Saturday, July 21, 2012

Hong Kong Phooey

After 19 days of mainland China, today was the day I packed up my suitcase and haul it through the Hong Kong double border again. I was excited to get a chance to really see Hong Kong. At noon, with 2 hours delay we finally set off and taxied to the Huang Gang border, the same one I fell asleep upon first entering the city. Taking a bus from there we got to see the Hong Kong harbor, a enormous and impressive industrial complex among the skyscrapers and green mountains. Hong Kong is a western city. It reminds me a lot of a combination of NYC's Chinatown and the glitzy glamorous stores of 5th avenue. Our accommodations were even sparse for NYC. In a busy Indian/African shopping mall we booked rooms the size of my closet in Brooklyn. Before arriving at the hotel, our elevator broke down and we had to wait 30 minutes for them to fix it. Interesting enough, during that time we saw a lot of people carrying out bricks and other demolished stuff from the other elevator. Dan was set on spending the night drinking at an Irish pub near the hotel. With one more night I china I had other plans. Hong Kong is dense and walk-able like NYC.

Desi and I took a tram to an observation point above HK which was disappointingly overly touristy although was fun to watch the Chinese tourists push people from other countries while trying to secure a seat. HK also has a wax museum which I despise. I hate wax museums. Walking around temple street during the night market was the most enjoyable part of the night. That and the intermittent luxury mall pit stops we occasionally made for air conditioning. I've never sweat so much in my life. Killing time in the cool, conditioned air we began to compile this list, it's a work in progress, So, things Chinese people like: spitting, surgical masks, paying for sex, squatting, sparkly lights, taking pictures, tissues, shrink wrap, splashing, saying nigga which means uh, staring at westerners, long male fingernails, standing on lines, racket sports, K TV, pushing, sliding doors, western culture, glasses without lenses, being polite, dogs, the term 3g which they put on everything, yelling on microphones at customers to buy things. Things Chinese people dislike: swimming, dancing, dairy products, temperature change, bird flu, speaking their mind, acting their age, copy writes and trademarks, hard alcohol, drying machines, refrigerating food.

Friday, July 20, 2012

llness and Injury go back to school

I still felt a bit sick after waking up this morning. However, it was one my last days in China and one of two days that I get to spend in Xia men, so I set out to go to Starbucks with the others. On the sidewalk in front of Starbucks a monk gave me a little red and gold ticket. He then pursued Desi and me to sign a little book and make a donation. I was ready to do so thinking I would be doing a good deed, but Desi told the monk bu yao which means no I don't want in Chinese. Apparently most of the monks are not actual monks but instead are con artists trying to part you with your money. I was told that if they were real Buddhist monks, they would not be asking for money. Desi's birthday is today, so Lisa she got a cheesecake, something that seems to be rather popular in China. Afterwards we bought food items at a nearby bakery. They have interesting things there, for example pork floss or green tea muffins. After acquiring what seemed like the most harmless and western baked goods we has to wait and search for a taxi. The driver wouldn't take all of us so we had to take two cars. Our first stop was the Nanputuo temple. This is a famous Buddhist temple that was originally built over a millennium ago, but had been destroyed repeatedly so that the actual temple I saw is just about one hundred years old. This is still old in my eyes, but in relation to how long the Chinese history dates back it is not old at all. We saw the lily pond and and a gate with the Buddhist symbol Hitler abused and turned around into the Swastika. Up to that point my new German friend Desi and I had been talking a lot about the Holocaust and since she shares my love for history those have been very interesting. We took a picture together in front of the gate with the symbols on each gate clearly on display.

It seemed like because a couple Westerners were taking pictures a lot of Chinese thought it might be a good spot to take a picture. Out of curiosity we, the Westerners, asked our Chinese travel companions if they knew why we, a Jew and a German, were taking pictures in front of the gate. It took a little explaining. During our time at the temple it started to rain heavily and we had to either find shelter or make use o our umbrellas. This gave me an opportunity to utilize my totes golf umbrella which drew the attention of Ivy and a stranger that asked me to try opening and closing it. All the umbrellas sold in china are garbage and given the lack of wind speed they actually work much better then in NYC. In the rain we walked up a pathway that led us to two shrines. The shrines resembled a treasure chamber, but at the same time it looked like somebody just put a bunch o stuff in storage and forgot about it. A lot of the figurines missed bits and pieces. They are mostly made of porcelain which of course is very fragile.  It was ridiculously hot and humid do after finishing up at the temple we asked a taxi driver to take us to a coffee shop. We ended up at this cute teddy bear laden cozy spot where we drank tea, ate some interesting western style spaghetti and meat dish and a rice  bowl that tasted something like polenta.

After mealing we walked around Xiamen University, which is a major attraction for visitors. The campus is beautiful and mimics elements of the elements of ivy league schools that are so desired by Chinese students.

Actually that reminds me, at a bank next to the school I spotted a Chinese looking guy wearing a Michigan fraternity shirt. Turns out he was born in Ann arbor and is a senior at Michigan. Very odd. We all traveled back to Shenzhen via plane in 45 minutes time. None of us were able to stomach another sleeper bus. In the airport Ivy wanted to discuss an article she read about Jewish mothers doing math during pregnancy to enhance their child's math skills. She also asked if the guy sitting in front of us was Jewish because his short brimmed army style hat looked like mine. I explained the concept of the yarmulke to her but reinforced that army hats from H&M have no connection to Judaism. The Chinese love to discuss religion as the topic is completely foreign to them. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Chinese miracle in Fuijian

Our sleeper bus arrived in Xiamen at 4am in the morning. After another sleepless night, my energy level remained high during our hotel search which consisted of walking a couple blocks and entering an expensive government run hotel which recommended a cheaper hotel down the street. Xiamen is made up of several islands and is a popular tourist destination for the Chinese. Just a few days ago Dan's girlfriend flew here with a friend for a few days of vacationing. She wrote down a few suggestions on a piece of paper that we carried around with us. These destination spots receive little to no attention in American travel guides.

The first thing Christy suggested was to take a ferry to Gulong yu, a smaller island within Xiamen. We grabbed some street food for breakfast, a churro like stick of fried dough, and steamed rice buns with black sugar and some with meat. We also bought some odd looking fruit that looked like a pink dreidel. The ferry ride was very scenic and provided great photo opportunities. I also offered some of the fruit to a family and their cute daughter with my phrase of the day "ne awe ma" to receive several polite "bu yao's" no thank yous. The island was beautiful, quaint like streets reminiscent of Jerusalem. We went for a quick swim and had all the water to ourselves as the Chinese wear bathing suits but rarely venture into the water. It was to our advantage that we didn't sleep the previous night because come afternoon the island became packed with Chinese tourists and lost much of its original appeal and resembled a Chinese Key West of sorts.

Lunch was a real highlight. Ivy suggested a meal of ocean food which Dan politely explained in called seafood. I prefer ocean food or shells. Nonetheless I had the opportunity to personally select each critter we mealed on. The fu wu yuan scooped them out of pales and offered preparation techniques for each delicacy. The humidity combined with the near constant lack of sleep had gotten to and we attempted to make a quick exit off the island that was easier said them done. Fortunately the crew of the ferry remarkably found Desi's wallet which she somehow managed to drop on the side of the boat. She ecstatically received it upon our return. It was a Chinese miracle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sleeper Bus to Xiamen

Today we rode a sleeper bus to Xia men. A sleeper bus looks like army barracks on wheels. We fit into our compartment slots quite nicely but Mike intelligently made the correct decision to sit this trip out. These buses are made for the Chinese in mind and there is no way that an average American would fit into there bed space. Before leaving at 8 pm we spent some time preparing for our voyage which meant buying simple foods are are difficult to find in china. Bread products need to be bought at western style store called bread talk. Dan wanted to get a cooler for his necessary travel beer but oddly enough certain items including coolers are highly expensive. Instead Dan maneuvered a lunch box and plastic bag to house a beer stash. Ivy, a friend of Lisa brought along a single individually wrapped and vacuum sealed chickens foot and a package of stinky tofu parts. You see this stuff all over China but I never saw anyone ever purchase or eat it, similar to the slim Jim's at the counter of 711. Anyway, nothing changed, turns out Ivy didn't eat them either, she didn't even like the stuff, rational enough. What didn't make sense is that she couldn't explain why she had these things.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chased by a Chinese snorg

Today we visited Dafen, the arts and crafts neighborhood of Shenzhen. Most of the artists in the community do reproduction work, meaning you can buy a hand painted replica of a Mona Lisa or Napoleon for dirt cheap. Portraits are also very common. Only a few of the studios created or sold contained creative pieces. When I bought the painting that is above my couch on eBay I am pretty sure it came from a neighborhood just like this. All the art is dirt cheap and it becomes very tempting to buy stuff that you don't even have space for. I ended up purchasing two small oil paintings on canvas of Hong Kong for 30 kuai, 4 bucks an took a picture with the daughter of the owner who spoke English.

After shopping, Desi and I decided that we wanted to visit our friend Chris at his apartment complex on the coast in Shenzhen. I heard alot about Chris' residence which is supposed to be one of the most luxurious in all of Shenzhen. Because he was still at work, he is a English tutor like a lot of foreigners in China are, we decided to go to Dongmen first and catch up with him later. It was my third time to go to Dongmen, my second time to go shopping there. It's amazing how many little stores basically carry the same items. In Dongmen we went looking for swimming attire.  I decided that if I was gonna buy a bathing suits I was gonna get the real Chinese bathing suit, a tight little spandex number that fits only 90% of your ass. The first suit I liked was black, red and yellow, the colors of the German flag which I thought Desi would appreciate, especially since I was pushing for her to buy the USA bikini. Bur being a self hating German, she suggested the suit says LAchueng on it and has a pocket in which I could fit my ID card in so in case of my sudden death my corpse could be identified easily. I was convinced and opted for the second. We arrived at Chris' apartment and the guards just opened the door as Desi mouthed a small "ni hao", yet another sign of how loosely enforced the security is in this country. The apartment offers many amenities such as three swimming pools, ping pong and pool tables, tennis courts, a park, a library, a supermarket, ball pits for kids and various other things. Basically it looks like an American resort like the Ritz Carlton.

We took the elevator to the 20th floor where I got to see Shenzhen from above, however that was by far not the best view, because once I turned around I got to see Hong Kong from afar. It looked like stacks of dominoes surrounded by radiant green mountains. I also saw what I was told was the friendship bridge which connects Hong Kong with Shekou, an area that is very popular among Westerners. I got to see where we walked a couple of days ago. Chris shares the apartment he lives in with two roommates And his girlfriend. The cost is about the same as my apartment in New York. Lisa came over to take a shower before going to the usual Thursday night hangout, Ladies night at Coco Park. She lives farther away and has spent the day running around getting our bus tickets for the following day. We all went downstairs together and parted ways at a koi pond. We purchased our swimming pool tickets and after changing into our newly acquired Chinese bathing costumes went to one of the pools. The locker room showers have bells as shower heads which I thought was rather cool. Swimming was a lot of fun and I do like the tight Chinese swimming suits after all. After going swimming we went back to the Muslim restaurant for a dinner meal and walked around the marketplace.  There was an odd looking variation of a Boston Terrier that I was following around before it and it's owner entered a shoe store. I walked in and took a picture of it laying in the floor. It wasn't until I had put my camera away and turned around that it flipped out and started chasing me around the store :) Chinese Snorgs are cuter and more aggressive then their NYC brethren.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Drifting is the phrase the Chinese use to refer to the rafting like activity Desi and I had planned for the day. I had anticipated some sort of debacle this morning, my pessimism seemed to be at a high after the uncomfortably long wait for the taxi this morning. In the cab I thought the driver was taking us back to the travel agency instead of the rafting site. Turns out, I worry for no reason. Didn't need to go to China to learn that,but nevertheless we ended up where we needed to be and at the correct time. At the site we took a bus up the side of a mountain and giggled with the largely high school aged group when we hit bumps that caused the bus to jump in the air. At the top of the river we put on life jackets and army style helmets. Some how Desi and I managed to find the only green pair of helmets and we stuck out like Western enemies of the orange Chinese naval force.  It is yet another sign of how people in china want to be the same, nobody wants to stick out. Westerners however want to be seen as individuals, want to be perceived as individuals. Waiting in line I talked to a Chinese high schooler in English. He was scared about the drifting which made me feel oddly brave given my aversion for the majority of adventitious activities. When entered our raft we were pushed down what looked like a natural water slide. These initial drops and rapids were the most severe. It seems feasible that you could fall out of our raft in the initial decent and if my sandals weren't tied to the sides of the boat they would have surely gone overboard. Then the water gets calm and people begin to splash each other with pales and other assorted containers. Many Chinese, no matter what age, shoot water guns at each other.

This is a great activity to partake in with Chinese that you can't verbally communicate with. I really enjoyed sneaking up on a boat and drenching an unexpected Chinese girl with a bottle of water down their back. With the drifting complete we obtained two laminated souvenir photos, a female Chinese bathing suit all of which resemble a more modest and classy circa the 1950s. Desi doesn't like the Chinese bathing suits, i however think they're like little outfits. We were both rather hungry after having partaken in such a sportive activity and therefore we ended up eating at a canteen-like restaurant on the premises. Our meal included steamed corn, meatballs, beef noodles and tofu. The waitresses laughed at me when I began to bus my own table. Customers don't throw out their own trash in China. Not even at fast-food restaurants. After getting help from a couple locals we took a taxi to the bus station and grabbed the bus back to Shenzhen, our home away from home.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Legends of the Feilai Temple

In the morning we were told that we could no longer stay at the hotel. Lisa our over the phone translator said it had to do with the fact that we were foreigners, although I have a suspicion it might have had something to do with the fact that Dan crawled out of the taxi cab last night and that we spotted our first black dude of the trip at our hotel.  Today we planned to do some sort of Chinese white water rafting ecotourism experience that we has seen advertised on billboards all over Qingyuan. Dan arranged plans for the day via his friend Lisa. We took a taxi to a travel agency that sold rafting tickets and to our surprised we were told again via our over the phone translator that the rafting only occurs between 1:30 and 2:30 meaning what she had told us previously was incorrect and their would be no rafting I store for us today. Desi and I decided to get tickets for tomorrow while Dan and Mike decided to use this as an opportunity to head back to Shenzhen a little early the following day. Instead, using wikitravel as a destination guide, we located an attraction that sounded interesting : the Feilai Temple (飞来寺; fēi​lái​sì​), (In Qingyuan Valley 23km from the city center, can be reached by private or public boat from Qingyuan). 1,400 years old temple beautifully situated at the bank of Beijiang River.

Sounded reasonable from the description and the taxi driver would take us there. It was far outside the city, Desi's phone battery was running low, Dan and Mike had nothing on them except the bathing suits and some cash they were expecting to take rafting, I was the only one with a bag of essentials. When we passed some shacks of rural residents and windy windy roads to a small checkpoint in the road I knew we were in store for an experience. We saw signs that listed operational hours but for what we weren't sure. All of us assumed that it was likely that the temple grounds would not be open long, we just didn't know for how long and what the likelihood of becoming stranded. Desi tried to coordinate answers to some sort of basic travel questions, where are we, how do we get back home and when is the last ferry ride meanwhile Dan impatient at the while process left with a ticket, boarded the ferry and crossed the river without us. Mike did too.  This was the final straw. Dan has a tendency to run ahead of us in the city and remove himself from certain situations he views as overwhelming, but seriously, you are gonna get on the ferry when we are attempting to coordinate a way out of this place and you don't have a phone. This from is a guy who is obsessed with preparation, carries a knife, zip ties and identification documents in a zip-lock baggy and readily speaks of the dangers and hazards of china. Desi and I board the next ferry and  arrive to some man who points us in a direction, towards our friends, the temple, we don't know. The site was beautiful, legendary, authentic. It was hard for me to relax and enjoy the sites uncertain that Dan and Mike would be found. We were beckoned onto an old minibus from which I spotted our 2 missing friends. We ordered him in that directions and then jumped off the bus and proceeded in the direction back towards the ferry where it appeared they were getting ready to recross. I let out a scream, Daaaaaaaaaan! in front of an organized tour group that easily drew all there attention. He new I was pissed and I had every right to be. "Get over here," I pointed to where I was standing. 

Now he walks over slowly. A man from the tour group looks me in the eyes with a look of disgust, "this is a temple, how dare you, you must pay 50 dollars, 50 dollars, I sulked in shame at being a loud American and he walked away. Dan tried to be diplomatic and did too but I was pissed at him and Mike for passively following him when they could have easily waited for us. At that point nothing he had to say seemed relevant. In hind site I shouldn't have cared. Desi and I could have got home ourselves. I was acting emotionally but the scenario was scary especially after Dan gave us the "we might be sleeping here with the Mosquitoes" pep talk. Once we got back on the bus things settled down, everyone wanted to enjoy this ancient masterpiece. I never saw anything like this before, a beauty that is crafted only from the ruins of faded architectural mastery and unfamiliar religious imagery. As it for dark we ferried back collectively and Desi used her phone to have Christy phone a taxi. We walked up the windy road as the sky grew dark and we grew tired and thirsty. All we needed was this taxi. This was the test I was waiting for. How reliable is China? How modern is this country I am traveling in? If the taxi comes I can answer this with resounding admiration. If not, I am in a third world country. Right on time, as we should have expected, stopped our air conditioned taxi suited for 4 tired foreigners.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Faces of Death & Life in Qingyuan

Its been a while since i had some time to write so here we go recap style. We rode a bus from Shenzhen to Qingyuan, a city, smaller then Shenzhen but a city nonetheless about 3.5 hours northwest. We have been here for 2 nights so far and I have yet to spot another foreigner. Given this, our presence has received significantly more attention.  Everyone stares, YCGs giggle and little words of English get spoken with a smile although no one we have come in with speaks English and this has been at times quite a can of worms when traveled unoccupied by Dan's many native bilingual friends. After leaving the bus station we randomly walked and aimed for a hotel in our proximity. This was not very difficult to acquire. We found lovely accommodations for around 170 qui a night. Later that night we walked the waterfront and took in the scenery  that was a contrast to Shenzhen. There were some people swimming in the shallow water and I really wanted to join them, partially to cool off and partially to shock the locals.

This didn't happen, we continued onward towards a crowd that gathered near the water and watched a crew of uniformed men lug a filled body bag up and into their vehicle as an emotional women screamed and wept in agony. As we passed the scene, I jumped from the bangs. Firecrackers filled the silence. They chase away the evil spirits that linger after death explained Dan.  Oh god, someone just died here. Moving on. We ate dinner at a restaurant that gave us a private room. Dan had been utilizing Lisa and Christy for all sorts of translation purposes. Before dinner he took a picture of the menu emailed it to her and got her to order for us. Thankful she recommended shells. I got to eat seafood. Finally. The private room thing was a lot of fun but the isolated  window less atmosphere turned my behavior from silly to really silly and weird. I started to obsess with the tissue packets that you buy at the restaurants and use in place of napkins. I pocketed a few of these as souvenirs for my tissue obsessed friend and Mike left with their bottle opener. After dinner we walked and came across the glitzy KTV, Chinese karaoke location. Upon entering we were greeted by  a row of YCGs in cute little outfits staring at us with the same awkward faces of confusion that we were likely displaying ourselves. Dan started to make arrangements for our room which was suppose to include one of the girls from the lineup, but for exactly what purpose we weren't sure. Desi was confident they were all probably prostitutes. My thoughts were much more wholesome and given that their was a lady in our party I felt like less of a chauvinist sleazeball.  Dan assigned me the task of choosing one of the girls and I opted for the tallest and the most confident looking of the group. After some giggles from the lineup, she unenthusiastically followed us into our karaoke living room equipped with savory snacks, chickens feet and our own private squatter toilet. We performed a collection of English songs, I rapped a view numbers which actually seemed to impress posh spice and her friend who had the job of obsessively refilling our drinks. That's their job. Drink refill, drink refill. The constant service in china is awkward. Towards the end of the night it looked like she was having more fun and performed several songs for us  in Chinese and a duet of because of you in English. At the end of the evening Dan somehow asked the girl to come with us to a club in the neighborhood. She changed into posh spice night out on the town clothing and we took a taxi to a club called 88 which looked all steampunk in style.

We got a table, a bottle of something we drank mixed with green tea and by this stage in the trip I knew what to expect, I would pretty much be the only one dancing and their would be everyone else playing dice and sitting on their butts in typical Chinese fashion. What I was not prepared for was my  visit to the bathroom. When I was peeing at the urinal I felt hands on my shoulders. I panicked and expected the worse, but the hands started to massage me and who I initially perceived as my homosexual attacker proved to be a bathroom attendant and masseuse.   After my urination was complete and equipment was put awa, he lifted me up and cracked my back and then covered my face and neck with hot towels just like my Russian barber would do in NY. I tipped him 10 yuen and 5 yuen the subsequent visit. He seemed quite pleased. When I got back we had balloons, glow sticks and several more women at our table. Two girls who apparently wanted to sit with us and drink our drinks. One wore glasses frames without lenses. There was also an older lady with an ear piece who appeared to be some sort of manager at the place although seemed overly flirtatious for our attention given the age difference and the fact we were surrounded by YCGs including posh spice. Despite the recent talk of male Chinese jealously, men from the neighboring tables all wanted to bang glasses with us. We left the club with big smiles.  Ben had made an accurate prediction. He would have been so proud.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Big Fan of Big Fans

Finally some touristy stuff, I was starting to feel as if I came to china to live here. Before departing Guangzhou back to Shenzhen we visited the Peasant Resistance Center, the location in which Mao and other leaders established their school to train communist revolutionaries. The historical site was beautiful and the modern condos to each side of the site created a surreal background to the experience. Then we visited the orchid gardens which lacked in orchids but was a beautiful large scale Chinese garden. The feeling of the site really isn't comparable to their American counterparts. Asian gardens need to be experienced in Asia for the true authentic experience with weird noisy frogs and Chinese landscapers with hedge clippers and bamboo brooms. 

The garden resulted in some serious picture taking opportunities. At night after dinner near Dan's apartment Mike and I surprised Dan by buying and setting up a desperately needed shoe rack near the doorway. Dan receives love via acts of kindness like retrieving beers, cooking and general cleaning/organization of his apartment and it was a small way we could return the kindness he has shown us through our time in China. I also bought a few beautiful wooden foldable fans. Kristy, Dan's girlfriend laughed at me when I wanted to bring one with me when we left the apartment for some street snacks. These are for decoration, she said. I thought the large capacity of wind this fan would creat was preferable to me and all around me as compared to the small dinky ones. Anyways, I was told fans were for girls and if i did that in the bar yesterday i would have been beaten. Kristy and Desire told me that they would snatch the thing out of my hand before I could open it and enjoy its beautiful and refreshing function. People are always raining on my parade. I still I love my fans :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gam Bay

I am so glad that I am visiting China as guest rather then a tourist on an organized vacation. I could not envision experiencing this country any other way. I often think that these organized trips reinforce stereotypes. For instance China is a strange and mysterious, completely unfamiliar place filled with relics from ancient past.  After a week of Shenzhen under my belt, this city is starting to become more familiar and less awkward. I could picture my self living here in relative comfort and ease, riding  public transit, eating in restaurants, socializing with the natives. What I can't envision is ever being content with using the squatter toilet and today I had my first encounter with the device. It wasn't pretty. I was waiting to go through Hong Kong customs when my stomach started to grumbled and feel uneasy. Finding a toilet on the other side was my only thought, not whether I wasn't to sit or crouch. I was prepared with thoughts of eventually using the device but when it came down to doing the business with a sense of urgency, when I opened that bathroom door and didn't see a bowl, I panicked. Although it was gross and my clothes and body came painfully close to my own excrement I survived the ordeal unscathed, even with an upset stomach and ironically a slightly sprained ankle which made the squatting experience that 
much painful. In the US I treat the bathroom as a second office. A place to take and receive calls, read the newspaper, drink a tea beverage. The squatter is no good and I don't appreciate it. Thankfully I didn't need to use the squatter on the train in route to Guanzhou. Although our visit was brief, Hong Kong appears to be no fun in regards to foreign oddities. People dont stare at you like they do in China, it's all business as usual, just like NYC.   Instead of talking Chinese to you even those its obvious you dont know what they are saying, everyone speaks a  little english to you even if it's slightly inaccurate.  

I was surprised to see so many people at the Picaso exhibit. I would not expect such a museum in the mainland and the type of audience the museum attracted reminded me of the MET or MOMA, not the same people you see on the street of Shenzhen. For some odd reason Hong Kong We were planning to attend the exhibit with Nina, a friend we met at an either party but she had a problem with her VISA and had to file which took her an hour or two extra. It appears to be easier for foreigners to travel back a forth from China and Hong Kong then it is for most mainlanders and SAR residents. 

From Hong Kong we doubled back through all the security tabs border crossings and then took a train to Guanzhou where we met Ben, a friend of Kristy who is a basketball player/model/DJ and was kind enough to pick up our basketball tickets and meet us at the train station. The tickets we bought were for a double header, China v Tunisia and Russia v Australia. Dan was pretty pissed when he realized their was no beer and just bangy sticks.

There was one really tall and talented Chinese player that looked like Yao Ming but didn't exactly play like the national hero who fills the side of busses aside Jackie Chan.  All in all the game sucked. The Russia v Australia game was even worse and prompted us to leave and check in at a hotel next to Ben's school. For about 30 bucks we got plush accommodations and Dan got bumped to a luxury sweet with a jacuzzi. Ben took us to Babyface a very popular club that he spins at in Guanzhou. The music was loud, the lights were colorful and the place was packed. Table service was provided behind the small dance floor. For the first time during the trip we were the only foreigners partying at a Chinese club. Dan ordered a bottle and they had staff that would mix our liquor and service us with free snacks. Chinese men drink fast and often to prove their strength. Drinking is one big penis contest and often leads to all sorts of absurd behavior and possible a fight. This is Ben's norm and I'm sure he was struck by the fact that I wanted to dance, didnt know how to play his dice game and purposely limited my alcohol consumption. Desire and I joined the some of the natives on the dance floor and on the stage. They loved this and I was told I'd end up on webowa aka Chinese YouTube in the morning. The Chinese seem to lack the desire and confidence displayed in the American or European club scene. The dance floor consists of a few skinny boys and is almost devoid of women. The guys dance together and know one really pays any attention. Given that I sometimes move around like a maniac with little concern for what those around me think, this really gets them enthusiastic. Everyone on the dance floor wanted to take our picture, dance and touch us. I liked to watch the chinese guys when I pushed Desire next to them. It wasnt until the following morning that I learned our party habits were enjoyed by most but not everyone. It turns out that one of the guys sitting at a table next to us did not appreciate the enthusiasm and our dancing. He said something to Ben around the lines that he wanted us to leave the club, leave him and the rest of his rich friends alone and said that he was considering talking to the owner to get us booted. Ben told him to relax and that he worked at the club and that we all had a right to be there. I don't know if my safety was threatened, but to Dan this very seriously and used the following day to lecture me about the various incidents he has heard about regarding violent I encounters between the Chinese and foreigners. Many Chinese feel threatened in the presence of westerners, they get pissed drunk and it's not like they can tell me to sit my ass down like is often done in the US before a fight. Dan told me that at best they would yell and at worse they would break a bottle over my head. I was unhappy to hear this although this all occurred after the fact and didnt allow me to motify my behavior during the evening. The threat of violence is even greater when foreigners are spotted with Chinese women as Chinese men are envious of westerners, protective, angry and don't deal with their emotions well. We moved onto another, quieter bar completely unscathed. It was here that we met Edie, a odd looking small Chinese man child who was overly flirtatious with his own gender. His behavior could only be compared to the gay ladyboy clowns of Thailand that my friend Chris described from Peace Corps. Since homosexuality is so gravely inappropriate, many gay men act in an odd comedic fashion and society views the behavior as an form of clown like entertainment.  Edie would try kissing me and would pull on my clothes and then apologize profusely  in an odd series of immature actions. Dan, trying to be a rational American tries to explain to him that in the US homosexuality is acceptable and that he could set him up with a gay guy. Im sure Edie didn't even know what the hell he was saying although even  if he did how the hell do you think he would respond? Yes Dan, that sounds great, now I don't have to act like a fool and molest your friend. The whole situation was stupid, uncomfortable,  yet oddly interesting. After getting back to the hotel, Ben, Desire and I were fortunate to find a street vendor at 5 AM who was grilling some meats. We chat with some sharply dressed guys who offered us some free food that we happily ate and then proceeded to throw the sticks in the ground like little javelins just like the natives . I hate littering but there are so many people in China that the country has an army of street cleaners at work 24/7 to keep the streets top notch. On the way back to the hotel Ben explained to us that the guys that treated us to the food hated Americans. Hated Americans? Then why did they pay for our food? Like I said before, China is a land of contradictions. Buying food for a foreigner is a way to demonstrate your prosperity and show off to some Americans that most likely  have more then you. I understand all of this, it just doesnt make much sense. TIC, this is China.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

How to create a student cell phone dead zone, step 1, to go China

More shopping took place today but instead of the previous flea market like setting we went to a western looking mall at the Louhu Commercial Center. But don't be fooled, even in this setting, bargaining is a must. With the help of Kristy we were able to by 3 Chinese style outfits for less then the starting price they were asking for one. Kristy pulled out her mobile and phoned a friend before completing the transaction.

Image result for chinese cell phone jammers

Her brother and cousin also own a store in the mall in which we were tested to a deluxe shipping experience in which Mike bought like half a dozen polo shirts and I bought I for 50 qui or 6 bucks. Even brands they don't sell in china have labels on knock off clothing. You can buy shirts that say GAP, even though there is no GAP and I don't think the Chinese know anything about the GAP as a clothing store.  We also checked out cell phone frequency blockers which are illegal to sell in the US. It was my hope that I could use one of these little devices to refocus and torment my students :) unfortunately although the device worked perfectly well on older bands it seemed as if it was ineffective for 3G so I decide against the purchase. After shopping we ate a remarkably delicious meal which I was told was north west in style. We were served freshly cut tofu, a really fresh and simple soup of Harry vegetables, tasty grilled meats among other delicacies like a western style salad with greens that tasted like arugula. 

This is my favorite style of food and it seems like the Chinese arent always fans of the oily Hunan cooking that is often eaten in Shenzhen. At night we went back to Coco Park for another round of drinking and dancing, yada yada yada. Girls get tree free drinks which is a sweet deal. They get 3 free more if that wash their hand stamps off with hot water. When I came back to the table from dancing I found that the pizza I ordered was completely gone and the girls feeling do bad suggested we go get some street food. On the way their I twisted my ankle. This happens about once a year. I was carried to a little stool and finally fed my first street food cuisine. You can get just about anything grilled on the street from oysters to mushrooms on big skewers up until like 5 am. The food was delicious and my foot appears to be recovering nicely.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Independence Day in Americatown

To celebrate 4th of July we took a bus to Mangrove National Park and then dined in Americatown. We first stopped at a town where we had lunch at a Muslim restaurant. For about $1.50 I got a huge plate of hand tossed noodles. Mike went for a haircut which included a scalp massage and two different shampooings.  All the hairstylists were sharply dressed and stylish men. The way they cut hair is very meticulous and flashy. Not surprising for a people that conduct lawn maintenance with scissors. We also walked around the town square which contained a bunch of buddhist and military statues. Then we continued onto the park. We walked around the shore forests as swallows dipped and dived around us. We followed the boardwalk for a few miles and finally found the subway. Our next stop Showco aka Americatown. The Showco neighborhood contains a facade like backdrop that reminds me of Winter Park Orlando. Really. This is the best description I can possibly give you, the stores amongst the fake buildings looked like Winter Park. Maybe this was intentional, China recently replicated a town in Austria down to the very last building. What is real are the McDonald's, KFC's, Mexican restaurants, dunkin donuts, several Starbucks and the many illegitimate massage parlors and singles bars. I also learned if you want western fare you pay western prices. My margarita at the Mexican restaurant cost the same as 5 dish meal we ate at the Muslim restaurant earlier in the day. My Budweiser from the corner store also cost about $1.50 instead of 40 cents.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Always, Hear, White, Clear

As Dan says "This is China."  China is a weird country and most foreigners seem to agree with me. It's full of contradictions. The Chinese people are obsessed with their health and hygiene. In China, people wear surgical masks. People wear them when shopping in public, chefs wear them in the kitchen during food preparation. Many restaurants shrink wrap the dish ware they serve at the table. Restaurants also maintain traditional food service routines like pouring tea over your bowls and chop sticks which is quickly discarded as a means to sanitize and purify all food paraphernalia. I was told that this is a Guangdong tradition, no other province does this. All of this occurs in a country wear there is virtually no graffiti but people hack and spit in every nook and cranny of public space, piss and shit in the street. 

I've heard of parents encourage their little kids to poop an pee on the floor of grocery stores. All sorts of foodstuffs meat, eggs, fish are all left unattended and unrefrigerated and outside on tables. Today, we went shopping. We took the train to Dongmen to go explore the large outdoor malls and huge flea markets. Desi and I went through Dongmen looking for the most ridiculous clothing. I bought a T-Shirt and then to a 11 Floor mega electronics center in Huiqiang Eai Bay. Many of the items sold at the flea market were quite hilarious. I had an idea of what I would see on some of the clothing I've seen around the city, shirts with random English words and phrases, often misspelled, that make no sense at all. Some are greatly inappropriate but most just are pure nonsense. I saw a shirt on a girls shirt yesterday that said mother's milk run fast. Even after seeing that the clothing was still a shocker. Another observable fact is that many of the male items are significantly feminine in design. 

Shirts bedazzled with sparkly rhinestones are marketed to men. I was hoping to find a weird none sense like non feminine t shirt I would enjoy wearing at home. I settled for a gray t shirt with a stacks of books in the backgroud and the text BOOKSHELF in the foreground. Tastefully designed, correctly spelled yet completely nonsensical.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Today we spent the day lounging. We left the apartment only once during the day. Dan and Mike spent the night indoors and Christy, Desi and I went back to Coco Park to watch the Eurocup Finals. The game began at 2.45 AM. I made it through half the game before reaching a catatonic like state via sleep deprivation. Christy performed some make shift Chinese medicine on me, rubbing my upper back in as cross pattern which was suppose to give me more energy and keep me awake. The only thing that was keeping me up we're the Germans hooting and hollering in front of us. Thankfully I had enough reserved energy to make in from the taxi back to Dan's apartment. The end.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The original "Spa Castle"

I write this from a sleep deprived state as I lounge comfortably in a bathrobe at the Queen Spa in Shenzhen. For about 30 bucks you get free food, drinks, ice cream, ping pong, swimming pool, gym, floors of massage chairs, saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs and every amenity one could possibly offer, they charged my cell phone for free and delivered it to my throne of a chair with tea. You can buy dirt cheap massages and you even get a free complimentary room to  sleep over and spend the night. Well, getting back to the recent history, after a clean and noteworthy experience at the Shenzhen Foreign Language School, where i played ambassador to America, the past two days have turned towards drinking, dancing and other debauchery. Dan is involved in an international social group, made up of people living and working in China from all over the world. I've met quite a few of these foreigners and YCG (young Chinese girl) groupies that socialize with the foreign crowd. 

A small cross section of the group includes Chris who is from the UK, a bunch of Muslims from Pakistan, Addi from India, Helen from the Philippines, Desi from Germany, Dwight, who I think is from Texas, that could explain alot, and of course Sero, aka The Mayor from Turkey, he is the well established social leader and chairman of  Coco Park, a string of foreign bars and of course your fair share of YCGs. They set up all these events via some Chinese social media app I've never heard of, but they are constantly on it talking to one another in mass text messages in two groups lovingly referred to as "beauties & handsomes" and the other one "sinners group", for the more party oriented crowd. These guys do Western activities like playing ultimate Frisbee, go to parks, sights and each others houses and some of them go to guy-yin (foreigner) bars. There they drink, party and attract attention from the Chinese locals. On Friday, first a few of us went to a small bar called Frankie's that looked like it belonged in Boston or Philadelphia. 

We met up with one of Dan's best friends in China, Desi. She was on her way down to the platform at the same time we were going up to find her. She shouted out to Daniel and then met us on the escalator once we went on the right one. We then took a taxi to go to the bar. The bar is near the Shenzhen transitional border, when Shenzhen was only a city planning experiment, before the city was fully integrated into the PRC. We drank PBR, in bottles, didn't even know that existed, the Brooklyn Hipsters would be happy to know the brand has quiet a big following in China. We listened to CCR and Led Zeppelin play over the stereo. Dan's friend Christy works there. I learned that she is one of the few Chinese citizens born in Shenzhen and has lived there for 22 years. She remembers when Shenzhen was practical nothing and described the process in which the skyline was erected in a matter of months. Nowadays it is the densest city, surpassing New York, Hong Kong and Mumbai. We also rode the subway for the first time. Clean, fast, bright. This line was finished only a few months ago and more are being banged out at about 5 times the speed of the 2nd Avenue subway. 

From Frankie's we took a taxi for the price a subway ride in NYC to Coco Park, 3 outdoor bars, all attached, that attract mostly foreigners. This mostly outdoor venue had a DJ playing dance party music inside on a modest sized dance floor. If I drank as much as I danced I wouldn't have survived the night. My wacky dancing was surprising appreciated and hopefully captivating to most.  During my visit to the bathroom  I did witness an oddity, a western style toilet on the top of a small slippery staircase. Above a shower nozzle, one of those European or Israeli like ones that disconnect from the small hook. What I later learned was the western toilet was put on top of a traditional Chinese squatter. The shower head is used to clean up the squatter units. 

At Christy's apartment I came face to face with my first squatter. No porcelain, just straight up hole and handrail on the wall for stabilization. Its a good thing i had to do a number 1.  If I had to use this thing for anything else I think it's more then feasible that I'd miss or worse, end up stepping in it. If I was intoxicated, I'd give myself no more then a 59% percent chance of walking away unscathed.  And since I can tell that China is already beginning to effect my stomach, these poo holes called bathrooms are beginning to scare the crap out of me.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

An official Nonresident Visitor visits The Shenzhen Foreign Language School

Dan took us to Starbucks. He said its the only place you can buy coffee that is around. Starbucks is a status symbol in China, people carry the paper cup in the same manner as which both men and women dangle Gucci and Prada bags to show off to others. The women are all using umbrellas to block the sun even though they walk in the shade. I saw a girl in 6 inch heels walking her dog by the paws, at if she was walking a small child. The pooch hobbled on two feet. I wish I took a picture. We waited for the police station to open. Ruby, a girl who works at Dan's school came to help with the paperwork and to sign as our Chinese host.  At the station, I made one typo on the nonresident visitor form and had to rewrite the whole damn thing. It seems crossing out is a big no no. A women at the hair salon across the street watched over a dog that looked like Fassi The Bear. Many cute dogs in China.  None of which are on leashes.  We then took a taxi to the school Dan teaches at. The taxi had belts but no buckles and the coast was littered with cranes and storage containers for export. Dan gives directions to the driver in Chinese. I have no idea if he speaks correctly or not, but I notice many of the words he is using are the same.  Shenzhen Foreign Language School is a boarding school with an AP program to prepare students for american colleges. 

The teachers have their resumes and pictures on the walls next to posters of all the American ivy league universities. The school is impressive in size and facilities. Mike and I had the chance to ask and answer questions to three of his 11th grade classes. Many of the students were shy and did not make a significant effort to ask questions. The students that did said some very interesting and humorous things.  My favorite was " Given the Chinese stereotypes I described (Chinese are geeks and nerds, and are more quiet then other nationalities) wouldn't you rather go somewhere else, like Africa, where people are louder and are always dancing?" The students seemed to have a much different world view, concept of travel and I believe more pessimistic view of their country as compared to which China is admired and often feared in the US. Dan said that travel in China is either out of necessity or to experience an elevation of life style, the China only travel to areas up on the economic ladder. His students didn't relate to his desire to travel to Mongolia last summer. 

Towards the end o class with is acknowledged with relaxing chinese transient music, students asked me to come back to school tomorrow to see them do their communal calisthenics.  Dan informed them that we would have other plans but I mentioned that I've seem this one YouTube. "YouTube, we don't get that her," said a frowny faced girl. Oh yea, I've heard about that.  I'll be using a VPN service that costs about $60 a year to bypass the Great Fire Wall.  At the end of class, after avoiding only 1 sensitive and politically inappropriate question Dan informed me not to pursue, the students all perked up with excitement to have their picture taken with me.  The free cafeteria lunch was also real highlight and very tasty. Afterwards, I  got my hands on more gift tea from Dan, this time Good Taste, Good Life green tea, free and gifted from parents during his end of the year parent meeting. The school office is overflowing with gifts of tea and boxes of lychees. Teaching here seems like a really good gig, smart and capable students, a salary that surpasses NYC and a drastically lower cost of living.