Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The “Not-So-Hot” Tianjin Hot Springs

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

It’s supposed to be fun to go to hot springs in the wintertime here. It’s supposed to be relaxing. It’s supposed to rejuvenate you for the coming cold months. But that’s simply not the case when a giant foreigner goes. Oh, it was hot alright… but it was nothing close to relaxing or rejuvenating at all. It was near torture.

My “boss” at work told me, through a coworker, that they had arranged a trip to the TuanBo Lake Hot Springs area outside of town. Now, when I hear things like this, I figure my company was going out of their way to provide a little trip for us workers and I assumed that I was required to go. So I blocked it out in my schedule and mentally prepared for a new adventure.

The morning of the event came, but my coworker said she wouldn’t be going with me anymore. (What? We could get out of it?) Still not wanting to offend my company and all the effort they had seemingly put into setting up this excursion, I went on my own. They told me that I didn’t have to bring anything. But with my swim trunks… and [not] my flippie floppies, I headed out. Big mistake. I met up with this huge tour bus full of Chinese people and I was, oddly, the only foreigner in sight. I reluctantly went with the flow. Bigger mistake. Will I ever learn?

We arrived at TuanBo and everyone was shuffled into this large auditorium-type place for what appeared to be a business conference. Chinese people were getting up in front of ugly PowerPoint presentations, speaking in Chinese of course, and selling their business ideas… I guess? And then my boss from ACES got up! I felt like cheering! But she did the exact same thing. A whole schpeel in Chinese about our company and why native English teachers are so cool… I guess? (I was half-expecting her to call me up on stage and testify.) Two hours later, it was finally wrapping up. And by “wrapping up,” I mean over half the crowd had left to go to the bathroom or take a smoke break – if you smell what I’m steppin’ in.

What happened to the hot springs!?

After they officially dismissed us from the massive, but polite, sales pitch, I found my boss and asked her what was going on. “Oh, didn’t you know this was a business meeting?” No, I didn’t. My coworker might’ve forgotten that bit of info. I then asked her about the hot springs and she replied that it’d be after lunch. The deal was that if we listened to the entire seminar, we’d be able to get a nice lunch and a few hours at the hot springs. Ah, now it all makes sense! Gotta love marketing. At least I get some free food.

After a less-than-mediocre lunch, I follow my boss and her friend, along with some others to the springs area. At this point, my boss turns to me and says, “Go with these people and they’ll show you where to go! I’ll see you next week! Bye bye”. Umm, okay. Obviously, this wasn’t the fun company picnic I had imagined. I’d have to watch my own back from thenceforth. So, I was now with some Chinese people who were all smiles but who didn’t really speak English. The girls went one way, I followed the guys another way. We walk into a locker room and all I see are birthday suits. I almost panicked. My mind had a flashback to a former girlfriend’s story about the “baths” in Japan. Nah, it couldn’t be… could it?

My thoughts were quickly ceased by a fully-dressed security guard yelling at us and pointing at our shoes. Can’t wear shoes in the locker room, I gathered. We retraced our steps out to the front desk, and the other men started taking their shoes off and trading them in for flip flops. I did the same. Except that the flip flops they gave me were tiny. I knew I should’ve brought my own! I tried asking for a bigger pair and pointing at my ridiculous hoofs. From what I could translate, I think they said they had already given me their biggest ones. Oy vey. I was definitely getting off on the wrong foot.

As I forcefully tip-toed back to the locker room, I immediately thanked the Almighty that I had brought my own bathing suit – the aforementioned “security guard” was passing out tiny speedos to everyone else. “No thank you! I brought my own.” Phew! That was close. We changed, grabbed some towels, and with a few chuckles and fingers pointed at my feet, we entered paradise.

Hot SpringsLet me paint the picture: imagine an outdoor amusement park, beautifully decorated, but without any rides; instead with numerous pools of varying liquids and hundreds of Asian people in them.

The Starter Spa
This first “springs” was actually indoors and we slowly waded in, supposedly to get our bodies adjusted to the heat. Everyone started sitting along the edge and relaxing. I tried to do the same, but when I sat on the underwater bench along the edge, half of my upper torso was above water! Many noticed and nonchalantly whispered things to their friends. Great, the big white guy would once again provide the entertainment. We barely stayed 10 minutes.

The Private Barrels
Next, we found these wooden barrels with deliciously hot water pouring into them. Everyone started finding their own barrel and basking in the comfort. It kind of reminded me of Pippi Longstocking and the waterfall. Hmm. Anyways, I got a leg in mine, that’s about it. Gladly, they only stayed about 10 minutes in these as well.

The Milk [or something] Springs
As we approached the next one, I could tell something wasn’t right. The color was white-ish. Similar to the picture in this post, this pool was quite shady. But everyone else started piling in, so I did the same! It was quite smooth to the touch but took a while to get used to. Maybe I’m just fidgety. Right about when I was starting to relax, everyone started leaving. You guessed it, the 10 minute mark.

The Green Tea Springs
I tried asking someone about why we were only staying ten minutes, but we were already to the next one. And you could smell this one a mile away. We were about to soak ourselves with light mix of green tea! It has to be good for your skin, right? This pool would’ve been nice but the stench was too much. Twas a bitter smell, like the tea had been seeping a bit long. Or something else had been seeping too long.

The Red Wine Springs
Thankfully, I know the characters for “red wine” and knew what this one was by reading the sign. Does anyone know if you can get drunk by osmosis? Well, I was about to find out. The answer is no… if you’re only in it for ten minutes. Maybe the tannins hadn’t had enough time to cause proper aging, as “Resident Rob” would say.

Now imagine a huge room with sauna conditions and a long marble slab. Envision high stacks of soft, white towels. Now visualize Asian people lying on those towels on top of the slab. It works perfectly for them! Too bad I’m a giant and didn’t fit on the marble slab. And that I needed two towels to cover myself. Gosh, we had to have been here for 30-40 minutes. I figured out too late that this was a time to nap, rest, and drink water before hittin’ the spas again.

The BBQ Springs (actual translation)
WAY too hot to sit… or stand… or do anything in. My pale skin turned red. I escaped without any injuries. But remember, this was an outdoor park, and once you step out of each pool it’s freezing! Compromise, I did.

The Dead Sea Wanna-Be
This is probably the only one I felt relaxed in. Having been in the actual Dead Sea, I’d undeniably say the real thing is better, but this was quite adequate. It wasn’t deep at all and it didn’t need to be, because we all just floated to the top. The Chinese people loved this! I could tell everyone was having a good time and I wished I could communicate some stories from Israel. Alas, someday. Despite having such a nice time in this one, we still departed at 10 minutes. I probably could have stayed.

The PNG Springs
My name for this one comes from the Como Zoo Conservatory in my hometown where they have many trees from Papua New Guinea and elsewhere around the world. It’s one of my favorite places and truly feels like you’re in another land. This particular spa had trees covering all sides and over top, just like I was at home! Nothing special besides that. There were some old Japanese men who were looking at me strangely, though.

The Little-Fish-That-Eat-Your-Old-Skin Springs (not an actual translation)
I admit, I was hesitant about this one. But what did I have to lose? I try not to have too many regrets in life, like the time I ran away from jumping off the high dive in 1st grade or the skipping out on one stinking college credit to have graduated with honors. I was not going to let this spa pass me by. I hopped in. Now… this was the strangest feeling I think I’ve ever felt. The water wasn’t too hot, but what was inside the water started tickling my feet like nobody’s business! I looked closer and saw dozens of little fishes sucking my heels and toes. Being so ticklish, I couldn’t sit still for five seconds. It reminded me of that horrific foot massage I tried to get once in Chiang Mai, Thailand – it was anything but a massage. Our 10 minutes were up, and this time we strolled back to the locker rooms to rinse off.

And that was that. I turned in my tiny flip flops and tiny towels. With my confidence restored and my head held high, I walked straight into a low-hanging ceiling. Good thing laughter is the same in every language, because everyone had the last laugh for that one.

Tianjin at Night

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I fell in love with Tianjin all over again on my way back from Beijing. I was coming in to the train station late that night and once I stepped foot above ground, I saw these beautiful sights! The banks of the Hai He River apparently come to life after dark with these amazing lights and colors. It would’ve been very romantic had I been with someone. Write that down.

This is even comparable, I think, to The Bund in Shanghai, but I’ll have to go back someday to get a better look.

I apologize for my broken camera’s lame pictures, but I trust you can use your imagination…

Tianjin at Night, South

Tianjin at Night, West

Tianjin at Night, North

Lake Wobegon meets Tianjin’s International Library

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Lake Wobegon Book CoverSo, there’s this “international” library here in Tianjin. It’s on the second floor of the upscale Sheraton Hotel’s apartment side. You go up this tiny spiral staircase in the Spa area, through a glass door, turn left, and you’ve reached book bliss. I’d say there are about 20 shelves of various genres of books in English. A few shelves of French books. And a few shelves of German books. Nothing Chinese in sight! I was the only one up there that night and I gladly browsed every inch.

Almost immediately, my eyes stuck on Garrison Keillor and his 2001 novel, Lake Wobegon Summer 1956. The hometown boy in me instinctively picked it up and started my pile of four books that I’d be checking out. I just so happened to be going to Beijing for the weekend, and this would be perfect reading material.

It was a quick read with Keillor’s enjoyable writing style and I related to almost all of his 14-year-old self’s fictional coming-of-age mishaps. The story takes place in fictional Lake Wobegon, MN, and includes many little anecdotes over the course of this youthful, nerdy summer. I’ve actually always imagined the town to be a bit like Pelican Rapids, MN, where my grandparents used to live, so this was a perfect book to read while I’m away in China.

The storyteller in me was fascinated by this book. I love the way the author stretches out details further and further and completely wraps you up in them. The metaphors were ridiculous, but they worked every time. Oh, and the way he had his grandfather and Jesus looking down from heaven giving Statler and Waldorf commentary every now and then, was classic. It was a wonderful insight into a brain of a young writer/storyteller and I tried to take good mental notes throughout.

Here’s a paragraph or two that I thought I’d share with you:

“Whatever happens, I will write it down.

I will write no more poems to please my teachers. I will write no more of boogers and farts to curry favor among the cruel and callow. I will no longer toy with tornadoes and talking dogs and fatal blood diseases as if making a puppet show.

I will sit at the table with my family and write down their sighs, their little pleasures, their kids’ hearts, their faithfulness. In the face of sin and sorrow and the shadow of death itself, they do not neglect to wash the dishes.”


10 Stories From China, Three Years Ago

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Ferris Wheel at Water Park

This weekend in Beijing, I get to see my adopted Chinese family who took me under their wings when I was in Wuhan three years ago… I’m a tad bit excited! Any ideas on what I can bring them? (Here’s an old post with some pictures: My Chinese Family) My anticipation for seeing them got me thinking – do any of you remember some of those stories from my first time in China? Here are some of the best:

Dance Party!? I Think Not – A story when I got hoaxed into going to this dance party that was not a dance party at all, but rather a make-fun-of-the-foreigner party.

KTV & The Rabbit Dance Contest – My first experience with a KTV and boy was it a memorable one!

Go fly a kite. Okay. – A story where I tried, unsuccessfully, to fly a little kite while what seemed like the whole world was watching.

The Football Fiasco – A hilarious story of my friends and I being forced to play a soccer game that had epic ramifications.

DVD Heaven – My Chinese sister and I got asked to go into the “underground” DVD production area and found racks upon racks of illegal DVDs.

Spectacular Spectacular – Our school’s little trip to the Yellow Mountains.

Our “performance” was a Success! – A short story, with pictures, of that crazy performance we had to do in front of 2,000 people. There is video, but only a select few have seen it. (And my mother has a DVD of this hidden somewhere that I still need to burn.) Oh, and here’s a post of the synopsis: The Search for the Golden Flowers

And then there’s some lame videos I made:

Foreign Friends Commercial – A video I helped produce for my Chinese friend Julie. It won first place in the region, but lost at the provincial level. Also, it’s my most-watched video on YouTube if that says anything.

DK-Today Videocast from March 31, 2006 – Forgive my lameness, but there’s some good shots of some of the sights I saw. At the end, there’s a little song performed by a minority group.

DK-Today Videocast from May 10, 2006 – Another one with some good shots, but also with my favorite Chinese song of all time!

Hopefully I’ll have a comparable list for three years from now!

Tianjin International Fellowship

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

People's Park in FallI found where all the foreigners are!

Well, at least half of them. They meet at the Tianjin International Fellowship here in town on Sunday mornings. I first read about this place in Jin Magazine when I first got here. But last week, I got personally invited by a new friend from Guyana. Since my week was especially lonely, I decided to finally check it out. I seem to have a history of controversial “fellowships” so I tried to have low expectations on my way in.

First thing I noticed: black people. This was very reassuring, because what I’ve heard from Chinese people so far is that there’s generally a lot of prejudice in this country toward people of African descent. They assume things when they shouldn’t and they don’t assume things when they should. It’s very sad, actually, but a lot can be blamed on Western media, I think.

All in all, though, the mix of people was quite diverse. Koreans, Japanese, Indians, Latinos, Africans, Kiwis, Aussies, Americans, Europeans, Hippies,[and Hipsters,] and young ones of all flavors as well. In fact, it was the most diverse room I’ve been in since that infamous TCK retreat I went to a couple years ago. But please, let’s not talk about that.

As I walked in to the tourism college, where the fellowship meets, I was stared at just as much as any other place I’ve been in Tianjin. Am I really that different? I guess I don’t care. Still, with all the stares, no one came up to talk to me even though I was obviously “new in town.” There were no greeters or welcomers or anything. Instead of standing around looking ignorant, I approached someone myself. They helped point me in the right direction and even showed me where to get a Western donut and some watered-down coffee.

It was time to start. We headed up a spiral staircase to the 3rd or 4th floor (I can’t remember) and were stopped at the door. “Passport please,” said the Indian-looking man. Passport? Seeing my inquisitiveness, he stated that only foreign passport holders were allowed inside the service. This was the Chinese gov’t protocol that allows them to meet in private. If they didn’t have this policy, they’d have to post Chinese officials at the door to make sure there wasn’t any proselytizing of Chinese people going on. Crazy, huh? They take their religious freedom pretty seriously here. (Sarcasm!)

I couldn’t help my cynicism when everything started.

The music was off-key and off-beat. The sound system didn’t work very well. The projector was from 1983. The seats were all in rows, facing the front stage. People were clapping on two different beats like they were from opposite sides of the world or something. We sang songs in other languages I couldn’t pronounce. I can safely say this place was anything but “seeker sensitive” and definitely nothing close to “emergent.”

The sermon began with a side-note on human trafficking, which I was very surprised to hear. Even if it wasn’t necessarily explained very well, at least the topic is being talked about, right? I’ll certainly have to ask more about this the next time I show up. The guy sharing this morning was probably in his mid-thirties or close to it. He read from John 4 & 5 and jumped around the rest of the book to support his thesis. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m kind of glad it wasn’t very long.

When he finished, another man got up there and took prayer requests from the audience and we all prayed for them. After that, he had people stand up if it was going to be their last time at the fellowship. I assume for people returning to their home country? And then after that, he asked if there were any new people in the community. My so-called friend made me stand up:

“Hi, I’m Daniel.” … “I’m from America.” … “I teach English and I’ve only been here a few weeks.”

It felt oddly confrontational – oh, and awkward, of course.

After the service, I got to meet a very nice couple from Wisconsin who work at the international school here in town and they even invited me over to their house for dinner the next night. I figure that if I am planning to be here a while, I should probably get used to this place, no matter what the presentation’s like. In the end, that’s not what matters. I can focus on the people… who seem to be here for admirable reasons anyways.

With that, I apologize.

Fake Snow, With Traces of Fall

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Fake Snow

I woke up on Sunday morning, Nov. 1, to a light drizzle and decided to bundle up on my way to work. By the time the bus pulled up to the office, though, it was full-fledged snow! I was a little more than excited as I previously wasn’t sure if I’d be seeing much snow during my time in China. After work, I went for a nice little walk, taking in the wonderful first snow of the season. Tons of fun was had by me.

The next day I got an email from my dad asking me if I had seen any of the snow that was artificially induced in Beijing. Wait… WHAT!?

Honestly, I didn’t even think that was possible. I quickly hit the googleweb to search for what he was talking about. The BBC confirmed it:

Sure enough, the people in charge over in Beijing have a gov’t entity presiding over the weather. Even the weather is now a bureaucracy here in China! This entity is called The Beijing Weather Modification Office. Apparently, they’re most famous for successfully preventing rain during the 2008 Summer Olympics. But I had never heard of them before.

And let me clarify, it wasn’t exactly fake snow… the snow itself seemed real enough. (I know snow when I see it!) But the way in which it was snowing was a little sketchy, and definitely didn’t feel like the “first snow of the season” any more. Only in China.

The weather has definitely cooled down a bit since the snow, causing a lot of change in the tree colors and the air in general. I finally get to see some fall before the real winter comes.

Here are some fall photos.

The Foreigner’s Farce of a Physical Exam

Monday, November 9th, 2009

One of the lesser-known complications of getting my Z Visa to work in China was that I needed to have a physical exam done. Without a doctor’s approval of my perfect health, they wouldn’t send my official Letter of Invitation that the Chinese Embassy in Chicago would accept to give out visas. They want to make sure I don’t have any viruses, deformities, or illnesses that’ll infect their people. (I wish I would have known this while I was still employed and insured – but I digress.) Anyways, I found a doctor to do it at the last minute… it took a week for the results to come in, scan them and send them to China. Four weeks later, I had my letter and two weeks after that, I was in China.

Enter the dramatic part of the story.

When I arrived, I discovered that some Chinese doctors don’t trust American doctors. Of course they don’t. And why would they? I would have to have another physical here in a Tianjin clinic. My co-worker said that she didn’t have to have one because she flew in to Beijing instead of Tianjin. How does that work? What’s the difference? If only I knew, I probably could’ve flown to Beijing too and taken the 30 minute bullet train ride here. But now there was no way around it. I needed another doctor’s appointment before I could get my resident’s permit.

And this was unlike any “doctor’s appointment” I’ve ever had before.

First of all, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a family doctor here. You know, the one that you grow up with and you have mutual knowledge of each other’s lives, etc. No, there are too many people to adequately handle that. You just go to some random hospital/clinic, get a form filled out, get fixed up, and you’re out on your own again. Secondly, there are heaps of people who need to get physicals in China. Whether they’re applying for a job, attending a university, or hoping to do some travel, they need to get checked out. Because of that, the physical exam process needed to be streamlined. I was about to find out what that meant.

The day of the “exam” came and I thought I was ready. I had my passport, my shirt, and my dignity… little did I know, I’d only come away with one of those.

Grace, the assistant at my company, came with me to help translate and we hopped in a taxi. When we got there, we started filling out the form and paying for it. It only cost 400 RMB, a little over $50, whereas the one back home mysteriously cost over $500! But let’s not talk about health care costs.

It all starts in a hallway. The hallway was long and poorly-lit, with doors on both sides, opened slightly to let the horrible smells out. Grace handed me a sheet of paper with six blank boxes, all labeled in Chinese characters. Apparently, I was going to need to go into each of the rooms, one by one, and get the different boxes filled out. No need to worry, though, Grace would lead the way! With privacy thrown out the window, we head into the first room.

Immediately, I figured out that this must be the poking room. I sat down, with Grace by my side, and rolled up my sleeve. Fifteen seconds later, we were already leaving. It only took a couple seconds to find my vein, a couple seconds to poke, and a couple more to explain to me that I was the one who needed to hold the cotton ball in place. You see, they didn’t have tape.

The next room had little cups lined up and people grabbing them and going into the bathroom. They came back with their cups filled. I knew what this room was about! Grace sheepishly tried to explain to me what to do, but she couldn’t find the words. I told her that I think I got the idea, grabbed a cup, and followed suit. Then, in front of the whole room (which felt like the whole world), I brought my full cup to the nurse. Two boxes done.

There was a line for the next room, so we moved to a different one. I guess there’s no particular order. Here, I was instructed to lay down on the table and pull my shirt up. Grace graciously turned her back. EKG time. A minute or two later, Grace translated to me to take deep breaths. I did. We were done.

Tumbling E Eye ChartThe next one was an easy one, a vision exam. Ever since my lasik surgery last spring (highly recommended, by the way), I’ve had better-than-perfect vision, so I wasn’t worried about this one… until I saw the eye chart. It didn’t have the English alphabet! I should’ve known! The best way to describe it would be that it had the letter “E” facing all directions: backward “E”s, upward “E”s, downward “E”s, and normal “E”s. Umm? Seeing my confusion, Grace explained to me to motion with my finger which direction the open part was facing. The doctor pointed to one and I pointed up. He pointed to another one and I pointed left. He pointed to a third one and I pointed left again. The doctor smiled and said something. When we left the room, Grace told me that I had perfect vision. Thanks Grace, but I kind of already knew that.

(I’ve since learned that this type of eye chart is called the “Tumbling E” and used for children and people who can’t speak. Interesting? I learn something new every day.)

No line at that one room anymore, so we slowly peaked in. It was our turn. What happened in this room, I’m kind of nervous to write about, because I still don’t understand the what or the why. From what I could tell, there was a bed and one of those monitors that I’ve seen used on pregnant women to check their unborn child’s growth or whatever. What’s that called again? Oh yeah, a freakin’ ultrasound. I tried to tell her that I wasn’t pregnant, but she must not have understood my panicky English. The nurse motioned for me to lay down and pull my shirt up. Grace, again, graciously turned her back, told me it might be cold, and giggled a bit. (FYI Giggling is not cool in these sorts of situations.) The nurse smiled, lathered my stomach region with some goo and rubbed the baby monitor machine over it. Phew! I’m definitely not pregnant. What just happened?

The last room I also thought would be an easy one: X-ray central. I had to go through this vault-sized door while Grace and the doctors stayed on the one side. Once I got into this other room, I could see them all through a window. I honestly felt like I was in a zoo or testing lab or something. Through a speaker, I heard Grace say to stand on the platform and to not move. So, I stood on the platform, perfectly still. The machine behind me started moving up but stopped around my lower back. The doctors and nurses gasped, and Grace started to giggle again. Great! What now? Dangit, I was too tall for their x-ray machine! Figures. Grace told me to squat down a bit while they took the picture. So, with cell phone in pocket, I wobbly squatted while they examined my chest cavity. Done.

With all six boxes finished, we turned the sheet of paper back in to the front desk and I signed my life away. In all, it was only about a 20 minute process and I now understand what streamline means. Grace had to take my passport to finish my residency permit application and I lost my dignity somewhere in Room #2. I only came away with my goo-covered shirt.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Top Ten Random Treasures Left Behind In My New Apartment

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

I’m finally somewhat settled into my new apartment here in Tianjin. (Well, except that the washing machine was broken and the landlord refused to pay for it for the longest time because he thought I had broken it when I touched one of the buttons and he was going to charge 700 RMB to fix it, until a Chinese friend, Grace, explained to him that it was already broken. We should be getting a new second-hand one soon.) (UPDATE: The new second-hand washer arrived today… but without any delivery/mover guys. Guess who had to help carry a washing machine up four flights of stairs!? You guessed it, me. At least my clothes will be clean now.)

And some advice for finding and moving into an apartment in China: don’t do it. I’m only half kidding: just like you would in America, be sure to test every appliance, every light switch, every power outlet, and every faucet. Look behind dressers and under beds. Scour the place and make a list of things that the landlord needs to fix and clean before you’ll agree to rent it. Also, make sure things are well-communicated between the two of you. I had to sign a contract that was entirely in Chinese characters. Hopefully I didn’t get any more than I bargained for. I shouldn’t need to worry about where I’ll be living for another ten months or so, ensha’allah.

Anyways, after I had moved in and started cleaning things and arranging things how I wanted them, I made some strange discoveries. Here’s an epic list of those discoveries in order of least to most random, with pictures. Enjoy.

Tied for #10 – A Dartboard

The dartboard isn’t so random, I guess, but it begs the question what’s wrong with it? I have no clue. I’ll definitely be hanging this somewhere.

#10 - Dartboard

Tied for #10 – Shuttlecocks & Ping Pongs

Badminton and table tennis are two of the biggest sports here so these aren’t so random, either. They might even come in handy someday!

#10 - Shuttlecocks & Ping Pongs

#9 – Decks of Playing Cards

But not just any playing cards, these are “Lao Qiang”(?) and 100 dollar bill playing cards. These are keepers. Wanna come over and suit up sometime? Guys night on the 4th floor.

#9 - Decks of Playing Cards

#8 – The Ugliest Wall-Hanging Puzzle. Ever.

This is currently hanging in the “living room”… but not for long. Why so ugly? As G.O.B. would say, “Come on!”

#8 - The Ugliest Wall-Hanging Puzzle Ever

#7 – Chinese Karaoke VCDs

Well, this is China and they do love their karaoke here… but what use will I have for these? By the way, I went to KTV for the first time since being back. I loved it! Remind me to tell you about it later.

#7 - Chinese Karaoke VCDs

#6 – Precious Moments Calendar

This was hanging in my bedroom. (And I stress “was.”) But the random thing is it’s from 2003! Is that the last time someone’s lived here? Probably. Trash.

#6 - Precious Moments Calendar

#5 – A Killer Shell Collection

A bag full of shells was underneath my bed. Great. I think I’ll use these for decorating. Or throw them off my balcony.

#5 - A Killer Shell Collection

#4 – A Huge Kite

I guess a kite by itself isn’t so random, but a kite the size of an entire room!? I was going to try and fly it but then the weather changed. I’ll have to wait till spring to take this baby for a test drive. Where will I store it, though?

#4 - A Huge Kite

#3 – Three Bottles of Wine

Yay for me! Free wine is always nice. But why would someone leave it behind? Does it taste bad? Wine gets better with time, right? It’s probably been here for years.

#3 - Three Bottles of Wine

#2 – A Bunch of Tiny Toy Figures

This is one of my favorites, actually, because the first thing I imagined doing with them is some kind of stop-motion short-film. I’ll keep you posted.

#2 - A Bunch of Tiny Toy Figures


Halloween In China

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

"Halloween" in ChinaSo, “Halloween” is pretty much nonexistent here in China. Or, as a friend quickly pointed out, most Halloween products/costumes are probably made in China – but rarely are they ever used here in China. The China Daily newspaper has a shout out to the infamous American holiday with some words to use about it in English, but that’s about it. They’ve turned it into a cultural thing. Which it probably is.

I looked high and low through this great city and I only found two places that had any inkling of this Reformation Day.

The first place was Carrefour, France’s version of Walmart. PS China has Carrefours everywhere. I noticed they had one small endcap at the back of the store with a small collection of awesome Halloween costumes. (The pirate hat even fit!) But was dismal at best and zero Chinese people were even stopping to look at them. In a way, I wish I would have had that small collection for last year’s cowardly lion fiasco, but alas, that’s in the past.

The second place was… Pizza Hut. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, Pizza Hut in China is a formal affair: expensive food, fancy interior, and clean bathrooms. It’s not necessarily a place where the local people go, unless they’re rich or they really want Western pizza. Because of their targeted marketing, though, I decided to hit it up whenever October 31 rolled around. Honestly, it’s kind of nice not being constantly bombarded with marketing gimmicks for specialized holidays everywhere you go around town.

Well, I did do the unthinkable and ate dinner at Pizza Hut today. The food was overpriced and unsatisfactory. I probably won’t be returning anytime soon.

At least I got this awkward photo with a Chinese hostess dressed as a witch!

Mailing Address in China

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

UPDATED: December 2012

Many people have expressed interest in sending me mail while I’m in China, and to say I’d be more than happy to oblige is an understatement. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a letter or care package from a loved-one is worth at least a million and one. BUT, sending mail to China isn’t always easy. It’ll take some work (Aside: Doesn’t all snail mail take a little work these days, though?). And that’s why I’d be all the more appreciative when I receive things, from the smallest postcard to the largest box of heavy books.

I do have some minimal advice:

FedEx and UPS charge random extra fees for sending things to China. The US Postal Service does not, making it a bit cheaper.

Postcards from exotic American tourist traps are one of my favorite things in the world.*

If you live by a Chinatown, there are usually small shops that sell books and magazines that also offer cheap overseas shipping services.

It’s always lighter to use a padded envelope rather than a box.

I miss the Sunday morning comic strips in English.*

Packages under 4 pounds cost exponentially less than packages over 4 pounds. I speak from experience.

To send a package, you’ll have to fill out a customs declaration form, so don’t include any you-know-what.

The only LEGO I brought with me is a branded photo album from my aunt.*

If you’re sending a postcard or a letter, you just need the first part of the following address. If you’re sending a package, it’s probably best to put both the pinyin (Roman characters) and the Chinese characters on the outside. Just in case.

Make sure “CHINA” is always on top in big letters, so at least it gets to the right country.

My refrigerator is completely void of awkward magnets.*

Check that I’ll be in the country in the next month after you send it… the post office here only keeps packages for 30 days until they’ll send it back.

And FYI, nothing is ever 100% guaranteed to get to me. This is also spoken from experience. Please don’t give up, though! Maybe start small?

My current mailing address (last updated December 2012):
Tianjin, Hexi District
No. 51 Weijin South Road
Tianjin University of Sport – Library
American Cultural Center for Sport
Daniel Konold
手机:158 2200 6352
天津体育学院 – 图书馆
大牛収 300202

DOWNLOAD .GIF to print for your packages~

*hint hint