very narrow (for a mountain) and have tall peaks and they are all settled right next to one another, so you look up and all you see are green mountain peaks lining the river around you.  Then, you can see these huge yaks bathing in the river as you float on by.  I made the driver stop at a small beach shore so I could jump in the water and swim around a bit and also grab some noodles from some ladies cooking food.  All in all, it took us a little less than two hours to make it to the docking point, where we met with the rest of the group and took a shuttle to the bus station that would take us the rest of the way to Yangshuo.

It was already close to 6 when we got to the bus station and it seemed like everyone was going to Yangshou that night.  There were no taxis and the only way to get there was by bus.  We tried at one point, but as soon as the bus stopped, a mob of people began pushing their way into the door and there was no way we would be able to fit.  It was packed with no standing room either.  So, when we saw the next bus coming around about 10 minutes later, I just started running and keeping myself right in front of the door until the bus came to a stop, and when the mob started crowding into me, I crowded them back and did my best to create a pathway for my friends to follow.  While trying to get on the bus, my bag got stuck under the stairs and there were so many people pushing behind me, that I couldn’t back up to grab it.  Of course, Im so wide that none of them could get past me either so I had to push back the crowd, grab my back, and then step back up.  It worked out because it gave the rest of the group time to position themselves correctly and we all ended up getting a seat.  We got to Yangshou right close to 8 and still had no hotel, and with the way traffic was, it didn’t look like we would be able to book one.  So, we made our way down to West Street, sent four scouts to look for lodging while the rest of us stopped for a meal and some relaxation.

Turns out, Lorne, Freya, and Percy pretty much got laughed at by any hotels or hostels that they tried to find rooms at and thanks to the Lonely Planet guide, found a hostel called Monkey Jane’s that was also fully booked, but agreed to let us sleep on the lounge couches and the floor for only 50 RMB a person.  So, we made our way down West Street which was more packed than Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, found the alleyway that led to Monkey Jane’s, got ourselves settled in, and then headed up to the rooftop bar where we spent the night playing beer pong and drinking and laughing.  Candy joined us for a little bit, but was very tired, so I helped her settle into her recliner, made sure she was comfortable, and then headed back up with the group to have a little more fun.  Funniest thing is, the Brits are always complaining about the lack of hygeine in China, how the toilets are so nasty, and they miss everything being clean, but they have no problem playing beer pong.  Now let me put this into perspective.  The goal of the game is to land a ping pong ball into one of ten cups of beer that are arranged like bowling pins on opposite sides of a long narrow table.  If the ball falls into the beer cup, the other team has to drink it down.  First to knock out all the cups wins.  Now, where I become amused is that most of the time, the ping pong ball flies off the edge of the cup and onto the bar floor, where it rolls all around, under couches and feet and floor drains.  We already know that using chemicals like bleach or even soap to clean floors is not a priority in China and to make matters worse, there has to be about 150 dirty shoes that have been traveling all around the China streets, tracking in mud and water and God knows what else, stomping all around the place. And still, they just pick up the ball from the floor, dip it into a cup of water, and then send it flying into one of the drinks…really?  Having to squat to poop is something they can’t wrap their heads around, but dipping a germ ridden ping pong ball into your beer before drinking it is no problem for them.

So, a little later, we leave the bar, wander the streets, but I grow tired and decide I’d rather go to bed, if that’s really what you want to call it.  Candy is still awake talking quietly with Jessie and I cuddle into my lounge chair, have a late night chat with Candy, and fall right asleep.  the next morning, determined not to waste another day on just traveling, I go looking for some event for us to do.  What I find is going caving, where we can swim, sit in hot springs, see stalagmites, and even take a mud bath.  So, I get gather the troops, get them excited about it, take Candy for a Western breakfast of French Toast and Eggs Benedict and get back to the guys to get everything settled.  Yangshou has really become a tourist destination for locals and foreigners alike, so there’s really a blending of both East and West, so there are plenty of Western style restaurants and bars if that’s what your looking for.

We decide that instead of busing it to the cave, we would rather bike there.  So we all go to rent bicycles, but then I decide I’d rather take a motor scooter, so I rent one of those instead and Candy hops on the back and off we go, where I promptly crash into another scooter at my first intersection.  But it was low impact and we just laughed it off and continued on our way.  So it was about a 40 minute bike ride, which was really nice and we enjoyed the wind in our faces and the scenery of the mountainous countryside all around us.  We got our tickets for the cave and from the ticket center, we took a quick bus ride up to the Moon Water Cave where we spent the first twenty minutes waiting for a boat to take us into the mountain cave.  Outside the cave entrance is a large lake like pool where the boats dock to take you into the cave, since the mouth of the cave is filled with water.  And, they even have a 10 ft rock diving board where you can jump into the lake pool and swim around, so we did, and it was a blast.  Then, we grabbed our hardhats and jumped into the canoe like boat.  We couldn’t understand why we needed hard hats until we sailed into the cave and realized how narrow it could get and that there were jagged rocks all around us.  After we get about 40 ft deep into the cave, we get out and start climbing up the rock stair trail for what seemed like forever.  We were following a guide and we kept climbing and would sometimes have to squat all the way down and duck walk through the caverns since it was so small at places.  The cave was amazing.  Just a huge cavernous mountain that we continued to climb until they led us to a pool of mud, where we all slid into.  The mud was cool and grainy and if you lied down in it, you would just float.  It was a really cool experience because it felt like you were being pushed up by a magnet since you really weren’t able to stay on the bottom without it pushing back up.  So, we laughed and floated and covered ourselves in mud and took pictures and acted silly, and it was great.  Then, they took us down to a spring where we did our best to clean ourselves off, though we were still pretty dirty.  And on the way back, we stopped at the hot springs in the cave and soaked in the water for a good half hour, enjoying the scenery, the company, and the warm water.  We got back out of the cave, did some more diving and swimming, bought some souvenier photos of us splashing in the mud, and headed back to our bikes.  I got a little cocky on the motorscooter and almost killed Candy and myself (note: a motor scooter doesn’t work like a bicycle, you can’t take your hands off the handle bars and expect it to keep going straight) but we made it safely back to the rental shop around 6:30.  We went for dinner, did a little shopping where I bought myself this amazing traditional Chinese silk coat that is patterned with dragons.  Its reversible with one side blood red and the other, silky white.  Its gorgeous and I overpaid.  By the way mom, I’m seriously considering having a dragon tattooed across my back…

I found Candy and I a room earlier that day with two beds so we could have a decent night sleep, but when we went back in the evening, the first thing we saw was a huge roach crawling up one of the headboards.  This freaked Candy out and we went to tell the owners, who acted as if we were being silly and went to spray the room.  The lady acted as if we were lying, until she pulled the bed back and shook the headboard, where the nasty little fucker had been hiding.  She sprayed the room for us and we left to wait it out in the lounge area of the hostel.  Candy showered up and said she was heading back to the room to rest and I told her I would hang out with the group for a few more hours and would call her when I was coming in.  A few moments later, she returned saying she would rather sleep on the couches again since she saw another roach crawl over my bag and across the floor.  We tried to go get our money back, but the owners threw a fit about how they weren’t able to rent the room out anymore since it was late and they refused to refund our money.  Poor Candy was dealing with a shouting match, and anytime I tried to get involved, the owners would just cover their ears and shake their head as if they didn’t want to hear any English.

In the end, we made them clean the room, change the sheets, sweep and mop the floors, and spray the entire room down.  After the fumes were gone, Candy went to the room and I headed up to the roof top bar with the gang.  But the whole thing with the room and the owners put me in a funk and I couldn’t bring myself to have a good time, so I went up to the room early and fell asleep.  The next morning, I booked a white water rafting trip for me and Candy, since the rest of the group wanted to rent motor scooters and travel to Dragon Bridge where they would jump off.  Apparently, the drop was more than 10 meters, so it was quite thrilling, but Candy and I had our heart set on rafting and this was our last day before heading back to Guilin and then home to Shaoyang.

So, we had some noodles for breakfast, took an hour bus to the site, geared up with our helmet, lifevest, and other equipment and hopped into our two person raft.  Maybe I was just too heavy or maybe our boat was faulty, but it immediatly filled up with water.  Still, I was sitting on the side of the raft like I had done before when I rafted in San Jose, and I was already a little disapointed because we didn’t have any paddles and I was starting to second guess how good the rapids would be.  So, we’re waiting in our boat with about a hundred other couples hanging around the river waiting until everyone had their raft.  Then, the man opens up door to the dam exposing a 13 meter drop right into the rapids below and I suddenly understood why I had to wear a helmet.  Before the man let us go down, he made me sit inside the boat instead of the side.  I was kinda put off thinking, “hey, this ain’t my first rodeo.  I’ve rafted in California, I think I handle this”  But as soon as we dropped and hit the rapids, I was glad they knew what they were talking about, because my cocky American ass would have flown right out of the boat and into the canyon wall.

These rapids were amazing.  The ones we did in San Jose were seperated by long dormant river waters that would come up to about 3 or 5 minutes worth of heavy rapids before slowing down again.  This one on the other hand was consistent rapids for over an hour.  It was like riding the BigFoot rapid ride in Knotts Berry Farm, but faster and more dangerous.  Water was splashing everywhere, the boat was flying through the river banks, bouncing off rocks and sliding down cliffs.  All around us was beautiful scenery.  Trees and mountains overlooking the river valley we were cascading down.  Then, we would come to a dormant part of the river again where we would float to the next river dam opening and they would open the door and we would fly down another huge drop into the rapids waiting below.  All along the banks were camera men calling to us to look at them while they took photos and  by the end of the hour and a half ride, we were wet and cold and laughing.  We got out of the raft at the very end where we were immediatly harrased by competing photo companies and ladies wanting to sell us hot tea and towels, but we just air dried, got some hot food to warm us up, and I bought 5 souvenier photos and a cd with all 22 pictures to keep for posterity.  You can now find them on my facebook page.

We took the bus back to Yangshou, met up with the rest of the group, grabbed some food, gathered our belongings, did some more shopping down west street, which is lined with vendors of everything cool and Chinese that you could think of.  The only thing that threw me back was that there were several shops that did carictures on t-shirts for people, and they all had cartoon pictures of pop culture stars ranging from Michael Jackson to LeBron James to Mr. Bean.  But every single one had a caricature picture of Osama Bin Laden and he was drawn to look like a savior or hero.  There was even one of him with wide blue eyes staring up and chinese characters which after Candy read, had asked me if he was a good man because it was saying how mighty and brave he was that he was not afraid to take on the powerful.  I was actually really offended and could not figure out why they all had such an image.  Who were they marketing to?  Obviously not Americans or Brits.

So, we bused it back that evening to Gui Lin, found accomadations, grabbed some more Chinese food, though I must say, the food in Hunan is so much better than the Gui Lin province.  I was really missing the spice and then set off to do more shopping along the strip.  And I ended up purchashing this amazing piece of art.  Its a six foot scroll with a painting of a tiger showing its fangs and bearing its claws and it has Chinese caligraphy writing next to it, though I’m not sure just yet what it says, but I needed some decoration in my house, and I love looking at the Tiger’s fierce eyes and the way his tail wraps around the moon in the background.

So we caught the bus back to Shaoyang yesterday where I spent the rest of my day relaxing in front of the television and re-energizing myself from a week of traveling and sleeping on hard floors, beds, and lounge chairs.  And its back to work tomorrow…Love y’all

*Wed Oct 13, 2010 05:23*Ok, so living in China has been an amazing experience so far!  Its great being able to experience another culture firsthand and during the past 6 weeks or so, I have learned a lot about myself and my own country.  If anything, I have come to appreciate another way of life while at the same time, gain a newfound love and respect for America.  And as much as I love my country, I have noticed that in many ways, the Chinese seem to be more free than many Americans.  Allow me to elaborate…While they do live under the rule of an Authoritarian government, its obvious that most people here are genuinely happy and content with their lives.  Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not all good.  They don’t have the natural born freedoms that us Americans usually take for granted, like freedom of speech, religion, and the right to bear arms.  They can be arrested for speaking out against their government.  Their government officials are not elected by the people but rather, appointed by the Party.  This is, to me, an obvious flaw in their system, and many Chinese seem to feel the same way.  However, in many ways, I envy their day to day life.  For instance, with all our God given rights in America, we also have so many frivilous rules and laws that ultimately inhibit our freedoms.  One thing I admire about the Chinese is their willingless to accept responsiblity for their own lives.  I feel that many times, as Americans, we have abandoned the ideals of our pioneer forefathers and have come to rely on our government to take care of us, while the Chinese expect little to nothing from their government.  Throughout China, you will see entrepreneurs setting up food stands on the street or merchants selling anything from animal parts to socks to toys right off the sidewalk.  In America, one would have to machete their way through the red tape of bureaucracy in order to set up a small business such as this, while in China, anyone willing to offer a service or a product can set up shop for themselves.  Ironically, the latter seems to me to better resemble the American way.Lorne and I were discussing how in England and America, selling food on the street requires so many permits and licenses and how, if a consumer were to get sick off the food, ultimately, they could sue.  We came to the conclusion that this is the downfall of the free world.  The American way, in my opinion, is that if you did become sick off the food, you would take responsiblity for the error and simply decide not to eat from that vendor again, thereby greasing the wheels of the competitive market.  Sadly, that is no longer the case.  We now look for someone to blame, someone to point the finger at, someone to alleviate us from the responsibility, and someone else to pay.  An interesting side note, most of the hygenic standards of the Western world seem to absent here in China.  My mother would cringe her nose at the lack of cleanliness that is offered at many of the street stands.  The fact that the noodles you order are picked up with bare hands and thrown onto a makeshift stove covered in soot would be considered disgusting by most, especially since soap is nearly non-existent in most washrooms.  Still, you judge a tree by its fruit and the fact that none of us have become sick from the food and the locals regularly appear to be in quite good health, leads me to believe that the Western world is actually quite germaphobic and takes for granted the natural ability of the human immune system.The traffic here in China is horrendous by Western standards.  Pedestrians cross the street at their own free will, dodging oncoming traffic and motorists pay little attention to traffic laws.  They pass each other in the same lane, go the wrong way down a street, turn onto oncoming traffic, and use their car horn to communicate what they are planning to do next rather than follow any “logical” rule of the road.  Still, back home, I know that on any given day, despite our quite extensive list of traffic laws, I can plan to see at least three accidents on the freeway.  I have maybe seen one accident firsthand during my stay in China.  And even then, there was no need to get the police involved.  It was a situation that the people could be trusted to deal with on their own.  As crazy as it seems, there does seem to be a method to their madness and the pedestrians take their safety into their own hands.  They trust their fellow citizens to not run into them, and they trust themselves to secure their own safety, and it works.  I, myself, have become accustomed to crossing the street during heavy traffic and am quite comfortable with the process.  I know that motorists are taking precaution not to hit me, and I, in turn, am taking precautions to not be hit.  I have to say, what fascinates me the most is that while the country is officially “godless”, atheistic that is to say, the moral fiber of the people is undoubtably superior to that of its theistic counterparts.  The youth, and the elders alike, share in the ideals that sex is not something to be taken lightly, and most will only have 1 to 3 sexual partners their entire life.  I’m sure I am not the only American to wonder, “Where have all the virgins gone?” and the answer is, “China”.  Consider that most college students in China are still virgins and compare that to the sexually charged youth of America.  I see that young women are not afraid to walk down the street after dark, that people are not afraid to be robbed or mugged, and that you can trust your fellow stranger to not cheat you.  Instead, your reputation amongst your community in China is so important that most will not dare bring dishonor upon their name.  I have to say, it strikes me as odd, that so many people who have no concept of a god or heaven are so morally upright.  Now, this is not an argument against religion, but rather, an insight unto the moral standards of a people.  A people who seek to live their lives with honor and respect for their neighbors. At the moment, I live in a country where I can walk freely down the street and do as I please.  If I want to take my shirt off in a club, then I can do so without issue.  If I want to smoke in a restaurant, then that is my choice and others with graciously accept without whining about their right to not have to endure my own right.  This is a country that does not rely on welfare to take care of its poor, but rather, on family and relationships to take care of their own.  I dare say, that as a developing country, China has a great opportunity to build itself up, and hopefully, not be trapped by the bureaucratic pitfalls that have robbed the freeworld of its original freedoms and ideals…Now, on a lighter note…Things I Love and Hate about Living in China:I love that you don’t need to present ID to buy beer, cigarrettes, or go to clubs!I hate that the local beer is usually only 2.5% alcohol and the cigarrettes are twice as strong as in the states!I love that the women are so beautiful and virtuous!I hate that the women are so beautiful and yet, so virtuous!I love that I only have to work three days a week.I hate that the only things to do on my days off are watch movies and play pool.I love that in so many ways, the Chinese are more free than Americans.I hate that they constantly honk their horns instead of using turn signals.I love eating Chinese food.I hate that all there is to eat is Chinese food.I love that your credit score is based on your reputation rather than your debt.I hate that there is trash everywhere!I love that there is no factory farming and the animals roam as they please.I hate that the meat in my meals is more bone than flesh!I love that puppies and dogs roam freely without fear of being run over by some jerk!I hate that they eat dogs and puppies! *, 2, 10, 2010, 1, *4cb57a8f381de*, 0), (9657, 2834, *Fri Oct 15, 2010 14:53:08*, 1287168788, **, *
This past week in class, I’ve been talking to my students about culture shock and cultural differences between China and America.  Its interesting, because the more we talked about it, the more I noticed the things that have been shocking me.  For instance, today I was walking towards the gym when I noticed a baby girl peeing onto the sidewalk.  But what really caught me off guard was the fact that her mother was sitting on a chair outside her store, holding the baby’s legs open and purposely directing the stream onto the pavement.  I wasn’t the only one who noticed.  Two women also saw the stream coming, just in time to keep from walking through it.  A quick expression of alarm came over their face just before they jolted their heads in front of them again, made a slight adjustment in their angle, and continued on their way, casually avoiding stepping in the puddle.   Also, as much as I praise every Shaoyang driver for not only being able to drive, but manuever the streets of this city, and though I can almost wrap my head around their reluctance to wear seatbelts, since at least no collision is going to occur past 25 mph, I just can’t understand how they can drive around with their babies and not use a car seat.  Not only do they regularly ride with their babies in the front seat of the car, but more shockingly, they usually secure the children, infants included, in the middle of the two riders on a motorcycle.  A motorcycle!  With a 6 month year old baby riding in the middle!  I’ve even seen this when the roads are wet!The food, well the food I really don’t seem to have a problem with.  I actually really enjoy eating rice now.  When I first got here, I had trouble finishing a full bowl.  Now, I have at least two, sometimes three, with my meal.  And as far as strange delicacies.  Well, I guess I take after my dad, because I’ve found that I can eat almost anything with little to no remorse.  Dog excluded.  But hey, I’ve knawed on chicken foot, chewed on pig hooves, swallowed stomach, tasted toungue, nibbled on duck head, and I’m not sure, but I suspect the T-Bone I devoured medium rare didn’t come from a cow.  I eat off the street all the time and I’m blown away with how they cook.  Its not gas or electric and its like no stove I’ve seen before.  They use these honeycombed bricks of what resemble charcoal, but are obviously more dense, maybe actual coal?, and fill a small iron drum with the glowing hot coal and cook on the iron lid.  Its awesome seeing them fry up Chinese pancakes or watch them lay out a thin coating of batter to cook an egg in.  It’s awesome, its like having an egg burritto except the tortilla is the egg.I made friends with a neighbor puppy.  She’s a cute little husky with a solid white coat that just hangs around the front of my apartment.  She belongs to the family on the first floor, but spends her afternoons playing outside in the grass and exploring the university campus.  We only just bonded today, when I spent more than just a few seconds petting her and she rolled over to have me rub her belly.  There’s a pregnant beagle mix who comes into the dining hall during lunch and dinner time to eat scraps off the floor and wag her tail.  She’s dirty, but has a spring in her step that makes her appear carelessly happy.  I saw a male mutt on campus yesterday that had the build of a fox or maybe that of a  thin coyote. He made a point to lock eyes with me, and as he trotted by, he continued to stare me down with curious caution.  It struck me that it was possible that he was the father and it was then, that I began considering adopting one of the little new borns.  Now not like a full blown pet, but more like the way a Big Brother adopts an At-Risk youth.  Besides, if it grows up more like its daddy, I’d have a kick-ass coyote companion to walk the streets of Shaoyang with.(The Next Day)  I just got back from the gym.  On our way out Lorne and I noticed something I had never seen before.  There was a lady on the side street with two dead dogs, skinned and cut in half long ways.  There was a man inquiring about the rib meat, and she was raising up the rib cage so he could have a better look at the meat within.  The blood surrounding the dog was fresh and bright red and I wondered if these were stray dogs caught off the street, like the coyote I saw roaming around campus, or these were raised like farm animals and then butchered when they reached the right age.  By the way, I’m on my way to Shaodong to catch a boxing/martial arts arena match.  I’m excited!  Also, I have to pick up my phone from Candy.  I lost it the other day  and didn’t realize it until I got home hours later.  I called Candy, since hers was the only number I had written down, and asked her to call it.  She did, and it turns out some lady, who was now in Shaodong, had found it in a taxi on her way home.  Luckily, Shaodong is just where Candy has been living these past few weeks, so she was able to get it for me the next morning and hold on to it for me.  Then, I realized that the fight was happening today in Shaodong, so I decided to kill two birds with one blow…**Fri Nov 05, 2010 08:11* Yesterday, I ate dog…sorry Charly 🙁  And actually, it was quite delicious.  Better than beef.  A friend I met just recently convinced me that I should try it.  At first, I protested, but after she challenged my adventurous spirit, my ego stepped in and before I knew it, we were in the back of the restaurant picking out our meal. They even let us pet them to see which was the meatiest.  Don’t worry, I chose the dog who snapped at me.  Lil bastard will think twice before he bites the hand that feeds..I mean, eats him.   Hahahahaha, just kidding.  You don’t actually go to the back to pick out the dog.  It was already butchered, so it just looked like meat.  But it really was quite delicious.  I couldn’t keep my chopsticks off of it.  To be honest, I did feel a little bad later that night at the thought of actually eating dog, but at the time, we couldn’t help but make jokes.  You know, like making dog whimpering sounds as we clenched the meat between our sticks.  I know I know, bad taste… Also, I have given up getting massages as I haven’t had a good one since the first one I had.  Don’t get me wrong.  They’re not bad, but the deep tissue therapeutic massage that my body craves is just too hard to find.  You always get a different person and none have matched the master I first got.  So, I was walking down the street with Candy, when this little shop caught my eye.  Maybe it was the buddhist alter in the corner, or the left over scent of incense and oils, or maybe it was just the style of the Chinese caligraphy hanging outside the door advertising the shop, but I stopped and asked Candy what this place was.  Judging from the pin filled drawing of a naked man that hung on the wall, I had the feeling that this was a shop for Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Acupuncture!!!  And that’s exactly what it was.  So, the next day, I showed up with Candy, expecting to be met by an ancient Chinese man with a long white beard, but instead, this young man, wearing jeans and smoking a cigarette was waiting in the lobby.  Candy explained what I was there for, and he led me up a winding wooden staircase to a parlor filled with massage beds and oils and medicine books.  I thought he was taking me up to the doctor, until I realized, he was the doctor.  In the windows were wooden cages filled to the brim with grasshoppers and praying mantis bugs all climbing on each other and through the windows, I could see pet plants being kept on rooftop just outside the office.  Candy translated that I’ve had lower back pain for the past decade and he said he could help, but it would take time.  It was pretty much like going to the Chinese version of a Chiropractor.  To the point even, that after he stuck about 8 needles into my back, he hooked up electrodes directly in the needles and gave me 30 min of electro therapy.  After removing the needles, he rubbed an oil on my back, pulled out a shot glass, rubbed it over the oil and lit it on fire.  Then he stuck it on my back and as the fire extinguished a vacuum was created that sucked my skin into the class.  He used this technique to scrape down my back a few times before lighting and suctioning about 8 cups all down my back.  It was amazing.  Another thirty minutes of this, which while painful, is extremely relaxing and the therapy was done.  And yes, it helped my back.  So, now instead of massages, I go see my boy twice a week and I have huge purple circles all down my back.  The Chinese call it a turtle back.  Quick update, Lorne has gone back to England.  It was a quick decision and now he’s gone.  Also, one of the English teachers at my university has recently been fired, so I’m taking over half of his classes starting next week.  I’ve also got a side gig teaching 8 classes on the weekends at a 150 RMB a class.  What this means is that I will no longer have a single day off during the week, but with the extra income, I’ve almost trippled my salary.  This month, Im projected to pull in 13,600 RMB.  Not bad for a Chinese salary.**Tue Dec 14, 2010 09:51 *So yeah, its been a while since I’ve written.  Its not that I’m too busy, its just that, I’ve gotten so use to my surroundings, I can’t really think of anything interesting to write about.  The food,the customs, the traffic, its no longer new and exciting and different, its just home.  My life is actually quite simple.  I teach my classes, I watch movies at home, I take long walks around the city, and I drink beer with my friends. Its surreal, but at times, I even have to remind myself that I’m in China, which is actually quite strange since I’m surrounded by Chinese people who are all speaking a foreign language that I don’t understand.  So what has really caught my interest is politics.  Because tensions are high between the American and Chinese governments, I find myself fascinated at staying updated on American coverage of China and I’ve noticed that there is a negative, though sometimes subtle, depiction of China by the western media.  So I want to take a little time to speak highly of the Chinese people.  They have to be some of the most kind, honest, and accommodating people I have encountered.  What strikes me most is that these are a people who are predominately raised atheistic and yet, they demonstrate such high moral fiber and their family values are something that most American Christian conservatives would be hard pressed to match.  Now don’t get me wrong, every culture has its bad eggs and China is no exception, but the majority of people here really do value peace and honor.  What I find most amusing is that they really don’t know how to lie.  If you ask them a question, no matter how personal, invasive, or embarrassing, they will give you an honest answer.  And let me tell you, I have fallen in love with my students.  They’re so pure, so curious, so genuinely sweet.  Here I am, teaching university students who are between the ages of 20 and 22 and they demonstrate an innocence that can’t even be found in American middle schools anymore.  Many have never been in a relationship and those who are view it as something truly sacred.  I must tell you, living here has made me a better Christian.  They inspire me to live a moral life.  There is no analysis of wrong and right, only a communal idea of what is good and what is wrong.  Now, I don’t want to paint the picture that this is a utopia, because it isn’t.  I only want to express that the common people are a good people who value peace and harmony above all else and the general culture reflects that.  They value modesty and are quick to give the benefit of the doubt.  Their table manners may leave something to be desired, by western standards, but there is much to learn from how they interact with each other.  They are truly nationalistic and while government control is rich in propaganda, I can’t pretend that my own government is any less guilty in this area, just possibly, more subtle.  The only real issue that irks me is freedom of speech.  Now, as an American English teacher in China, I say pretty much anything that is on my mind without fear of repercussion.  I challenge my students on topics such as the sovereignty of Taiwan, censorship of the media, and the controversial Chinese Nobel Prize recipient who is currently imprisoned for treason.  However, I do not believe they are afforded the same rights.  As an example, today while having lunch with a group of Chinese T.V. producers who want me to judge an English contest for them, someone told a joke in Chinese.  After everybody laughed, I asked to have it translated. It went like this… “A Chinese man wanted to move to America.  During the Visa process, he was asked questions about why he wanted to leave China.  The Chinese offical asked, ‘Do you like the education system in China?’  He responded, ‘Yes, of course.’  Then he was asked, ‘What about about the hospitals, do you like them?’ ‘Yes, of course’, he replied again. ‘Do you like the Chinese government?’ ‘Well yes, of course I do’ he said again.  ‘Then why do you want to move to America?’, he was asked.  ‘Because, in America, I can say no!'”  I’ll tell you what, I laughed good and hard when I heard the joke in English, because its actually quite true.  There is a reluctance to take a stand against the government.  At least in a public setting.  And because of this, most Chinese, though they may have their own social criticisms, rarely care much for politics because they know, their say means little in how the government operates.  Though, I suppose this can be said for many Americans as well.  That being said, most Chinese really do love Americans. They are fond of our people, but they really dislike our government, especially our stance on foreign policy, though I believe this opinion is held by most of the Eastern world.

Ok, enough about politics.  On another note, I wish I had more time to travel.  The more I am out here, the more I want to continue traveling the globe.  For my winter break, I have decided to take a trip to Southeast Asia.  I wanted to backpack through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos,Vietnam, and Singapore, but I only have two months off and though it may seem like a good amount of time, I’ve promised a Chinese friend of mine that I will help him during the winter break with his training school.  So, I’ll probably only get through Thailand and maybe a little of Laos.  But I also have so much of China yet to explore.  And then of course, there is Nepal, Bhutan, and India.  This leaves a part of me wanting to forsake traveling back to my hometown for the summer, but then again, I have to at least spend one summer month visiting my family.  I do miss them so.  Its because of this that I plan on renewing my contract and committing to another year in the East.  Honestly, I would love to spend the rest of my life hopping from country to country, being a true citizen of the world, but alas, I do want to settle down one day with a family of my own.  At the moment, I could see myself finding a good Chinese woman and building a life out here, but hey, maybe I’ll move to India and decide that’s the place to be.  But then again, I like that I am so centralized here in China.  There are so many countries for me to explore in the eastern hemisphere.  So, who knows.  But for now, I think I owe it to myself to spend at least two years in this country.  I figure, at the very least, that’s how long its going to take me to get a decent grasp of the language.  So…how are things back in the States?
**Sun Jan 09, 2011 11:48* Quick update on my life in China….To ensure I wouldn’t feel lonely on Christmas and to spread a bit of my culture to the East, I decided to throw a Christmas party on Christmas night at a campus bar.  I’m glad to say, it was a success.  I decorated the bar with a Christmas tree and hung Christmas lights all throughout the inside.  We set up tables filled with food and presents, beer and whiskey…I had planned to have eggnog, I even spent an hour making homemade eggnog, going so far as to beat the eggs with a pair of chopsticks and spent even more time searching the local markets for the right ingredients, all just to drop the bowl all over the icy Shaoyang streets of the university halfway to the bar…Still, all my fellow westerners were there as well as a few choice local friends whom I wanted to celebrate with.  We played Christmas songs, played the white elephant game, and danced the night away.  The best part was my friend Candy, or Lei Jinbo, and her family came bearing gifts.  Gifts of authentic Chinese fireworks that we used to light up the sky at the end of the party.  I’m talking a good 15 minutes of uninterupted eruptions of thunderous color and sparks in the cold Christmas sky.  It was magnificent.  Then afterwards, we lit a fire inside these small hot air balloons, made a wish, and sent them into the night sky.  So…that was Christmas and the rest of my time since then and now has been spent grading final exams, preparing my lesson plans for review, and trying to stay warm in the winter cold.  I did take a couple of days to travel to the nearby city of Shaodong to visit Lei Jinbo before I left for vacation.  It wasn’t too eventful.  Shaodong is much like Shaoyang, so while I waited for her to get off work,  I backpacked through the streets looking for a hotel to stay at.  After a few hours of wandering aimlessly, I came across a beauty clinic with a picture in the window of a woman lying comfortably on her stomach with a towel of fire resting on her bare back.  I stared a few moment in wonder when the shop owner came out to greet me.  I smiled, pointed at the picture and gestured that it was something I would like to try.  She sold me on adding a facial to the whole experience, and being that I had a few hours to kill and I was tired from carrying my pack all over town, I went for it.  The facial was great, lasted a good 45 minutes on its own, and after the woman was done cleaning and moisturizing my face, she took a wet towel, laid it across my bare chest, after having spread a soapy substance all over me, and then doused the towel with what I can only presume was lighter fluid.  Then she took a lighter, lit the towel on fire, and just as it began to roar and rise above my chest, she smothered the fire with another wet towel.  When she did so, the heat smoldered across my belly and chest.  She repeated this process several times, each time the heat becoming more and more unbearable, until I almost wanted to tell her enough.  Though I didn’t.  Instead, I allowed the soap to continue to boil on top of me, until she finally stopped and asked me to turn around.  The same was done on my back.  I don’t know what the actual cometic purpose of the fire towel was, but I just like being set on fire.  It kinda made me feel like a stuntman.  So after two hours, I was done.  I paid the bill of 300 quai and set off once again to find my hotel.  It didn’t take me long.  Just down the street was the nice 4star accomadation I was looking for.  I secured my room and then immediately met Candy for dinner.  We had a nice dinner, a nice walk, and soon after, I went back to the room for a rest and she took a taxi back home.  What was odd, was after about 30 minutes in my room, my phone rang.  Obviously, I had no idea what the person on the other line was saying, since I didn’t speak Mandarin and she didn’t speak English.  So, I apologized and we hung up.  Just seconds later, I could hear the phone across the hall ringing.  I assumed the front desk had dialed the wrong room.  Five or so minutes later, I got a knock at my door. At this point, I assumed the front desk was trying to reach me and understanding that we couldn’t communicate over the phone, had come to the room to signal what was needed.  When I opened the door, instead of clerk, I was met by three young girls.  The one on the left immediately giggled at the sight of me and ran off in shyness.  The one in the middle tried to say something to me, but I couldn’t understand and the one on the right tried to simply walk in.  Now, my first instinct was to let her come right in.  I mean, come on,  a young Asian girl wanting to come into my hotel room, why not?  But another part of me, possibly the one who had just finished dinner with Candy, stepped in and blocked her while asking, “What are you doing?”  She retreated back to the doorway, confused and the girl in the middle asked in English if I spoke Chinese.  I told her that I spoke very little and she tried asking me something again in non-English.  I shook my head in confusion and she finally worked together the words, ” You…make love…to her?”  Again, first instinct was, “Hell yes!” but before I could get the words out, the better part of me was saying, “No, thank you”  and they retreated as I confusedly closed the door.  It was strange.  I knew things like this go on in hotels all around the world, but this was the first time girls simply came knocking at my door and assumed I would be interested.  Anyways, the next day, I met with Candy for lunch, we spent three hours walking and talking and visiting a local pharmacy to inquire about traditional medicine, she went back to work, I read some of my book while waiting and soon after, we headed back to Shaoyang.  It was a long trip.  I mean, Shaoyang is only 40 minutes away by bus, but we spent a long time walking to the station, partially because we were a little lost and when we did get to Shaoyang, we spent another hour or so walking to her house, well, that is, before we decided to just take a taxi.  We were pretty tired by that time.  I had dinner with her family and what struck me as most odd, was how nothing actually seemed odd.  I mean, here I was, sitting at the table, eating dishes of pig stomach and duck blood while a neighbor woman just behind the table and in direct line of sight from me, was crouching down, hacking away at a duck with a cleaver.  Actually, there was a tub full of skinned duck bodies that she had been preparing for the upcoming Spring Festival.  The tub was filled with featherless ducks, and on the chopping block resting on the floor, was a duck with its rib cage torn in half while she hammered down on its insides with her cleaver.  Next to the tub of duck bodies was a bowl full of entrails, and it wasn’t until Candy mentioned that what I was eating was coagulated duck blood that I realized how accustomed I had become to something so unordinary to my prior lifestyle.  You see, I had been eating pig stomach and a special local dish of pork, blood, and tofu that is fried into a salty meat like substance, as well as duck blood that is fried with oil until it becomes a squishy, salty, solid.  And finally, her sister asked me if I liked it, at that time not knowing what it was, and I said, yes, its delicious, which it was.  They asked me if I knew what it was and I took a guess saying, Kidney?  I was wrong, but they didn’t want to tell me what it was in fear that I would not like it.  I said, “Hey, I’m eating pig stomach, i think I can handle whatever this is.”  So, Candy told me what it was and I took another bite and said, its delicious.  Then I laughed saying, “Its funny that you don’t want to tell me what I’m eating.  You want me to eat it, but you don’t want to tell me what it is”  they said, well maybe its not something you would like and I said, I find it interesting.  Yes, its different from what I’m used to, but hey, I’ve never seen a duck butchered before either.  And it was at that moment that I realized, this whole time, I’ve been eating my dinner and watching a duck get butchered.  Anyways, it was nonetheless, a great experience… So, I leave tomorrow for Hong Kong and I am very excited.  I will take a train from Hengyang to Guangzhou, then Guangzhou to Hong Kong where I will spend the day exploring and hopefully buy myself a nice camera since my old one has decided to die on me.  Then, one Wednesday afternoon, I will catch a flight to Singapore, spend a day there before taking a train to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Another few days there while I get my Visa in order and its off to Bangkok.  From there, I’ll head south to the beaches of Thailand where I plan to spend most of my vacation.  Then maybe a little more exploring of the north of Thailand before cutting through Cambodia to Vietnam.  I plan to explore Cambodia a little and then travel up the coast of Vietnam until reaching Ho Chi Minh.  From there, i hope to catch a train back up to China and eventually make it back to Shaoyang before the start of the next sememster.  So, I will let everyone know how the trip went as soon as I get back.  Until then, enjoy the winter suckers!*, 0, 1, 2011 Sat Feb 19, 2011 06:05 I™ve been back in China for almost two weeks now and now that I’m settled back in, by which I mean I have successfully rid my apartment of Jessie, my part time roommate, who riddled the place with beer bottles and dirty clothes on the floor, I am now ready to write a blog about my travels to Southeast Asia, as it is far more entertaining than cleaning up. But before we get right into the heart of my travels, I should start at the beginning of my trip. Afterall, they say getting there is half the fun…at least, that’s what they say.

I had booked a flight from Hong Kong to Singapore because, well, Singapore sounded like a cool place to start and the flight was only $50. Besides, according the map, it didn’t look too far from Thailand. Of course, I realized later that maps have a way of making countries look deceivingly closer than they are. Kind of like rear view mirrors. So, the first step was getting to Hong Kong. So, January 10th, with the help of my little Chinese friend, Rebecca, I caught a bus from Shaoyang to Hengyang where I could catch a bullet train to Guangzhou. The trip to Hengyang was simple enough, just a 2 1/2 hour bus ride. Of course, I had Rebecca there to help buy the ticket and get me started. Arriving at Hengyang and getting to the train station was not as simple however. The woman on the bus, who promised Rebecca to help me find the trainstation in Hengyang, dropped me off on the side of the road, staying true to her word by pointing down the street at a line of city buses and saying, “Ke yi, ke yi”. I didn’t quite understand at first, but my five months in China had prepared me for such a linguistical challenge. I could feel electrical signals sparking between synapses in my brain…Ke, ke, yes, of course, K…yi, yi, one…That’s it, Eureka…K-1! And there she was, bus number K-1 directly ahead of me. Ahh ha, who needed Rebecca, I was practically fluent. I even told the bus driver confidently, Huo che zhen, to which she replied with a long string of syllables and tones that quickly silenced the electric storm in my brain. Ok, maybe I hadn’t been studying hard enough these past five months. I repeated, “huo che zhen” this time, a little more timidly, and I got the idea she knew I was saying, “train station”.

So, I hopped on, paid the 2 quai, and sat down hoping to reach the station soon. Instead, with each frequent stop, the bus became increasingly crowded. When a group of older women began to board, I stood up with my 40 lb backpack to give up my seat. As it turns out, this isn’t common practice in China, as I was the only person to do this, and it wasn’t too long after, that a pig of a man with a huge mole on his face took the seat I had graciously given up. It wasn’t much longer before more pigs began to crowd in around me. One man even started coughing up something awful and so, leaned over a man sitting near him and began hocking and spitting over the man’s shoulder and onto the floor of the bus, to which the man, pretended not to notice. It was quite charming. What seemed like an hour had passed by and with each stop, I tried to make eye contact with the driver, hoping she would signal that I was suppose to get off, but she seemed to take no notice of me. As more and more people crowded around me, spitting and coughing, I became increasingly tired, hungry, and hot. So I decided to make a break for it and simply take a taxi. Afterall, it had been an hour and I had to be close. So I hopped off, called Rebecca, and tried to hail a cab. With no luck, I found the nearest motorcycle taxi and let Rebecca explain to him where I was going. He signaled to me that he understood and I hopped on the back of his electric scooter, which was barely able to handle the weight of me and my pack. In retrospect, it must have been quite a sight as I’m sure that with the pack strapped around my shoulders, I was twice as big as the bike itself. It was snowing outside and my hands and face were freezing, making this the longest thirty minute ride of my life. The bike groaned under the weight of my body and while the driver was pulling back on the throttle as far as it would go, we scooted along at about 20 mph. For some reason, I kept thinking of Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber, cruising their moped through the Rocky Mountains. Finally, I could see the train station ahead of us. Just three hundred yards away or so. But the road leading there was on a slight incline and the bike slowed down even more, chugging and fighting to make it the rest of the way. I did my best to offer moral support, whispering through the frosty fog of my breath, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” It worked, because just 10 minutes later, we were almost at the front of the station.

The bullet train to Guangzhou was actually really enjoyable. I had always wanted to ride a high speed train and loved how smooth the ride was, despite traveling at 300 km/h. It would have been a perfect time to relax, gather my thoughts, and write in my journal, but this little kid with glasses and snot running from his nose seemed to take an interest in me. He kept coming up to me and speaking in some language that I couldn’t quite understand…Russian maybe? Just kidding. But he seemed to take quite an interest in my journal and as I was writing, he would grab the book and take it away from me. Seriously, he wouldn’t let go. Then He started scribbling numbers, 1-9 all over the top of the pages. At first, I smiled, and trying to be nice, counted the numbers to him in English. But he didn’t just do it on one page. He was making his mark on every one. So, I kindly distracted him and took back my book. To which, he grabbed it again. This time, he started tearing out pages. Seriously, where the fuck was his mother? Oh, right behind me, seemingly content not to deal with the little monster. Tiger mom my ass. Finally, I tore out a page from the back and gave it to him to write on. After a few lines of numbers, he wanted more and tried to rip out another page, so I put the book away until he lost interest and went back to making his mother miserable.

Guangzhou was uneventful. I got there in the evening, booked a hotel, grabbed some food, and watched American television until I passed out. Well, almost uneventful. Sometime around 8 that evening, my hotel phone rang. I picked it up and enjoyed a quick conversation consisting mainly of, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand…I only speak English…Tin Bu Dong…Du Bi Shi…English…I don’t understand…” About five minutes after hanging up, a knock came at my door. I figured it was the front desk who had been trying to call me and realizing we couldn’t communicate over the phone, came to my room to speak face to face. Gestures count for a lot when words can’t do the trick. I opened the door and standing in front of me were three young girls. I got the feeling they weren’t from the front desk. One of the girls tried to push her way into my room which put me on the defensive. “Whoa whoa, what are you doing?” Timidly, she parroted my expression, “What are you doing?” she confusedly said as she looked at her friend and walked backwards into the hallway. In broken English, or Engrish as I like to call it, the girl in the middle asked me if I spoke Chinese. “Yi dian dian” I instinctively said which prompted her to go off on a rampage of Chinese words. She could tell I didn’t understand and mustered up all of her middle school English lessons and put together the sentence, “You make love, her?” I won’t lie, it was tempting. I mean, its not every day that a young girl knocks on your door and offers herself up. But noble, honorable, good Brandon stepped in and before temptation could take over, I smiled and politely said, “No thank you” as I closed the door. I was proud of myself. I felt righteous. It didn’t last long. I spent the next few hours tossing and turning in bed. I kept hearing phone’s ringing throughout the hotel walls and half expected another knock at the door any minute. Thank God it didn’t come because time has a way of weakening willpower. The next day, I took the subway to the train station and caught a train to Hong Kong.

It should have been simple enough. I had one goal in Hong Kong, buy a camera for my trip. I bought myself a city map at the train station, before realizing they were free at the information booth, and set out to find the main street where electronics were sold. After asking around, a nice gentleman told me to simply jump on the blue line of the subway and take it to the end of the line. At least, I thought that what he said, because I did just that. I rode the underground for about forty minutes, all the way to the end of the line, and set out to find my camera. But it was strange. I couldn’t find a direct exit. Everyone was shuffling towards the front and I kept seeing signs pointing to Shenzhen. So I stopped a few times, asking the guards where to go to find the electronics street in Hong Kong and they kept gesturing me to follow the crowd. I thought it was strange that I had to fill out an immigration form and go through customs just to get out of the subway, and after having my passport stamped for the second time that day, I went up to an officer’s booth and asked them where to go. They told me to go back upstairs to catch the train back to Hong Kong. “Wait a minute…”, I said, “Am I in Shenzhen?” Yes, I was. I had arrived in Hong Kong two hours earlier, just to take the subway clear across the border back into Mainland China. So, I had to go upstairs and buy a ticket to return. But before I did, I saw a camera shop in the train station and despite the seediness of the sales guy, I went ahead and bargained a good price for a Sony digital video recorder. I tested it out, it seemed to have everything I was looking for, and the price was right. Plus, this would mean that when I got back to Hong Kong, I could focus on finding a place to stay for the night, since apparently, there was some convention going on and rumor had it that finding a room was going to be either difficult or pricey.

I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you now, never buy electronics in Shenzhen. Throughout my trip I must have taken 250 different videos and about 60 photos before I realized that only the first ten test shots I had taken in Hong Kong had actually come out and the other 300 files on my memory card were simply blank…Of course, I didn’t realize that until I was about 3/4 through my entire trip.

So, it was back through immigration and another hour of riding the train before I reached the heart of the city, which happened to be three stops from my initial starting point. On the up side, I ended up with an entire Visa page of my passport filled with entry and exit stamps. Enter Hong Kong 01/11/11, leave Hong Kong 01/11/11, enter China 01/11/11, exit China 01/11/11, enter Hong Kong 01/11/11, exit Hong Kong 01/12/11. But you know, at first glance, it looks quite impressive., especially because you get like two stamps for each entry and exit.

It was nightfall before I finally found a guesthouse with a vacant room. It was a gem. Red neon lights flowing through the bedroom window, a television, that once turned on, showered my innocent eyes with images of Hong Kong porn, and a single serving condom on my nightstand that replaced the all too common “mint on the pillow” that most hotels seem content to provide their guests. It was still early and being that I only had one night in Hong Kong, I felt that I should explore the city the best way I know how. Buy some beer from a local store, hit play on my IPod, and wander the streets aimlessly, while slowly inebriating myself. If you haven’t tried this method before, I highly recommend it. I left my room and since I didn’t have a key, asked the lady at the front desk to lock it up for me and immediately began “exploring”. I wasn’t that impressed with Hong Kong…I mean, it had tall buildings and was filled with bright and colorful lights, which are quite beautiful when you have a six pack under your skin, and there was a cool night market that sold everything from jewelry, to trinkets, to sex toys, but really, it was like any other big city. McDonalds, BurgerKing, palm readers, and smiling, winking men who stand in front of massage parlors pushing p -asterix- ssy to passerbys. So, I took in the sights, took down a few beers, jammed out to MGMT, and sometime around midnight, swayed back into my room where I half-heartedly watched Two and Half Men, while I counted my money and set things in order for my flight leaving the next day.

It was a four hour flight to Singapore and everything went smoothly. It was pretty much a morning of subways, trains, and airports. Singapore was beautiful and clean. But for a guy like me, quite boring. I did the usual, grabbed some dinner, booked a room, and hit up the 7-11 to grab my “exploring the city” provincials. I saw Little Persia, or something like that, and booked my bus ticket to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All I can say for Singapore is it is humid, tropical, clean, and really quite beautiful. But the Singapore dollar is worth about as much as the American dollar, so I really didn’t have much desire to stay any longer than I had to. I was hungover the next morning, or so I thought. Apparently, what I had mistaken for a hangover was actually the beginning of a stomach flu that was incubating inside me. My stomach bubbled and belched as gas grew inside and I soon came to realize than any attempt to release the gas would also require a toilet of some form. Luckily, the bus I had booked was a five star bus, so it had big comfy chairs and television screens to watch movies and play early Nintendo video games. Unfortunately, it didn’t have any toilets. But the movies did a good job of keeping my mind off the matter. It wasn’t long before we crossed into Malaysia and I got to go through customs again and collected another stamp in my passport. Oh how I love collecting stamps…I actually get a rush each time I get a new stamp in my passport. I love seeing the proof right there in colored ink that I was there, here, wherever on whichever day. It adds validity to the whole passport itself. It paints a story. It adds color, both literally and figuratively and though the money I saved taking a $50 flight from Hong Kong to Singapore to begin my travels was actually quickly spent on trains, buses, taxis and lodgings getting to Thailand, not to mention the ache of traveling itself; moving from train to plane, hotel to taxi, the underground, the walking, all with a pack half my size pulling down on my back, it was worth it. Worth it if only to get a taste of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur and earn those stamps.

The scenery from my window was excellent. The plant life was amazing. Jungles of palm trees and greenery rolling through the hills. But once I arrived in KL, I decided I had little reason to stay any longer than I had to. I wanted Thailand. I wanted cheap and beautiful beaches. I wanted temples and elephants. Malaysia had Muslims, but Thailand had Monks. So, the bus dropped me off at some shopping mall and I went straight for the bathrooms. It was strange because the men’s bathroom had a sign with a picture of a woman and a mop. I didn’t know what to make of it until I walked in, and lo and behold, there was an older woman, covered with her Muslim robes, and mopping the floor of the bathroom. Well, if she didn’t mind, I didn’t mind. There was no toilet paper in the stall. Just a hose with a sink like nozzle on the end. It seemed so primitive and unsanitary, especially because the entire floor was soaked with what I could only assume was toilet water. But let me tell you, now that I’m back on toilet paper…I miss that little hose. Its so refreshing and clean. Afterwards, I quickly took the city bus to the train station, and booked my ticket for a night train to Hat Yai, Thailand…and so it begins

*Sun Feb 20, 2011 09:50

*Part II:  Hat Yai, The Islands, and The Full Moon Party

The night train from KL to Hat Yai was by far the worst train I have ever encountered.  The seats were hard, the bathroom door was broken, and by the looks of it, so was the toilet.  They never dimmed the lights and the entire night, they played the same God awful horror movie over and over.  I tried my best to sleep, but it didn’t come easy.  Partially because of the big fluorescent nightlights above me, partially because of the disturbingly bad movie that wouldn’t end, but mainly, because there was an exorcism being performed in my intestines.  You know how sometimes your stomach bubbles before you have to burp?  Well, it’s a similar sensation, but you know that if you even try to fart, you’re gonna mess up your shorts real bad.  And since I didn’t dare use the toilet on the train, I just had to clench down and bear it.  Now, its not as bad as it sounds.  The moment would come, I would clench, and it would pass.  But just try sleeping with the idea that if you so much as pass gas in your sleep, you may wake up with a crowd of strangers bearing down on you with combined looks of pity and disgust.

Hat Yai was nothing special.  Apparently, it was a border town for Malaysians who came to shop away their superior currency and get pampered at beauty salons.  And that was pretty much what Hat Yai offered.  Foot massages and beauty salons, with the occasional string of bars or restaurants.  I checked into the Louise Guesthouse, showered up, and met a local travel agent whose shop was literally a plastic stool set up in an outdoor walkway just outside the guesthouse.  He was tall, skinny, and despite missing several teeth, had a very kind and charming smile.  He helped me find a place to convert my RMB to Baht and offered to take me to a tiger show in the evening if I was interested.  I was interested, until he explained that it wasn’t actually a show with tigers, but rather, a live sex show.  Still, he did help me plan my first move.  See, I had been on the move for the past four days or so.  My back hurt, my stomach growled, and my spirit was beginning to weaken.  I needed to find paradise and I needed to find it quick.  He suggested leaving in the morning for Koh Lipe, a small island off the western shores of Thailand’s coast.  So I booked my ticket for the bus and ferry ride, and set off to check out the city.

My first stop was a beauty salon.  I stopped in for a pedicure to get the calluses of my feet and the woman just kept offering more services…manicure, facial, shave, ear cleaning, and I figured, there’s really nothing else to do in the city and after being in a state of perpetual travel for the past four days, I knew my body needed it. Besides, there’s something nostalgic about being a lone wanderer and stopping in for a grooming when your nails and whiskers get long. Eventually, even her assistant, a grotesque looking woman with small warts all over her face started flirting with me and began massaging my hands and feet, asking all the while if it felt good.  It did feel good, I just had to remember to keep my eyes closed.  I must have spent more than two hours getting cleaned up and when the bill came, I was expecting 300 baht, maybe 350, but I was a little off…1500bht later, I was a little stressed.  That was almost a three day budget I had just spent and all I had really wanted was my feet shaved.

At this point, my back was tired, my stomach was angry, and I was getting hungry.  I stopped in a local restaurant and bought a puny and pitiful burger, a side of fries, and a beer for another 150bht and while I was waiting for my order, a bubbling began in my stomach.  I must have forgotten about my stomach bug, because I didn’t clench this time.  I could feel the combined expression of surprise and terror come over my face as I felt a warm, muddy slime begin running down my leg.  I could only hope they had a bathroom because if they didn’t, I wasn’t sure how I would face the streets in broad daylight as I walked back to my room.  There was a bathroom and I made it there before anything made it past the bottom of my shorts.  Luckily, instead of wearing underwear, I had my boardshorts underneath, so nothing soaked into my cargo shorts.  But the boardshorts were a mess.  I locked the door and stripped down and once again, fell in love with the water hose bidet that Southeast Asia uses to clean up.  I washed up, hosed down the mess off my shorts, and emptied the trash bag right into the bin and used the bag itself to hold my swimtrunks.  I put my cargo shorts back on , stuffed my shame into the side pocket, washed my hands, and made it back to the table before my meal did.

I’ll tell you, at this point in my trip, I wasn’t having any fun and I was beginning to question whether I had made the right decision to leave China.  I had been so excited to get to Thailand and so far, all I had gotten was a makeover, a mess, and that later that night, a baby elephant trying to sell me bananas on the street.  Well, that last part was actually pretty cool.  Still, I was tired of having to stop off at the bathroom every five minutes and things weren’t getting better.  I was actually afraid to leave my hotel room because there seemed to be no end to what was dying inside me.  But by noon the next day, I was sitting on the back of a speed boad, racing through the blue green waters as jet streams of white wash cascaded past islands of green forest.  At this point, I couldn’t help but smile, laughing at all the troubles that seemed to build up during my days dedicated to getting here.  I had never seen these waters before or their islands.  I had never seen this type of natural beauty before, but for some reason, everything seemed familiar.  Maybe from a movie, or a postcard, or a travel ad…maybe from a dream…

Koh Lipe was paradise.  Clear blue waters, white sand beaches, palm trees and jungle, all packed into an island that you could walk across in twenty minutes.  I stayed in a bamboo hut and spent my days lying in the sun, swimming in the ocean, and snorkeling with the fish.  It was just what I had needed, but after two days, I became restless again.  As beautiful as the island was, it was an island for lovers and sadly, I had no one to love…So, I packed my bags and jumped on a boat to take me back to the mainland and to a bus that would drive me clear across to the gulf of Thailand, where Koh Phagnan and its notorious Full Moon Party awaited me….

Spending the morning lying in a hammock tied between two palm trees, a lone coconut dangling above my head, I realized, I have unwittingly accomplished a life long dream.  Ever since seeing a cartoon as a child of a penguin wearing sunglasses and idly hanging between two palm trees on the shores of a tropical beach have I wanted to the same.  The view, the climate, the hypnotic sound of the shore is more than I ever imagined it would be.  Maybe for the first time has reality surpassed the expectations of my fantasy.  In the distance, a lonely boat rocks lazly in the water.  Its movement mimicking that of my hammock as both of us follow the rhythm of the shoreline.  I’ve spent the entire morning lying here, reading, relaxing, with no feeling of want.  Completely content.  Yesterday was a traveling day.  A speed boat led a group of us on a two or three hour journey off the island of Koh Lipe and to the airport in Trang.  From there, a mini bus drove myself and a young Dutch couple to Suratthanni.  Johanson and Wendy were extremely friendly to me and treated me to a small lunch during an hour break we had.  The bus go us to Surat around seven that evening and dropped us strategically in front of a travel agency.  Johanson didn’t like the pushy nature of the agent and they went off in search of a hotel for the night.  I instead, I opted for the night ferry which left at eleven.  I paid the agent 500bht for the ticket, but after asking a competing agency the price, I felt I was getting ripped off.  I asked for the money back and he tried to convince me that the other agent didn’t know what he was talking about.  Soon, he called to his boss, who, though I couldn’t speak Thai, didn’t look very happy.  My heart quickened a little when I saw him stand up and noticed a gun stuffed down the back of his pants.  Even more so when he rested his hand on it.  Eventually, he untucked a portion of his shirt to cover it and went to speak to the other agency.  I followed, but he paid little notice to me.  A different man was sitting out of the shop and was confronted in Thai by the gun toting boss.  His face bore an expression of concerned irritability and proudly displayed outside his shirt, unlike the gun, was a bright yellow gold necklace that obviously marked his status as a boss, as if the bulge in the small of his back wasn’t enough.  As the two men spoke, the man who quoted me a price of 350bht emerged from the back room, an expression of nervous fear, his hand even trembling a bit as he walked nearer.  He had the disposition of a dog timidly walking to his master, knowing it was about to be punished.  I asked him clearly again to reaffirm his price of 350, but he ignored me, keeping his eyes on the man’s with the gold necklace.  In fact, they all ignored me, until finally, the man in charge, turned to me, smiled and said to me, “I’m sorry, my friend doesn’t speak very good English, its 350 for the boat ticket and 50 for the ride to the boat”  So 400 total? I said.  Yes, how much did you pay them and I said, 500.  He says oh, then stops, turns to the other two men and says, “Yes, 500.  That’s correct.”  That’s all I needed to hear.  I walked back, got my 500 back and walked myself to the pier to buy the ticket myself, which was 400.  I had drinks and conversation with a young Swede by the name of Bavius and got on the boat close to 11.  It was a cargo boat and wouldn’t arrive on the island until 5 the next morning.  The ceiling was low and on the floor were thin cushions that lined the length of the ship on both sides.  I had never slept on a boat, but found the rocking quite soothing, and at times, even fun.  But as some point in the night, it began to rain and the rocking of the boat was something intense.  It was like being on the swinging ship ride they have at carnivals.  Even my dreams were affected.  In my dream, I kept flying back and forth, being suspended in the air, unable to stand still.  I would be speaking to someone in my dream and as the boat rocked, I would fly up into the air uncontrollably with the rhythm of the ship.  I was aware that I was dreaming and at first, it was fun.  But soon I became increasingly irritated that every time I was speaking to someone in my dream, our conversation would be interrupted with me flying off into the air.  I remember trying to explain to the others in my dream that I was actually on a boat right now and the rocking of the boat was sending me off into the air.  I guess Chris Nolan got it right in Inception.

The night of the party was truly amazing.  I was able to form a group of part time pals to go to the Full Moon Party with.  Well, first I took a motor scooter up a mountain trail and I must say, there were parts that were truly scary.  Large steep hills that sent my scooter on a fast and bumpy ride complete with near misses and skidding wheels.  It was while exploring the island however that I first learned that, unlike Koh Lipe, this was truly a party island.  Almost every bar, gas station, and hotel resort had signs advertising “Mushroom Shakes”.  Not what you were looking for, then try their famous Red Bull, which still used amphetamines instead of caffeine and as if that still wasn’t enough, for a little extra cash, you could have them mix it with pure MDMA.  And then, there was always The Amsterdam Bar which boasted the best view of the sunset in the world and even sold pre-rolled joints for those who wanted to enhance what was already a spectacular sight. Of course, anyone who knows me already knows that sampling the local Red Bull alone was enough for me… Afterwards, I returned to the bungalow, where I met up with a few other wanderers I had met earlier on the beach and after a few drinks and meeting up with a lovely Irish couple, I began to prepare for the night.  It wasn’t until midnight that we left the resort, a group formed in the unified bond of finding a good time.  Marcus and Jenni were a young couple from Ireland spending a holiday through Thailand.  Marcus was 23 and had a clumsy way of moving.  He was skinny and his face always had a sort of childlike excitement and joy displayed on it.  Jenni was his 33 year old girlfriend who was wide eyed and welcoming.  Our little fairy.  I had met them at the bar as they were waiting on their Red Bull/MDMA cocktail.  Steve was next to show up.  I had met Steve the night before and we decided to partner up for the Full Moon Party.  Steve was a Brit and had the face of a rugged movie star.  He had run out of money, lost his phone, and was waiting on a bank transfer.  A Kiwi named Lina had helped him out with money to get to Koh Phangan for his birthday and was on her way to meet him.  It wasn’t too long when she showed up at the bar as well.  Phillip, an Austrian with big teeth and a friendly demeanor was the last to arrive at 9.

It was around this time that Steven partook in a Red Bull MDMA mixture himself, and about an hour and half later, just before we left for the party, I decided to have another Red Bull for myself.  I was ready to roll…and I did.  The next seven hours were dedicated to tireless, uninhibited dancing.  We tried to stay in a group, but by the time we ended up at the beach, Steve was blitzed and Lina and him had disappeared.  I found out later, Steve had lost Lina shortly after and at some point had blacked out and passed out on the beach, only to wake up the next day with his wallet and camera missing.  The remaining four of us made an informal pact to stay together.  We found a spot down the beach where we liked the music and danced in the sand all night.  We would buy one bucket of whiskey and red bull at a time and share turns holding it and taking sips.  Marcus was trashed early, but was a good drunk, dancing the entire night away like a fool, as did I.  If one of us was lost, Jenni, our little fairy, would come bursting through the crowd and lead us back to the safety of the group.  I danced, I smiled, I drank, I flirted.  The whole experience was magical.  I took my shoes off so I could bounce around in the sand and Phillip kept telling me I was going to lose them and should put them back on.  Plus, he added that I could cut my feet on broken bottles.  But I told him I couldn’t dance with them on and I wanted to dance.  So the whole night he kept an eye on my shoes for me and reminded me where they were.  Really nice of him.  At some point, hours of buckets and bouncing in the sand later, someone realized it was four in the morning and we were all shocked.  We made our way to the end of the beach where upon the cliffs was a long bar called Mushroom Mountain.  We climbed the steps and I quickly ordered another drink.  Immediately, the world became magical.  I saw beauty in everything, in everyone, in myself.  At some point, while I was dancing with a free spirited woman with blond wavy hair, Philip found me and told me they were heading down to the beach to watch the sunrise.  I told him I would meet them there and once I was done dancing and flirting, I made way down to the group.  It was at that moment, as the sun came over the ocean that a magical experience began.  .

I was completely at peace.  The water gleamed as beautiful colors moved along its waves.  I stood there the entire time soaking up the beauty.  I took a swim and soaked up the experience of being one with nature and the world.  I was in a state of complete and utter satisfaction. It must have been from dancing all night long.  Its really like a form of meditation and there is an euphoric reward that comes with it.  Later, I stood on the beach, watching the people pass by.  I had no judgments, no envy, nothing but love for everything around me.  The others were hungry, but I was full.  I had energy and my mind was clear.  I stood outside the restaurant, observing the drunkards and the wasted; the obnoxious and the sad.  I saw people staggering like zombies, being led off by what could have been friends or strangers.  I saw everyone in the clear daylight of the morning sun and it was sad.  I thought, this is what the islanders see of Western culture.  People staggering, slurring, still striving for some last minute hook-up with a stranger to fulfill and vindicate their night.  I felt bad that so many weren’t experiencing the beauty and serenity that I was feeling.  I knew I didn’t need anything to fulfill me.  Not food, not drink, not women.  I saw how energy flows perfectly and how we are all connected to the same source.  How everything was meant to be as it was.  We took a bus back to the bungalow and Jenni and Marcus went to their room to sleep off the night.  I decided to take a swim in the water and must have been out there for at least an hour basking in the harmony of the waves and the sun.  I had told Phillip to lie in the hammock and when I came back, he was still there sleeping.  I found Lina asleep on the beach and because she was locked out and Steve was missing, I let her sleep in my extra bed while I ordered a breakfast of fruit and yogurt.  By the time it came, I was falling asleep on the table.  I ate my breakfast and fell asleep until two.  Phillip was still in the hammock when I woke up.

Still to come: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Laos…

*Sun Feb 27, 2011 12:38*Before all that comes to mind, it’s the infamous stories of child prostitution and seedy sexual tourism that flashes behind our eyes and defines what we think of when we hear, “Thailand” or especially, “Bangkok”. For my Chinese students however, the first image they connected with Thailand was the prevalence of “Lady Boys” in the country, and while I had come across a few examples of them during my travels, I was relieved that I hadn’t encountered any of the pedophilic sex rings that I had heard dominated the country. Still, I couldn’t shake the association so strongly attached to the country’s capital. But, so many fellow travelers had spoken so highly of the city, I decided to try it out for myself.

I’ll tell you now, not once through my travels was I unfortunate enough to have to encounter any child solicitation. Then again, I wasn’t really looking for it. Instead, however, I did see a good deal of government advisories and hotlines, urging both tourists and locals to report any kind of unsavory solicitation to the local authorities, which gave me a warm feeling, knowing that local law enforcement did not take underage prostitution lightly. Still, it became obvious, Bangkok had been worthy of its reputation for sexual tourism, but I’ll get to that later.

I had rode a bus all day and all night until I finally arrived in the city around five in the morning. I shared a taxi with two guys I had met on the island who happened to be taking the same route as I had. One was a South African and the other an Englishman, who were both on holiday after working six months on a cruise ship. They had already booked a room at a local hostel so I decided to follow them and grab the extra bed in their room, since I had no idea of where to go to find lodging. We all slept until the early afternoon and while they headed out to the market, I decided to spend my day touring the city with a kind and insistent “tuk tuk” driver who pleaded to let him take me around the city’s landmarks. Why not? Might as well let a local drive me around since I really had no idea of what to see while I was there.

It proved to be one of my favorite events. The tuk tuk resembles the old Chinese rickshaws, but instead of a man holding onto two poles and running around the streets carrying his passenger behind him, the driver drove the front part of a motorcycle that was attached to the back, open air cab, where I sat. We rode through the different districts of the city, including its China Town, while he illuminated me with stories and facts about the city and its landmarks, and best of all, took me to the most famous Buddhist Temples, or Wats, as they’re called. The highlight was visiting an alter with a giant golden Buddha lying on its side, and when I say giant, I mean, it must have been 50 meters long and three stories high, at least. I remember feeling somewhat conflicted being that the locals came to worship while crowds of tourists, myself included, shuffled through the alter taking photos and gawking at what, to them, was a holy place. I wondered if Americans would have been so tolerant with foreigners crowding into a church and taking snapshots of Jesus on the cross. I visited a another temple that was built high upon a hill and instead of taking out my camera, took in the sounds of patrons ringing worship bells that lined the corridor and watched as they knelt before the Buddha praying and lighting incense. I remember the pain and devotion in their faces as they brought their folded hands to their head and looked hopefully upwards towards the Buddha. It filled me with a connection; an understanding that their prayers were likely no different than the prayers that were being offered while being knelt before the cross.

By the end of the day tour, my driver asked me if I would mind stopping off at the shops of his sponsors, mostly tourist agencies and tailors, who would at the very least, give him a voucher for a tank of gas, even if I didn’t buy anything. I didn’t want to, but he was a nice man, so I sacrificed a half hour of my time, acting interested with the salesman, and earning him some fuel for the ride. Actually, at one of the tailor shops, I did end up caving and buying myself two pair of tailor made slacks, justifying to myself that I couldn’t find my size in China anyway, and both the fabric and the price were good.

As he dropped me back off at my hostel, he offered to take me out at night, to introduce me to the nightlife. I wanted to hit up Koh San Rd. and find a few pubs and fellow backpackers to drink with, though he suggested I take in a Ping Pong show. Just to clarify, the ping pong show has nothing to do with a game of ping pong, much like a Tiger show has nothing to do with actual tigers. I had heard of this type of entertainment already and quckly declined, adamant that I simply wanted to find a good bar to have a few drinks.

It was about this time however, that my two cruise ship roommates made it back from a day of shopping and we stood in front of our hostel discussing our plans for the night. Apparently, the ping pong show was at the top of their list. Really, I just wanted to have a few beers, but even the driver chimed in saying, “If you visit Bangkok and don’t see the ping pong show, then you haven’t seen Bangkok.” Well, let me tell you, if that really is true, then you only have to see Bangkok once. Again, I really wasn’t interested, I really wasn’t, but Zack, the South African was amped up about it, so in the end, I went along for the ride. It wasn’t long before we were taken to a hole in the wall strip club that looked like any other sleazy joint I’d been to, except there were four poles on the stage placed in the shape of a square and there were folding chairs positioned around it.

We came in right as the show was getting started. There she stood, a young skinny girl, naked on stage, playing a very different game of beer pong. In a glass bowl on one side of the stage was a dozen ping pong balls floating in a glass of water. On the other side of the stage was the girl, shoving three balls inside herself and plopping them out one by one, trying to bounce them into the glass. The last one took her a while, but after she finally got it in, a large applause of claps and hollers erupted from the audience. It wasn’t just a ping pong show however. That was just the beginning. What followed was act after act of women performing what can only be described as feats fit for the circus. In fact, it was something you might expect to see in some seedy Thai circus sideshow, which was exactly what this was.

A girl pulled out what must have been a good six feet of strung together razor blades from inside herself and then proceeded to use them to slice a sheet of paper to prove their sharpness. The lights went out and the black lights went on to accent the fluorescent colors of ribbons and flowers being pulled from within the next two acts, who had then strung the glowing ribbons around the four poles while still leading back inside her and used her hips to have them slide around in rhythm with the music. When a girl came out with a birthday cake complete with lit candles, I already knew how she planned to blow them out and could only imagine that her wish was that she didn’t have to do this anymore. Still, I didn’t know what the balloons her assistant was holding were for. Then, I noticed , as she lie on her back and propped up her legs, that she was loading a dart gun and as the balloons were tossed high into the air, she let out a mighty blow and the balloon popped into oblivion. Then, with the same blow stick, one by one, she blew out the candles. Another girl, amazingly, was able to take a bottled coke and pry off the cap using only what was between her legs. Another lit and smoked a cigarette with her second pair of lips before washing it down with a clear liquid that came out black as cola when she filled the empty bottle right back up. Could be a good anti-smoking ad. Then there was an older woman, who must have been in her late 40’s, who, after positioning a marker inside her, squatted down on a blank sheet of paper and with her hips, wrote, “Welcome to Thailand”, Thailand written in big bubble letters, and a drawing of a smirking bald man underneath. The older lady then teamed up with the original ping pong girl to robotically play out the positions of the Kama Sutra, which turned out to be a warm-up for the same girl to be robotically fucked by a masked Thai man. There was really nothing sexy about the whole thing, as neither seemed to be enjoying the experience. They moved from position to position as if they had performed the same act a thousand times, which I’m sure they had. In the end, I’m sad to say that I was neither turned on nor turned off by the whole display. I was just sad. It was obvious that none of the women wanted to be there and I wondered why it was that I was there.

The crowd had been a mixture of men and women, groups and couples, all lured into the novelty of experiencing Bangkok by seeing something they had never seen before and could see no where else. The expressions on the crowd ranged from delight to surprise, from shock to disgust, and the performers all shared the same blank and joyless expression that only comes from monotony and self-hatred.

Afterwards, we made our way to a late night disco where I almost immediately began dancing with an attractive Thai girl. Still, just because she seemed attractive in the low lighting of the club, I was aware of the cliché of being picked up by one of the infamous Lady Boys of Thailand, so after half an our of getting acquainted by dance, I took her outside to get a better look. Everything checked out and it wasn’t too much longer before we said goodbye to my roommates and caught a cab back to the hostel. Of course, once we got to the room and the realization of a snoring older man who was sleeping below my bunk and the three other beds that would soon be occupied by the friends I had just left at the club sunk in, I ended up springing another 1200 baht to book a private room. It was worth it, indeed, as we had our own private shower, and almost as importantly, our own private king size bed.

It was close to three in the morning when we got into the room, but the night was long. She enjoyed my kiss. She wanted my sex, and she clung to me in the night as I caressed her body. She wasn’t as young as I had first thought. It was obvious by the way the light shined on her face, but she was soft and her body was youthful. We went for as long as the condoms would last and cuddled as we fell asleep with the tv on. The next morning, while she was still sleeping, I made a quick trip to the 7-11 for more Durex and checked on the boys in my old room. My bunk was empty, the one below me held the snoring old man, and the other two bunks were filled with the boys and a couple of Thai girls who must have picked them up as well after I had left. I went back to my room, had one more go, before finally kissing her goodbye and sending her on her way. The time for check out was near and I had to gather my things, shower off the night before, and make the most of my last afternoon in Thailand.

I met up with my trusty Tuk Tuk driver, who commented briefly on a lone Thai girl leaving the hotel an hour before I came out, and then pressed me for details. I played it coy and told him to take me to the day market. I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for clothes and souvenirs, taking in the sights, and grabbing some food before I headed back to the hotel to grab by bag from the receptionist and then head to the train station to buy a ticket to Chiang Mai. The train was to leave at 10 that evening, so I killed a couple of hours, writing in my journal, taking down a few bottles of beers and washing them down with the occasional cigarette. I boarded the train just before it left for the station, and settled in for the long night ahead…

Still to come…Chiang Mai

*, 0, 2, 2011, 1, *4d6a8c0882f3e*, 0), (11112, 2834, *Mon Mar 14, 2011 13:13:35*, 1300122815, **, *I had taken a night train from Bangkok around 11 that evening and had even brought a few beers along for the ride to help me sleep.  Instead, those two beers turned into hanging off the side of a train and howling at the moon with a few strangers I had met in the space between cars.  I was stepping out for a cigarette, when I met a Dutch couple and a boy from Sweden who were sharing laughs and drinks, sitting off the steps of the train and dangling their feet towards the rails below.  The Dutch man looked a lot like Seth Rogen, and having spent some time in Texas with friends he has there, spent most of the night trying to out-Texan me with tales of good ‘ol boy antics, friends in the oil business, and his favorite bands in Texas country music.  His girlfriend, meanwhile, spent most of the night getting drunk and running her hand up and down my back, telling me how good I was.  We ordered a few rounds of beer, at price markups that only trains, airplanes, and amusement parks can get away with, and I stayed up until early in the morning, enjoying the drunken romanticism of foreign night skies, open air, and strangers on a train.

I woke about an hour before arriving in Chiang Mai.  I wanted to go back to sleep, but instead, decided to step out of the train car and sit on the steps again.  I had gotten pretty deep the night before and I wanted to feel the wind from a moving train on my face again and reflect on it, but with the sun this time.  It wasn’t long before the Swede walked in and sat on the steps at the other side of the train.  We had had a major existential conversation after the rest had passed out and he must have had the same idea because neither of us had to say a word, much less acknowledge each other.  We just stared out the train silently, reflecting in the sunlight.

My first day in Chiang Mai was spent in my room, sleeping.  Seems like a waste, I know, but I needed it.  I spent the following day roaming the city on foot, stopping in at Wats along the way to snap photos of Buddha with a camera I still thought was working, exploring the street markets of the city, and indulging in a rejuvenating Thai massage.  The next morning I got ready for a 2-day trek in the northern hills of Thailand.  I packed a smaller bag for the two days and locked up the rest of my gear and waited out front for the 9 am shuttle.  It was already close to 10 when two beautifully spirited girls, with short shorts and French giggles, ran by me to check into the hotel.  What luck! I thought to myself, I just had to be leaving the morning that they get here.  I mean, who knows, it could have been love at first sight, if I had only had the chance to look either of them in the eyes.

The tuk tuk finally arrived and a few minutes after I loaded in with the rest of the people who had signed up, those same two girls, those girls who had me silently wondering whether I should just cancel the tour package and check back into my room, came loading into the back of the tuk tuk, hair still wet from a quick shower and shorts even shorter than before.  We didn’t talk much with each other at first, they didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak any French, but when we made a pit stop an hour down the road and they bought some beers and climbed to the top of the canopy to enjoy the rest of the ride from the roof, I knew I wanted to talk to them, even if I had to learn French to so.

After stopping for lunch and walking around an outdoor temple, I climbed up to ride on the roof with them.  It was exhilarating!  The truck speeding up the mountain path, hugging curves, and me dodging branches against the hard wind.  The girls sat behind me, singing a Thai folksong the guide had been teaching them and I listened and enjoyed the ride.  The driver dropped us at a hill tribe village and we took a quick tour of an elementary school, fed a pond of koi fish, and bought some beers for the hike.  I spent the next four hours hiking through the forests of Thailand, climbing up hill, crossing rivers on log bridges, and excitingly anticipating the waterfalls.  The hike was a lot fun and I enjoyed the exertion.  It helped that the girls were hiking in front of me and one of them had no problem hiking in jean shorts cut in the shape of a thong.  I could hear my dad in my head, God bless her!  I enjoyed having the girls around.  Though they kept to themselves mostly, laughing with each other in French, their easy and generous way brought a fresh breath of disruption to the group.  They spiced everything up, made each step forward interesting, at least, for me.

It was close to dusk when we reached the camp, just a small walk away from a waterfall on the river, and while the others were settling in, I changed into my trunks and jumped in before I completely lost my sweat.  I stood under the fall, taking in the power of the water crashing down on me as it cooled my skin.  Soon, our guide Pot, a 25 year old local with long wavy hair and a smile bigger than his face, jumped in and showed me how to get to the top of the fall by climbing the roots of a tree growing over the rocks.  Then he showed me how jump off the waterfall.  I must have done it three times after that. We spent the rest of the night sitting around the campfire after we had finished eating dinner, playing with the fire and singing along with the guitar.  I hadn’t really spoken with the girls too much, but I already felt a connection with them.  I liked how they sat around me, how they would smile and offer me a cigarette, how as the night drew on, our bodies sat closer and closer, until I had one girl leaning against my shoulder and the other lying against my legs.  The girls were the first to go to bed, they had stayed up late on a night train to Chiang Mai the night before, only to show up with barely enough time to take a quick shower before catching their guide.  It was understandable.  I was sad to see them go, but I was happy they had been here.

I slept until nine the next morning and asked Pot to cook me up another frog from last night.  After everyone had gone to bed, Pot took me and the last of the Irish on a frog hunting expedition. Its only fair to say that he did all the work.  Me and the Irishman could barely stand, but Pot was able to walk the river and had nabbed a bottle full of small frogs.  He had cooked one for us to all share the night before and now he was cooking one just for me.  I poured myself some tea, ate my barbequed breakfast, and noticed how, as Samantha leaned forward, the sunlight would silhouette her figure and I could see her naked body through the thin cloth she wore over it.  She was quite beautiful.  A free spirit wrapped inside a delicate, yet vibrant body.    I made it a point not to notice again though the image was stained in my mind.   I was a little anxious when I heard the group was splitting.  Five of the eight had signed up for a three day trek.  I would have too, except, my visa expired the following day and I had already arranged a bus to Laos.  It was a bummer to have to split up the group, and the guides kept trying to get me to upgrade, and who knows, maybe I would have, if I hadn’t realized that the guides were asking Samantha and Jenni to also. Suddenly, having to take group pictures, saying goodbyes, and promising to see each other later on Facebook, wasn’t as depressing as it usually is。

We spent the first half of the day hiking to a waterfall.  We would stop along the way to interact with plants or play with spiders or just catch our breath.  Sam and Jenni had a cool vibe about them and I felt blessed that things had worked out so well.  I had been so upset when I first realized that I only got a 15-day visa since I crossed the border by land.  But this makes it worth it. I remember thinking, if I had had more time, I would have definitely signed up for the 3-day and would have been kicking myself right now.  We stopped for lunch at a gorgeous waterfall.  We ate first and then I spent the next half hour, standing under the fall and meditating.

After lunch, we set out to find the truck that would take us to the elephant camp.  The camp was ok.  Once at the circus, when I was a child, I rode an elephant.  This wasn’t much different, except I got to straddle its neck this time, which was actually pretty cool.  I liked how its big ears would wrap around my calves and hold onto me while it walked along.  Its head was dry and rough, but the ears were smooth and cooling.  I bought a banana bunch and fed it one by one to it.  It would raise its trunk over its head and point it at me while sucking in like a vacuum.  Then it would grab the banana from my hand and put it in its mouth and immediately ask for more.  I ran out quickly, but that didn’t stop it from trying.  The girls gave me a cookie to feed it, but it just crumbled it up and dropped it to its head.  Jenni was kind enough to give me a bottle of water and have me pour some on its head to cool it off and even thought to have me give the rest to the elephant guide.

From there, we went for a ride down the river on a bamboo boat, which again was, ok.  We stood up and surfed the river, doing really well about keeping our balance, until three-fourths down the way, we hit a rock that threw us all in.  The guide’s steering stick broke in half, so Jenni took one part and started guiding us down the river herself.  She did a fine job of it too. So, when I say that the elephant camp and the bamboo ride were ok, they were nothing special.  Having Sam and Jenni along, that made it worthwhile.

The worst was when we finished.  I had to be back at the hotel so I could catch my bus to Laos at ten the next morning.  The girls had already pre-booked a night at some hotel further up the mountain.  The plan was to drop them off where a driver would pick them up and then take me back to the city.  I could see we were all a little disappointed, but there wasn’t much anyone could do.  One of the greatest things about traveling is the people you meet along the way.  The hardest part is when you have to say goodbye.  We began to load back in the truck, saying goodbye to Pot before we did.  He had to catch up to the original group before nightfall.  The girls hugged him and kissed his cheeks, I shook his hand and gave him a hug.  They then hugged and kissed me before remembering that they would have to say goodbye to me one more time. I was fine with that.  After that goodbye, I was looking forward to another one.

I was quiet most of the way.  We all were.  Silent, soft smiles on everyone’s face.  Sam started singing to herself.  Maybe it was the way she smiled as she sang it, or maybe it was the way she smiled at me, as she sang it, but it seemed like some part of her was singing to some part of me. Some part of me that was screaming, don’t let her go and some part of her that was asking the same thing.

As we continued driving, I drew more anxious for the next stop, that last stop.  Until we had driven far enough that we could have been driving them all the way to the hotel.  And that’s what we did.  As they unloaded their luggage, we said goodbye one more time.  Jenni hugged and kissed my cheeks again.  Sam hugged me and kissed my cheek several times, as if again, with each strong embrace, some part of her was asking me not to go.  I watched them walk up to the front desk and jumped in the front seat of the truck with the driver.  He was putting her in gear, when I quickly asked, How far is the city?  It was an hour away.  Hmm, it was already dark I explained to him and to myself, what if I were to just stay here tonight?  Could I get a ride back to the hotel before ten the next morning?  He smiled and nodded towards the hotel asking, you go boom boom?  I smiled, I don’t know, but I’d like to try.  He seemed more than happy to help me out and gave me his card, promising to pick me up early in the morning.

I grabbed my pack and made my way up to book a room.  The girls were happy to see me.  I told them since it was already late, I decided I might as well just stay here, its beautiful afterall.  They asked the receptionist to put our rooms close together.  We found our rooms right across from each other and knew we would meet later for dinner.  I got showered, the girls got dolled up, and an hour or so later, we went to find some food.  At the bottom of the road, we saw what looked like a taco stand and immediately a man began calling and waving to us.  It was our driver.  He was getting drunk off a bottle before having to fall asleep in a hammock strung up in the back of the tuk tuk.  We went over and he ordered us drinks and said he would take us out for food. Well, he was drunk, so he had me drive.  I have to say, aside from stalling out once in the middle of a slope, I did a good job considering it was a winding road and I was driving on the left.  We had a good dinner, full of laughs and insights about one another and after a few more drinks, I drove us back.  Though this time, the driver was already passed out in his hammock in the back and the girls sat up front with me. I guess I’m not that keen on downshifting, because I tended to go a little too fast on the curves going down.  The poor hammock was swinging all over the place.  But I got us all home safe and sound.

It was late, but it was also our last night, this time, for sure.  If I wasn’t in Laos by sundown the next day, I was going to have a shitty immigration problem on my hands.  We went in their room and promised not to go to bed before we finished all the beer and cigarettes.  We stayed up until almost three in the morning talking about sex and relationships, monogamy and marriage, of the joy they are sure to bring and of the failures that inevitably follow.  An old lady from down the hall knocked at our door to remind us what time it was.  I promised to keep it down.  She persisted that she was tired and wanted to sleep.  I closed the door.  The beer was gone, we shared the last cigarette, Jenni looked tired, Sam looked sleepy.  I kissed them both goodbye one last time.  They wanted me to promise that I would wake them up before I left.  I told them I was leaving at six in the morning.  They told me they would leave the door unlocked.  I wanted to promise, but I knew it was better this way.  This is how I wanted to say goodbye.  I went to my room and began scribbling a letter to slide under their door in the morning, when I left.  But before I could finish, I got a knock at the door.

Come in.  My door was left unlocked purposely.  I had hoped, a vague and desperate hope that bordered on fantasy, that if I left it unlocked, maybe someone would open it from the outside.  That it would be opened just as it was being opened now.  Sam slipped into the room wearing red panties and a t-shirt.  Before my heart even had a chance to flutter, she said in that French tone I love so much,  Tonight, I sleep with you.  I smiled, I hoped you’d say that.  Just sleep, she added as she took off her shirt.  I stared at her bare back before I turned off the light. Just sleep,  I said smiling, whatever you say

Coming up…Part V: Laos, the last chapter