Wednesday, December 20, 2006

You've got to laugh.....

It is imperative that you have a sense of humor if you're going to live outside your own country and culture! No exceptions! So what happened today?

I finally got a bike! Not a moment too soon, I had been on the bus so much that I think they were going to offer me a job as a driver.......Anyway, winter (such as it is) has arrived here in Kunming and I have NO heat. 32 degree's farenheit isn't that cold to a guy from New York... But when it's that way inside you get a little cold.

Okay, to the point! In order to buy a heater, I needed a way to get it home - I.E. a rack on the back of my bicycle. I'll spare you the details of going to 8 bicycle stalls till I got what I needed and fast forward to paying for the thing that was just installed. A couple of words can make a big difference! I confused ¥16 for
¥60... And proceeded to try and bargain with him for what I thought the correct price should be - ¥20. In Chinese you say ten six to mean 16. I thought I was hearing six ten.... Well, you've just got to laugh! The guy selling the stuff sure enjoyed me arguing to raise the price... :)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Project Grace

Wow, time certainly flies! It's almost Christmas and I've only posted once this month... My appologies! :) Several weeks ago I had a chance to visit Project Grace. This School for the Disabled is located near Bai Ma right here in Kunming. A friend of mine invited me to come have a look at what they, maybe visit an English class.

If you've been in contact with disabled or have really thought about it, there is quite a challenge there! In my home country it can be difficult for a moderate to severely disabled person to find a decent job with which to support themselves. In many Asian nations, including here in China, it is difficult indeed. With such a large labor pool and so many things done by physical manpower, what niche can you find if you are for instance missing an arm? I believe that in general our lives are what we make of them. Yes, disabled people can be happy & satisfied with their lives!! A bold statement, but I believe it. However it would be foolish to ignore the fact that they face many additional challenges as a result of their state.

(Teaching English at Project Grace)

Enough of that. if you're interested in hearing more about Project Grace, check out these links on it (or google for your own): Homes International, Bangkok Post (older article).

So! Invited to visit an English class? That was apartently code for teach the English class! Uh oh! Thank God for Palm Pilot... I was grouped with 3 girls and a guy, all of whom had rather meager English skills at this point. So on my little palm screen I showed pictures of family, picture of home, pictures of animals, etc... Simple questions of what is this animal? Is it rough or soft? What sound does it make? You get the idea... :) We had a great time! I'm so pleased to see what this place is doing and I believe it will make a huge impact in the lives of the children!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Engrish. For those who are perhaps unaware, Engrish is not exactly a misspelt word. Instead it cleverly displays a truth of many Asian nations... There isn't exactly a sound for "R". Nor is there quite a sound for "L". Instead there is a sound somewhat inbetween. Okay, so what's the point?

There are many things I enjoy about China, and the ... interesting signs you come across are one the great joys I get to stumble upon almost daily! Some are easy to find, there for everyone to see. Some are a bit more recluse. I found this one after climbing up a trail on West Mountain for maybe 40 minutes! You're following a path through beautiful forest and hills, enjoying the first clean air since .... well, since the last time you went to West Mountain, and suddenly you come upon this!

(Sign on a West Mountain Trail)

Strictly forbilden! No felling plants! Or else! :) This is absolutely NOT a slam on the nationals. Their language is very different to English and translation can be challenging. But it does bring a smile to my face every time I find it!

Oh, and I couldn't help but spot the irony of this next photo. Advertising tries to be clever, but sometimes it loses due to similarities and coincidence... or am I the only one to find humor in this? :)

If you've got any Engrish that you've come across, please share it!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

So you'd like to think that something like getting internet hooked up would be straight forward, right? Well perhaps is should be, but it was anything but.... But I'll save that one to grumble about another time. Instead, let me wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! We definately celebrated here. I got together with all my foreign friends and we had a HUGE feast - including turkey! The food was incredible and plentiful. We then went out for a guys and girls game of American football! Boy am I out of shape... Well, that's not true. Round is a shape too.

Sunday we went for another round of football - this time guys only, four on four, tackle! We had an awesome time...I was the star running back! :) One little oops happened on the last play of the day though....I tackled a guy pretty hard & smashed facces with him. There's still one or two teeth that I can't feel. They're there, but still numb. Oops!

The apartment is up and running, I've got all the basic furnishings now. I do have a guest room in case any friends would like to visit...? I just got done having six guys stay for a week and a half. It was an AWESOME time, but I'm ready to start getting to bed at a decent hour again. That's it for now, much more to come over the next week! :) I'll finish off with a picture from a trip to Green Lake.

(Artist at Green Lake)

Monday, November 06, 2006

New Apartment

I'm in a rush for this post 'cause...... I just rented my new apartment! I'm seriously excited - I looked at nearly 10 places in all, and this one captured me immediately when I saw it. It is VERY clean - those of you who have looked for apartments in Kunming know how exceptional that is. Come to find out that the previous renter's were Americans who knew how to take care of a place. It's HUGE, by far the largest I've ever stayed in. Only one small drawback to the whole thing.... There's nothing in it! :) So I've got alot of shopping (and spending. sigh...) ahead of me, hopefully beginning with a refridgerator today - oh! and a mattress! I'll probably post some pictures in a few days when I get internet turned on over there..

Anybody have extra furniture they'd like to donate? :)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Journey to the West Mountains ... & Kunming Zoo

I met up with a friend of mine from back home and he's been taking me around Kunming, showing me some of the tourist stuff! I'm not usually one for tourist sights, but for some reason I've felt differently this time...On the 28th we went to the West Mountains, and it was AWESOME! It's off of the southwest side of the city, just across the lake. After travelling through the smog filled city day after day, this was truely a breath of fresh air. We took a taxi up the mountain, but many were walking along the road...It would take them probably 4-5 hours to get to the very top! Anyway, besides the clean air, green trees, and beautiful view, the best part of the trip was an artist. :) For ¥7 he would paint your name on a banner, with amazing colors and cool stuff worked into it like butterflies, bamboo, sunrise, etc... The photo is a bit blurry because he moved so fast and with that ... well ... artistic flair. :) Then they laminate it for you - a must have for your wall at home!

(The Amazing Artist of the West Mountains)

Two days later I got a chance to go to the Kunming Zoo! Everybody loves the Zoo, right? Well, I found it to be so-so. Not much money for this zoo, located in the center of downtown Kunming. The animals are mostly kept in small cages which was especially sad for the lions and tigers. In fact, they're often just conrete and metal bars, not even trees or grass. There are some really nice paths though, and in the spring time with everything blossoming I bet it looks and smells fabulous! A guess it's a cross between a park and a zoo. I think I'll go back again some time with some friends..

("Monkey Island" - at the Kunming Zoo)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Horseback Riding - Yeeeehaw!

So last Saturday a friend of mine had her 17th birthday...Being a friend of hers and the family, I finally decided to come along and join in the celebration - Horseback Riding! This is all on the same day that she had to go for 5 stitches in her finger...but that's another story. If you know me, you know that I have NEVER been on a horse before! I've never lived on a farm, never milked a cow, and never ridden a horse. Never even touched one before saturday.

(Everything perfect except I forgot to bring my hat that day!)

And if you're like me, take the opportunity!!! It's awesome! :) For about ¥50 I got to ride for over an hour. For you Americans, that's less than US$7! Now never having been on a horse before, I expected it would be a kind of boring slow trip with someone holding the reigns the whole time.

Not so! Between 40-50% of the time we were galloping! Oh yeah! And there was no one telling me what to do (I wouldn't have understood anyway). No one holding the reigns but me. Whew! Yeehaw! A fabulous time! I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I could do without the trotting though - that speed seems designed to do nothing but bruise you...Speaking of which, I think after 5 days of recovery that all the aches and pains are nearly gone now. :)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Visiting a Legend: Shangri-la!

Shangri-la! You may be scratching your head, trying to remember what you've heard about. Probably it brings up some images of an exotic place, maybe some kind of oasis. Long lost travelers stumbling into a beautiful refuge... Don't feel bad, I don't remember either! :) But I *can* tell you what the real thing is like: relaxing, charming, and literally a breath of fresh air!

Okay, it's not Heaven on Earth, but I would definately consider returning for a holiday. I helped do some renovation on a building there and made some good friends.

(Doing some electrical work - China Style)

A visit to the old town is quite charming! Stone-laid streets, shops with ornate wooden fronts, street food everywhere! Not to mention lots of hotels and hostels, all looking quite inviting and cozy! Lot's of 'trinkets' shops selling the usual tourist fare. But the best part of all is the dancing.

(Dancing - at night of course....only photo I had, all the others are movies)

The dancing I say!!! Every night at multiple spots in the city they have some cultural dancing! I suppose one could vaguely liken it to line dancing, but it's definately something else. All ages participate, the dancing is not too complicated nor too simple. Everyone forms in a circle which slowly goes round and round. Bright colored ethnic clothes are mixed in with the everyday regulars. From children to geriatrics! The large one in the city proper must have had between 300-400 people, while the one in the old city had closer to 70-80 people. If you're ever in China and looking for a getaway, visit Shangri-la!

(Tractor transportation for hauling goods - not allowed in most cities now...Reminds me of a roto-tiller somehow.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Meet me at the Summit Cafè in Lhasa

Weighing in at 3650 meters, Lhasa definately wins the 'Way Up There' award! The view on the flight over was incredible, flying over the Himalaya's. I even saw fish tail mountain which was kinda cool - I've seen it before when hiking in Nepal. That's a big rock. So what about that flight ticket you may wonder? You better sit down for this... The travel guy DID have the permits for us as promised. They cost ¥500 each, which is about US$63. And the lady at the airport DID re-ticket us at no cost...Now if that doesn't make you believe in God, what will? I definately mark that down in the minor miracle catagory.

Okay, but on with Tibet! I think it must be time for a few pictures now...:

(Jokhang Temple - the most important temple in Tibet)

(Buddhist Worship by Prostration)

So I'm moved by sadness and compassion.. I'm over-simplifying it but the bottom line is that in Tibetan Buddhism you seek to attain enlighten of the 'fact' that you do not exist, which then releases you from all pain and suffering, indeed from all worldly things. This is generally mixed with a bit of animism. The end result is that most of the Tibetans I saw were striving, striving, striving... They give most of what little money they have to the monks or the temple. They spend long amounts of time turning the prayer wheels at the temple. They can travel over a hundred miles, dropping to their knees every three steps and prostrating. This is all done in vain hope that some 'bad things' won't befall them. What really broke me on the inside was after we'd been watching some Tibetans turning a prayer wheel for a few minutes. I then saw a young girl, maybe 12 years old, and saw the resignation and despair in her eyes. Alright the spark of life that you can find in someones eyes was dim. What sort of life does she have to look forward to? These people need hope, and Tibetan Bhuddism cannot provide it.

(Potala Place - the govermental capital of Tibet)

(Tibetan woman with prayer wheel)

Older Tibetans are constantly 'sending up prayers'. Notice not only the prayer wheel that the woman is holding, but also her apron. That apron signifies marriage. Most of the ethnic clothing of the Tibetans is really colorful, quite nice I think! And look at the picture of the palace. That first wall is 3 meters thick!!! Too bad I couldn't find anyone to take a photo with me in it. I think I'll finish with something a little bit happier...!

(Kettle being heated by solar power)

(Sign at the entrance to the main bus station)

In my opinion we have two very cool things here. First, a kettle being heated by solar power! Let me tell you, the sun is a VERY powerful thing in Lhasa... I saw those kettles boiling away. Second, a VERY confusing sign. Anyone interested in a job doing translation for virtually every business in China & Tibet that has signs in English? :) I was actually there and I couldn't figure out what the sign meant...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Last night in Chengdu

My last night in can I make the best of it? Well, I chose to go out with some friends to the Minority university and participate in the English Corner. I'd never been to one before so I wasn't sure what to expect...Let me put it plainly - it means being mobbed by as many nationals as can be in ear-shot!

Many are shy and don't try to speak, others want to strike up conversations to practice their English and learn more about us foreigners...Questions range from the usual 'where are you from' to 'how do different generations in America relate?'. Many wanted to know what I was doing in China, if I had visited their province before, what my job was, etc.... :) It was a great time!
Before hand we walked over to the table-tennis area and showed them how Americans play... :)

(Table-Tennis Friends)

And in the evening we did something you probably have trouble believing I would be involved in... We went for Karaoke! Scary!! We had a good time though and lots of laughs....

(Karaoke Action)

(So Happy, Singing .... Together!)

Thought I'd include a few photos this time, hope you enjoy them!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Missed Flight

So things often don't work out as expected, do they? Right now at 8:48am I expected to be on a flight to Lhasa, already nearly half way there. What Happened?

I had an excellent, if short, time in Chengdu. I got to hear alot about what is going on here, see some friends (including one who accidently dropped China's national treasure, the Panda Bear...A story for another time), get a hair-cut (they come with a scalp massage here), etc.... We got to the airport in plenty of time unlike my flight to come to Chengdu. I barely made that one, climbing up the steps to the plane 3 minutes before scheduled take off.

You still need travel permits and tour groups for Tibet. Who knew? Not I!! The travel agent got us the tickets easily enough. But when we tried to check in we were told we couldn't fly because we didn't have the travel permit for Tibet. So we talked to a manager. What can be done? 'You must go to your original travel agent' they say. But that's back in Kunming, another flight away! 'Yes, that's who you must go to. Only they can get the permit for you.' Well what about refunding our tickets? It's more than a 1/2 hour before takeoff, we would get a better refund if we do it now. 'No, your tickets are not valid without the permit. We cannot refund them'. Well, to make a long story a bit shorter, they promised (but would not put in writing) that if we go and get a permit from a local travel agent, they will then give us new tickets for free. I'm not going to hold my breath on that one. :)

It's out of our hands now really. We'll go to the travel agent when they open up this morning and hope for favor. It sounds like we can only go with a tour group which would be expensive and might take several days to organize......which would make the trip unpractical. We'll see! More later.....

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Just Arrived and it's already time for a trip

Funny how things are sometimes....I've barely gotten my bearings in Kunming and it's already time for a trip! I'll be traveling to Lhasa, Shangri-la, and Chengdu over the next 10 days! I'm not really well prepared for the colder weather in Lhasa but now is my opportunity and I'm going take advantage of it! Plane tickets are paid for, time to pack again and look for a new adventure!!

Arrival in China & the Moon Festival

Here it is, the inaugural blog that marks the beginning of my adventure in the land of Bamboo! I've been here just 9 days now and things are going quite well! I've got a great temporary place to live, at the southside of Kunming. Life here is quite a bit more modern than expected, but I think I can live with that. :) We celebrated the Moon Festival last night (didn't you?). In case you've forgotten, it's a time when family likes to be together! In the past if you were apart from family or a special someone and you missed them, this would be the night that you look up at the moon and eat your moon cake and know that you are together because you are both looking at the moon on this night. Well, now we live in the internet age, but we still lit paper lanterns, ate moon cakes, and stared at the cloudy sky where the moon must have been hiding. One last note - these moon cakes seem a bit strange to me, being a newcomer to China and all...somewhat sweet but with a hardboiled egg yoke in the center? Well, welcome to China!