Monthly Archives: February 2010

Thailand, February 2010

Bangkok was crazy. I met up with friends and fellow teachers Phil and Victoria, and Phil’s friend from home Kelly. The very first day we were in Bangkok there was a large street festival outside our hostel. Lots of thai-food, live music, performance artists, and crafts.

Ladyboy cockfighter on the right.

At the street festival there were two men acting like roosters in a cockfight. Only underneath the bright silk head-dresses they were wearing heavy mascara and women’s makeup. And the fighting had strong homo-erotic overtones. The men would circle each other, attack each other, then one would start humping the other. They would retreat and then do it again.

Muay Thai fighter

Muay Thai fighter

We also saw a Muay Thai fight. Muay Thai is the national martial art and it’s a big deal. Muay Thai uses lots of elbow and knees. Phil mentioned that in the 80’s there was a huge mix martial arts competition in Asia with all the major disciplines represented. None could last more than a few minutes with the Muay Thai fighters. Usually profession events are expensive (for volunteer teachers), so we were pretty excited. But our excitement turned to horror when the fighters entered the ring. They were boys not older than 8 or 9. Literally. And they didn’t have special rules for the kids. It’s not like head shots were banned or the kids wore padded helmets like amateur boxers do. No, there kids were going at each other full on, bloody-ing each other up and everything. I’ve been in China for six months and it is radically different from the US, but wow, watching those kids fighting, with the crowd getting rowdy and cheering then on was total culture shock.

We didn’t spend much time in Bangkok. We wanted bright sun and warm water to swim in. We headed south to the island of Koh Pang’an for two weeks.

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Hong Kong, February 2010

After a short ferry ride from Macau Danny and I were in Hong Kong.

After six months in China, where the only western food is McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut, the only thing Danny and I could talk about when we were first walking down the streets of Hong Kong was how we wanted to eat everything. Literally everything. We were blown away that 7-11 was in Hong Kong and we stopped at first one we saw. I got a chicken teriyaki sandwich (with bread, real bread! Not weird Chinese sweet bread embedded with pieces of hot dog) and Danny got a Ceasar Salad (vegetables that weren’t soggy or soaked in oil, can you imagine?). Then I got a slice of microwaveable pizza. And then I got a Slurpee. Then I added up how much I had just spent and realized the problem with Hong Kong. Like New York or London or Paris, Hong Kong is expensive. Especially if you are a volunteer teacher. Even 7-11 is expensive.

From Victoria Peak, Hong Kong Island is in the foreground and Kowloon Island in the background.

Our hostel room was comically small, two small twin beds separated by about eight inches consumed the windowless room. And piece of land in Hong Kong is extremely valuable and they truly squeeze as much use as possible out of every square inch. According to Guinness World Records, the area of Hong Kong we stayed in is the most densely populated neighborhood in the world.

From the Hong Kong Museum of Art, through the glass is Hong Kong Island.

Hong Kong felt like an even blend between a Chinese and western city. All the western mega-brands had a heavy presence. Most people spoke a little English and many spoke every well. There was a large recent immigrant population and not just Europeans and Americans, but many men from African countries and young women (prostitutes) from the Philippines and Vietnam. But it was still Chinese. From a street view, Chinese characters outnumbered English words by a fair margin. It was very crowded and very polluted. The color red was everywhere.

Hong Kong harbor at sun down.

My brief time in Hong Kong was nice, but I’m glad it was brief. Too many shopping malls, not enough museums or historical centers. The food was a nice change of pace, but I had an itch to travel that needed to be scratched. The destination was Thailand.

Macau, February 2010

The beginning of February concluded my first semester teaching English in China and marked the beginning of a six week holiday before the second semester started.

Danny and I left Changsha as soon as possible, heading south to Guangzhou. Guangzhou is one of the biggest industrial in China. We were completely lost when we got to Guangzhou. We didn’t have a place to stay or even a map. To matters worse, people in Guangzhou don’t speak the same language as the people in Changsha, so we weren’t able to get basic questions answered. After walking around the train station for four hours (not an interesting part of Guangzhou, by the way), we jumped on a bus to Macau, the Los Vegas of China:

Macau is the only city in China where it is legal to gamble. But Danny and I didn’t have the money (or the interest) in gambling, so we spent most our time going to the historical areas. Macau was under Portuguese control until 1999, so there is a strong European influence.

Is this China?

Our hostel in Macau, nice digs.

I really liked Macau. The weather was mild and the food was an interesting blend of Chinese and Portuguese. It was a good way to spend three days. But Macau is a bit of a small town and we were ready for a big city, next up: Hong Kong.

Shanghai, January 2010. Mostly pictures.

During the new year my sister and mom made the trip to China. Here are some pictures.

From left to right: Dustin, Jackie Chan, Jan, Skye

Mom and sister outside The Shanghai Museum. A mere moments before we were conned into buying overpriced tea.

Chinese Garden in Shanghai's Old Town

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This is Ren. He was everywhere. He is the mascot for Shanghai's 2010 World Expo, which is a big deal in Shanghai, Beijing got the Olympics, Shanghai got the Expo. They were rennovating lots of buildings, so there was lots of construction when we were visiting. Ren means "the people" in chinese and the mascot looks similar to the Chinese character for Ren, 人.

A Cultural Revolution era propoganda poster. Well armed Chines babies fight wicked American soliders back to the ocean.

Fenghuang (Phoenix Old Town), Hunan Province

In December Danny and I had a three day weekend so we made the trek to Fenghuang, a mountain town that is a popular tourist site for Chinese. Fenghuang has a small, slow moving river that divides its Old Town District. The Old Town is fairly well preserved and doesn’t have any of the modern slapdash buildings that spring up overnight in other Chinese cities.

Fenghuang is a very pretty town in the dead of winter, it must be stunning during the sping and fall.

The Old Town is really neat. It has narrow, almost claustrophobic, streets and alleyways. Streets that seem to be the mark of ancient cities, streets that you just don’t see in the United States.

Ruins of an old gateway. I believe the star is a mark from the Cultural Revolution.

Footbridge across the river.

Geese outside a restaurant. Tomorrows dinner?

For some reason many of the stores had dried pigs faces hanging in front. This is the only pig I saw smoking a cigarette.

On our last day, Danny and I went to a town an hours drive from Fenghuang. Huangsi Bridge Old Town was supposed to also have an ancient town that wasn’t as tourist driven or as well preserved as Fenghuang. We made it after spending half a day figuring out how to get there and haggling with taxi drivers. Fenghuang is a pretty small town by Chinese standards and it attracts a lot of tourists, mostly Chinese but a few Westerners, so nobody was surprised by our presence. Huangsi felt like we were really in the sticks and we drew a lot of attention from the towns people. The town itself was not remarkable, but we did find a store owner that let of play with old swords and shoot arrows from new bows.

Danny lost the archery competition. The punishment may seem a little harsh, but he proposed the stakes beforehand and fair is fair.

Huangsi also had this funny grafitti.

Now a little bit about what Fenghuangs role in Chinese culture. I’m lifting this from the wikipedia page on Fenghuang. They are a mythical bird known in English as the Chinese Phoenix. Its body is a composite of many birds, including pheasants, ducks, peacocks, cranes, and swallows. Males used to be called Feng and females called Huang, but in more recent times the Fen and Huang have combined to create a female entity (which can represent the Empress) that is often paired with the male dragon (the Emperor) to create a yin-yang balance. Paired with dragons the Fenghuang also symbolizes blissful relations between husband and wife, so the two are commonly seen on wedding decorations.

Fenghuang statue in Nanning City, Guangxi, China

ARTS Festival

Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been busy with setting myself up for next year and the blog has taken a backseat to those efforts. The good news is that I’ve been traveling a lot since my last update so I’ve got a lot of pictures to share.

Danny and I with the English Corner during the Arts Festival

The above picture is from the Arts Festival  in late October. Danny and I lead our schools English Corner: once a week we meet with a group of students and speak English. About a month before the Arts Festival, the president of English Corner asked if we-English Corner-could perform in the Festival. We had the kids vote on if they wanted to perform, they did, and we collectively decided to sing the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”.

At first, Danny and I were firm. We refused to perform in the Festival because the Festival is for students and we would be a huge distraction from the students who had worked hard. Through sheer persistence, the students talked us into performing in a limited capacity. Or more accurately, they talked me into it, and I talked to Danny.

Preparing was waaay more work than we had anticipated. We had to schedule a bunch of extra English Corner sessions just to get the song down, then the kids insisted on incorporating a choreographed dance. Then there were actual auditions in which we had to compete against other clubs just to perform on Arts Festival.

...and Ken and I made this sweet submarine, which currently resides in my living room.

Arts Festival is a week long, with acts everyday in the afternoon, the best acts during the week are chosen to perform on Friday. So after getting down the singing and the dance routine, we finally perform on Monday. Its ok. Danny and I feel like idiots, but the song is quick (part of the reason we picked it) and soon enough it is over. Better yet, only about 1/6 of the school saw of perform.

Well not quite. We are chosen to perform during the closing ceremonies on Friday and they want us to perform last. And the school officials want changes. They offer suggestions, which were later explained as so much suggestions, but commandments.  They want Danny and I center stage, playing a bigger role in the song with the students relegated to the back of the stage. They also want Allee, the third foreign teacher at our schools who up tlll then had no association with our rendition of Yellow Submarine, to  sing with us.

Ofcourse we do it and sing in front of the entire school to conclude the 2009 Arts Festival. It was pretty horrible. We ended up getting 1st place, even though we weren’t the best performance by a long shot.

They tell me this says 1st place.

Weeks later I found that everyone gets first place.